Where should I set up a home base in Europe?

#1

Hi folks,
I’ve been nomading for about 2 years straight and I’m looking to switch it up a little bit. This year I’d like to set up a home base somewhere while still being able to travel around 50% of the time. I thought I would just put my current thinking here to to see if anybody had advice or input on it.

First, why have a base at all? For me it boils down to three reasons:

  1. Gear. Rock climbing, skiing, diving, trekking (and if you’re me, cooking) require specialized gear. I have some of that stuff in storage in the US and I’m tired of over-paying to rent sub-par equipment. Looking for a spot to store my gear and easily swap it out as needed based on seasons.
  2. A comfortable default spot for work. Sometimes you just want to sit in one spot for a month or more and just crank on a project. I want a great setup that I know I can default back to when I really just need to focus on work.
  3. Community. Nomading is great and this community is excellent. But I’d like to have my cake and eat it too, being part of a local and nomad community.

So I’m looking at Barcelona, Berlin and Budapest. No I don’t have a weird thing about cities that start with “B” - it just worked out that way.

I’m likely looking for a 1 bedroom apartment in the city center (i.e. Gracia, Mitte, District VII). It needs to be either (1) cheap enough that I wouldn’t feel awful about traveling while still paying rent, maybe max EUR 800-900/mo (2) Or, easily Airbnb’able if I’m gone for a while. Also looking for “foreigner-friendly” setup without an extensive bureaucratic leasing process.

So my questions:

  1. What are the sites/processes for finding long-term apartments in these cities?
  2. Anybody seen any interesting other solutions to this? Like dedicated nomad housing? Sweet group housing around this idea?
  3. Anybody already have a setup like this that they’d care to share?

Also if anybody loves this idea and wants to chat about finding a bigger place together I’m open to the idea.

Thanks!

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#2

I’d vouch for Berlin or Barcelona. Personally I like Berlin better because it’s a bit more hipster. But then again, it’s also colder. Budapest is great but it feels a bit isolated to me, especially because of the language. It doesn’t feel that international (yet). But it’s super cheap compared.

Berlin is definitely most international and that’s why I’d go there too. Even as a foreigner, you’ll feel at home. Because everyone is either from outside Berlin (even the Germans there), or German immigrants, or foreigners/expats. Great mix.

I’d say go look for houses in the traditional places and sign a long-term lease for 6 or 12 months. Renting in Europe is not as bureaucratic as you might think, it mostly consists of them checking if you’ll be able to pay your rent (so they’ll ask for proof of salary and employment etc.). However you can circumvent that by saying you’re a foreigner and offering to pre-pay 3, 6 or even 12 months rent in one go. I even did that as Dutch guy in Netherlands because I was self-employed. That worked. They just want you to be able to pay your rent and not cause trouble. You don’t need to necessarily register with the city or government in the places you rent either.

Airbnb’ing for 12 months will bankrupt you, so definitely go local instead. Probably best to meet some local people first who can help guide you so you don’t overpay. Most cities in Europe have a market for foreigners/expats and rent prices are usually 1.5x to 3x as much as for locals, simply because the sellers speak English. But that’s bullshit obviously.

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#3

Of those 3 I’d go for Berlin. I assume you’ve looked into the visa issues? That might impact your decision on where to live.

#4

My vote also goes for Berlin. I’m living here for some time and it’s really wonderful: very international and huge startup community.

#5

Firstly, I love the idea of setting up a home base in Europe. My needs are different, but I’d love to home share with a few other couples in order to wander around Europe while freelancing.

I haven’t been to Berlin yet, but have have been to Budapest and Barcelona.

I absolutely love Germany, spent more than a year there, mostly in and around Freiburg as a base, but traveled North to South.

I didn’t think I would, but I loved the two months I spent in Spain in 2014. I had preconceived notions of Spain that were put to rest, it’s truly a great modern country.

Budapest was also an exciting locale. I didn’t get to spend much time there, but thought it was like an up and coming Vienna. The city felt alive, but also experienced the language barrier.

I guess where you end up, will depend on your weather preferences and cost exposure. Berlin seems like the most expensive and Budapest the least. IF you are only going to be there for 50% of the year, you might want to consider a low cost base, instead?

As for your desired activities, I think there are more opportunities in the Austria (Salzburg) / Germany (Munich) / Switzerland (Innsbruck) / Italy (Bolzano) area for skiing/climing/treking year round on short trips. Although just north of Barcelona in France, there are supposed to be great climbs in the Pyrenees.

Because of the weather, cost and location to other borders, inexpensive international flights, I’d probably choose Barcelona out of your 3 options. Outside of Barcelona while still connected via train/metro/bus, you can find some inexpensive pied-à-terre to house your gear and serve as a hub. To that end, you might find good options with http://english.habitaclia.com/

Best of luck, let us know where you end up.

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#6

Just a note, Innsbruck isn’t in Switzerland. Did you mean Interlaken?

#7

Thanks for catching my mistake. I meant Innsbruck, just not Switzerland. I was initially thinking of the triangle between Bolzano, Salzburg and Munich, but threw in there Innsbruck. That whole triangle region is really great for skiing, trekking, climbing.

#8

gotcha. :slight_smile: though climbing in the swiss alps isn’t something to sneeze at, and interlaken is a great center for mountain-based activities. :wink:

#9

This region of the Ötztal Alps between Italy and Austria can be treacherous, just ask Ötzi. :wink:

#10

If you decide on Barcelona give me a shout, could be interested in a Gracia share if we put our money into it and then AirBNB when we’re not there :slight_smile:

#11

I have my base in Barcelona.
I have friends there so I just stay with them every time I go. I call it my base since I have a storage where I keep my stuff: rock climbing gear, vinyls, books, off season clothes etc.
I’m paying almost 40€ for 1x1x2.5 storage.

Some of the things I like about it:

  • Is a small city, with good transport.
  • I have an Avancar(Zipcar) membership so I go to the storage by car.
  • Its cheap, (food, coworking, hostels, storage)
  • Good hub, cheap flights to and from anywhere
  • Good weather all year long
  • Good night life
  • Amazing beaches (Costa Brava)
  • Great climbing spots (Montserrat, Siurana, La Foixarda, Calella)
  • I speak spanish, so makes things a lot easier

Something to consider is that AirBnb is illegal there, and heavily chased, thanks to hotel mafia and low quality tourism. You are safe if you only rent a room, they are chasing mainly whole flats. Also most long term rentals will ask you for a work contract or to pay many months in advance.

Good luck

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#12

I heard about it and it really disappointed me, even though I completely understand the frustration with mass tourism, which seems to have flooded the city to the point of it no longer being itself. That said, and with all the sympathy for Barcelonians’ cause, attacking AirBnB renters indiscriminately seems like a completely dumb thing to do. If they wanted to crack down, why not ban short-term rentals, as most cities with housing shortages did? That would be reasonable. My understanding is that they did almost the opposite, not only requiring licenses from AirBnB hosts, but also putting all kinds of other restrictions, including an upper limit on the days apartments can be rented for (even the licensed apartments!) and long moratoriums on issuing new licenses. It sounds like an open war on tourism to me.

So, while I do understand it, I don’t want be caught in the cross-fire. Which is sad for me: I love the city and I have a genuine interest in Catalan culture. I spent a month in BCN last year studying Catalan (tell me Ms Colau, how much more exemplary can one get as a tourist?), spending not only on rent, food and entertainment, as everyone else does, but also on Catalan classes and books. I’ve met several other people like myself, so I am not a complete outlier (actually, half of our Catalan group consisted of foreigners on vacation). I was hoping to come back this year for another month or two, but having read about what the mayor is doing, I think I am going to reconsider.

Has anyone considered Valencia as an alternative to Barcelona?

Follow-up / P.S. Out of curiosity, I’ve just checked how much it’d be to rent “legally” in BCN. The answer: apartment prices start at approximately $3,000/mo - basically, the “legal” rents are double the “illegal” ones. Some people might be able to pay this, but I don’t know too many of them. And I imagine, vanishingly few of those able to pay this would have even the slightest interest in learning Catalan. Doncs, bona sort, Ada!

#13

I’m living in Bratislava, Slovakia, Central Europe and here are some pros/cons why is good as base

Pros

  • Cheap rent, you can get decent private room for 200-300€ for month here
  • Community meetups are pretty developed + strong startup scene
  • Vienna Airport is like 40mins of busride and 4€ for busdrive.
  • You have in 1 hour reach Vienna, 2 hours to Budapest, 3 hours to Prague
  • [Average temperatures are 13C]
    (http://www.yr.no/place/Slovakia/Bratislava/Bratislava/statistics.html)
  • Small-city factor advantages, cute downtown, everything in walk-distance
  • Uber & Liftago

Cons

  • not great developed cycle-transportatios, but working open-source bike-sharing system

These are objective thing, beside this, I plan open co-living here as I own house 10km from city center, some kind of Hacker House :sweat_smile:

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#14

Where are you looking for apartments and how large are you looking?
I’ve found good stuff on shbarcelona and even kyero.

They are going after short term rentals and not just AirBnB
Spain is also anti-uber and that’s being fought as well (uber taking spain to court).

There are legal ways to rent affordably.
Just talk to the homeowners.
Plus, you can order through airbnb still … and other sites… again, just talk to the hosts about your concerns. They’ll tell you the reality of their space vs what you hear in the news, etc.

Valencia has nothing on Barcelona. If you love BCN, I don’t think you’ll feel much love for Valencia - it just doesn’t stack up.

We were just in both places this past summer… So, this is based on relatively recent experience.

#15

@harrisfellman Thank you! SHBarcelona is indeed useful (I am assuming what they’re listing is cleared with the mayor). I’ll definitely keep it for future reference, especially if I decide to stay in Barcelona for a while.

However, from a cursory look at their monthly rental process, they are still not exactly ideal for me for a few reasons:

  1. They require (cash) payments through a European bank. This is quite a hassle for non-EU citizens.

  2. They are an agency and will charge a significant one-time broker fee, which is not shown as part of the price. On a 1000E/mo apartment, my understanding is they’ll normally charge about 800-900E. Although they give discounts for rentals of 1-3 months, this is still a huge additional expense.

  3. Their approval process for self-employed foreigners requires submission of tax returns, etc (look under “Conditions”).

  4. They also require a 2-month security deposit - I am assuming, in cash.

In summary, to rent a 1000E/mo apartment for a couple of months, one will have to jump through lots of hoops with paperwork and bank accounts, possibly have to send them the rent in advance plus 2000E in security deposit and at least 600E in broker fees. Upfront cost: 4600E and lots of headaches… Or “Easy Booking,” as they call this option. The name notwithstanding, I hope you’ll agree this is still very difficult and pricey, at least compared to AirBnB’s process.

#16

Agreed - I prefer to deal directly with the owner, that’s why I suggested http://english.habitaclia.com - It seems more like the craigslist of listings, where are you not dealing with middlemen/extra fees. I have used this and AirB&B with success in Spain. We are a family of 5, and our budget wasn’t over 1000 euros/month. Barcelona proper is a much more expensive locale than just outside the city.

#17

I’ve bought myself a base in the south France. There’s a lot to be said for mid-sized towns. You can buy a liveable 1-bed apartment in a centre under €30k, hell there’s a 120m2 across the road at 10k but needing major work, so whilst whilst they’re cheap, there are fewer that are good if you plan to rent later.

You need to be either in a town with tourism (I’m currently in Carcassonne, with the 2nd most visited attraction in France), or you need to be within distance of a decent city (I’ll be moving to Beziers, next to Montpellier, which has more life).

There are quite a few touristic towns that are year-round mini-hubs for low cost airlines, otherwise you’ve got to be able to get to the cities. Both my current and future towns also have stations with lines to Barcelona or Bordeaux (3h <€50), and Paris (4h30 €15!).

Carcassonne and most other touristic towns have lovely countryside accessible from the doorstep, and I’d say are ideal if you spend much of your time in busier locations but would like to get away sometimes. Couchsurfing is also quite active and thus I’m not disconnected completely from some interesting company. Towns nearer cities tend to sacrifice the doorstop countryside but nonetheless so long as there’s a station you can get out (Languedoc has €1 trains). French busses are useless.

More developed regions such as the Cote-d’Azur are much more expensive, however would provide a much better return for renting if you can secure a deal.

As I will be using mine only part-time, I’ll be renting and indeed I plan to incorporate it with my next nomad-housing project in Fez. Storage is also cheap to buy, I got a 6m3 cellar for €1600, which in the long run is far better value than renting! Buying is still debatable for housing…

For those with steady monthly incomes but not enough for an outright purchase (nor stability for a mortgage), there’s a type of agreement (‘viager’) becoming more common. You pay about a third the value of the property in cash (it’s usually in aesthetically bad condition), and then provide a nominal monthly payment to the owner for their lifetime. The seller is usually a retiree who just wants to move somewhere better and boost their pension, but won’t necessarily be around to claim the payments for long. Could be interesting for DNs interested in acquiring a stable asset!

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#18

I have been living in Berlin and it is a great place for a nomad. The problem i see with Europe is bureaucracy. Now when i am travelling out of Berlin for months i still need to pay a lot of stuff here, because almost everything, even the gym or the mobile phone, can be paid just with a contract relying on your bank account. And then there is the health insurance, people ask documents when visiting homes, and here they don’t joke with taxes. Just too many pointless papers. Maybe i did the wrong moves, i am not sure, but i think that the less bureaucratic place in Europe is probably the United Kingdom, so i would consider it if i were in you

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#19

What about Switzerland ? Czech ? Estonia ? Sweden ? Post-Renzi Italy ?

Thanks for your insights ! :smiley:

#20

Thank you for the idea. I kept thinking I couldn’t buy because prices in the large cities are insane (Paris I’m looking at you!). But perhaps there are some really inexpensive ways to set up a small pad in a small town. I’ve got to look into it! Now to figure out which country…