- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals USA Guide (PDF)
Expats moving to the US will find a range of high-quality accommodation options available to them. While housing is expensive in the larger cities, expats on a budget can mitigate this effect by living on the outskirts rather than in the city centre.
Whether new arrivals are looking to rent an apartment or are eager to purchase a piece of prime real estate, they're likely to find a home well suited to their individual needs and budget.
Types of accommodation in the USA
Accommodation in the US is usually divided into the following types:
Apartments (self-contained units in larger buildings; referred to as 'flats' in some parts of the world, such as the UK)
Single-family homes (standalone houses, usually on a small plot of land)
Duplexes (two or more living quarters housed in the same building)
Condominiums (a community of similar-styled homes with shared amenities)
Mansions (large, extravagant, expensive houses)
All these forms of housing are widespread throughout the US, with apartments being the most popular to rent for expats, and single-family homes being the most commonly purchased.
Another option is house-sharing – renting an individual room in a larger house shared with others. This is a terrific option for single expats to consider, as it is budget-friendly and a great way to make new friends.
Renting accommodation in the USA
Most newcomers to the US typically choose to rent initially and consider homeownership once they have settled in the country and found a city they want to call home long term. Renting not only provides new arrivals with flexibility, but also shields them from the often prohibitive costs of buying a property.
Finding rental accommodation
Finding a place to rent in the US is a relatively straightforward process. New arrivals should begin by doing some research on the city they are relocating to in order to get some perspectives on neighbourhoods that best align with their priorities.
There is a plethora of free websites that carry both short- and long-term rental listings. Registration is optional, and house hunters should note that any web portals that demand payment to search listings should be approached with caution or avoided entirely.
Another source is local newspapers and magazines, known as 'home finders'. These are widely distributed in most American cities. These often specialise in providing rental listings. Additionally, many people find it useful to drive around neighbourhoods they like in search of 'for rent' signs.
Real-estate agents can also assist new arrivals in finding a rental property. However, in the US, realtors typically specialise in helping people buy homes rather than rent them. In the case that they do assist with a rental, realtors will usually charge a month's rent as commission for helping tenants find a home.
House-sharing is a fantastic option for thrifty expats and students, as it is an opportunity to meet new people while saving money on rent. Several websites specialise in student accommodation and house-shares. Roomi is one of the most popular websites in the US that connects verified prospective roommates.
Furnished vs unfurnished
There are plenty of furnished, semi-furnished and unfurnished accommodation options available in the US. New arrivals who are in the country for a short assignment frequently choose to rent furnished housing for convenience. Unfurnished housing in the US generally comes bare bones, with the essentials only. These include appliances such as a stove, refrigerator, dishwasher and occasionally, a washer and dryer combo.
Expats looking to make a space their own without spending on the basics should consider semi-furnished properties. Although they can vary significantly, semi-furnished accommodation typically includes a couch, dresser, dining table and chairs and a bed frame. A furnished property is the perfect turnkey solution, with everything from furniture to utensils included.
New arrivals should note that while furnished and semi-furnished accommodation may be the most convenient, they are also likely to be pricier than unfurnished rentals. Newcomers who opt for unfurnished housing will be spoilt for choice when it comes to furniture shopping as the US market is inundated with discount furniture retailers such as Home Depot, Wayfair and Ikea.
Short lets and temporary housing
Short lets are a good option for newcomers establishing their lives in the US. Temporary housing allows new arrivals to look for long-term housing while saving money on hotel fees. They also give expats the opportunity to get a feel for their new city before making commitments. Airbnb and Vrbo are some great places to start the search for a short term rental property.
Signing a lease
Once expats have found a property to their liking, they will have to tender a lease application. It's important to note that, in most cases, potential tenants will need to prove that they are serious candidates for renting the property.
As foreigners, expats will need to demonstrate that they can afford the rent. Credit and background checks are commonly carried out. Those with references from previous landlords should be sure to include them with their applications.
Leases in the US are typically for 12 months and are extendable once the initial agreement has lapsed. Expats must give the landlord 30 days' notice before moving out, but some landlords may request a 60- or even 90-day notice period. Landlords are legally obligated to give tenants the same notice should they wish to terminate the agreement.
When signing a lease, expats will be expected to pay the first month's rent upfront and the equivalent of at least another month's rent to cover a security deposit. The deposit will be returned at the end of the tenancy once the home has been inspected and any damages have been covered.
Expats with furry, feathery or scaly friends shouldn't have too much of a difficult time finding a rental property in the US. Although many apartment buildings and properties do not allow pets, expats can always negotiate with their landlord when discussing the lease agreement.
It is important to note that some properties restrict the types of pets and breeds that can be kept on a residential property, so it's best to consult with your landlord and obtain written consent. Landlords also have a legal right to charge a pet deposit for non-service animals, so new arrivals should be prepared for this.
Utilities are sometimes included in the rental cost but are more commonly an extra expense that the tenant should budget for. Costs to consider include gas, electricity, water, refuse, phone and internet. The lease agreement should specify who is responsible for which utility expenses.
Termination of the lease
When moving out, tenants should leave the property completely clean, which includes sweeping, mopping and vacuuming every room. All appliances and electrical outlets should also be in working order to avoid losing out on the security deposit. Landlords are likely to deduct cleaning or painting fees from the security deposit should the tenant fail to return the property in the same condition they found it in.
Most landlords will account for normal wear and tear and will typically not charge tenants for this. Landlords usually have two weeks to one month to return the security deposit, should everything with the property be in order.
Buying property in the USA
Foreigners employed in the US can buy property and apply for financing. However, plenty of supporting documentation will be needed to secure funding from the bank. Those looking to buy property in the States should also bear in mind that one of the most crucial steps along the way is to secure the services of a reliable estate agent as they will play a large part in the purchasing process.
Initially, buyers provide the realtor with a comprehensive list of individual housing requirements. Based on this, the realtor generates a list of potential properties. Once buyers have identified one or two options that seem promising, the realtor will then further assist in liaising with the seller; organising viewings, house inspections and property reports; negotiating sales contracts; advising on market trends and prices; and conducting title searches. Suffice it to say that buying a house in America is far less a project undertaken individually than it is in partnership with an estate agent.
►Learn about schooling options with Education and Schools in the USA
"A wide variety of housing options are available, from luxury condos with all the amenities of a resort to Spanish-style homes, modern houses and quaint apartment buildings. There is something for every budget and offers are plenty.
"The months of June-July are the most popular moving months so you may not have as much inventory, or you may have to make a quicker decision in order not to lose the property you are interested in and have less bargaining leverage. If you will be moving during the summer, it may be best to secure housing a couple of months before arrival."
Read more about French expat Emmanuelle's life in the United States.
Are you an expat living in The USA?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to The USA. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
If you’re thinking about taking out private health insurance, our trusted partner Cigna Global is very aware of all the difficulties that expats can face when it comes to healthcare in a new location, so they have created a range of international health insurance plans specifically designed for expats, which you can tailor exactly to the needs and ensure access to quality care for you and your family.
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