If you're coming from somewhere else other than the United States, it might be a bit challenging and daunting to find your very first rental property to call home. Being away from the confines of your your home city or home country in itself is already difficult, so we'd like to make finding your "new" home away from home a little easier to manage.
But before we get into the details of the how you can secure an apartment rental, let's first understand the Boston rental market. Like anywhere in the US, the typical turnover of leases begin September 1, and end August 31st of the following year - though there are definitely times when new residents move in throughout the year for varied reasons. But listings (the units that are available for rent) are usually plentiful during the summer months of June, July, and August. Now, that having said, let's determine when you'd like to move in.
As an international, you're most likely in Boston to attend a university with your program beginning sometime in September. Majority would like to move in as soon as they set foot in the city, but others prefer to wait it out. There are definitely pros and cons to this. Firstly, securing an apartment rental during summer for move in on September 1st is good especially if you don't know anyone in the city, or don't have anywhere to crash in for the meantime. There are literally hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of units available for rent. Also, it would be wise to move in before your program starts, so that it's no longer in your way once studies settle in. A con of moving during this time however, is that you have to be fast - one day makes a big difference when you're applying for an apartment, since you're competing with almost 70,000 other applicants who are also looking to rent, not to mention the hordes of people moving in on a particular day.
However, there are also pros to waiting. If you're willing and able, waiting for a rental apartment after the rush has died down would (1) enable you to negotiate for a better price since there's not much demand after the September and October months; also (2) you'll have an easier time hauling in your stuff and moving in. Despite these advantages, a con to waiting is that you won't have that much units to choose from. Most of the rental apartments have already been leased out, so if you're looking to move alone and occupy a unit by yourself, it is much better to look and secure before September 1st. This is not to say that there aren't available apartments anymore; there are just fewer and limited selections to choose from. The truly best way to determine your move in date is really to weigh your needs and commit to finding an apartment as soon as you've determined this.
during your search, you'll have to fill up application forms that will be submitted to landlords and or brokerage firms who have direct dealings with owners of apartments. You never know what you need to have on hand, so always always have all your documents at the ready. In particular, international student applicants are usually asked for their I-20 forms, issued by the US Gov't and your school. This proves that you are in the United States legitimately, and for schooling purposes. It also somehow proves your capacity to pay since it states your financial capability to undergo the program you're enrolled in. The I-20 is a substitute form in lieu of a Social Security Number, which all US citizens have.
Proving your financial capability is an all too important factor, too. If you can, secure a bank certificate from your local bank, proving that you have the means and stating how much you or your parents have in the bank. This will make your application shine, since landlords would want to make sure you suddenly won't be paying your rent.
Other supporting documents (or at least copies of it) are also good to have on hand. This includes your passport, student visa, and the acceptance letter to the school you're attending. This all states the fact that you're a student in good standing, and not someone who's out to scam your way to an apartment.
In the US and especially in Boston, there are different types of housing available. Determine whether you'd like to lease an apartment or a condominium. If it's a condominium - do you want in a high-rise, mid-rise, full-service or self-sufficient? Apartments are generally units in a multi-family home, meaning it's a house with 3 or 4 floors, and each floor is a unit on its own. A condominium in mid- and high-rise development is plainly what it is - a unit in a building where each floor has more than one resident living in it. A full-service building is a condominium building that has full amenities such as fitness center, elevators, lobby, concierge, a pool, and the like; whereas a self-sufficient condominium development is just a condo building without those previously mentioned.
Budgets are an all too important factor when it comes to your apartment hunt. It dictates what type, where, and how far you're willing to go to secure an apartment. In Boston, be prepared to rent a studio between the ranges of $1,300-$1500, a one-bedroom for $1,500-$,2000, and add $300-$500 as the unit you're looking for becomes larger. This estimate is good for those looking to live solo, and it really will depend on the neighborhood you'd want to live in.
Also, be VERY aware that when you're applying for rentals, you'll most likely be asked to put deposits along with your submission. Specifically, landlords require first and last month's rent, a security deposit, and the finder's fee (if applicable). This could amount to a maximum of four months worth of rent, so you should be prepared. Also know that the security deposit is fully refundable to you at the end of your lease, provided that you haven't done anything to affect the condition of the rental unit. It's also common that the Security deposit is equivalent to one's month rent, but in some cases they're a fixed amount that's less. It varies from landlord to landlord, but just to be sure, estimate it to be the former.
Fixing your bank account in the US is very straight-forward and an easy transaction. However, if you're wiring or transferring funds from abroad, it takes a couple of days to reflect on your account. Be prepared for that. Tell your broker or your potential landlord this at once, and show proof of your deposit if necessary. This will make it known to them that money is coming, but is just not yet available. It won't harm your application, and if anything, would give a positive image of you being transparent with your finances.
In our experience, international students have little information about Boston and its neighborhoods. Don't be like that - do your research about the school you'll be attending and the neighborhoods convenient and close to it. This makes a big impact in your apartment search, since you'd want to be close to your school. Weigh in your lifestyle as well: do you like to cook and stay in or dine out? Factors like these affect your neighborhood search since if you're on a budget and would like to prepare your own meals, then being nearby a grocery would be ideal.
Don't forget to also think about your transportation. Although Boston has an extensive public transportation system of trains and buses, there are neighborhoods that stand out to commuters. If you have a car, that also changes your search parameters, since you'll need a parking spot for your vehicle.
Check out these posts to get a sense and feel of how it is to live in the different neighborhoods of Boston:
Also, do head on over to Boston Business Journals' convenient list of neighborhoods to find out what your budget can get you!