Types of Housing in the USA
Housing options vary across the USA. All cities and even most small towns have apartments available for rent. Larger cities have more options, including apartment sublets, rooms for rent, homestays, and university-style dormitories.
Renting an apartment by yourself will provide you with the most freedom; however, it can also be a very expensive.
A cost-efficient way to live in an apartment in a large city like New York is to share an apartment with other people. You agree to divide responsibilities and payment of rent and bills. You may have your own bedroom or a shared bedroom, depending on the share situation.
Another option is to sublet an apartment from a tenant who leaves for a period of time – a few months or longer. You assume the responsibilities of paying rent and bills and the original tenant assumes all responsibilities under the lease.
To rent, share, or sublet an apartment, you are typically required to provide a photo ID, a letter from an employer with salary information or proof of sufficient funds from home, bank account information, and checks/travelers’ checks.
Dormitory-style apartments and university housing
Dormitories typically have a greater sense of community and social interaction and will allow you to meet other students and young professionals. Most often, dormitory-style and university housing will require you to share a bedroom and bathroom with other individuals. Most dormitories also provide essential housing needs, such as furnished rooms, Internet access, kitchen and laundry facilities, and, in some cases, even meals.
Homestays offer participants the opportunity to improve language skills and sample American culture in a unique way by living with a US family. Participants will typically have their own bedroom and arrange to take an allotted amount of meals with the family each week.
Hostels are great for temporary accommodation while you look for something more long-term. Hostels typically require you to share a bedroom and bathroom with other residents, but they also provide opportunities for meeting other young people and making friends.
Ready to get started? Keep the following information in mind as you begin looking for housing and start viewing potential apartments or residences. Also save or print our Housing Checklist (PDF) to take with you, and if you're looking in New York City, see our guide to finding an NYC apartment on a budget.
Resources - Where to Look
- Start by talking to your host employer about the city or neighborhood where you will be working and the neighborhoods they recommend: What are the best websites, newspapers, or other resources people use in the area to look for housing?
- Refer to some of the websites we have compiled which may help in your search
- Finding Roommates: Roommates can be found through word of mouth once you arrive in the U.S. or through websites of professional companies, e.g. Roommates.com or Roomster.com. Craigslist.org also has a section specifically for rooms and shared apartments. This is a great place to look if you want to live with roommates/rent a room only and not search for your own apartment.
- Roommate Agreement: When living with a roommate or multiple roommates, issues can arise. Before finalizing your housing situation, it’s a good idea to sit down with your roommate(s) to discuss apartment/house rules and delegate responsibilities. Some examples include how space will be shared, sharing costs of household items and cable/Internet and rules about guests. Some roommates will write a “roommate contract.” It’s recommended to agree upon these types of decisions before you sign a lease together.
- Roommate Conflicts: Even if you get along well with our roommates and abide by your housing rules, conflicts can always come up. It’s important to communicate with your roommates to avoid escalation of a problem. Take a look at the links below for tips on solving problems with your roommates. You can also contact InterExchange for advice regarding a housing conflict.
Documents: What to Prepare
When you rent an apartment, there are some items that your broker, agent or landlord will require. Each management company or landlord may have their own specific requirements or additional documents they will request, but below are the most common documents you will be asked to provide when you apply for housing.
- Rental application: This is a form that will ask you basic information about yourself, including address/contact information, occupation and rental history. It will also likely ask for some references. Unless they specify, you could include your former landlord, host employer or former employer, former roommate or friend. Just ensure any reference you list speaks English in the event the landlord wishes to contact them.
- Identification and/or Social Security Number: You will need a valid form of I.D. and your Social Security Number (SSN), which you can apply for once you are in the U.S. and activated in SEVIS. You can find more information about the SSN in your Participant Handbook (PDF) and in our Resource Center.
- Credit Score/Credit Check: Your landlord may ask for a credit check. As a J-1 exchange visitor, you may not have this. If you do not, you have a few options. You could have a co-signer/guarantor for the apartment, meaning a parent or friend would assume some responsibility on the lease and/or their credit score would be assessed. There are many ways to get around not having a credit history. Check out some resources:
- Bank Statement(s): Recent statement (usually last two months) from your bank showing your available funds. If you are low on funds, you may need to consider providing this document from a parent/family member.
- Letter of Employment/Pay Stub(s): Your potential landlord wants to know that you have a steady income. If your internship/training program is paid, ask your host employer to issue you a letter of employment that states your stipend/salary. If your program is unpaid, you may need a letter of employment or pay stub from a parent/family member.
Keep in Mind:
- Since you are relocating from outside of the U.S., prepare your funds and documentation ahead of time. Consult our Budgeting & Cost of Living Guide and ensure that you have English translations of all your documents.
- Costs: You will usually need to cover 2 months’ rent, any brokerage fees, an application and/or credit check fee or any additional fees up front. Most landlords will only accept certified checks from a local bank. Learn more about U.S. bank accounts in our Resource Center.
- 10 Things to Know Before Renting an Apartment
There are a lot of housing scams, especially on the Internet, so you must conduct your housing search carefully. It is highly recommended that you secure short-term housing upon arrival (e.g. in a hostel) and conduct your housing search once you are in the U.S. This will allow you to see the property and meet your landlord/lady or prospective roommate(s) without requiring you to wire large sums of money to someone you have never met. If you absolutely must secure permanent housing before arriving in the USA, it is recommended that you look for an established university or residence facility rather than an individual apartment owner.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stipulates some telltale signs of scammers:
- They want you to wire money. There’s never a good reason to wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee, or first month’s rent. Wiring money is the same as sending cash — once you send it, you have no way to get it back.
- They want a security deposit or first month’s rent before you’ve met or signed a lease. It’s never a good idea to send money to someone you’ve never met in person for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it’s for rent. If you don’t know someone who can do this, wait until you are in the US so you can visit housing locations yourself. In addition to setting up a meeting, do a search on the landlord and listing. If you find the same ad listed under a different name, that’s a clue it may be a scam.
- They say they’re out of the country, but they have a plan to get the keys into your hands. It might involve a lawyer or “agent” working on their behalf. Some scammers even create fake keys. Be skeptical, and don’t send money overseas. If you can’t meet in person, see the apartment, or sign a lease before you pay, keep looking.
If you find you have been the victim of a housing scam, you can report it to the FTC and/or the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Please make sure to read the information/instructions first about what to include in the report.
Please check out the following websites for tips on avoiding fraud:
Know your rights and what you’ve agreed to -- read your lease!
- Safety should be a high priority when looking for housing. The best thing to do is visit a neighborhood before moving there.
- Find out which utilities (heat, electricity, water, cooking gas, cable, Internet, etc.) you are responsible for paying, as it will vary from city to city. You can get a list of local utility and cable companies from your landlord.
- Cable, Internet, and phone services can often be purchased together from one company. Assess what is most important to have at home before buying a monthly package, as they can be expensive. Ask your colleagues what is typical for your host city in terms of securing utilities.
- When evaluating housing options, consider the neighborhood and if there is public transportation nearby. Will you need a car? Will you live near a bus or subway line? Are you within walking distance to your internship? You can always talk to your host employer about which neighborhoods are most convenient.
- Make sure to consult our Transportation Guide
- Average monthly cost of housing really depends on location, the type of housing, and what is included (furniture, utilities, etc.). Refer to our Cost of Living and Budgeting Guide.
- A security deposit (equal to one month’s rent or more) as well as first and sometimes the last month’s rent are usually due when you sign your lease.
- Often, a one-year lease is required when renting an apartment, but depending on the housing arrangement you select, you may be able to negotiate a shorter lease or a month-to-month lease. This is important in case you need to leave the U.S. early—there may be a fee for leaving before your lease ends, so be sure to discuss this before signing a lease or housing agreement.
- Make sure you understand the costs involved with renting an apartment before signing a lease!
- You will be able to find both furnished and unfurnished housing options in the U.S. A furnished room or apartment will oftentimes be more expensive, but it can also help to reduce the costs of purchasing furniture and apartment necessities after you arrive.
- If you need to furnish your apartment, you can find inexpensive furniture and kitchen supplies at places like Target, IKEA, K-Mart, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, etc.
- Furniture rental is an alternative to buying furniture. CORT is a national rental furniture provider that offers student furniture packages with additional packages for kitchen and bath essentials, linens, TVs and more. Visit the CORT website for more information.
For more information, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions.
- The Bed Bug Registry - It's a good idea to make sure the building you're thinking about moving into hasn't experienced problems with bed bugs recently.
New York City Resources
Also make sure to check our guide to finding a New York City apartment on a budget!
Dormitory/University Style Apartments
NYC University Summer Housing
San Francisco Resources
Los Angeles Resources