A Guide for Non-resident Aliens moving to the USA
You’ve accepted a job offer to work in the USA; and you got your visa approved. It feels more real now… you are really going to the United States to work! The next step is to plan for your move and search for a place to stay in the USA.
How to look for an apartment in the USA
Should you take a house-hunting trip?
Here’s a tip that you should be aware of: your employer might offer a house-hunting trip for you before you move, and that might be part of your compensation and relocation package. You don’t need to take that. That house-hunting trip will be considered as taxable income, which you will need to pay for.
Here’s the good news: you can look for an apartment near the area of your office in the USA by using tools that are available online for free!
You will need good internet connection so you can access the following websites or apps:
- Google Maps or Google Earth
- Google or any other search engine.
The first thing you’ll need to know are the neighborhoods and areas near your office that will be good places to stay at. I know that there are a lot of things to consider. But here are a few questions to get you started.
Distance: Do you want to stay at a walking distance from your office? How much time do you want to spend driving or commuting from your apartment to the office?
Public Transportation: Is there good public transportation in the city you’re moving to? In most US cities and towns, you will need a car to move around.
Amenities: What amenities do you want in your apartment? Before you start searching, set the number of bed and bath that you want, the amount of space you want, the features in the property such as swimming pool, gym, children’s play area, and nearby restaurants and grocery stores.
Budget: You don’t need to set the budget right away. But as you search for potential apartments or houses to rent, you will get a good feel for what is reasonable in the area.
Spend some time thinking about these things. They will help you make good decisions.
Search far and wide.
There are a variety of websites you can check for this purpose. But the top two are probably Trulia.com and Zillow.com. Create an account in either of these two websites and start searching for suitable apartments. You will need to specify the city and state or zip code of the general area where you intend to rent an apartment.
With your answers to the starting questions above, you will be able to search for the right apartment. By specifying the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, both Trulia and Zillow will give you lots and lots of options.
Rent an Apartment or a House?
There are advantages and disadvantages to renting either an apartment or a house.
With an apartment:
- you will not need to worry about keeping your lawn, or even doing the maintenance of the house. The apartment management has staff to help you with that.
- heating and air conditioning may be more efficient because they have centralized HVAC (High Velocity Air Conditioning) units. That will lead to less costly electric bill.
- you will have access to a gym, clubhouse, office, and other amenities in the complex.
- you don’t have as much privacy. You will have neighbors next doors, upstairs, and downstairs. And if you happen to have a noisy neighbor from any direction, good luck!
- you may not have access to a covered garage or parking. Which means that your car will be exposed to the elements–heat, rain, hail, and snow depending on the season.
With a house:
- you have more privacy (generally) and you may find a home that’s furnished.
- you will need to keep track of maintenance inside the house. Depending on your agreement with the landlord or landlady, you may also need to pay for it.
- you need to mow the lawn if it has one. You may be hit with penalties if you don’t do it after an extended period.
Narrow down your list
Here are additional tips so you can narrow down the list of apartments that your search will turn up.
Check the safety of the neighborhood.
Trulia has a tool that lets you see the level of crime in the neighborhood. As a non-resident alien or an immigrant, you would want to be in a safe and secure place without worrying about your life and your properties.
You can also search for the name of the apartments on your list to see if there had been news coverage about crimes within the complex or around the neighborhood.
If you have kids, check the schools available in the area.
Trulia also has a feature that lets you see the available schools in the area and the general perception of the school; whether it is good or not.
Access to public transportation?
Are there bus stops or train stations nearby? If you intend to use public transportation, it would be a hassle to walk for an hour just to get to a station. If there’s public transportation nearby, it could help reduce your daily commuting costs.
Check online reviews for the apartments in your list.
You can visit several websites that will help you do this.
Google Maps: Go to http://maps.google.com and type in the name of the apartment complex. You will see some reviews–some are more detailed than others. But it will also help you give an overview of what to expect in the area.
Apartment Ratings: go to http://apartmentratings.com and search for the apartments on your list. There dozens upon dozens of reviews in this website. They also have a percentage rating for the apartment complex as a whole. You may want to read the reviews to identify some of the potential issues that you may encounter.
Facebook.com – Search for the Facebook Page or account of the apartments and look for ratings and comments that people posted.
You may read a lot of reviews–and a lot of them may be negative. But please take note that a lot of those who leave reviews are either very happy or very very mad at the apartment management. So you should also take note of the issues they cite, instead of the emotional tone of the review.
Take an Online Tour of the Apartments You’ve Chosen
Thanks to Google Maps, you can explore the roads, facade, and nearby areas of the apartment you’re considering. To save time, do this only for the top 5 apartments on your list.
To use this feature, look for the icon for a small human on the bottom right of the screen as shown in the screencap below. Drag the image of a small human and drop it onto one of the streets near the apartment complex you want to explore. The street will be highlighted in blue if this feature is available.
The photo below shows the kind of images you’ll see by using this service of Google Maps.
Check availability of apartment units and make appointments.
As soon as you have identified the Top 5 apartments you’d like to rent, visit their websites, do check if there are available units for the time that you intend to move in.
If you’re worried about making calls, you can buy a Skype package that lets you call phone numbers in the USA. It costs about $6.99 per month for unlimited calling to the USA. Google Voice also lets you do that, you simply need to install a plugin.
But you can always email the apartment management to schedule an appointment when you arrive in the USA. Depending on the demand for apartments in the city where you intend to work, you can easily get an apartment between a few days to 2 weeks.
Some final tips.
When you arrive, plan to stay at a hotel, or a generous friend or relative for a few days, up to 2 weeks. If a hotel is too expensive, look for options on AirBnB, or a hostel. There are also cheap hotels or motels at websites such as Booking.com or Priceline.com.
Most of the time, you will also need to rent a car when you arrive so you could visit the apartments in your list.
Finally, just a small gift for you, you can download a simple spreadsheet to help you choose the right apartment for you. Please CLICK HERE to access the spreadsheet.