Congratulations on getting accepted to your dream school. Now you have to find a place to stay. It is challenging to find a good apartment/home in a safe neighborhood at a reasonable rent with good roommates. Safety is important for young students moving to a different country for the first time.
We compiled a list of tips from former students to help you find a great place to stay for your education abroad. Here are the top 7 things you can do:
- City guides
The first step in your research should be to learn about the city. You can do this with Google Maps and city guides. Here is a guide to New York City. You can find these guides for any city you are moving to. This is the first step in your apartment hunt.
You can also find housing guides by your university. Not every university has it but if you have multiple universities in the same city, you can take advantage of a guide from a university close by. A sample off-campus housing guide by Teacher’s College in New York City.
“Housing guides from universities are useful but not updated frequently. Please double check some information in those guides.”
Transportation network is another big one. It is important to figure out how close housing is to school, what is the preferred way to get to school, and how long it takes.
- Groups on Social Media
There are many university focused Facebook, Whatsapp, Wechat, etc. groups for students from different countries. You can join those groups after you get admission and post your questions there. Current students are fairly active and willing to help. You can also post to find roommates there (more on this below). You can get help on preferred neighborhoods, how to get there, expected rent, and safety tips.
“Check safety not just in the neighborhood but also on your way to school.”
Renting an apartment can be tough in cities where off-campus housing is limited. U.S. landlords can be demanding in terms of documents for your rental application. Below is a list of documents they like to see:
- Credit Report — It is a standardized report provided by credit bureaus about your creditworthiness. You may not have one as an international student. Ask your relatives or siblings who are already there to become your co-signer.
- Pay Stubs — To verify your annual income is 35–40 times the annual rent. Some landlords can lower their requirements if you pay a huge deposit upfront.
- They may ask for your admission letter, passport copy, bank statements, and previous tax returns from your home country.
Have proof to show that you can cover your rent for the term of the lease (usually 1 year).
There are a few ways you can choose to live:
- Buy — This option is the least viable (or likely) for you to pursue. Buying an apartment can be expensive and you may have to pay the price upfront since you won’t get a mortgage as an international student (without credit history).
- Rent — This is a viable option for a lot of international students but it requires a co-signer or a huge upfront deposit (up to 12 months rent). You may also have to pay broker fees depending on how you found the apartment.
“Don’t live in an unsafe neighborhood to save money on rent. It is worth to live in a safe and nice place with reasonable rent.” — Priyank Singh (M.S. 2011, Columbia University)
- Sublet — This is cheaper than renting your own place. It is simply a process of taking over someone else’s lease or leasing from someone who already rents an apartment. It requires relatively smaller upfront deposits. You will still have to pay first month and last month deposit. Sublets are usually for shorter terms (check the lease duration before signing those sublet documents).
- Roommates — This is the cheapest option for international students for off-campus housing. Sometimes multiple students share the same room. You can find seniors from previous years who may have a place in their apartments. The rent is usually reasonable and you can find places closer to campus.
“Make sure you get along well with your potential roommates. Understand their schedule, preferences, and fit before you sign the lease.”
One thing that can help you secure an apartment faster is to start your hunt early. This will give you a head start over other students looking for apartments around the time when college starts. The competition also increases because of graduating class looking for apartments when moving into new jobs.
There are multiple ways to finding the right apartment — off campus housing listings, brokers, rental websites, and building management offices. You can arrive in the U.S. about 30 days before the school starts and take your time looking at apartments. Make a list of apartments you want to see before your arrive. It will help you understand the market pretty quickly and also leaves you time to search for roommates. You may have to rush signing a lease if you start your search late.
“Start emailing landlords on craigslist a few weeks before you arrive at the campus but don’t try to book it without doing all the checks in person.”
Looking for a place online in a different country is an invitation to scammers to take your money. There are are some sites that need to used carefully. Craigslist is one of those sites that is really helpful but also a common place for scammers to try to take money from easy targets. They have tips on watching out for scam, so make sure you read those.
These scammers can trick you in multiple ways to gain your confidence. They may set up fake accounts on social media websites to establish their identity, may use fake phone numbers of a country where they don’t belong, may get you to fill out forms with sensitive personal information etc.
Tips for avoiding scams:
- Don’t make any online payment — for anything. This is a big no-no.
- Prioritizing posts with picture over text-only posts
- Do a reverse image search on google to check if the pictures have been downloaded from the internet
- Google the address and make sure it exists
- Meet in person before doing any transactions
- Don’t pay for anything in cash — you can cancel a transaction if you feel it’s suspicious but you can’t do the same with cash