How to Find & Rent Housing | Housing Terms | Types of Housing in the U.S. | Securing Housing | Avoiding Fraudulent Housing |
Your Housing Guide
Once you’ve confirmed that you’ll be visiting the U.S. on our Work & Travel USA program, you’ll need to find a place to live. Make sure you’ve read your job offer agreement closely to understand whether your host employer has arranged housing for you.
If your employer doesn’t arrange housing, you’ll be responsible for finding housing that is inexpensive, comfortable, safe, and close to your work site.
You’ll want to start researching housing options as soon as you know you’re participating on the program. The tips and resources on this page can help with this process. Once you’ve found housing, keep in touch with your employer and landlord to confirm your arrival date to the U.S. and the availability of your housing.
Contact InterExchange if you have any questions or concerns about the rental process, your lease, or if you have trouble getting your security deposit back. Be prepared to send us your lease and photos of your housing.
How to Find and Rent Housing
View the steps below to learn more about the rental process. Be sure to carefully read the rest of the housing resources on this page for more detailed information.
Use the resources listed in the Securing Housing section to find housing. You’ll want to avoid housing that requires you to sign a long-term lease. Be cautious if you see an ad that seems too good to be true or that requires you to wire money. Remember, your housing should be within reasonable distance to your employment site and in an area with regular, safe, and affordable transportation options.
2. Manage Expectations
Some areas may only have older accommodations available for rent. Kitchen facilities, furniture, Wifi, and other amenities such as cookware, cleaning appliances, and linens are not guaranteed. Research the area in advance - use Google Maps to view the property and area to see what transportation is available, request pictures in advance, and speak with former participants.
Once you have decided where you want to live, you may be asked to sign a lease. A lease is a contract between you (the tenant) and a landlord. Read the lease thoroughly, make sure you understand all of the terms before you sign it, and make sure the landlord has signed it. At this point, make a copy for your records. A lease is a record that you have rented a house or an apartment and offers both you and the landlord legal protections. If your landlord does not require a lease, you should request one. Learn more about understanding lease agreements.
Your landlord may request a portion of your rent in addition to a refundable security deposit, which may be due upon arrival. Please bring enough money with you to cover these costs. Information regarding the deposit should be clearly outlined in the lease and should include information about the return procedure, including when and how it will be returned. Your landlord may request the deposit before your arrival. However, it is never safe to wire money to someone you don’t know. If you cannot view the property in-person, ask someone you trust to go and confirm it's for rent. This is a sure-way to confirm the legitimacy of the landlord and the property.
Upon move-in you should take note of any pre-existing damages and send an email or letter to your landlord with the information. Keep a copy for yourself. Be sure to also take pictures and/or videos of the damages and condition of the housing. If it’s not provided in your lease, ask your landlord for their full name, email address, and phone number, in case you have any issues with your housing.
6. Respect Your Housing
Don’t forget you are leasing your housing, you do not own it. It is extremely important that you treat it with care to ensure the return of your security deposit. Be respectful of your neighbors, and keep noise to a minimum to avoid any fines.
7. Paying Rent
Make sure you know when your rent is due to avoid late fees. No matter which way you pay whether it is via cash, credit card, or check, you should always get a receipt upon payment. Save the receipt for your records.
Arrange a walkthrough with your landlord. A walkthrough allows both you and your landlord to view the condition of the housing together. We recommend taking pictures and/or videos again upon move-out. If you move-out before the agreed upon date in your lease, be aware that you may forfeit your security deposit.
9. Return of Deposit
If your housing was left in good condition, you should receive your deposit back. If outlined in your lease, a portion of your deposit may be nonrefundable. Talk to your landlord before you depart the U.S. about when and how the deposit will be returned.
This list is not exhaustive and is only meant to summarize the rental the process.
Here are some vocabulary words that you will likely hear in your housing search:
The owner or manager of property such as a house or apartment that is being leased to another person, the tenant.
A legal contract that explains the terms for renting the housing.
A signed lease between the landlord and tenant that outlines the terms for renting the housing.
A non-refundable deposit means the security deposit money will not be returned to you.
The amount of rent money a landlord charges a tenant when he/she is only occupying a unit for a partial term (not a full month or week).
A refundable deposit means the money will be returned to you when you eventually move out, as long as you leave the apartment in good condition and per the terms agreed to in the lease agreement.
A “re-rent” fee is a fee that the landlord charges for finding another person to rent the property if the lease is broken or ended early.
Money that is requested by a landlord to secure a tenant’s place in the housing and to cover any potential damages caused by the tenant or failure to pay rent. Security Deposits can be refundable or nonrefundable and sometimes may cover other expenses incurred by the landlord.
Person living in housing owned or managed by the landlord.
Term of Length of Tenancy
How long a tenant is agreeing to stay in the housing.
Types of Housing in the U.S.
Housing options vary across the U.S. 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 or house will provide you with the most freedom. A cost-efficient way to live in an apartment is to share it with other people. You agree to divide responsibilities and payment of rent and bills. If you decide to share an apartment, make sure there is enough space for every tenant to avoid overcrowding. 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. No matter which way you choose to rent, be sure to always get a signed lease that includes the names of all the tenants.
We advise you against signing long-term lease agreements. Depending on the housing arrangement you select, we recommend that you try to negotiate a shorter lease or a month-by-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.
To rent, share, or sublet an apartment, you are typically required to provide a copy of a photo ID, a letter from an employer with salary information, and proof of sufficient funds from home.
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. 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 an American family. Participants will typically have their own bedroom and arrange to take an allotted amount of meals with the family each week. Like any other type of housing, it’s important that you get the details of the arrangement before you sign any sort of lease or agreement. If you are a person who enjoys staying out late and inviting friends over, this may not be the best option.
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 look for housing and start viewing potential apartments or residences.
Resources – Where to Look
Start by talking to your employer about the area where you will be working and the neighborhoods they recommend. What are the best websites, newspapers, or other resources people in the area use to look for housing?
Dormitory-style apartments and university housing
The best way to find university housing is to do a Google search for universities in your host community. Contact the university directly to ask about seasonal housing.
More information about discount hotels and hostels
Roommates can be found through word of mouth once you arrive in the U.S. or through websites such as Roommates.com. Some roommates like to write a contract in order to delegate all responsibilities and outline how space will be shared. Treat this contract as you would any other lease. Read it thoroughly, ensuring that you agree to and understand all of the terms.
Questions to Ask
- Cost of housing per week or per month?
- Cost of housing deposit? Refundable under what conditions?
- Is housing arranged by employer?
- If yes, employer-owned or owned by someone else?
- Is housing an apartment, house, or motel?
- Is cost of housing deducted from paycheck? If yes, pre-tax or post-tax?
- How many bedrooms?
- How many students per room?
- How many beds per room?
- Are male/females living in the same accommodation?
- How many people total will be living in the housing?
- Do tenants have a lease?
- Are utilities included?
- What are transportation options from housing to job site, city center, etc. ?
- Is it easily accessible?
- Cost of transportation?
- Will you need a bike or car or are most things within walking distance?
- Is transportation arranged by employer or by someone else?
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. If you are not able to visit a neighborhood, talk to your employer about the area and use Google Maps to see what’s around.
Many students share housing with others during their stay. Even though it is a good way to save money, it can also lead to overcrowded and unsafe living conditions. Exceeding the maximum occupancy of your apartment or house violates safety rules and increases the likelihood a fire. Please check your housing/lease agreement and occupy your living space accordingly. If you feel that your housing is overcrowded, please notify InterExchange immediately.
As you would with your own house, follow all fire safety rules. Ensure that your house is equipped with functioning smoke detectors and a fire extinguisher.
Common fire hazards include:
- Improper use and maintenance of gas stoves
- Electrical systems that are overloaded
- Flammable liquids
- Fireplace chimneys not properly or regularly cleaned
- Electrical wiring in poor condition
- Matches, lighters
- Electronic and electrical equipment
- Use of barbeque
Fire codes are adopted by the state or local jurisdiction. Contact your local fire department for more information.
Find out which utilities (heat, electricity, water, cooking gas, cable, Internet) you are responsible for paying, as it varies depending on the city and accommodation. If you are responsible for certain utilities, this should be outlined in your lease. You can get a list of local utility and cable companies from your landlord.
Average monthly housing costs depend on location, the type of housing, and what is included (furniture, utilities, etc.). Shared housing can range from $80-$120 per week, but the cost will vary depending on your location. To find the average rent price in your area, please check the Fair Market Rent cost or Rentometer.
You may find that the housing you’ve secured isn’t immediately available when you arrive in the U.S. You should come prepared to stay in a hostel for a few days until your lease begins.
A security deposit is a sum of money collected by a landlord that protects the rental property in case of any damage caused by the tenant. A security deposit can be between a week’s worth of rent to a month’s worth. In addition to the security deposit, the landlord may request a portion of the rent. Make sure you have enough money to cover these costs.
It is important to understand the terms and conditions under which the security deposit will be returned. Be aware that in some situations, a portion of the security deposit may be nonrefundable and used as a cleaning fee.
You will be able to find both furnished and unfurnished housing options in the U.S. A furnished room or apartment will often 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 Walmart, Target, Ikea, or K-Mart. You can also find used furniture at local consignment shops and thrift stores.
Avoiding Fraudulent Housing
Fraudulent housing schemes take advantage of people who aren’t prepared to identify fraud, 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. 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 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 U.S., it is recommended that you look for an established university or residence facility rather than an individual apartment owner.
Please follow the guidelines listed below to protect yourself from fraudulent housing.
- Do get a signed lease with the landlord’s full name and contact information.
- Do a Google search for the landlord and property address. If you find the same ad listed under a different name, that’s a clue it may be a scam.
- Do talk to former participants and your employer about potential housing.
- Do request photos of the property and view the property in Google Street View. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm it’s for rent. If you don’t know someone who can do this, wait until you are in the U.S. so you can visit housing locations yourself.
- Do be cautious of listings involving an agent or a lawyer or people who say they’re out of the country. Some scammers even create fake keys. Be skeptical, and don’t send money overseas.
- Don’t wire money to someone you don’t know. 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.
- Don’t pay a security deposit or rent before signing a lease or seeing the property. It’s never a good idea to send money to someone you’ve never met in person for an apartment you haven’t seen.
- Don’t give personal information out including your bank account or credit card numbers or Social Security number.
Check out the following websites for tips on avoiding fraud:
Also read this blog from another InterExchange participant who was the victim of a fraudulent housing offer from an agency in her home country.
Read our guide to Protecting Yourself From Fraud, Schemes and Scams and Theft.