Finding a place to live in another country can seem like a daunting process, but don’t worry! Knowing the resources available to you will help you through this process. You are responsible for finding your own housing in the United States, so the following information will help guide you through that process.
If you do not identify a place to live prior to your arrival, it is essential that you arrange a temporary place to live in advance, and expect that once you arrive, the process can take up to a month. This is a great way to utilize the 30-day grace period before your program start date!
Always remember, it is important to know your rights as a tenant (renter) which can vary by state. The U.S. government provides an index of tenant information by state.
Housing Available To You
Renting an apartment can give you the most flexibility when it comes to options. Renting an apartment with roommates will reduce your cost by splitting the rent and utilities. If you are having difficulty finding apartments available for short-term leases, research “sublet apartments”; this is when you take over a lease from an individual who is leaving for multiple months before their current lease is over.
Here are a number of websites to explore and start your research whether you are looking for a space all for yourself, or with roommates. While these are recommendations, you should always conduct your own extensive research before utilizing a vendor or signing a lease.
(Mention booking code: CV2018 when registering)
Student Residences are specially selected apartments, hostels, and dorms that provide a great living experience. Located in central areas of each city, student residences are ideal for independent participants, who enjoy having the opportunity to interact with other residents. Student residences may feature amenities such as study areas, game lounges, gym facilities, communal dining rooms and more.
Extensive classified listings for those seeking apartment rentals, sublets, and/or roommates in most cities across the U.S.
Find apartments, homes and condos for rent across the U.S. View apartment availability and compare rates.
Search short-term apartment or room rentals, ranging from a couple of days, to a couple of months in every city and state.
Identify apartment rental opportunities across the U.S., connect with professionals, and compare rates.
A map-based rental site, which allows you to search for available apartment listings in specific neighborhoods near your site of training.
Staying with a family or individual through a homestay offers more opportunity to be fully immersed in American culture. Most often in homestays you have your own bedroom and share other living spaces with the current occupants. Homestays give you the opportunity to have meals with the family and participate in other family activities. Here are two companies that offer homestay opportunities in the United States:
Kaplan Accommodations (Mention booking code: CV2018 when registering)
Homestay Staying with a host family is ideal for participants who want to learn about and immerse themselves in local culture. Sharing meals with your hosts every day, you’ll benefit from speaking English in casual situations. Kaplan will connect you to local families!
This site provides accommodations available in a local person’s home for an affordable nightly rate, when you want an authentic travel experience.
Colleges and Universities
Many local colleges and universities will open up their dormitories in the summer for college students and interns, or students completing the school year or leaving to study abroad may post apartment sublets available. Search the universities located near your training site to see if there are public housing posting websites available. In New York City both Columbia University and New York University offer this. In Washington, D.C. check out the options at George Washington University.
Hostels & Temporary Stays
If you have not found housing, or are only going to be in an area for a short amount of time, you may consider local hotels, or for generally cheaper rates, AirBnb or hostels can be a great option. Hostels are a great place to meet young people while staying in a shared, often dormitory-style bedroom, and shared bath. Here are popular options to explore:
Renters Office or Agent
There are renters’ offices and agents in every city. For a fee they will help you set up appointments to visit apartments and houses in different areas based on the criteria that you tell them. Agents can often expedite the process of finding a place and will help in the signing of a lease.
Before Signing A Lease
- Have direct contact with the potential landlord or roommate via phone and/or Skype to ensure they are legitimate. Do not rely on e-mail.
- Request photos of the apartments.
- Research the location. Map the address to ensure it is viable and conduct extensive research online about the neighborhood. In addition to safety, research the distance and route to public transportation, grocery stores, banks and other places you will travel to often. Walking score is a great resource to help with this!
- Research the average monthly rent rates in the areas in which you are looking to live. This will help determine if you have realistic expectations, or if you are potentially being overcharged. (Or undercharged. Tip: If you see a housing posting that is far below the average rates, this may mean there are problems with the accommodations. If it seems too good to be true, it usually is!)
- If you are searching after your arrival, walk through the apartment or house with the landlord and make a written list of current faults or problems. This will help eliminate the question of responsibility for pre-existing damage. Some items to check are water pressure, is there hot water, any visible mold or water damage, and is everything in working condition, e.g. blinds, locks, doors.
- DO NOT send any housing party money until a legally binding lease is signed by both parties. If someone requests that you send money, or states that you cannot go inside of an apartment before making a payment, do not do it.
- Bed Bug Registry: You can look up the apartment complex you are considering moving into to see if they have experienced a problem with bed bugs. If nothing appears when you search then there is nothing on file for that address or hotel.
Questions to Ask
As you begin communicating with a potential roommate, landlord, or broker about a living arrangement, do not simply settle on the information provided to you. ASK QUESTIONS!
Here are a few to get you started:
- What utilities are included in the rent, if any? If none, what is the monthly average cost of utilities?
- If any maintenance issues arise with the living space (i.e. problems with the water or heat, appliances not working, etc.) what is the tenant’s responsibility, and how readily available is a landlord or superintendent there to help?
- Are there/ have there recently been any pest problems or break-ins?
- Is there any building/ home security in place?
- How many tenants live in this unit/ complex?
- Does the space come with any furniture?
Securing a Place to Live
Many apartments require that you complete an application. To do this, there are items that you may have to show in order to be approved for the apartment. These items may include but are not limited to:
- Proof of income (pay stub or letter of employment)
- Proof of good renter’s history or a reference’s contact information
- Bank information to ensure you have enough funding
Some applications may include small fees, but never pay more than a couple hundred dollars.
If you don’t have an established rental and credit history, your prospective landlord may ask you for a guarantor. This person would co-sign your lease and agree to be legally financially responsible for the place in addition to you.
- If you’re in the New York City area and need a guarantor, The Guarantors is a service that may be of use to you. Please note that Cultural Vistas provides this site for your information, and does not endorse the service.
Signing a Lease
Most landlords renting apartments or houses require their incoming tenants to sign a lease, which is the official document of agreement between the two parties. A lease outlines the terms of your living arrangement, and the expectations of both the tenant and landlord. It should include at least:
- The amount of your rent
- The utilities that will be paid (if any)
- If security deposit was paid at the time of signing the lease, outlines the conditions and timeline for the return of this payment
- The duration of your stay at the property
- Terms and penalties for breaking a lease early
- The responsibilities of you and your landlord
It is best to sign a lease in order to secure your place to live. The entire lease should be read carefully before entering an agreement. Often leases are signed for an extended period of time (i.e. 6 months, 12 months or 18 months). If you have questions about a lease, either contact your landlord directly or call your city’s Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs office.
If you move out early and “break your lease,” you will likely have to pay an additional amount or lose your security deposit. Month-to-Month leases do exist, but are not as common throughout the United States. In some cases you may take over a lease for another tenant departing early, or another tenant may be able to take over your lease.
Even if you are subletting an apartment, ask to sign a lease or formal agreement, this will help protect your rights as a tenant.
Many landlords require a security deposit before you are allowed to move in. A security deposit is money given to a landlord as protection for damages that may occur during your time living there. A tenant must present it up front as a form of collateral for the apartment or house—usually one or two month’s rent. For example, if your rent is $1,000/month you may have to pay $1,000-$3,000 up front, including the first month’s rent, upon move-in. It will be returned to you at the end of your lease, assuming there are no damages and all other bills are paid. It is illegal for your landlord to keep this money without notifying you. Make sure your landlord has your contact information in your home country so he or she can return this payment to you after you move out.
Important for Renters to Know
- Maintenance: There are strict rules about how tenants and landlords must deal with these issues, but they vary from state to state, or even city to city. Most often in apartment buildings, tenets will have to put in a maintenance request and it can take anywhere between 1 day to 2 weeks to get something fixed.
- Utilities: Every apartment or housing unit will have a different set of utilities that you will most often have to pay for in addition to your monthly rent (utilities can be included in rent, but it is not always the case). Utilities are items that may include gas, electric, garbage and recycling services, water and sewer. Be sure to clarify which utilities you have to pay in addition to rent.
- Cable & Internet: Almost every type of housing will be wired for both cable and internet services. Cable and internet can be purchased from a local provider and are an additional monthly cost. Often if you purchase both together from the same provider it is cheaper. You can talk to your landlord about what providers are in your area. Basic internet and cable packages start at $50 a month and go up from there.
- Safety: It is important that once you narrow down your search and find the area you would like to live in that you visit it during the day and at night. Ensure that you feel comfortable walking at night from your car or from the bus stop. It can also be a good idea to talk to other people who live in the area to get their opinion on how safe the area is.
- Security: Having security in your building is an added safety measure. Many buildings have strict controlled access points to ensure that people who do not live in the building are not able to enter. Some buildings have a front desk with is staffed all day and some have staff that stay 24/7. It is important to take into consideration the security of the apartment building for added safety.
- Furnishing: Most apartment and housing options are unfurnished, unless you are subletting. Furniture can be an additional and often very expensive cost, so be sure to budget accordingly. To save money, you can search for places that are already fully furnished or partly furnished. You can also find inexpensive furniture at local yard or garage sales, on Craigslist, on the Facebook Marketplace, or stores such as IKEA, Wal-Mart, or Target, among others.
- Parking: If you are going to be driving and have a car, parking is often an additional cost in most cities throughout the United States. Many places you will need to get a parking pass to park on the street or pay to park in a parking lot or parking garage. If you are going to drive, make sure you include additional costs for parking in your budget. Depending on the city and location parking costs range from $50-$300/month.
- Renters Insurance: Renters insurance helps to protect your stuff and valuable items in case your apartment is broken into or is damaged due to some type of accident. Renters insurance can be purchased through a number of different insurance agencies and the price varies. Many apartments require their tenets to purchase and provide proof of insurance before signing a lease. Make sure you ask if you are required to have a policy and if you need a minimum amount of coverage. When choosing a policy you can decide how much coverage you want. Renters insurance can be paid on a month to month basis or you can pay in full for 12 months.
Helpful Tips & Websites
- Start Early: Housing options often go very fast. Especially during the summer months. It is important to start your search early.
- Cast a wide net: Often apartments on Craigslist, or similar sites are taken very quickly. One tip is to find a number of apartments that you are interested in and spend your first weekend here going to see a number of different places to find the right one. Tips and information about how to avoid scams on Craigslist.
- Ask Others: If you are able to, before you travel to the United States, get in contact with other co-workers or your supervisor for advice on where you should look for housing. Sometimes if the company has current interns they can be the best resources for gaining information regarding housing.
- Have Savings and Bring Additional Money: If you have not secured housing before you arrive in the United States it is a good idea to have some savings available to be able to pay a security deposit, your first month’s rent and last month’s rent, as well as utilities.
- My Move: Interested in learning more tips and tricks about the location of your exchange program? Explore this website to get a moving guide for the city in the United States you are headed to. (Use search bar in upper right corner to search city).
- MoVoto is a real estate website, but also has a blogs that include topics such as the “Top Ten” and “City Guides” and the “Best Places To Live” list in all 50 states.
- Best Places is another useful site to gain information and statistics about any state. Search your location to find out information about cost of living, population and safety.