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I will be traveling to Washington DC as a student for my MS degree this fall (Fall 2015), and I want to reserve residence online before I land in USA. I am from Pakistan, and I have not traveled abroad before except for a few days in UAE (stayed in a hotel).

The problem I am facing is related to credit/background checks. Whatever apartment renting or lease I find require credit/background check and an on-site visit. What can I, as someone from outside of USA provide to complete these checks. I have both Master and Visa credit cards of a local bank here, and I have used them in the past to make foreign payment in USA, mostly for language tests/sending test scores.

Secondly, if I am not able to secure a residence from here before leaving, how long it generally takes to find it after arriving in Washington DC? I am open for both single and sharing with roommates. I have a limited budget of about $1000 per month for rent. Please point to some good/reliable resources too? Are hostels a good alternative?

And am I even doing the right thing by trying to reserve before entering USA? Or is it better to check into a low cost hotel for 1-2 weeks and find residence during that time. I have a limited budget which is worrying me.

migrated from travel.stackexchange.com Jun 6 '15 at 10:52

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    The first thing I would do is to contact your university and ask if they have any help to offer international students. The US credit check system complicates things for foreigner. When moving to the US to work, the company we worked for (big, locally respected) vouched for us. Maybe the university can do the same, or they can refer you to some student housing. – Ida Jun 5 '15 at 22:38
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    I voted to migrate this to expats. – JoErNanO Jun 6 '15 at 8:54
  • Your question has been migrated to expats.se with the hope that it will get better answers. Please consider registering your account here so you can vote and ask other questions. – StrongBad Jun 10 '15 at 15:11
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Unfortunately, renting in the US is quite difficult without a number of prerequisites. Generally, you should be prepared to have the following things to have the best chance of leasing in the US as a non-citizen student:

  • A copy of your passport for identification purposes.

  • A copy of your I-20, IAP-66, or student visa.

  • A guarantor, someone who is willing to sign their name to make the payments if you renege on your lease. Not all places require this, but many do; it is very difficult for a landlord to get his or her money back if you decide to stop paying and leave the country.

  • Completed application and fees. You should know your rental history and be prepared to have references available.

  • Acceptance letter from your university.

  • A letter from your financial aid office with your account status (showing it in good standing).

  • Payment in full for the term of lease. This isn't always required, but is a big bonus to convince your landlord that you're going to be a model tenant; you've already paid them!

By far, the easiest thing to do is to sublet from someone who already has a lease. That way, you'll be paying them instead of a possibly stricter apartment/housing management company. The disadvantage is that you'll probably have a roommate, but that's probably going to be true regardless. Housing in DC is expensive and competitive, especially near large universities, so subletting may be the best way to go.

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Definitely good advice to work with your academic institution. If you're not able to do that, be very wary of signing up for anything before you're over there and able to see it in person; if you know anyone there, ask them to view it for you. It's very easy to make accommodation (or the area) look much better online than it really is. The last thing you want is to be stuck in a contract for somewhere terrible, let alone having roommates you can't bear, or having to pay huge penalties to go elsewhere. I'd recommend getting suggestions from others who've been there before you; then up your budget for the first couple of weeks, so you can see places for yourself.

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For anyone renting a house/room without seeing it is daunting. In general, I would strongly suggest that you do not sign a long term rental agreement prior to seeing the place. The lack of a credit history is an obvious additional difficulty faced by expats. One exception to my advice about not signing a long term rental agreement, is housing offered by the university. As a first step, you should talk to the international student office about accommodations (both short and long term) and see if they can help you.

If they cannot help you, or you want additional options, airbnb is a pretty good way of finding cheaper short term accommodations including shared houses and shared rooms.

As for timing, the DC rental market is hyper competitive. Outside of student accommodations, rental properties generally require tenants to give 90 days notice. Once a landlord knows the tenant is moving out, the property goes on the market 90 days, and because of the competitiveness, is taken with a few days. This means that it will take around 90 days from the day you find a place until you can move in. Student housing often has even longer wait periods. Most students arrange for their September housing in April. Most good student accommodations will be gone by now, although a single room in a shared house may still be available.

In terms of credit checks, it depends on your circumstances. Paying the full lease term (generally 1 year) up front generally gets people to over look any credit issues. If you are being paid a stipend for your MS, the offer letter will satisfy many, but not all, landlords. If you are not getting a stipend, and are being supported by your parents, their pay slips can be used to satisfy some, but again not all, landlords.

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