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How to find your first apartment in the US

22 Mar 2022 - Category: Blog /
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Are you thinking about moving to the US? If so, you may be keen to start looking for a place to live. Apartment hunting is never easy but there are a few essential things to consider before you make any final decisions.

For immigrants and non-US citizens hoping to find a first apartment in the US you will have to get lots of documents together and the process is often quite complex.

You may have a lot of questions: What documents do I need to rent in the US? What kind of references do I need? Are there any special forms I need to fill out before making an application?

In this blog we’ll be exploring a number of topics to help you find your first apartment in the US, including:

  • 4 basic tips to help you find an apartment
  • Documents required to rent an apartment in the US
  • Challenges immigrants face when looking for apartments
  • How Small World can help

4 basic tips to help you find your first apartment

Before you make your move it is important to get all the basics sorted. Like, what’s your budget? Do you want to have a roommate? Are you moving in with your family? Considering these elements will make it easier to get the right documents ready. Before you worry about your passport, your employment contract or your references, consider these 4 basic tips:

  • Establish a budget

Calculate what you can afford. In general, you don’t want to spend much more than a third of your monthly paycheck. Unfortunately, this isn’t always very realistic. Nevertheless, it is important to set a budget and stick to it.

  • Location, location, location

Where do you want to live? After budget, location is the most important element to consider when looking for your first apartment in the U.S. There are plenty of choices, so it is up to you to get out there and research the cities and areas that will most suit you.

  • Explore your options online

Today, it is easier than ever to find a place to live. With sites like Zumper and Rentberry, you can explore thousands of apartments without leaving the comfort of your sofa.

This is where you can really dive into research and get excited. On most websites that display apartments you will be able to tailor your search and make it as specific as possible. These platforms will also allow you to directly contact landlords, estate agents, conduct virtual tours and submit custom offers.

  • Schedule apartment tours

Don’t commit to anything before you see it in person. Schedule as many apartment tours as possible to ensure that you get an apartment that you feel comfortable living in. Treat the tours like an inspection. Create a thorough checklist that enables you to assess all the important elements of the apartment.

As well as focussing on these basic steps you will need to get a number of documents together if you want to have any success securing your first apartment in the US.

Documents required to rent an apartment in the US

The process of renting an apartment in the US is relatively straightforward. Both locals and immigrants have to undergo similar steps in the overall process. The main difference is that immigrants have to present more documents to the landlord than a US citizen will have to.

If you are a non-US citizen the landlord will want to understand your ability to pay rent before offering you any lease. Here’s a brief list of the documents that your landlord may ask for:

  • Proof of identification, such as your driver’s license or passport.
  • Bank statements that show you have enough savings to pay rent for 3-4 months.
  • Proof of employment, such as an offer letter or a contract from your employer.
  • References from previous landlords and reputable individuals.
  • Proof of immigration status. This will let your landlord know how long you are going to stay in the United States.

In general these are the documents that you will need to have ready when you are looking for an apartment in the US. In some cases landlords will ask for extra documents. For example, if you are self-employed you may need to show proof of earnings over a longer period of time (1-3 years).

The landlord or agency may also want to run a credit check to assess your credit score. They will use this credit score to see how reliable you are from a financial standpoint. Your credit score is calculated by combining a variety of financial factors including unpaid loans, missed payments and defaults on accounts.

Challenges immigrants face when looking for apartments

It is never plain sailing when you are apartment hunting. Unfortunately, there are often extra hurdles placed in front of immigrants when they are trying to find an apartment.

Below we’ve highlighted a few issues that immigrants should be aware of when they are looking for their first apartment in the US:

  • Lack of affordable housing

Instead of buying, most new immigrants will first decide to privately rent. Unfortunately, many of the states, areas and neighborhoods that seem most attractive lack affordable housing. And most areas don’t make it easy for immigrants to get on the property ladder and start saving.

Some landlords will refuse to rent to international protection beneficiaries and in some areas all the available apartments will be prohibitively expensive.

  • Lack of documentation, background checks and credit history

Many immigrants that have just moved to the United States will lack the proper legal documentation that most landlords will require. Equally, it may be harder for immigrants to provide credit history or references. Therefore, through no fault of their own, some immigrants will not meet the minimum document requirements to rent or buy an apartment.

  • Exploitation by landlords

Immigrants are often the target of deceptive landlords because they are vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination when looking for an apartment. Some landlords may overcharge, ignore maintenance responsibilities and report renters to the immigrations authorities.

While these challenges are far from ideal they should not dissuade you from looking for your dream apartment in the US. In most cases there will be local nonprofits that can provide help with your apartment search and the overall rental process. The easiest way to succeed is to be organized and reach out to people that can help with the process.

Use Small World

Once you get settled in your new apartment in the United States you may want to send money home to your family and friends. This is where Small World can help. Small World is an international money transfer service that helps millions around the world make simple and secure transfers to their loved ones.

Our money transfer services include bank deposit, cash pickup, mobile top-up, mobile wallet, home delivery and cash card reload. So if you need to support your loved ones and send money, Small World is here for you!

Your first transfer online is always fee-free!



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