My girlfriend just moved to Porto, which means I’ve been apartment hunting there by proxy. Like any city, finding a place to live has its own challenges and benefits. Here is everything you need to know to about getting an apartment in Porto.
Short-term housing is king
Unlike Prague, where people show up one day and never leave, Porto’s expat housing market seems to heavily lean toward short-term housing. This is because Porto has one of the best beaches in Europe so a lot of people spend the summer there. And the other half of expats are Erasmus students who study in other EU countries for 2-3 months at a time. So when you search for apartments (in English), all you’re going to get is short-term housing.
Of course, the student websites will have the most affordable options. If you look for short term vacation rentals, you’re going to pay at least double and sometimes triple what everyone else pays. On the other hand, you might be able to get a good deal the closer it gets to winter when people are no longer looking for fun in the sun.
Navigating the apartment websites
Because of the preference for short-term housing, apartments aren’t listed like classified ads; they’re more like Airbnb. Websites like uniplaces.com and erasmusu.com give you a calendar of availability (which is typically based in months and not days), plenty of pictures, and even walk-through videos. You can book your stay directly online. Uniplaces even verifies its listings by having someone from the company visit the property.
This is both awesome and frustrating. For one, it takes away the guesswork of messaging someone about an apartment and either not hearing back or being informed that it was rented. What you see is only what is available. On the other hand, you often have to book a place without seeing it in person. A workaround is to book it for one month and stay if you like it. If you don’t, you can go back online and find a new place.
Another slightly more traditional website is bquarto.com. This site has a ton of listings, many of them in Portuguese. You can’t book these online. You have to contact the landlord and schedule a visit. But apparently, very few of these people check the website regularly, so this is a better option if you have a Portuguese phone number and you feel comfortable calling someone who may or may not speak English. Bquarto also has the worst website design I’ve ever actually seen, and I was around when the internet started.
Registering and booking a place
Some of the websites (Erasmusu and Bquarto) require you to register for a fee to access the landlord’s phone number and private email. For Erasmusu, you don’t always need it as long as you can book the place online and you feel comfortable doing so without talking to the landlord first.
Like Airbnb, when you book a place directly online, you introduce yourself and the landlord has a short time frame to confirm or reject your booking. If they confirm, you have a short window to pay for the booking. This also means that unlike housing almost anywhere, you can pay your rent with a credit card in Porto.
Using Facebook groups can also yield results. There’s a group called Alugar Quartos/ Apartamentos No Porto where landlords seek tenants and a ton of people seek housing. If nothing you see interests you, you can also post to indicate you’re looking and landlords will message you privately.
Flat-sharing through the landlord, not the roommates
When I started looking for a place in Prague, I met a ton of people looking for roommates online. That’s because in Prague, rental contracts are usually for an entire place, not per person. So the onus of finding someone to cover the rest of the rent if one roommate leaves falls on the tenant. Landlords largely don’t give a fuck who is living in their property as long as they’re getting paid.
Not so in Porto. All rooms listed online are listed by the property owner and they are rented individually. The upside is that you’ll never find yourself responsible for someone else’s rent. The downside is that you may never get to meet the people you’re living with before you move in. I guess this goes along with the trusting nature of the place, though it can be unnerving if you generally hate other people and are prickly about sharing your space.
Leases? Who needs ‘em
Perhaps because of this trusting nature, people are also extremely laid back about the rental process. Many landlords won’t have you sign a lease. This makes sense since they’re generally used to having a new tenant every two months. Who wants to deal with that much paperwork? But in general, people are kind and flexible and extremely trusting. Someone actually told my girlfriend she could pay a month’s rent as a deposit “if she could.” Like it would be nice, but it’s not necessary.
If you are looking to stay for a year or more, lead with that when you contact people about a place. Even if they’re used to short-term rentals, they’ll prioritize someone who wants to stick around for a while. And don’t be afraid of the language barrier. The beautiful people of Porto will go out of their way to communicate with you even if they don’t speak a word of English.
My girlfriend still hasn’t settled on a place, but I hope she picks a good summer home for me. Happy hunting to you, too!