Follow our checklist during the first two weeks after moving to enjoy a smooth transition to life in the U.S.:
- Find your new home. If you are coming to the U.S. for school, research, or a job, start your search for housing by using the resources of those organizations—whether official options like on-campus housing, referral services through your university or employer, or simply through personal recommendations from other students or colleagues. You can also use websites like Zillow or apartments.com to search for housing by location and rental cost. As you consider your housing options, research which areas or neighborhoods in your city offer what you most need. Is access to public transportation essential for you? Use a tool like the directions feature on Google Maps to narrow down your housing search and identify areas that are easily accessible by bus or subway. Did you come to the U.S. with school-age children? Research school districts in your city using a website like SchoolDigger.com to search for housing in neighborhoods with strong public schools. Visit apartments or houses in person before making a final decision to get a feel for what your day-to-day life would be like there.
- Sign a lease or buy a home. Buying a home is a significant and expensive decision. Most Americans finance their homes by obtaining a loan from a bank (typically with a cash down payment of 20% of the purchase price), which can be a difficult process for immigrants without a credit history in the U.S. Renting is probably an easier option for internationals, but there are still some important considerations. The first is determining what you can afford in rent: the general guideline is that you should plan to spend around 30% of your monthly income. (Some landlords will want proof that your income is three times your monthly rent before they will lease to you.) You may want to consider finding a roommate to share an apartment—and the cost. Generally, renters are required to provide the first and last months’ rent, as well as a security deposit (which can be as much as a full month’s rent) when signing a lease. Finally, while it is illegal to discriminate against a renter based on citizenship, a landlord may want to see proof of your immigrant status to ensure that you are authorized to be in the United States for the whole duration of the lease. Before signing a lease, do some research on what your rights as a tenant are—they will vary by state, but some states or cities offer free services to advise renters about their rights. (For example, in California, you can contact the Housing Rights Center for advice; New York City offers a guide on tenants’ rights on their Housing Preservation and Development website.) The federal government also offers free or low-cost advice through the Department of Housing and Urban Development website.
- Inspect your home. Your landlord or property manager will do a “walk through” inspection with you. It is very important that you take a close look at your new home and document any damage or maintenance requirements. (At the end of your lease, your landlord may keep part or all of your security deposit to cover the costs of repairing any damage—so it’s important to have proof of damage you didn’t cause!) Bring a camera on your walkthrough to take photos of any damage you find, as well as a small appliance you can plug in to check that all outlets are functioning (your cell phone would be perfect for both tasks). Check faucets and drains, and test light switches, kitchen appliances, and washers and dryers. Make sure windows open and close properly, as well as blinds or other window coverings, and make note of the locations of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms, if necessary. Look for carpet stains and scuffs and scratches to paint or cabinets. Ensure any items like garage door openers, mail box keys, entry gate or door keys/fobs function properly and make a note of how many of these items you are issued. Also, ensure the door locks have been rekeyed or changed. Keep a written record of your observations.
- Get informed. Set up accounts with utility companies as necessary—apartment buildings frequently include electricity, sewer, water, and trash services in the rent, but not usually phone, TV, or internet. Ask neighbors about when and where to take trash for pick-up, as well as the location of mailboxes for mailing and picking up mail. Register your children for school with your local school district. Make sure you understand parking regulations at your home and around your neighborhood. Prepare for an emergency by knowing who to call (in the U.S., dial 911 for police, ambulance, and fire services), and where your closest hospital emergency room and urgent care center are. Ask your landlord or property manager to show you how and when to shut off your water and gas during an emergency. Review the location of fire exits and the location of fire extinguishers in and around your building.
- Open bank and credit accounts. Internationals may find it difficult to access financial products—particularly credit cards—without a financial history in the U.S. Consider Sable, a financial products company that can offer credit cards to immigrants and internationals despite a lack of credit history or even a Social Security Number. Sable offers the added convenience of an all-online application process that takes less than five minutes. For students at select universities who pass OFAC and AML checks, Sable can offer a guaranteed credit limit of $10,000.
- Take care of your whole self. Moving is incredibly stressful, and even more so when you are moving not just across town but across the globe! Look after your physical health by getting enough sleep, fresh air, and proper nutrition. Look after yourself emotionally, too; know that it’s normal to feel homesick and lonely, and seek out the things that bring you comfort, like a favorite familiar food or cultural tradition. Connecting to other recent transplants from your home country through community organizations or Facebook groups is a great way to build support networks of people who will understand what you are going through during this transition. Give yourself credit for small accomplishments that require some measure of bravery—like exploring the neighborhood to find a grocery store (try a ride service like Uber or Lyft the first time if you’re nervous about getting lost), learning how to check out a book at the public library, or accepting an invitation to a social event from a neighbor or colleague. Soon, the hard work of moving will be behind you and you will feel at home in your new community!