Finding somewhere to live can be a difficult process at the best of times. Add to that a foreign language, a different culture and related bureaucracy and its easy to see why some people are tempted to board the next plane home.

With this in mind, below is some advice, along with peoples own experiences, which may help get you started and keep you in Rome beyond the first weekend.

Going it alone

A common way to start looking for a home is through advertisements in newspapers and in shops.

You can find a wealth of ads in the twice-weekly Italian newspaper Porta Portese, available at newsstands. International bookshops display ads, while you will also see small notices entitled affittasi (for rent) around the city, though the homes advertised may only be available through an agency.

Its best to go and see as many places as possible to give you an idea of the market, to see the different areas, kinds of flats available and the different prices, says Tom Dow, an American teacher who checked the accommodation section in Wanted in Rome after arriving in May this year.

I didnt have specific areas in mind when I arrived, but I did want to be as close to the centre as possible and also close to a metro stop. What was important was finding somewhere clean and with enough room.

Dow settled on a 60 sqm apartment in S. Giovanni, which he shares with one other person, for which he pays 550 all included.

Bear in mind some basic points when house-hunting without an agency. Does the rent include electricity, gas, water, telephone or internet? Is there also a separate condominium fee, which tenants pay for the cost of maintaining and cleaning the building? If possible, sign a contract, after asking someone with experience of the market to check it thoroughly. By law, all contracts should be registered by the landlord, with the tenant paying half the registration costs (which are determined by the cost of rent). Registration guarantees rights for the tenant, such as length of stay and a fixed rent over the period of the contract; it also makes any application for Italian residency less complicated.

It is also worth noting that many landlords prefer non-residents, as they are more likely to be moving on after a certain period, leaving the owners able to reclaim their properties. While this may work in favour of the tenant, unfortunately some landlords assume that non-residents are earning high wages, or they simply seek to take advantage of new arrivals presumed vulnerability, and set their prices accordingly. They may also try to raise the rent at a later date, hence the importance of the aforementioned contract.

Using an agency

Another option is to use an agency.

James Edge, a researcher, arrived in Rome with his partner in April 2004: We used an agency as it made things a lot simpler, especially as we didnt know the language or bureaucracy. We initially looked at places in the historic centre, though we didnt have any specific areas in mind.

Eventually they found a spacious two-bedroom apartment in the Aventino area, close to the centre and five minutes from Piramide metro stop.

Agency fees often come to about a months rent, and tenants usually have to pay a deposit of between two and four months rent.

In exchange, agencies will select suitable properties to view, deal directly with the landlord and help organise the contract.

Areas

If youre in Rome for a short period, for example a year, you may want to make the most of the experience by living in its historic centre, around the Pantheon, Spanish Steps or bustling Campo de Fiori even if this means paying top-end prices. The ever-fashionable Trastevere offers a busy mix of locals, sightseers, students and entertainers, enjoying a lively nightlife into the early hours. Around the Via Cassia to the northwest of the city, many residential compounds feature tennis courts, swimming pools and communal gardens, which push up prices. There are plenty of shops, supermarkets and restaurants but public transport is poor. This area is popular with foreigners because many international schools are located along the Via Cassia and because the apartments are larger than in the historic centre. Also higher priced, yet popular, is Parioli, a somewhat characterless area except where it runs alongside Villa Borghese and around Piazzale delle Muse. Again, public transport is limited.

A cheaper alternative is Testaccio. This is a part of Rome that still retains an authentic feel and there are cheap trattorie and a good nightlife. The area has the added advantage of being reasonably close to the historic centre and has good transport connections. Other popular areas are S. Lorenzo, with its large student contingent and buzz of trattorie and bars, and S. Giovanni, which is within a bus or metro ride of the centre. For those who want to get away from the hubbub and live slightly further away from the centre, Garbatella, between Via Ostiense and Via Cristoforo Colombo, continues to attract home-hunters, partly due to its location just behind Romes third and newest university, Roma Tre, and because of some bargain prices; a downside is its limited public transport. Magliana, an area close to the modern suburb of EUR and on the road and rail connections to Fiumicino airport, comprises low-cost housing. It has good transport links, with a train station and metro B stop on the doorstep. Its previous reputation as a high-crime area has waned and it is slowly changing into a respectable and popular zone.

For a comprehensive guide to residential areas, see the Rome section of www.wantedineurope.com.

Costs

Youd be forgiven for fearing the worst in terms of what you must pay for accommodation, given the trend across Europe and the inflationary effect of the euros introduction three-and-a-half years ago. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, as prices show the first signs of falling.

Kathy Trotter, director of the agency Home International in Via Leonida Bissolati, has worked in the field for 15 years and has therefore witnessed the changing trend first hand.

She explains: Were definitely seeing a gradual turn and I think it will continue. For example, were seeing studio apartments in the centre now for around 1,400 a month instead of 1,800 last year. In Trastevere there are studio apartments for as little as 800. Studio apartments comprise one room, including a kitchen and sleeping area and separate bathroom.

The cost of a room in a house varies according to the area, now often starting at around 250 in areas away from the historic centre, and up to 600, plus bills, in popular areas like Prati, near the Vatican.

Final word

There is a plethora of issues to consider when finding somewhere to live. However, you may ultimately bypass many of these and find your dream home via word of mouth, though this is more likely after you have been in the city a while and met more people.

In the meantime, a good mix of research, resolve and plain luck can help ensure that house-hunting isnt as daunting as it first appears.