Need to find lodging?
Don't miss these money-saving tips

Lodging is a basic necessity – you’ll need a place to stay the moment you land in the US. Not just that, its usually the biggest recurring expense you’ll incur every month, even after you settle down. So its natural to stress out about lodging arrangements, when moving to America.

Immediate accommodation for the first few nights is perhaps not a problem for most immigrants and migrants. They will either stay at a friend’s, a temporary company-arranged apartment or a hotel or motel. Every location in the US has a variety of hotels and motels suiting every pocket and comfort level. Try to choose one near your place of work, for the first few nights. It’s best to book your room while still overseas, a few days before you arrive in America. Most hotels take international credit cards and can be booked via the internet or over phone. For tips and guidance on arranging initial stay, click here. Once you’ve weathered those initial days and gotten over jet lag, you’ll obviously want to make stable lodging arrangements as soon as possible. You should budget a minimum of 2 weeks to find a suitable apartment to rent. This site provides information on many tried-and-tested options in various locations and will hopefully help minimize your search time.

When renting a house, some of the decisions you’ll need to make upfront are as below:

  • What's my monthly budget? Generally speaking, try not to spend more than 25-30% of your monthly gross income (pre-tax) on lodging expenses. Do remember that ‘lodging expenses’ include not just rent but money for utilities and small repairs also.

  • Location and size of apartment.Compared to many European and Asian countries, America is much larger in land area. This eventually gets reflected in the size of available lodging facilities. Houses and apartments tend to be larger in floor area – certainly in the suburbs, and also in the inner cities, relatively speaking. It is therefore tempting to go for a larger apartment or house. Do note, however, that the location-size trade off exists in America as much as in other countries. Rents tend to rise as you move towards the inner center or downtown area of a city (‘downtown’ refers to the center of a city where the main commercial and business district is located).

  • Lease breakage terms. When you rent an apartment, you enter into a lease agreement with the landlord. A lease represents an obligation to occupy the house for a fixed time period. The general rule: the longer the lease period, the lower the monthly rent (since the commitment is for a longer period). It is therefore tempting to sign for as long a period as possible, the standard being a year. And no doubt this is a good thing to do, as it caps your monthly outflow for 12 months. But do be aware - there are situations where signing for a shorter duration is smarter, even if it means a slightly higher monthly rent.
Incidentally, during your apartment-hunting, you might ask yourself a fundamental question: why rent at all? Is it not possible to buy a house? Chances are, you had self or family owned property in your home country. Perhaps you’ve sold that off and have the funds available to buy property in the US. Or perhaps you’d like to take out a loan (mortgage) to buy a new house anyway. Irrespective, my strong recommendation is to hold off a buying decision for at least 6 months to a year, if not longer. Buying a house is a big decision. You need to be sure of the location you want to be in, and the time horizon you’ll be there for. That, in turn, depends on stability of your work location. If you don’t have at least 5 years’ visibility, it may not make sense to buy a house (no matter how wildly the property market might be appreciating). Also, it would be next to impossible to get a mortgage loan until you build a decent credit history. So for the purpose of this discussion, lets focus our energies on renting a house. If you’re still interested in knowing more about renting vs. buying, please click here for some excellent resources.

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