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How to Rent a House in the US

The United States rental market is, fortunately, fairly friendly to foreigners. With very few restrictions, securing a rental will be pretty straightforward. 


Renting a House in the US as a Foreigner

The process for renting in the US as a non-citizen is similar to that of a citizen. The most significant differences you will face are that you will likely need to submit a bit of extra documentation - like your international credit history - and may have to pay a higher deposit.  Since you won’t have a US credit history and its related credit score, landlords can be a bit hesitant to rent to you. However, thanks to the Fair Housing Act, it’s actually illegal for them to discriminate against you. What may happen, instead, is that they ask you to pay a higher security deposit, a sum of money the landlord will hold for the length of your lease to protect against you failing to pay your rent, breaking the lease, or damaging the apartment. Outside these events, the deposit will be returned to you in full when you leave the property. The deposit amount can range anywhere from one month to the entire lease term. Be sure to check the laws for your state - nearly all cap the amount a landlord can require. 


Cost of Renting a House in the US

The United States actually has a fairly reasonable income-to-rent ratio. You can expect to spend around 30% of your monthly income after taxes on your rent. As long as you don’t do either of these things, you will receive this money back in full. Deposits can be anywhere between. Rental prices can vary wildly in the US depending on the type and location of your home: will you be searching for a one-bedroom downtown or a detached house on the outskirts? Let’s take a look at the average rents in some of the most popular US cities: 


1 Bedroom Apartment (Monthly)

  • San Francisco $3,400
  • New York $3,000
  • Los Angeles $2,200
  • Chicago $1,800
  • Miami $1,700

Of course, rents in other areas of the country are far lower, as salary. Rents also tend to be lower in the suburbs than in downtown areas, but not always. Be sure to do your research to find the right fit for your needs and budget. 


The House Rental Process in the US

To find your new apartment, you can decide to search on your own using local listings, social media, or sites like Zillow, or hire a real estate agent or another professional. While the former is more budget-friendly, the latter can save you a lot of time and stress, especially in highly competitive markets like New York and San Francisco.  However you decide to search, when you have found the place you want to call home, you will first submit an application. You may be asked to submit any or all of the following along with your application: 

  • Passport
  • Employment Contract
  • Proof of financial means (bank statements, proof of support, etc.)
  • Social Security Number (if you have one)
  • References (landlords you’ve rented from in the past) 


If your application is approved, the next step is to sign a lease or a contract stating the terms of your stay in the home. Leases will vary, but you should expect to see the following topics be addressed: 

  • Monthly rental fee, due date, and payment method (never pay in cash - you want a record of your payments!) 
  • Security deposit amount as well as when and how it will be returned 
  • Late payment clause (what happens if you are late paying your rent) 
  • Length of contract 
  • Utility costs and payment (water, gas, electricity, etc.)
  • Tenant’s rights and responsibilities 
  • Landlord responsibilities (fixing repairs, etc.) 
  • Termination clause (including repercussions for early termination) 

It’s important to note that many leases will identify a penalty if you decide to leave your apartment early, such as losing all or part of your security deposit. It’s important that you are ready to make a commitment when signing a lease! 

Before signing, consider asking someone who is familiar with the US rental market to look it over. It’s not uncommon for landlords to attempt to put clauses in leases that aren’t even legal. 


Short-Term House Rentals

If you aren’t ready to make such a commitment before you really know your new city, short-term rentals are another option. Many relocation services offer these options, or you can look on your own through sites like Airbnb or VRBO. While this route will almost certainly cost you more, property owners often give discounts for rentals of at least a month. Always book these accommodations directly through the company websites, which will protect you from all-too-common scams. 

As you can see, renting an apartment as a foreigner is fairly simple. Explore your options, read your lease carefully, and enjoy your new home!