Home Away from Home
When it comes to housing, your employer is a valuable resource. Some CIEE Work & Travel USA employers offer housing for students. If they do, you will find out when you are hired. Even if they do not offer housing, employers can help with information about the cost, and may be able to recommend places to stay.
There are two kinds of housing:
- Short-term accommodations – A temporary place to stay while you look for permanent lodging.
- Long-term housing – An apartment or house to rent, often shared with other CIEE Work & Travel USA students. It is a good idea to look for long-term housing before you arrive.
A Place to Stay When You First Arrive
You will need a place to stay right away. It is very important to arrange for short-term accommodations before you leave for the United States. Depending on your final destination, you might need to find more than one place as you travel to your final destination.
Here are affordable options, most popular with CIEE students
Staying at a hostel can be an adventure in itself – you get to interact with new people, from all over the world. Hostels generally offer shared or private rooms with shared bathrooms. Here are some resources:
Hotels & Motels
These are good options if you can share a room with a co-worker. There are many budget chains in the United States. Information and reservation services are readily available online. If you have an International Student ID Card you can get a discount and many hotels.
Universities and colleges may offer budget accommodations in their student housing. Find out if there is a college or university near your job, and contact the student housing office.
A Place to Live for the Length of Your Stay
Travel around the area to get a feel for the various neighborhoods. This will help you decide where you want to stay long-term. Look for a place where you feel safe; that is convenient to shopping and transit; and where you will enjoy spending time. Also think about how long it will take and how much it will cost to get to work. Ask your employer or co-workers if an apartment you are considering is in a safe neighborhood.
There are two options for long-term housing
When you rent, you sign a lease, or rental agreement, with a landlord. A month-to-month lease is best because it does not lock you into an extended commitment. Pay close attention to what it says; there may be penalties if you break it by moving before it runs out.
Read more about rental agreements
A rental agreement may be optional, but you should still insist on signing one. Keep a copy for yourself. The contract defines the terms you are agreeing to, including rental amount and dates, and protects the tenant and landlord. Before you sign a rental agreement, read it carefully and get an explanation of any terms that are unclear. Only written information on a rental agreement signed by both you and your landlord makes an official legal contract.
Team up with one or more roommates and split costs and chores. This is a great way to save money, make new friends, and share experiences. You might consider living with other CIEE students. No matter whom you share with, it is important to meet any potential roommate first to make sure you will get along.
How to Look for an Apartment
The Internet makes it easy to find apartments, but be careful of housing scams that involve suspiciously low rents, wiring money to people you do not know, or giving cash to strangers. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Use your instincts, and if you are not sure, talk with your employer or call CIEE. And, never go look at an apartment alone. You should always bring a friend or coworker with you to be safe.
Some useful resources for apartment-hunters
You can ask co-workers, check newspapers, and look for FOR RENT signs but there are also many websites available:
This free classified-ad website serves many areas of the United States. There is no cost to place an ad on Craigslist, so it is common to find affordable housing here.
You can search by neighborhood, and there are lots of filtering options. You can also log in with your Facebook account to access special features.
Apartment listings by state and city. You can sign up and have listings emailed to you. This service also has an iPhone application.
This service lists apartments where people are looking for roommates. Services like this can be free to join, but will usually charge a fee and can take longer than finding a place on your own.
This service mostly offers short-term stays in private apartments, and also lists monthly rentals.
Join CIEE Work & Travel USA on Facebook to find other students looking for roommates in your area.
University Bulletin Boards
Many campuses have bulletin boards where students post notices looking for roommates. Also, many American students need to sublet their apartments for the summer, and often do so at affordable prices. Additionally, universities have an Off-Campus Housing Office with lists of available housing and rental options in the local area.
When apartment hunting, look for apartments that are furnished. Also ask if heat, electricity, cable and Internet are included in the rent so you know what the total cost is. Once you choose your apartment, a security deposit will be required. Sunday editions usually have the most listings.
Landlords & Roommates: Ask Smart Questions
Before you rent, make sure there will be no surprises, such as noisy neighbors, or having to pay for damage that was there when you moved in. Most problems with housing happen because of simple misunderstandings that can be avoided.
See these helpful lists of questions
Landlords expect questions, so even if you think you know the answer, ask. Do not sign anything until you are comfortable with all the details.
Here's what to ask your landlord:
- What are the conditions of the lease?
- How long is the lease?
- Are utilities (electricity, heat, water) included?
- Is furniture provided?
- Is this within walking distance of my job?
- Is there public transportation nearby?
- Is the neighborhood safe?
- Does the building have laundry facilities?
- How accessible are stores, banks, entertainment, etc.?
- What's the average rent for a place this size in the neighborhood?
- How soon can I move in?
- How much do I have to pay before I move in (security deposit, first month's rent, etc.)?
Leases & Rental Agreements
- All states allow landlords to collect a security deposit when a tenant moves in. Security deposits are usually equal to one month's rent.
- Your security deposit will be returned to you when you leave, as long as there has been no damage to the apartment and you fulfilled the lease agreement.
- Inspect your new apartment with your landlord before signing an agreement. Be sure to get a written record of existing damage and a list of all included furnishings and their condition. Take photos when you first move in for your records.
If you share a place with other people, you will become part of each others’ lives. You do not need to be best friends, but you do need to respect one another and have clear expectations. Get an agreement in writing about how costs will be shared to avoid any issues. Make sure you talk about things like chores, space, privacy, food, hours, guests, and noise.
Here are some suggested questions for prospective roommates:
- How much does each person pay for expenses like electricity and Internet?
- How many people will be living in the apartment?
- How do you feel about having guests in the apartment? Are sleep-over guests allowed?
- How do you feel about drinking and smoking in the apartment?
- Are there any items or areas in the apartment that will be private?
- How should grocery expenses be handled?
- Should we share food or keep it separate?
- Are you messy or neat?
- Do you like to listen to loud music or watch TV late at night?
- How will we keep the apartment clean?
Manage Your Money Wisely
This might be the first time you manage your own money. Do not underestimate the true cost of living. It is more than food, rent and entertainment!
What your budget should cover
A good rule is to spend no more than one-third of your pay on rent. Also, most leases will require the first month’s rent and a security deposit in advance.
Some rentals include heat/air conditioning, water and electricity. Others do not. Be sure to ask. There will also be bills for services like cable TV, Internet and phone. Add the cost of clothing and household items for your apartment – and it adds up quickly.
It is important to be a good renter and neighbor. If you do not pay your rent on time, make too much noise, or damage property, your landlord can ask you to leave the apartment. (If this happens, you should get a written eviction notice and be given a deadline by which to leave.) Do not risk eviction! Be respectful of your living situation and try to resolve conflicts with your landlord or neighbors before they escalate. If you have any concerns, talk to your landlord or whoever your contact is for your apartment.