Living in the US
A life in the USA means having a wealth of options. Whether you prefer a bustling metropolis or a quiet town, everybody will find their dream location in the USA. It's easy.
When it comes to the average cost of living, the US skews higher in comparison to the rest of the world. However, that is highly influenced by the big metropolises of the country like New York City and San Francisco. The rural areas of the US are significantly cheaper.
The easiest way of describing US culture is acknowledging that it is a melting pot of many different traditions. The country’s customs, holidays, food, and music are a fusion of many immigrant heritages that were adapted to new surroundings. While the country offers a variety of different experiences, there are a few things you can expect no matter where in America you find yourself.
Americans also tend to be direct when speaking to others. Do not expect them to beat around the bush when giving criticism or hold back on their opinions even when speaking to people they do not know very well. This might be a result of the goal-driven attitude that encourages people to be quick about achieving results as well as the overall emphasis of freedom of expression in American culture.
The goal-driven attitude is also notable when it comes to the perception of time. Punctuality when it comes to work is important and deadlines are respected and prioritized over relationships. The common expression “time is money” is especially adhered to in big cities.
Social Etiquette in the US: Dos
Do give tips to waiters, taxi drivers, hairdressers, and other professionals working in service industries.
Do bring a small gift (a bottle of wine, chocolate, etc.) when visiting someone’s house.
Do maintain eye contact when conversing, show enthusiasm, but give enough personal space.
Social Etiquette in the US: Don’ts
When talking to Americans who you do not know very well yet, avoid polarizing topics such as gun control, abortion, politics, religion, etc.
Do not arrive at a social gathering on time. Being late by 15 or 30 minutes is acceptable and, in most cases, expected.
Driving is a very important skill when living in the US. Almost every household owns at least one vehicle and nearly 90% of Americans commute to work by car. With insufficient public transport in the widespread of suburbia, a car in the US is a vital asset.
WORK IN THE US
The job market in the US is huge and promises high salaries for people that are willing to work hard. The US is a very attractive destination for many working expats. The common reason behind this is money, as average salaries in the US are fairly high. There are also plenty of opportunities to grow and learn as many innovative companies operate in the US. REMEMBER THAT A MARRIED COUPLE GETTING A VISA E-2 IS ENTITLED TO A WORK PERMIT FOR THE COMPANION OF THE COUPLE WITHOUT ANY RESTRICTIONS.
Networking can lead you to discover new opportunities that may not be advertised so you should consider:
Looking through your contacts, identifying who might help you (family members, acquaintances, or former colleagues or course mates), and contacting them.
Attending networking events, or looking into experience or career exchange opportunities.
Listening to others wherever you go – you never know when an opportunity may come up.
Minimum Wage and Average Salary
The average salary in the US is considered to be one of the highest in the world. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest paid occupations in the US are:
AVERAGE HOURLY WAGE (USD)
AVERAGE ANNUAL WAGE (USD)
If you know the state you are moving to and the field you are going to look for a job in, you can check with the US Department of Labor to see the highest and lowest salary you can expect and how it compares to the rest of the country.
US Minimum Wage
The minimum wage in the US is determined by the US labor law and differs in each state. However, the set federal minimum hourly wage is 7.25 USD.
Areas with the Highest Minimum Hourly Wages
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
CALIFORNIA, ARIZONA, COLORADO, MAINE
Some states (New York, Colorado, and California) are planning to gradually raise their minimum wages in the coming years.
There are also states where there is no set minimum wage. Those are:
What is a Good Salary in the US?
Determining whether a salary is good or not depends on plenty of factors: occupation, experience, how many people depend on your salary, etc. Just like in many other countries, it also depends on where you live. Both the state and area are important when considering your wages in the US. Companies in metropolitan areas tend to offer more money to their employees; however, living in a big city usually costs more as well.
A good way of figuring out what salary you should look for when applying for jobs is looking into living wages of the appropriate state. Living wage is the minimum amount of money you need to live off of. For your salary to be considered good enough, your employer should offer you a sum that is higher than the set living wages.
Areas with the Highest Hourly Living Wages (USD)*
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Areas with the Lowest Hourly Living Wages (USD)*
*For one adult, no conveniences (i.e., restaurant meals, vacations, etc.).
Metropolitan areas with the highest living wages are:
San Francisco/Oakland/Hayward (CA)
San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara (CA)
New York/Northern New Jersey/Long Island (NY-NJ-PA)
San Diego/Carlsbad (CA)
Oxnard/Thousand Oaks/Ventura (CA)
Metropolitan areas with the lowest living wages are:
Average Annual Salary in the US
Just like with living wages, average salaries depend on occupation, experience, and where in the US you live. The average overall wage in the US is about 50,000 USD.
Areas with the Highest Annual Median Income per Household (USD)*
$78,000 - $79,500
$75,000 - $77,000
$74,500 - $76,000
$74,000 - $78,500
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
$72,000 - $79,000
Areas with the Lowest Annual Median Income per Household (USD)*
$41,000 - $42,000
$42,000 - $44,500
$43,500 - $45,000
$44,000 - $46,000
$45,500 - $47,000
The Most in Demand Jobs in the US
The US Department of Labor is projecting a bright future for a number of various occupations in the upcoming years. The following table quotes the most in demand jobs in the US and an approximation of how much they pay.
ACCOUNTANT AND AUDITORS
$33 - $34
COOK/FOOD PREP WORKER
$10 - $12
$16 - $17
CUSTOMER SERVICE REP
$15 - $16
JANITORS AND CLEANERS
LANDSCAPING AND GARDNERS
$13 - $14
$33 - $34
$69,000 - $70,000
$20,000 - $21,000
$20,000 - $25,000
$34,000 - $35,000
$32,000 - $33,000
$27,000 - $28,000
$25 - $26
TEACHERS AND TUTORS
$52,000 - $53,000
$39,000 - $40,000
$20,000 - $21,000
Other popular occupations with high predicted growth and their estimated salaries:
Marketing Manager (64 USD hourly/132,000 USD annually)
Software Developer (52 USD hourly/108,000 USD annually)
Web Developer (33 USD hourly/68,000 USD annually)
How to Be Self-Employed in the US
If you wish to be self-employed in the US, in most cases you will need to set up a business. The basic steps to set up a business in the US are:
Make a business plan and find the funds.
Choose a business structure that is the most suitable for the work you want to do.
Register your business with the state.
Get your federal and state tax IDs.
Apply for licenses and permits (if applicable).
Some states also require you to register your company’s name. The taxes you pay will depend on which business structure you decide to set up. However, whichever one you choose, you will need to get a federal tax ID in most cases. But even before you take that step, you will need to find out if your business complies with the visa requirements.
Below we outline the following structures you can set up, along with the necessary documentation for each, advantages, disadvantages, and the kind of workers it is good for.
This kind of business is perfect for small businesses and freelancers. There is no specific documentation needed for this kind of set up. It is easy to establish and simple when filing taxes. The disadvantages are:
personal financial liability;
only run by one person;
no real growth opportunity.
This set up is great for businesses with multiple owners and professional groups (such as attorneys). You will need a certificate and agreement of partnership (limited or limited availability). It is easy to set up and another advantage is that it is owned by more than one person so there is an equal and shared commitment in the business. The cons are:
shared personal financial liability;
dependence on the partners;
equally split profits.
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
This sort of company is ideal for bigger businesses, medium-to-high risk companies, and people who wish to protect their personal assets. Necessary documentation includes articles of organization and an LLC operating agreement (needs a resident agent, someone who will receive and take care of your company’s legal documentation). Some of the pros of this kind of set up are:
one or more owners;
lower taxes and easy to establish in comparison to corporation;
flexibility when splitting profits.
Some of the disadvantages are that if members leave the business, it needs to be dissolved. It is also not as straightforward to set up, there are self-employment taxes, and it is difficult to raise the money for it.
Corporation (B or C Corp or Non-Profit)
Finally, a corporation is perfect for large businesses, medium-to-high risk businesses, and businesses that need to raise funds. It is difficult to set up and will be subject to corporate tax. There are also more books and record keeping. However, some of the advantages of this sort of business include:
one or more owners;
easy to raise money;
attractive to employees.
You will require articles of incorporation and bylaws or resolutions (needs a resident agent).
Top Self-Employed Jobs in the US
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most popular occupations for self-employed workers in the US are:
Farmers and other agricultural workers
First-line supervisors of retail sales workers
Hairdressers, hair stylists, and cosmetologists
Landscaping and groundskeeping workers
Real estate sales agents
The fields with the best prospect for new jobs for self-employed are:
Personal care and service (fitness trainers, hair stylists, childcare workers, skincare specialists, recreational workers, etc.)
Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance (janitors, building cleaners, grounds maintenance workers, etc.)
Construction and extraction (carpenters, roofers, painters, plumbers, electricians, etc.)
Being hardworking and fully dedicated to your job is very common in the US. The country’s business culture is built on the concept of living for work and that is expected from most employees.
Working Culture in the US
When it comes to business negotiations, people in the US tend to be direct about what they want and expect. People voice their opinions freely and are not afraid of criticizing ideas that come up. However, the often-blunt feedback has no negative intent in most cases.
In general, communication at work is rather friendly, and people do not shy away from making jokes. It is also common to refer to colleagues and superiors by their first name.
Although most working days start at around 8:00-9:00 and finish around 17:00-18:00, working after hours is usually expected from most workers. Leaving on time can sometimes be seen as laziness and lack of dedication, and people often feel socially pressured to do overtime whether they want to or not.
This job-oriented mindset is the reason why a lot of workers do not take time off either. Most of them are entitled to two weeks of paid vacation per year; however, the trend is to avoid taking it at all in order to stay efficient. Note that some companies consider sick days as paid vacation leave.
Money plays a vital role in US businesses and it is often the driving factor behind most decisions. Additionally, individual goals are often valued more than company objectives. Together, these are the common reasons why company loyalty in the US is very rare.
The education system in the US focuses on developing each student’s individuality and their specific set of skills. This is represented by the ability to concentrate on the desired subjects rather early in the child’s educational journey and the encouragement to take plenty of extracurricular activities. This approach is popular in most public and private schools in the US. For those who do not wish to follow it, local international schools offer different types of country-specific curricula as well.
Facts About the US Education System
The education system in the US is often called K-12, which is short for “kindergarten to twelfth grade.”
Compulsory education usually starts at 5 or 6 years of age and may go up to 18. This may vary between states.
In most cases, public education is free from kindergarten to grade twelve.
A common name for “university” in the US is “college.” While both names are usually used interchangeably, “college” in most cases refers to private universities, while “university” is used when talking about publicly funded higher education institutions.
Bachelor’s degree in the US is often called an “undergraduate degree,” “graduate degree” refers to master’s, and “post-graduate” is the name for doctoral or other advanced studies.
“Graduate school” is a common name for university-level institutions that offer master’s programs.
The US School System’s Grade Division by Age
The table below illustrates how the US education system divides its schooling levels and the general age of students in these grades.
Compulsory Education School Levels and Ages
5 - 6
6 - 7
7 - 8
8 - 9
9 - 10
10 - 11
11 - 12
12 - 13
13 - 14
14 - 15
15 - 16
16 - 17
17 - 18
FRESHMAN / FIRST YEAR
18 - 19
SOPHOMORE / SECOND YEAR
19 - 20
JUNIOR / THIRD YEAR
20 - 21
SENIOR / FOURTH YEAR
21 - 22
The US Grading System
From elementary to high school years, the public-school system in the US uses both letter (A to F) and numerical (percentage from 0 to 100) grading systems. In high school, students are also introduced to the Grade Point Average (GPA) system that ranks their performance from 0 to 4. Higher education institutions mostly use GPA as their main grading system.
Note that each school might have its own grade calculation method.
What is the School Year in the US?
The school year in the US usually starts in late August and lasts until May (Southern states) or Early September and lasts until June (Northern states). In most schools, the year is split into two semesters: August/September until December, and January until May/June. The number of instructional days is usually 180.
The three main breaks of the school year happen in spring, summer, and winter.
Spring break (one week): Occurs in late March or early April.
Summer break (about three months): Occurs late May to late August or early June to early September, depending on the US state.
Winter break: For primary and secondary students, this break typically last just two weeks from late December until the beginning of January. University and college students receive a full-month off, which typically spans through mid-December mid-January.
What are School Hours in the US?
School hours usually depend on the regulations of each school. Most of the time, they start somewhere between 7:00 and 9:00 and end around 14:00 or 16:00.
The length of a school day varies depending on the grade the student is in. Kindergartens often offer both half and full day options (about three and six hours, respectively). Elementary school students spend about 6.5 hours at school each day, while middle and high schoolers take around 7-7.5 hours.
What is School Like in the US?
Preschool and elementary school students usually have one teacher for all subjects, while middle and high schoolers have a different teacher for each subject.
School uniforms are commonly used in private schools but are usually not obligatory for students of public schools. Many schools provide their students with a locker where they can keep their school supplies; however, they do need to purchase their own lock, in some cases.
Some school districts provide transportation for students to and from schools. Whether or not it is available usually depends on student ages or traveling distance.
Students are often encouraged to take extracurricular activities in the US. Sports, music, arts, communication, technology, and many other types of activities happen outside of normal school hours in both public and private schools. In some cases, the various clubs are supported through donations, and students have to pay for their own equipment and supplies.
What are the Main Differences Between Public and Private Schools?
When comparing the public and private education sector in the US, the main difference is price. As public schools are funded by the government, the education there is mostly free. Private schools, on the other hand, run on funds acquired through student tuition fees.
Other ways private schools are different from public:
Smaller classes than those in public schools
Private schools are allowed to have a freer approach to the curriculum, yet still needs to meet certain government standards.
Teachers employed at private schools do not need to meet state-determined criteria to be hired there. Still, they are often very highly qualified.
Private schools often have more and better-advanced facilities and technology.
Required Documents to Enroll in School in the US
When enrolling a child in school in the US, you need to prove they meet the school’s requirements. However, the documents you provide do not have to be formal documents. Proving your child’s citizenship or immigration status is not obligatory.
When applying for a school in the US, you need:
Proof of residence in the school district (copies of utility bills, lease agreements, or affidavits)
Proof of required immunizations
Proof of age of the child (most commonly, birth certificate, but a physician’s certificate, adoption papers, or parents’ affidavit might also qualify)
Prior school records (if applicable)
You might also need to fill out a school-specific application form. Some education institutions might also ask you to provide your Social Security Number or ask to state your child’s race or ethnicity. The latter information is usually required by state or Federal laws and is used in school statistics.
In most cases, school districts are not allowed to ask you to provide information on the child’s immigration status.
Daycare and Kindergarten
In the US, daycare and kindergarten refer to two different things. Kindergarten is a schooling level that is part of primary school education, while daycare is considered to be preschool level (also called pre-kindergarten).
Daycare, Childcare, or Nursery?
All three of these terms are usually used interchangeably in the US. Whether you opt for daycare, childcare, or nursery, you should expect the same type of classroom environment based on play.
Educational Approach of Childcare Centers
As preschool is the first educational experience for children, the activities there tend to be rather easy. Kids are encouraged to learn through games and socializing. The curriculum is usually focused on social, physical, emotional, and cognitive development.
Childcare centers usually offer full-day care from 8:00-9:00 to about 18:00-19:00.
Other Preschool Options
Family childcare centers are daycares organized by a person who looks after children at their own home. Usually these centers need to abide by the state’s licensing regulations; however, the owner does not need to be an educational professional. This type of daycare is usually the cheapest option that also offers a home environment. The size of the group is often smaller than in usual classrooms and the ages of children tend to vary.
Another option could also be preschool programs. These are shorter (two or three hours long) and take place just a few times a week. They are focused on preparing children for socializing in a class environment.
Is Preschool Mandatory in the US?
Daycare and nurseries are not part of compulsory education in the US.
At What Age do Children Start Preschool?
While nursery options are available for children as young as three months old, it is most common for parents to put their kids in preschool between the ages of two and three. In most cases, children stay in preschool until they are five or six years old.
Costs of preschool usually vary from state to state as well as the type of schooling you choose and the age of your child. Nannies tend to be the priciest option, family care centers are the cheapest, and daycare centers land somewhere in the middle. Among the most expensive states are Massachusetts, New York, Minnesota, and Oregon.
The Approximate Annual Price of Childcare Centers in the US
ANNUAL PRICE RANGE
INFANT AND TODDLER CHILDCARE
$4 - $17,000
$4 - $13,000
Primary and Secondary Schools
Together, primary and secondary education in the US lasts about 13 years, with seven years in primary and six in secondary stages.
Each state in the US is divided into school districts. Children can get free education in the public schools that belong to the district they live in. You can find out which district you belong to and where to find the best primary and secondary schools in your area by using Great Schools map.
Elementary (Primary) School: Kindergarten
As it is considered to be part of elementary education, kindergarten in the US is mandatory. This education level usually lasts a year and typically there are no junior or senior kindergarten stages. Public kindergartens in the US are free of charge.
While there is still a lot of playing involved, a typical kindergartner’s day is usually more structured than a preschooler’s one. The children are introduced to reading, writing, and math through scheduled lessons in between free playtime.
Elementary (Primary) School
Children attend primary schools from ages 6–7 to about 12–13. Typical primary school curriculum involves:
English language (reading and writing skills)
Social studies (geography and history)
Arts and crafts
Foreign language (some schools)
Around the age of twelve children graduate from their elementary schools and enter middle school (or junior high school) where they stay for two or three years. After that, they move on to high school (also known as secondary school), where they study for another four years before receiving their High School Diploma.
A typical curriculum in middle school involves the following subjects:
English language (reading and writing skills)
Mathematics (algebra and geometry)
Social studies (ancient, medieval, and US history and geography)
Science (earth and life)
Foreign language (French, Spanish, or Latin)
Arts and crafts (painting, woodworking, and others)
Music (instrumental music, choir, or band)
Physical education and sports
High School (Secondary School)
High school curricula are usually comprised of core and elective subjects. In order to graduate high school in the US, a student needs to collect a set amount of credits by attending a certain number of subjects over four years. In most cases, each subject per semester stands for one credit. Each state has its own regulations regarding the number of credits needed; however, most of them still require credits from a varied spectrum of subjects.
Typical high school core subjects are:
English (literature, creative writing, journalism, etc.);
Mathematics (algebra, geometry, calculus, etc.);
Science (biology, chemistry, astronomy, etc.);
Social Studies (politics, sociology, law, etc.);
Art (music, theatre, dance, etc.).
Students usually choose their elective subjects based on the career path they are planning to take.
Preparing for Higher Education in the US
To receive your high school diploma, you are usually required to take a graduation or exit exam, although not in all states. There aren’t any national standardized tests. Instead, these tests may be defined at a school- or state-level.
When entering universities in the US, students are assessed on their graduating Grade Point Average (GPA). Most higher education institutions also require their students to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or American College Test (ACT). Both tests are comprised of multiple-choice questions and a writing task. In general, these tests are considered to be easier than high school graduation tests in Europe or Asia.
Preparing for Higher Education in the US: Scholarships
There is a number of scholarships for international students wishing to study in US universities. Usually, they do need to take the SAT or ACT to receive the scholarships; however, their scores are not the only criteria that might help them qualify. Other eligibility requirements might include:
Country of origin
The subject/area of study
University or location
Here are a few examples of international scholarships:
Fulbright Foreign Student Program offers one of the most popular scholarship programs for international students.
The Aga Khan Foundation aids students from developing countries
The American Association of University Women offers fellowships for women pursuing post-graduate programs
Public education in the US is FREE and it is the most popular choice amongst americans; however, if you opt for a private school, you will be faced with fairly high tuition fees.
While, in general, the school system in the US offers plenty of opportunities for international students, the curricula of international schools are appealing to many expat families. The US offers a variety of international schools, with a notable number of them located in the metropolises of the country.
Top International Schools
French-American International School (PK-12, San Francisco, CA)
Lycée Français de Los Angeles (PK-12, Los Angeles, CA)
Lycée Français de Chicago (PK-12, Chicago, IL)
Lycée Rochambeau (PK-12, Bethesda, MD)
Lycée Français de New York (PK-12, New York, NY)
British International School of Boston (PK-12, Boston, MA)
British International School of New York (PK-8, New York, NY)
British International School of Houston (PK-12, Houston, TX)
British International School of Charlotte (PK-12, Charlotte, SC)
German International School (PK-12, Washington, DC)
German International School New York (PK-12, New York, NY)
Other International Schools
United Nations International School (PK-12, New York, NY)
International School of Indiana (PK-12, Indianapolis, IN)
Austin International School (PK-5, Austin, TX)
The Awty International School Houston (PK-12, Houston, TX)
The Ivy League are a group of eight prestigious top universities in the US. They are often highly ranked in terms of student graduation and alumni hiring rates.
Brown University (Providence, RI)
Columbia University (New York, NY)
Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)
Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH)
Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)
Princeton University (Princeton, NJ)
University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
Yale University (New Haven, CT)
Of course, these are not the only highly regarded US universities. There are plenty of other higher education institutions that offer distinguished academic programs to their students.
Other Notable US Universities
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)
University of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
Stanford University (Stanford, CA)
Duke University (Durham, NC)
Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD)
Notable Liberal Arts Universities
Williams College (Williamstown, MA)
Amherst College (Amherst, MA)
Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, PA)
Wellesley College (Wellesley, MA
Middlebury College (Middlebury, VT)
Best Universities for International Students in the US*
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)
Columbia University (New York, NY)
California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, PA)
Amherst College (Amherst, MA)
Stanford University (Stanford, CA)
*According to Forbes magazine
There are plenty of language schools in the US that offer English as a Second Language (ESL) courses for internationals of any age. Another name for similar courses of this kind is English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).
Usually, there are two types of language courses a person can take depending on their needs: Intensive English Program (IEP) and American Language and Culture Program (ALCP).
Intensive English Program
Taken for personal or professional reasons.
Does not require specific knowledge of English, can be taken at any level.
The program usually takes 20-30 hours of in-class studying per week.
American Language and Culture Program
Taken as academic credit.
Requires intermediate or advanced knowledge of English.
The program usually takes a semester.
Housing prices in the US, compared to the average wages, are relatively affordable. However, costs depend on location as well as the type of accommodation you choose. From a house with a white picket fence in the suburbs to a modern loft apartment in the middle of downtown, the US has a great variety of different types of houses and areas available.
But before you even decide on the kind of place you wish to live in, you should think about whether you wish to rent or buy. Renting a house or an apartment is the most common option for many expats; however, buying a house in the US is not that complicated and many foreigners opt for the title of a homeowner.
If you do not know what to do yet, take your time exploring the various possibilities while staying at one of the many available short-term rentals. Finding such temporary housing is not too complicated and will not require a lot of paperwork.
Renting a House or Apartment
Whether you are a foreigner or a local, the how-to for apartment and house renting in the US is very similar. The process and contracts are usually the same and you cannot be denied tenancy because of your country of origin. The main difference might be in the number of documents you need to present before signing the lease and size of your security deposit.
Average Rent in the US
Determining the average rental price in the US can be complicated because of the variety of renting options available across the country. US rent prices usually depend on the type of property and where it is situated. The median rent of a single bedroom apartment in the US is around 900–1,000 USD. Median rent price for all types of property is generally around 1,700 USD.
Average Monthly Rent in the Most Expensive Areas
1 BEDROOM APARTMENT
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Average Monthly Rent in the Most Affordable Areas
1 BEDROOM APARTMENT
How Much is Rent in the Biggest US Cities?
1 BEDROOM APARTMENT
NEW YORK CITY
Rent Control in the US
Rent control functions as a price ceiling for rentals. It puts a limit on how much the landlord can increase the rental price when the tenant wishes to renew the lease. It is in effect in four states in the US (California, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland) as well as the District of Columbia. Other nine states allow for rent control but none of their cities or districts have chosen to enact it.
Renting in the US as a Foreigner
The main difference between renting in the US as a local and foreigner is that as an expat you might need to provide more documents to prove your financial stability. As you will not have US credit records the first time you arrive in the US, your landlord will not be able to rely on them when weighing your ability to pay rent. That is why you should be prepared to show your international credit score and employment documentation and, in some cases, pay a higher security deposit (anywhere from two to twelve months rent).
US Rental Process and Rules
Start your rental process by looking into your options online. Research the neighborhood you would like to stay in and see what type of housing is available there.
In most cases, whether you choose a studio apartment in a high-rise in the middle of a metropolis or a house in the suburbs, the accommodation will be furnished. Finding unfurnished apartments might be tricky, but you will have better luck if you are looking for an unfurnished house.
Working with a professional real estate agent will make the rental process smoother and help you avoid rental scams. If you continue looking for an apartment on your own, you can rely on many online tools, social media, or local newspaper’s classifieds to find a place you like.
After you find a place that suits your needs, you will have to fill out a rental application. This document is usually put together by the landlord. It asks you to provide your contact details as well as information about your employment and prior tenancies.
After your landlord approves your application, you will sign your tenancy agreement.
Rental Agreement or Lease?
When looking for a place, make sure you know what type of tenancy contract you prefer.
Lease is usually the most common option when it comes to rentals. This document lasts a fixed amount of time (six months, a year, or longer) and needs to be extended at the end of the rental period. During the length of the contract, the landlord is not allowed to make any changes to your agreement (e.g., increase the rental price) unless both parties agree upon them.
Rental agreements are more appealing to tenants that are interested in short-term, month-to-month type of rentals. These contracts usually last a month or 30 days and get renewed automatically unless a written notice of termination is given. This type of tenancy agreement allows for the landlord to change contract details anytime; however, they have to give prior notice.
What are the Required Documents for Renting?
When dealing with your landlord, be prepared to provide the following documents:
Proof of employment (letter from your employer, employment contract, etc.)
Financial information (bank statement, proof of support, etc.)
Social Security Number (if already obtained)
Contact information of previous landlords
What to Expect from a US Rental Contract?
Your rental contract should include the following information:
Length of contract
End-of-contract obligations (for both the landlord and tenant)
Rent due date
Method of payment
In the event of late payment clause
Utility bills payments
Maintenance and repairs clause
Security deposit amount along with how and when it should be returned
If you are moving into an apartment, also take the time to familiarize yourself with the building’s rules. These might be restrictions for pets, quiet times, and hallway and stairway maintenance.
In general, US tenancy laws are pro-tenant. The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating based on origin, gender, race, religion, disability, or family status.
Deposit and Other Expenses
About half of the states in the US have put a limit to how large security deposits can be. In those states, the sum cannot exceed three and a half months’ rent. Some states might require transferring the deposit into an account that is separate from the landlord’s. The amount of time that the landlord can take to return the tenant their security deposit also varies from state to state (can be from 14 to 60 days).
Other expenses you might need to expect are application fees, renter’s insurance, utility deposits, parking and maintenance fees, and a pet deposit or monthly fee.
Many tenants often want to see their accommodation or survey the neighborhood before committing to a long-term lease. That is when short-term rentals come in handy.
Average Price for Short-Term Rentals
Short-term accommodation costs tend to be higher than the usual market price. While it depends on what type of property you choose, you can expect to pay double the usual costs. However, higher prices usually guarantee all-inclusive, fully furnished, high-quality monthly rentals.
What Documents are Needed for Short-Term Rentals?
Usually, temporary rentals contracts do not require as many documents as long-term leases. A proof of ID should be sufficient for you to sign a short-term tenancy agreement for an apartment, room, or house.
Things to Know About Short-Term Rentals
Many areas have different types of restrictions on short-term rentals. For example, not all states allow for renters to stay in certain housing units for less than 30 days. Other areas might not allow short-term rentals at all unless they qualify as hotels.
Buying Property as a Foreigner
Buying property in the US is rather easy for both locals and foreigners. That is why homeownership here is fairly common. And while prices are fairly affordable, the market is saturated with many home loan options as well.
What are the Requirements for Foreigners Who Want to Buy Property in the US?
There are no specific requirements for foreigners who wish to buy property in the US as long as they are eligible for a Social Security Number. If they are not, they have to apply for Individual Taxpayer Identification Number that will allow them to purchase a home.
US House Prices
Property prices in the US vary greatly across the country. The median price of a home in the US is around 220,000 USD.
States with the Most Affordable House Prices*
Areas with the Most Expensive House Prices*
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
*According to Business Insider
Types of Property in the US
Single Family Homes (SFH) – detached residences for one family; usually entails a garage, driveway, as well as front and back yards; typically located in suburban areas.
Multi Family Homes (MFH) or Semi-Detached Homes – residences that house two or more families; usually come as duplexes (for two households) or triplexes (for three households).
Bungalows – small, square, single-story homes; typically located in suburban areas.
Condominiums (Condos) – apartments (most typically) or houses with common areas like pool, gym, tennis court, etc.; popular in urban areas.
Townhouses – tall and narrow buildings attached to one another with small backyards; built for inner-city living.
Process of Buying a House in the US
Step 1: Budget
Assess how much money you have and how much you can afford to invest in a property. If you do not have a sufficient amount of money, consider mortgage opportunities. Also, think about the type of home you want. Consider the size, location, and amenities that are necessary.
Step 2: Check Your Credit Rate
Another step to take before you decide to purchase a home is checking your credit balance. If you wish to take out a mortgage, the rates offered to you will vary depending on your credit score. Mid- to high-700s will give you the best options available.
If you are taking out a mortgage, this would be a good time to get a preapproval letter. This is a document that states that your bank of choice is willing to lend you a certain amount of money to purchase a property. You can present your preapproval letter to sellers to prove your ability to buy the place they are selling.
Step 3: Gather Your Documents
The requirements to buy a property in the US are:
Proof of ID
Social Security Number (or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number)
Most recent pay stub
Tax return forms
Step 4: Start Looking for a Home
Find a professional third party or real estate agent to help you find and purchase the property. Choose a professional who has experience working with foreigners as they are more likely to know the rules of the state you are in and the necessary documentation you will need along with other legalities and information. Do not hesitate to ask for recommendations before hiring.
Step 5: Choose Your Future Home
When you have decided on a place, express your interest by making an offer and start the negotiations. Inspect your future home, make sure you agree with all the statements in the contract, and put down the initial payment.
This is also a good time to settle on your mortgage lender of choice.
Step 6: Close the Deal
The best way to handle the closing stages of the house buying process is to hire a closing agent that will help you review documents before finalizing the deal, and arrange payments. Keep in mind that closing the deal involves additional costs, such as title search, insurances, settlement and notary fees, and other payments.
For more information, refer to the US government site that provides an in-depth guide on buying a home in the country.
Useful appS and websites
Here is an example of a family of 4 moving to the state of Florida with a VISA E-2. We'll details the financial arrangements and details about their day to day life.
One adult obtains a visa and the other one has permission to work freely. They have 2 children of the age of 6 and 12 that go to public school. Given their location they need 2 cars. They have health insurance and maintain a healthy life. They live in a 3 bedroom apartment in Aventura, FL.