Accommodation for International Students Living in the USA

Looking for accommodation options as an international student in the USA? This comprehensive guide covers everything from on-campus and off-campus housing to helpful tips for finding the perfect apartment. Start your search with confidence and make your student life in the USA easy.

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Accommodation for International Students Living in the USA
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Apr 17, 2023 04:44 AM
Studying at a university in the US is something that many dream of. The application process can get quite tedious unless you have help from experts. If you have already been accepted into a university, congratulations! However, this is the time to direct all your efforts to find a suitable apartment and roommates. For international students living in the USA, accommodation, utilities, and other essential expenses make up to an average of $10,000/year. This amount can vary significantly from city to city.
It is important that you extensively research on the student life and cost of living in the country even before you get your admit letter. This article tells you what the common accommodation types in the US are and which one you should go for. It also lists out the factors you should keep in mind while choosing an apartment. Finally, it helps you find a bang-for-the­-buck apartment that will make your student life in the US easy.

Start looking early

With each year, tens of thousands of international students enroll into universities in the US. They all look for places close to the campus and supermarkets, apartments that are pocket-friendly and come with all amenities. Now imagine being a late entrant to this rat-race, all the good apartments would have already been occupied. The time constraint is so high that you are out of options. In such a situation, you are more likely to encounter scammers who just want to cash in on your desperation to find an apartment urgently. The bottom line is to be early in the game, so you have enough time to make an informed decision.
Here is some data from that has been calculated after factoring in the cost of living for different cities in the US. If you have received admission letters from more than one university, the average cost of living in the state is an important aspect that you may want to consider.
Rent Index
New York, NY
Los Angeles, CA
Chicago, IL
Boston, MA
Philadelphia, PA
Miami, FL
Dallas, TX
Washington D.C.
San Francisco, CA
Houston, TX
According to the 2018 Global Student Accommodation Indicator, the most expensive cities in the US for students are Boston, New York, Seattle, Providence, San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and College Park. Accommodation is a major expense that is unavoidable. It is advisable to factor these obligatory costs into your financial plan.

Types of Student Accommodation

Generally, universities help international students with finding suitable accommodation when they first arrive in the country. However, the final choice is yours. Before making that choice, you should be aware of the options available for student accommodation that is best suited for you. Basically, you have two options: On-campus and Off-campus accommodation.

On-Campus Housing

In most US universities, undergraduate students are given preference over graduate students for on-campus housing. On-Campus housing is always in high demand and gets fully booked very quickly. These are usually large buildings with dormitory-like common shared facilities. The proximity to classes makes it very convenient, but this type of housing comes with its own disadvantages.
Advantages of on-campus accommodation
If you have watched Hollywood movies showing sororities and fraternity housings, a more realistic version of the same is what you can expect from on-campus accommodation.
  • On-campus accommodation is perfect for networking. You will be surrounded by people of your own age which makes it easier to form friendships.
  • These housing complexes are convenient for students as they are usually in close proximity to the university library, gym, and dining halls. You can save costs associated with commuting.
  • On-campus housing comes fully furnished, and you will not have to spend additional money on buying furniture and other items for your room.
  • Usually, these houses are paired with annual meal plans. This is an added benefit for students who find it challenging to cook for themselves.
Disadvantages of on-campus accommodation
  • On-campus accommodation is relatively more expensive due to their many practical advantages they have over off-campus housing.
  • You do not get to choose your roommates. This can be a game-changer. Having a lousy roommate can have a negative effect on your entire student life.
  • Student dormitories are happening places. You may find it difficult to study during exam periods because of the constant noise and chaos. You can always study in the library instead.

Off-Campus Housing

A large number of international students choose off-campus housing because of the lower rental costs and to be free from campus restrictions. Usually, apartments close to the university get occupied pretty quickly.
Advantages of off-campus accommodation
  • Off-campus accommodation is the comparatively cheaper option and is often preferred by international students for the same reason.
  • Unlike university dormitories, off-campus housing gives you the flexibility to choose your own roommates.
  • Off-campus apartments are usually situated in residential areas which makes them relatively quiet and calm. This helps when you have exams.
  • You have the option of having a room all for yourself or sharing it with a fellow student.
  • A large number of off-line housing complexes have fewer restrictions and are gender-neutral.
Disadvantages of off-campus accommodation
  • Most of the low-rent apartments are unfurnished. You may have to spend extra money on buying things like a microwave, tables, chairs, couch and so on.
  • They are not as close to the university as on-campus housing which may become inconvenient in the long-run.
  • Commuting costs are involved. This is a major disadvantage, especially if you do not have a vehicle.
  • You have to be aware of legal intricacies related to rental leasing before you sign a lease to your apartment.
  • Having the right contacts can prove beneficial during negotiation. You might get scammed if you are not careful with the details of your lease document.

Comparing On-campus and Off-Campus Housing

All this information can be quite overwhelming; below, you can find a quick comparison of the two housing options to help you decide.
Factors to consider
On-campus accommodation
Off-campus accommodation
Rental costs
On the higher side
Lower if you find the right place but with extra utility charges
Furnishing costs
Usually nil
Furniture, appliances and other items for your room
Food facilities
Easily accessible with meal options
You may need to cook for yourself or eat out often
Transportation costs
Nil. most university buildings within walking distance
High if your housing complex is far from campus
Overall Convenience
Comparatively low
You cannot choose
You can decide your roommate
Socializing opportunities
Perfect for networking with fellow students
Wider community and good for immersing into the American culture
Probability of getting
Lower due to the high demand
Comparatively higher if you start looking early

How to find student accommodation?

Regardless of what kind of accommodation you opt for, there are certain processes involved with securing housing in the US. Use the power of the internet to thoroughly research the possibilities of boarding close to your university campus. You can also contact current students on social media to get first-hand information. Below, you can find the general procedures involved with finding student accommodation in the US.

Rental agreement

A lease is a written agreement between the tenant and the landlord, which allows you to stay in an apartment legally. This document also acts as an address proof that you will need for other purposes. Your lease will contain a list of the rules and regulations you must adhere to as a tenant and also the responsibilities of your landlord. Please be cautious and read the lease carefully multiple times before committing/signing.
Due to the high demand for student housing, you may have to search for an apartment while you are still living in your home country (It is recommended that you do so). Once you find a residence on a classified page or an app, you will have to sign a lease. This is sent via courier by the landlord. You and all your roommates will be required to sign and return the document.
Your lease or rental contract should contain at least the following points:
  • Amount payable monthly and the date by which it must be paid.
  • If the rent were to increase in the subsequent months/years.
  • Duration of the lease.
  • Your name must be correctly spelled on the lease as it appears on your passport.
  • The number of people planning to live in the apartment and their names.
  • Security deposit amount if any and when this must be paid.
  • Rules about owning pets and noise restrictions.
  • A clause describing when the lease will be terminated.
  • What happens if there is any property damage and who is responsible for paying.
  • A clause talking about eviction proceedings.

Temporary Housing

If you have finalized a university but have not been able to find an apartment until the beginning of your semester, you can come to the USA and search for a permanent housing facility while staying at an Airbnb or a hotel. This should only be seen as your last resort as it would cost you a lot of money. Some universities also offer temporary housing to international students. This would be your safe bet if you run out of time as it costs less as compared to hotels and Airbnbs. Never opt for temporary housing when you still have time to find an apartment.

10 Tips on finding the perfect Accommodation

  • Start as early as you possibly can. Starting early will significantly increase your chances of finding an apartment of your choice and one that fits your budget.
  • There is no need to hesitate to take help from your seniors at your university. If you already know someone, you can have them visit the apartment before you sign the contract.
  • The locality of your housing is a deciding factor. Before deciding about the lease, do a thorough research on the safety of the neighborhood.
  • Trust only reliable sources. Ensuring the credibility of online sources is crucial, especially if you are doing your apartment hunt from abroad.
  • Contact your university if needed. Universities usually have dedicated offices to assist international students with admission, housing and orientation.
  • Use the university listings page to find roommates. Having good roommates can make your student experience easier and wholesome.
  • Go through the lease thoroughly and clear all your doubts before signing the document.
  • You can use apps such as Craigslist, Trulia, Zillow and Uloop but be careful as these forums are open to the public. Double-check with your seniors and university if you do plan to go ahead with a particular apartment.
  • Check how close your apartment is to your university, library, grocery stores and gyms.
  • If you deal with a real estate agency, ask for their official website and examine thoroughly.


Finding the right apartment can be cumbersome. More so if you are attempting to find one from a different country. Housing can be a difficult decision to make. This article provides general information on accommodation options for international students studying and living in the USA and gives ten useful tips that will assist you in your search for housing.

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