You’re coming to the US! Think of all the fun you’re going to have learning the rules of American football, discussing philosophy (or whatever interests you) with your fascinating new classmates and exploring all that your new home has to offer.
It goes without saying that coming to the US as an international student is an exciting opportunity which allows you to break free from your comfort zone, learn about a new culture and society and broaden your horizons. But it can also be daunting. As you’re getting yourself organized, one of your first questions is likely to- or should probably- be: “where am I going to live?”
Firstly, don’t worry. You’re not the first international student to worry about this and you won’t be the last. The good news is that there are many people and resources out there to help make this transition as easy as possible.
What are my options?
There are, basically, two options for international students looking for housing in the US: dormitories on campus and apartments off-campus.
Let’s begin with dormitories, or “dorms.” This is what you think of when you picture college or university in the US. Dorms are large buildings in which students (usually) share a room, bathroom and common area with a room-mate. Dorms vary hugely in design. The typical set-up is that two students share a room in a hall of about forty students; there are separate bathrooms for men and women and an area in which you can cook or hang out. Then there are pods, in which 6 or so students each have their own room but share a bathroom and common area. Really, the dorms can take lots of forms, but here are the advantages to living in one:
- Built in social-life - you have a room-mate/room-mates and hall-mates
- Close proximity to college life - your dorm will be on-campus and close to dining halls, classrooms, social events, etc.
- Convenience – utilities are ready and waiting, furniture is (usually) in place, and your rent is built into your tuition fees.
Of course, there are a few disadvantages too:
- It can be loud and rowdy, especially, it seems, when you have an exam the next day
- You might not love your roommate
- Dorms tend to be functional, not luxurious
Many colleges and universities provide housing in dorms for freshman and some provide it all four years. Your university should provide information on dorm-life in your orientation packet. If not – ask for it!
If your university/college isn’t providing housing for you or if you decide that dorm life isn’t for you, consider looking at housing off-campus. Off-campus housing can be great for international students as you can really make the space your own, feel like part of a larger community, and have some peace and quiet when you need it.
You should have a Liaison Officer at your college or university who helps international students get settled in their new home. This is exactly the person to ask about off-campus housing. You will want to know the following:
- Which neighborhoods are safe and convenient to campus?
- What is the public transportation system like? Does the university run a shuttle to any apartment complexes?
- What is a general price range for an apartment and what should I expect to pay for utilities?
- Can I have help with finding a roommate?
- Would someone be willing to look over my lease before I sign it?
Important things to remember when looking at apartments in the US:
- Generally leases are for 1 year
- You will pay a deposit (generally one month’s rent) which will be returned to you at the end of the lease providing you don’t break the lease or cause undue damage to the property
- Utilities (gas, electric, water, cable, internet, phone) are almost always extra
- there may be additional fees, such as for parking, at some apartment complexes
- Before you sign a lease, check on appliances – where is the washer/dryer, stove, oven, etc.
- Many apartment complexes have great amenities like a pool or gym
Tips to aid your accommodation search
- As off-campus housing is a popular option (especially at the larger universities) it’s advisable to start your search early. Contact your university’s International Student Office and ask for their advice on how you should go about your search.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People will understand that you are new to the process and will want to make it easy and transparent for you.
- That said, while most people are kind and welcoming, there are some out there who might try and take advantage of you. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Never pay someone before you have actually visited the apartment they are advertising.
- Cragislist, Trulia, Uloop, and Zillow can be helpful websites, but be careful of scammers and try and get someone to go with you when you view apartments.
- Prioritize your needs, such as proximity to campus, a nice pool, budget, and then stick to it. Don’t be afraid to be picky but be realistic.
- And finally, don’t panic. Even if you don’t have something set up by the time you arrive, keep in touch with your university and let them know where you stand. You will be able to find housing. Often you can find apartments that you couldn’t have found online just by driving around town.
This is an exciting time, but finding housing can, understandably, feel stressful. Focus on the wonderful times you’re going to have as a student in the US, depend on those there to help you, and know that it’s all going to work out if you make use of the above tips.