Finding Housing in the US as an Immigrant

No matter what the reason is for your immigration to the US, finding quality (and affordable) housing is easily one of the biggest hurdles to jump through (once you’re actually in the country). This is particularly true if you’re coming here on your own (i.e. with no family or friends that you can stay with while you sort out your housing situation).

While some cities might have very competitive housing markets (e.g. Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, etc.), other states/cities are typically much easier to deal with (when it comes to securing housing).

Most immigrants who come to the US choose to rent an apartment/house, however, others might want to immediately purchase a home (if they have the capital to do so). In the following sections, we cover everything you need to know about navigating the US housing market (both for apartments and homes).

How to Find an Apartment or Rental Unit

Renting is affordable, convenient, and generally much easier to manage than buying a home. If you want to find an apartment in the US, there are numerous factors to consider, all of which we’ve highlighted below.

Know Exactly Where You Want to Rent

Most renters choose a rental unit/apartment that’s close to their work and is also convenient to places like grocery stores, shopping centers, public transportation, etc. If you’re planning on moving to a city, convenience is one of the main things you should look for during your apartment hunt.

Have a Budget in Mind

Another thing that you should consider how much you’re willing to spend per month. Most apartment contracts (referred to as “leases” in the US) require the renter to pay a certain percentage upfront (typically the upfront payment is equal to one month’s rent as well as a security deposit). 

You also need to factor in how much it will cost for your apartment to have heat, electricity, and wi-fi/phone access. Not all apartments include utility costs in their rent. While these costs may seem trivial, when viewed over the course of the year they quickly add up into the thousands.

Finding Your Apartment

One of the major disadvantages of trying to secure housing while you’re still overseas is that you can’t actually view the apartment in person. Looking at pictures online is one thing, but seeing an apartment in person is completely different. You can’t tell what the neighborhood is like from pictures, and you also can’t really examine specific details via photos either.

However, one thing that’s good about looking for an apartment online is that there are many different websites that feature apartment listings/units for rent. Websites such as Craigslist are very popular in the US for finding apartment rentals (as well as rooms for rent, and houses).

American Rental Financing

The large majority of US landlords will require that they conduct a credit check on you prior to approving your rental application. The problem with this is that most immigrants won’t have a credit history (which means the landlord will probably not want to rent the unit to them).

We recommend telling the landlord that you’re a recent immigrant and don’t have a credit history (before even submitting an application). Many landlords are quite flexible when it comes to applications, and you’d be surprised at how many will waive the credit history requirement (as long as you meet their other requirements).

Another way around the credit history aspect of renting/financing is having a close friend/family member co-sign your lease. Essentially this means that your family member/friend will be held financially responsible for your lease (should you be unable to pay it).

If you don’t have anyone willing to cosign for you, you can always offer to pay the landlord a certain percentage of X number of months upfront (which might make them more open to renting the unit out to you).

Buying a Home as an Immigrant

Purchasing a home in the US as an immigrant can be pretty involved, and it’s usually recommended that you hire a real estate attorney or specialized realtor to help you navigate the US housing market.

With that being said, the same principles that apply to renting an apartment apply to purchasing a home. You need to know where you want to live, what you can afford, and understand the financing options involved in the process. Always consider hiring a professional to help you if you don’t understand certain legal requirements, financing-related issues, etc.