img { max-width: WIDTHpx !important; } .main-inner .column-center-inner .section { width: WIDTHpx !important; }

AirBnB Vs Traditional Rental Agreements: Finding International Rental Properties Part 2.

My last post talked generally about tips for finding a mid-term rental property overseas. In this post I want to compare two of the methods we have used so far to find rentals from 2 to 4 months in length. We have yet to explore house-sitting but that may be in our future.

We prefer to rent entire apartments or homes, we don't like the idea of shared places or couchsurfing. We like lively neighborhoods, where we don't need a car. Walkability or proximity to public transport is important to us and location usually beats other considerations. We treat full-time travel as a lifestyle not a perpetual vacation. That means we have different priorities to someone who is booking a break away from their day to day life. We treat our search like looking for a home, albeit a temporary one.

We have experienced two main ways to find a property.

Through an online vacation rental website and (they also own VRBO) are great resources and have an amazing selection of properties available.

Advantages: There is no paperwork like a lease agreement to sign. All utilities, WiFi etc, are usually included if you stay less than a month. Sometimes they are added for longer term stays. There are no deposits or credit checks. With AirBnB payment is through a secure method and can be in your local currency.

Often they are well furnished and totally turnkey because they are designed for someone on vacation. This includes things like cooking implements, bed linen, towels etc. You can rent for days, weeks or many months. Many properties give sizeable discounts for longer term stays.

You may get to meet your hosts and they may be great contacts to help you get to know the area. In some cases, like when we rented for 2 months in Mexico last year, the our host family were a great support.

Online descriptions are often very detailed and the photos are usually professional. AirBnB allows verified and unfiltered guest reviews on their website. (Note HomeAway and VRBO are somewhat different and reviews, while helpful, are curated and so skew towards the positive)

Disadvantages:  The main one is that for longer term stays it can be more costly compared to traditional rentals. For short term stays AirBnB offers great value over hotels, but for longer term it can get expensive. Although there are monthly discounts, it is rarely cheaper than a direct rental from a landlord.

Other minor downsides include that the "hosts" are often just agents representing many properties, sometimes in the same building, so you don't always end up in the unit pictured on the site. I always ask the host if I am getting that particular unit. I also ask them specific questions like what floor an apartment is on, and whether the furnishings are as shown to make sure I know what I am getting.

Huge signs posted in a recent AirBnB condo stay
Also some multi-dwelling buildings have rules about short term lets that your host may not be following. This might not bother many people, but you may feel some hostility or even restriction of use of facilities. One building we stayed in recently was in the process of installing fingerprint entry to the gym and pool area to stop access for short term renters.

With the rise in popularity in AirBnB and the low cost of entry to list a property, compared to other more traditional vacation rental sites, there is the potential for some less professional hosts and undesirable listings. This isn't new, dishonest travel listing have existed since way before the internet. But you need to remain vigilant, and ask lots of questions.

Generally the standard of facilities can be a bit of a gamble, and unlike a hotel you probably have very little recourse if things aren't right. Note that as I mentioned HomeAway / VRBO allow owners to curate their reviews - so you can't always rely on them to give you honest feedback.

Summary:  I think this is the best option for a few days stay and probably anything up to a 3 month rental. I would ask the host lots of questions, if possible see the unit first and make sure you know exactly what you are getting.

Using a Traditional Rental Agreement

Advantages:  By far the main one is cost.  For anything more than 3 months the savings soon add up. If you use an agent (as we did in our recent apartment hunt in Penang), they can help you identify neighborhoods you might like, and line up viewing for you, often driving you around to see them all.

The agent may help you negotiate, but be clear if they are representing you or the landlord. It may be worth a paying them a fee to make sure your interests are represented.

Going through an agent, or signing a lease agreement, gives a legitimacy to the transaction that you may not get with an AirBnB type rental.

Disadvantages:  Unlike AirBnB you will have to sign a lease agreement and may have to have a credit check. Utilities may be on top of the rent, so make sure you know what they may be - ask to see previous bills.

Sometimes even "Fully Furnished" units are not turnkey like a vacation rental. There may be no bed linen or towels. Check what is included when you view the space.

Many of these properties have a minimum lease agreement, often 6 months, sometimes a year. This varies from place to place and is often negotiable. Be prepared to pay a little more if you sign a shorter lease than the one advertised.

Listing for long term rentals are often much less detailed than those you find in AirBnB. Photos can range from a few to non-existent, so online research can be difficult. The landlord/agent expects that you will see the property in person before you commit. Which I totally agree you should do too.

Summary:  If short term leases are a possibility and bureaucracy is not an issue in your destination then I think this is the best option for a stay over 3 months.

In my next post I will describe our specific search for a 3 month rental apartment in Penang, Malaysia.


  1. We used Flipkey for the first time this year, which is owned by Trip Advisor. We paid for the place in two payments, one at time of booking or 12 months before and the second a month before. AirBnB takes the whole fee straight away. I also found AirBnB's exchange rate to be woeful, so I make my home country the one I'm renting in so I'm paying in their currency.Flipkey is all USD. Both these companies take a fairly hefty commission, so we have just used a local real estate agency to book next year. While they charge a credit card fee it's not nearly as much as what Flipkey would charge. Both are a great alternative to hotels in major cities.

    1. I've looked at Flipkey but never booked through them. I didn't know they did two payments. When we used AirBnB for 2 months, they only took the first month at the time of booking, and the second month when that second month began. Good tip on the exchange rate, I haven't looked into that either.

      I agree for longer term real estate agents are the best, much more cost effective.

  2. Great tips (parts I and II). I had not considered using an agent for longer stays. Kimberly also brings a dust mite proof cover for the mattress and pillows (she's super sensitive) as well as this new spray, environmentally friendly, that kills everything (but people- I think). We also splurge for a sharp knife, nice wine and beer glasses, and a large few platters and dishes. Only 5-6 years to go then we will travel for 3-6 months per year (keep our base in San Diego, close to kids and grand kids-- old MFers)

    1. Hey Mark, we hear you on the knives and glasses, but you know us Europeans are never afraid of a few germs and mites, so haven't found any bed linen we haven't been willing to sleep in! Maybe in a few years we'll see you out and about somewhere other than San Diego to enjoy some beer, wine and silliness!!