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Whether you are moving to the United States for work or school, on your own or with a family, the process of moving and finding housing can be difficult.
However, planning, preparation, and research can help you get the right place and reduce the number of surprises and unexpected costs.
If you are fortunate to have a friend, family, or other contact with a spare room in your new location, that can be a great place to start before eventually securing your own lease or purchasing a home. For those looking to buy a home in the U.S., you can finance the purchase as long as your credit is good and you have enough cash for a down payment of 30 to 40 percent.
Before you move to the United States, it’s crucial to get an idea of what kind of city and neighborhood you want to live in. Do you want somewhere quiet and full of families? Or are you looking to be in the thick of nightlife and entertainment? If you’re moving to a major city, these are some neighborhoods to consider:
If you’re settling into New York with a family, neighborhoods like the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, and Harlem in Manhattan; Park Slope, Fort Greene, and Brooklyn Heights in Brooklyn; and Forest Hills, Bayside, and Sunnyside in Queens are all great options. For those that prefer to be nearer to nightlife and don’t mind the noise, then the East Village, SoHo, and TriBeCa in Manhattan; Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Greenpoint in Brooklyn; and Astoria and Long Island City in Queens have nearly limitless options when it comes to bars, restaurants, and clubs. Hoboken and Jersey City just across the Hudson River in New Jersey are also great options, and are easily accessible via public transit from New York.
It’s said that Los Angeles is a series of suburbs in search of a city, but many neighborhoods in the southern California metropolis are becoming denser and more walkable even in the face of urban sprawl. Silver Lake, Echo Park, and Los Feliz in East Los Angeles are low-key, bohemian neighborhoods popular with young people and families. As you go farther west, incomes and real estate prices start to rise, with West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, and Westwood among the most tony neighborhoods in the city. The coastal areas range from the ultra-wealthy enclaves in Malibu to the suburban idyll of the Pacific Palisades to the artsy Venice Beach.
The tech boom has led to sky-high real estate prices in San Francisco, but the city by the bay is still home to some of the most desirable and beautiful neighborhoods in the country. The Mission, Potrero Hill, and Dogpatch are home to many of the city’s tech workers and feature a mix of Victorian homes and mid-rise apartments. The Richmond District and Pacific Heights are full of single-family homes with easy access to the city’s parks and everything the Bay Area has to offer. Nob Hill, Russian Hill, and the Marina District are full of young professionals and home to many of the city’s most popular bars and restaurants.
Miami is going through a renaissance thanks to a bounty of sunshine and a growing tech and creative services sector. If you’re looking to live in the middle of Miami’s unparalleled nightlife scene, then Miami Beach is your neighborhood. Little Haiti and Wynwood are both bohemian enclaves, with art galleries, restaurants, and bars galore. Coconut Grove, Edgewater, and Brickell are all family-friendly, and provide easy access to Miami’s beaches and cultural sites.
The Windy City is the center of finance, advertising, and research for much of America’s Midwest. It’s also full of some of the best neighborhoods in the country, like Wicker Park and Logan Square, a pair of hip sections on the city’s northwest side that are home to some of America’s best restaurants. For those with families, Beverly, Hyde Park, and West Loop are all good choices, and still put you near enough to downtown to experience Chicago fully. For those looking for something quieter and more suburban, Chicago’s commuter towns are some of the country’s most idyllic. Naperville, Buffalo Grove, and Aurora are three to take a look at.
- 12 months
Determine your budget, and understand the difference between what you need and what you want. This list can include everything from the desired neighborhood; how many roommates you’ll have, need, or can deal with; proximity to grocery stores, gyms, schools, or parks; the commuting time to your school or company’s office; the number of bathrooms; even whether there’s an elevator or laundry in your building. Websites like StreetEasy, PadMapper, Zillow, and Apartments.com can be useful in helping you figure out what to expect in terms of rental rates, maintenance costs, and layouts, as well as availability of units.
If you’re moving to New York or San Francisco, be prepared to deal with sky-high real estate prices for both rentals and purchases. Major metro areas like Washington D.C., Boston, and Los Angeles can also be pricey, though there are still affordable options in many central neighborhoods and suburbs.
If you’re planning to move for a work assignment within your existing company, this is a great time to speak to coworkers about their experience in the new location and what their transition was like. In addition to getting recommendations and advice about the process, larger companies may also have pre-existing relationships with moving companies, brokers, and real estate agents.
If you’re planning to move for school, your housing options will include official campus housing, organizations specifically designed for students like International House, and apartment leases off campus.
For those of you looking to purchase a home, potential home-buyers need to open bank accounts and credit cards with a bank that operates in the United States in order to build their credit score.
Unless you already have American citizenship or permanent residency, moving for work or school will require a visa application. Some companies have lawyers on staff or on retainer for this process, but it could still require detailed information about your career and your previous trips to the United States.
- 6 months
Some companies pay for moving expenses, including temporary accommodations and broker fees for finding a new apartment. If you’re moving without corporate support, it’s worth comparison shopping and saving for things like packing supplies, movers, a vehicle rental, gas, shipping costs, extra baggage fees, and mover’s insurance.
Either way, it’s worth knowing in advance that many rental agencies and landlords will also require first and last month’s rent as well as application fees, proof of income, your credit score, and a security deposit to secure an apartment. In cities like Chicago, Miami, and New York, broker’s fees range from one month’s rent to 15 percent of the annual rent.
For students moving for school, this period is often when acceptances have been sent out and campus housing applications open. Review the different types of on-campus accommodations available, which are often furnished and cheaper than market rates for similar apartments in the area, and be sure to complete the information as early and accurately as possible.
Some schools assign on-campus housing based on students traveling the farthest, but spots on the waitlist may open up if other students decline their initial offers.
Campus housing may also be available for new faculty, fellows, and visiting scholars. This often depends on availability, department allotment, and each educational institution’s housing policy.
Those who aren’t moving for school often still need to be aware of how the academic calendar will affect the ability to find a place and sign a lease. In competitive markets like San Francisco and New York, as well as those with many college students like Boston, potential renters are advised to start looking at least three to four months in advance of the desired move-in date. Competition will also be high for leases starting May and June after graduation, as well as in August and September, when many students begin classes.
- 3 months
If you’re a student who has been given a housing assignment, this is also the time to accept or reject it. Acceptance will often require a security deposit equal to the first month’s rent. If you are waitlisted or have rejected your housing assignment, this is a great time to look into listings on your institution’s off-campus housing directory, apply for alternative living arrangements like a women’s only residence, or connect with other students looking to rent.
- 1 MONTH
If you still haven’t located a place to live, many apartments or rooms are listed a few weeks before the previous tenant vacating the space or immediately after. It’s worth checking local Facebook groups, Craigslist, asking landlords about other units, and even taking a walk around your desired neighborhood.
Other short-term housing options include Airbnbs, apartment rental services, sublets, or co-living spaces. These can also be great temporary options during competitive application periods, to test out a certain neighborhood or if you don’t yet have the income or a co-signer needed for a traditional lease.
Many educational institutions also allow for non-students to apply for housing at their residence halls during the summer months.
HSBC commissioned this article. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of HSBC.