How to find housing as an international student in the U.S

How to find housing as an international student in the U.S is one of the most frequent questions that we get from our readers.

You got accepted to your dream school and felt like living the American dream but soon you realized that finding housing in the U.S as an international student is not that easy as you thought. 

First of all, don’t panic! Yes, we know, finding an apartment in a city that you have never been is not easy but it is also not impossible. If you follow some simple tips and avoid getting into a scam you will be having dinner at your new home sooner than you think.

Thankfully, we have compiled a list of recommendations and things that you should take into consideration before looking for housing in America. 

How to find housing as an international student

Research for online information

The first thing you need to do is start immersing yourself in the city that is going to be your new home. There are a lot of online resources and it might be overwhelming to choose where to start from, so we recommend you to try with this first:

  • Online travel blogs: while most of these blogs mainly cover touristic destinations, by googling “Chicago travel guide” or “best Chicago’s neighborhoods”, to name an example, you will have the first glance of your new city and will start to get familiar with it.
  • Reddit: almost every city or state has its own subreddit where locals gather around. Once that you have researched the basics of your new city, this is a great place to clean all your doubts. If you are considering posting on forums like Tripadvisor or Lonely Planet skip them and go straight to Reddit since most of the locals will be there, while the first two are mostly catheter to tourists.
  • Facebook groups: whether are official or not, all universities have their own Facebook groups where students exchange information where you will be able to clear your doubts about the city and the school. Groups about “Australians in America”, “Australians in New York”, “All together Europeans in USA”, or “insert your nationality in America” can also be great to connect with fellow citizens going through the same that you.
  • College websites: your school will probably have a page on their website with useful information for students like you. If your school doesn’t count with this resource, you can always check for other universities near the one that you will be attending since they will probably cover information about finding housing in the U.S as an international student that will apply to every student coming to their city, regarding which school they attend.

Choose the accommodation that suits you the best

Besides staying at a dorm room on campus, there are several off-campus types of rental that you can choose from so deciding wisely which one suits you the best is essential for finding housing in the U.S as an international student.

  • Unfurnished apartment rentals: these are the most common and one of the least expensive rentals that you will find. While most of the unfurnished apartments will include basic things like a refrigerator, stove, and an oven.
  • Furnished apartment rentals: the monthly cost of these apartments are higher than the unfurnished ones but you don’t need to buy anything else, since the apartment will come with everything you need to survive such as cooking equipment, dinner table, bed, etc. Considering that you can furnish an apartment for $1000 (and we have a guide to prove it!), we only recommend going this route only if the extra cost of renting a furnished apartment is under $1000 after a year of rent.
  • Short term rentals: as the name says it, short term rentals can be booked for a short period of time. This type of apartment often comes furnished and is a great choice for people who are planning to go back home during holidays since you can simply stop renting the apartment during that period of time. However, short term rentals are more expensive than the regular ones and you will have to find a new place every time you come back to school.
  • Sublettings: sublet apartments are a combination of regular rentals and short term ones. When a renter commits to an apartment lease but changes his plans and cannot live there anymore, it is common that he sublet the apartment, which means that he finds someone else who can pay the rent and take the apartment while he continues being the primary renter. 
  • Room in an apartment: this is not only the cheapest option, but also a great way for international students to connect with local outside classes. When looking for this option, don’t forget to not only evaluate the apartment but also see if your new roommates could be a good fit for you.

TIP: when factoring the costs of a rental remember to take into consideration the utility costs. You can easily expect them to run about 20% of the cost of your monthly rent.

Start searching online for your next apartment

Once that you figured out which type of apartment is the best for you during your stay in the U.S is it time to start looking for potential rentals. 

There are several apartment hunting websites that you can check out such as Zillow, Apartment Guide, Trulia, or even Washington’s post rental section

If you want to find a sublet apartment the best places to check out are Craiglist and Facebook’s groups, however, you must be extra cautious in these sites in order to avoid scams.

Another option to consider when trying to find housing in the U.S as an international student is to contact a broker to help you with your apartment hunt. An apartment broker is someone whose work is connecting renters with landlords and will be able to recommend places to rent according to your needs and budget.

Get your documentation ready

Renting an apartment in the U.S includes presenting documents such as stable income proof of at least 3 times the rent price, credit score reports, and tax returns information. However, as an international student, you won’t have this information, that is why you will need to have back up documents in order to show your landlord that you are capable of paying your rent on time.

Some of the documentation that you will have to provide to your landlord are passport copies, bank statements that prove that you have savings to afford your rent and your acceptance letter. If you are doing a paid internship while studying abroad showing documents to support this to your landlord will also help you land your desired apartment. 

Arrive early for a final apartment hunting

Committing to an apartment is actually a big deal so it is important that you arrive at least 15 days earlier to your destination in order to visit in person the apartments that you liked between sealing the deal. 

Before arriving, make sure to have a visiting plan in order to maximize your time. Even if you don’t end up liking any of your choices, you will be able to know more about the new city where you are going to live and readjust your search according to that. 

When arriving early, skip hotels and hostels and look for an apartment at Airbnb. If you contact the host before booking the place you will find out that most of them are open to negotiating rates for stays over a week.

Seal the deal

Once that you found your perfect apartment it is time to seal the deal and rent your dream place. 

We advise you to purchase renter’s insurance that will protect your personal belongings in case of fire or theft. The landlord will have its own insurance for your apartment but it won’t cover your personal stuff if something happens so it is important to be protected.

About Chad & Rachel

Rachel and Chad have over 17 years of experience as both renters and landlords. They were tenants in 7 different apartments before becoming landlords of 9 apartments in Chicago. Renting apartments from landlords and being landlords themselves have helped them gain the knowledge that they want to share with renters. Whether you are at the beginning of your rental journey or in the middle of your lease and dealing with complex apartment issues, we are happy to help where we can. Read more about Rachel and Chad, or send a message using this contact form.

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