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Once you’ve decided that you’re going to take the leap and leave your home country, the next thing on your mind is probably, where am I going to live? That’s why we’ve created this guide to help you navigate the process of finding an apartment in the United States. From scoping out the neighborhood to signing the lease, learn everything you need to know about finding a home in your new country and the questions you should be asking. 

Chula Vista, California

First up, where would you like to live?

Before you even start looking, you’ll want to scope out the neighborhood. Especially in larger American cities, neighborhoods can vary greatly and you’ll want to ensure that where you’re moving will work for you and your lifestyle. A few ideas to get you started:

  • Walk the neighborhood you’re looking at. Go both during the day and at night, as the scene can change. 
  • Stop by some local stores and ask around about how everyone feels in the neighborhood. Do they like living there? Do they seem friendly? Do you feel welcome and comfortable there?

You’ll also want to make some decisions about what your living situation might be:

  • Will you be living with roommates?
  • Are you looking for a house or apartment?
  • What will your commute to work/school/activities be like for you and/or your family?
  • What kind of amenities do you need in your home? And which do you need to have locally in the neighborhood? (Laundry, Gym, Groceries, etc.)
  • Will you need a living space that comes with furniture included? Or will you be bringing your own or buying new furniture?

There are many considerations to help you narrow down your search when you are looking for the perfect place to settle into your new space. 

Chula Vista, California

Next up, how do you find this space?

Online Apartment Search

Once you’ve narrowed down your criteria, it’s time to start looking. The first place many people in the U.S. start when searching for an apartment is online. Below are some of the more common online spaces to begin your search and narrow down your results based on the criteria you’ve determined above. 

  • Craigslist.com – this is a great place to start and is still used by many to find apartments throughout the US. It is also a good space to look for many other items as well as you begin to settle into your new place. Be wary of listings that seem too good to be true, don’t show many photos, or just overall feel like something is off, and always have someone accompany you to a listing if you are going to see it in person. 
  • Apartments.com – another good space to begin narrowing your search using the proper filters. 
  • Zillow.com – caters to buying and selling homes, so be sure to select the “rent” option when filtering for apartments in the neighborhood you’re looking for 

In-Person Apartment Search

Some other options if you prefer to go the more traditional route:

  • Work with a local real estate agent. They may charge a fee once they’ve found your space, but otherwise, are free to search with.
  • Check in with other expats who have been in your shoes. They might have some advice, know the best neighborhoods, or even know somewhere you might be able to rent from.
  • Walk around! This may seem more old school, but in many areas, especially where good places go fast, sometimes the landlords won’t even list a space online. You can find some real gems by simple walking around your neighborhood and looking for rental signs. 
Chula Vista, California

Next up, how to apply?

When you find the options that you are interested in, call the number or reach out to the listing and set up a viewing. It is not recommended to sign a lease for an apartment without seeing it first and asking all the questions you need to ensure that this is the right place for you. 

When you are viewing the apartment, this is your chance to really get the feel for the space. Ask all the questions that you might have at this viewing. We’ve got a list below that might help you if you don’t know where to begin. 

Finally, APPLY. Typically to rent an apartment, a landlord or management company will require you to fill out an application. You can ask what this process will entail at your viewing. Applications may require:

  • Credit information
  • Financial information
  • Personal information
  • Past living situations
Chula Vista, California

What is typically included in the rental?

This is definitely a question you’ll be wanting to ask at the viewing to ensure that the space is really within your budget. Typically, the renter will pay for all utilities unless it is otherwise stated. These can include electric, heating, cooling, gas, water, and cable. 

Most major appliances are usually included in the rent. However, you should still ensure this is the case, in certain areas, this can vary. (For example, in California many places don’t come with a refrigerator, you have to provide your own)

To get started, many landlords require that you pay 1 or 2 months’ rent, plus a security deposit. This is something to consider when you are getting started, as this can be a big expense upfront as well. Make sure that you’ve asked what these requirements are as well as how you should be paying (by check, electronically, etc.) and if there are any late fees that apply. 

Check with your local laws and regulations regarding the security deposit and how it may be used to ensure that your landlord is complying.

Chula Vista, California

What documents are signed?

When getting an apartment in the U.S., you will need to sign a lease. This is an agreement between you and the landlord or owner. Leases are typically 1 year but can be shorter in certain cases. Types of leases: 

  • Term leases – these are usually annual and you might have the chance to renew after a year (or another specified period of time)
  • Month to month – this is when you have the ability to renew each and every month as your choice. This also allows the landlord to terminate the lease with a month’s notice. These are useful if you are uncertain about how long you might be staying somewhere, as it can be expensive to break a year-long lease. However, these can be harder to find.
  • Sublease – this occurs when the original renter is unable to finish out the term of their lease. They will look for someone to take over the remainder of the lease for them. These tend to be less than a year, and there is sometimes, but not always, the option to then renew for a full year-long lease. 
Chula Vista, California

Questions to consider when looking for an apartment in the U.S. 

Below are some questions to consider when you are searching for your new apartment in the U.S. Choose the ones that are important to you and make sure that the person you are working with and the Landlord are willing to answer them. They should be able and willing to help you in your search and answer all of your important questions about your new home.

  • What utilities are included or excluded?
    • Do they have an estimate of how much the utilities you are responsible for cost on a monthly basis?
  • Are there any non-refundable deposits or fees? Some landlords collect additional fees for services like move-in, move-out, and security deposits. Once you know what these are, check to make sure these are legal in your area as many states regulate certain fees. 
  • What is the application process?
    • What are the screening qualifications?
    • Be sure to ask if there are any fees associate with the process.
  • How soon are you looking to fill the unit? Making sure move-in dates work with your timeline is important. Otherwise, it’s not worth wasting your time looking at the unit. 
  • What is the lease term?
  • What forms of payment do you accept for rent? 
  • How much interest have you had in this unit? If not many people are interested in this unit, you might want to figure out why. 
  • What’s your late fee policy? This is another area where you should make sure it aligns with local laws.
  • What’s your subletting policy? In the case that your plans might change, you want to know what your options are in breaking the lease or subletting. 
  • Do you allow early termination? What are the fees?
  • If you have pets, you’ll want to ask about their pet policy. Are they allow? Are there additional fees?
  • Are there any larger renovations expected?
  • Check for water pressure and ensure everything is in working order including all appliances, lights, etc. 
  • What is the security like in the building?
  • What are the renewal options on the lease?
  • What parking is available? 
  • Is there a guest policy?
  • Maintenance and repairs. Who is responsible for what and how do you contact them?
  • How much notice is required by a Landlord or someone else to enter the property? Many cities and states have a 24-hour notice requirement that your Landlord and management should abide by. 

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