So you’ve just received your acceptance letter at your dream university in New York. But before you pop the champagne, you better start acquainting yourself with the practical details. Mainly, where are you going to live? Finding an apartment in NYC is far more difficult than most renters realize. There’ll be credit and background checks, employer verification, and whole lot else. Foreign students are in something of a bind here as they won’t have a U.S. credit history. Not to worry though as there’s a way to get around that. Here’s everything an international student needs to know about renting in New York City.

Step 1: Preparation

Everyone living in the U.S., whether they’re a citizen, green card holder or here on a visa, is protected by the Fair Housing Act. This prohibits discrimination based on national origin, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability or family status. A landlord is required to treat you like any other potential renter, so the vetting process is still the same. To make the process as smooth as possible, make sure you have the following documents in order:

  • Passport or state-issued identification – You’ll need to prove you are who you say you are. Since you’re new to the U.S. it’s unlikely you’ll have a driver’s license or a state-issued photo ID, so your passport is the next best option.
  • Proof of employment – A landlord will want to know you have a steady source of income, so you’ll need proof of employment. A letter from your boss on company stationery should suffice.
  • Bank statement or financial information – Most landlords require that you earn a steady income of at least 40 times the monthly rent. Along with that, you’ll also need a credit score of around 700 or higher. Since you’ll be a student you probably won’t be earning a full-time income, nor will you have any credit history. Therefore, you’ll most certainly need a guarantor (more on that below).
  • An I-20 Visa – Your visa will need to be active for the entirety of the lease.
  • Social security number – If you’re authorized to work in the U.S. you may be asked for your social security number. If you haven’t applied for it yet or aren’t eligible, then the landlord will move on by using your proof of employment or financial support.
  • Contact Information from previous landlords – A landlord will want to know what your previous rental history has been like, mainly, do you look after the property and pay your rent on time? Have all your previous landlords’ names and contact information available.

Step 2: Find a guarantor or co-signer

As you won’t have a credit history, you’ll need a co-signer for your lease. This is someone who agrees to pay the rent if you can’t. They typically need to have an income of 90 times the monthly rent, a credit score of at least 700 and, more often than not, residence in the tri-state area. If you don’t have anyone that fits that bill, then don’t worry because there are workarounds.

One way is to offer more cash up front. A large security deposit, generally four to six times the monthly rent, may be enough. Or, if at all possible, pay the first years rental payments in full. The other option is Insurent. A service that will act as a guarantor when you don’t have any traditional means. To qualify, your parents will need to provide evidence of a combined income of more than 50 times the monthly rent. Or show that they have 80 times the monthly rent in bank or brokerage accounts.

Step 3: Explore housing options

While it’s possible to rent an apartment without a real estate agent, it’s not advisable, especially if you’re new to the city. A real estate agent will be able to provide you with invaluable information to help you make an informed decision. Agents can also know the individual or smaller landlords that might be more amenable and flexible in their terms versus larger management companies. Make sure to ask them about the neighborhood, transport options, buildings types and anything else of concern to you. An agent will also be able to guide you through applications, board packages and signing the lease.

Once you have an agent, the next step is to decide between a co-op, condo, studio apartment or brownstone. Your financial situation will most likely determine which option you pursue. Try to arrive at least two weeks before school starts and have a detailed plan to see several apartments that your agent has found once you’ve arrived.

Step 4: Sign a lease

Make sure to read the lease carefully before you sign it. Read through all its terms and run it by your agent and possibly an attorney. There are many types of leases in New York such as rent stabilized, short-term, standard or self-extending. Once the lease is signed, you should be all set to go. Just keep in mind that most apartments change hands at the start of the month so depending on when you find a place you might not be able to move in right away.

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