Whether you are just coming to the United States as an international student (F1 visa, M1 visa, J1 visa) or you are already in the United States studying or working, searching and finding a place to rent is something you will have to master. This following article is a guide on how to search for your rental apartment or house in the U.S.A.
Table of Contents
STEP 1: Search On Commonly Used U.S. Real Estate Online Platforms
First, you should use your school or company’s U.S. address to start searching for rentals close by. It is usually a better option for international students (F1 visa, M1 visa, J1 visa) to apply for apartment in an apartment complex managed by bigger property management companies because they are usually more knowledgeable about situations related to international students, especially when it is located in a bigger city. Examples of bigger property management companies include: Greystar, Equity Residential, Lincoln Property Company, AvalonBay Communities, Edward Rose and Sons…etc.
Private individual landlords usually are not that knowledgeable about international students who have no income or credit score in the U.S. so you may encounter more issues when applying for a rental apartment or house with them. Usually when you have no income or credit score in the U.S. when renting an apartment or house, the landlord would ask for a grantor who will be liable to pay for you if you fail to pay your rent. Some may even limit the grantor to a U.S. person which makes it harder for international students to rent the place.
The bigger U.S. property management companies are usually more knowledgeable about international students and already have specific requirements in place for international students (F1 visa, M1 visa, J1 visa), such as they will ask to see your F1 visa and I-20 documents as part of your rental application process.
Most U.S. landlords will ask for financial statements that prove you have the ability to pay for your rent. In normal situations, the monthly income would need to be at least three times the price of your monthly rent. For example, a $3000 USD monthly rental price would require to show that you have a monthly income of $9000 USD per month. However, for international students (F1 visa, M1 visa, J1 visa), bigger apartment complexes may look at the “FINANCIALS” part of your I-20 document instead. Financial requirements for rentals differ among U.S. landlords.
Craigslist is a posting forum where anyone can post a listing of a rental. You may find a higher percentage of apartment or house rentals from private individuals on here, as opposed to property management companies or real estate agent listings on other online platforms such as Zillow, Redfin, Trulia. You will have to be more careful when using Craigslist to find a rental apartment or house because there might be a higher possibility of fake listings here.
The apartment or house rentals on Apartments.com are mostly listed by property management companies or real estate agents. Apartments.com is a good resource if you are looking into rental apartments that are owned by bigger property management companies. Looking into bigger apartment complexes is usually a better option for international students because they are more familiar with these types of situations especially when you are in a bigger city.
STEP 2: Confirm Neighborhood Safety
Second, once you find a possible house listing, please then confirm the safety of the neighborhood. Please do not skip this step because there is a big difference in safety among different neighborhoods in the United States. The neighborhoods can look very different just by crossing one street, so please do your research first.
If your child is coming to the U.S. to study by themselves as an international student (F1 visa, M1 visa, J1 visa), checking the safety of the neighborhood of where they are living is something you must do. The U.S.A. is not as safe as other countries in the world, because guns are legal here.
Below is a list of websites that give you a general idea on how safe the neighborhood is:
Crime & Safety Apps
STEP 3: Tour The Place & Apply and Sign Lease For Rental
Third, you must tour the place and then apply and sign your lease. For international students who are not already in the U.S. and cannot tour the potential rental place before school starts, it is strongly recommended to choose the dorms offered by the U.S. school or apartments that specifically cater to the U.S. school’s students.
For international students or foreign workers who are already in the U.S. (F1 visa, M1 visa, J1 visa), you should always try to tour the rental place before signing your lease. If you cannot do that, then at least find a building that has good reviews and belongs to a bigger property management company to make sure that it is not a fake listing.
After touring the place and deciding to rent it, you will need to apply for the rental apartment or house with the landlord. When you are approved by the landlord, you must always remember to sign a lease and at least read the important parts of the contract. For example, you should always remember the lease start date and end date, whether there are additional fees on top of your rent, the renewal terms, what happens when you terminate your lease such as how many days are you required to give notice to the landlord…etc.
STEP 4: Ending Lease By Giving Notice To Vacate Letter To Landlord
When you are nearing the end of your lease, you will either renew your lease and sign another contract with the landlord or you would have to provide a notice to vacate to your U.S. landlord before you move out which is usually done before 1 month of the end date of your lease. A notice to vacate is usually a written letter that tells your U.S. landlord you do not want to continue your lease anymore and that you will be moving out when the current lease expires. In most cases, if you don’t provide a notice to the U.S. landlord to say that you are going to end your lease with them, they will auto-renew your lease to a monthly lease with an increased price.
Follow the U.S. landlord’s instruction to provide when providing the notice to vacate. If the U.S. landlord does not have a process to do so, then look in your lease and find the part about “terminating your lease” and follow the instructions there.
In most cases, you would be able to send the notice to vacate to your landlord by email these days, however, the official way to provide your notice to vacate is to send it to your U.S. landlord by certified mail with a return receipt or physically handing the letter to the landlord. The crucial point of this is just to make sure that the landlord acknowledges that they know you intend to end the lease with them at the end date of that lease.
A notice to vacate template that you can send to your U.S. landlord:
Download Notice To Vacate Template