How to Find a U.S. Rental While Abroad

Guest Post By Jennifer Riner of Zillow

Moving to a new city is always intimidating, especially without ever visiting prior to relocating. Even more difficult is relocating across international borders to an entirely different country, complete with alternate customs, language barriers and cultural divides. While exciting, apartment hunting remotely can be complicated and somewhat intimidating.

Most U.S. residents have general knowledge of major cities throughout the country, including a city’s characteristic weather patterns, crime reputations and local economies. Luckily, international individuals can access these data points online. Once long-distance renters determine their destinations of choice, finding rentals within desired locations might be more complicated than it seems.

Implement the following strategies to ease the process of international rental searches, specifically avoiding contractual obligations with inadequate rentals.

Research Neighborhoods

Individuals from overseas should begin by researching the communities in their relocation areas. Selecting specific neighborhoods based on budget and lifestyle narrows the vast scope of options. Focusing searches reduces stress for overwhelmed shoppers who can only find future homes through limited pictures and online rental listings.

First, determine price point and scan through listings to gauge which regions are realistic based on budget. Delve into specific neighborhoods by scrutinizing accessibility, demographics and, if applicable, school ratings. For more in-depth analysis, research local restaurants, parks, fitness facilities, bars and coffee shops. If being close to these amenities is important for an easy transition, it might be worth stretching the budget to move closer to them.

Time Searches Based on City

Depending on long-distance destinations, recommended start times for rental searches vary. For instance, Orlando apartments for rent typically aren’t listed very far in advance from their vacancy dates. Lack of down time between listing units and signing new tenants is potentially due to competitive rental markets. Renters in major metros are abundant and eager to sign leases, so high-quality apartments at fair prices don’t sit on the market for very long.

Visit Potential Apartments or Enlist Help

When budget allows, renters should visit potential residences first-hand to find apartments in optimal locations that fit their needs. Obviously, flying out for showings isn’t practical for most people who want to avoid extra expenses or endure long hours of additional travel. Lessees who can’t afford, or don’t have time, to travel to view rentals ahead of their scheduled move dates can use professionals and friends to streamline their rental pursuits.

Leasing Agent

Not only do leasing agents help narrow down standard apartment searches, their city-specific expertise is especially useful for individuals moving from foreign countries. Be prepared for agents to ask about timeline, flexibility, potential neighborhoods, budget range, size preferences, pet accommodations, parking and must-haves or deal breakers such as in-unit washers and dryers or hardwood floors.

Some agents can accommodate international applicants by facilitating the entire process remotely. After they receive information about their clients’ wants and needs, they’ll send prospective listings via email. When clients settle on one or two properties, agents can contact property managers to take pictures, collect floor plans and determine final pricing based on availability. Unemployed renters should prepare to list cosigner(s) who are citizens of the continental United States. Property managers considering international lessees will also inquire about visas and citizenship before moving forward. To simplify the entire process, international apartment seekers can electronically sign their applications, offer letters and leases for most properties; otherwise they must mail notarized documents, depending on property policies.


Networking with existing residents benefits initial searches and helps new residents get acclimated thereafter. Residents have insight on their current housing and location, and can potentially attend showings, take high quality photos and provide unbiased descriptions of units on non-nationals’ behalves. Ask distant relatives or old associates for help, provided they currently live in the targeted region. Those relocating for work who don’t know anyone might want to ask new coworkers for their help, or join online communities dedicated to linking newcomers.

Sublet or Rent Short-Term

After exhausting all resources, sometimes searches fail to yield appropriate results. Temporary housing is a good option for renters in a bind, at least until suitable dwellings hit the market. Leasing agents can often set their clients up with sublets to consider. If searching solo, online classifieds feature extensive roommate-wanted advertisements, but be weary of the potential dangers of living with strangers, especially when strong language barriers exist. Websites including Airbnb and VRBO offer vacation rental listings to users, but also provide monthly rentals within popular metro regions. Individuals can narrow their searches based on estimated durations and see if owners offer extended-stay housing.

Staying alert throughout the process is the best way to avoid scams or other issues. Most scams come from users in distant countries who claim to be landlords that are renting out a home. Be wary of claims from people who are communicating from abroad because they are missionaries, U.N. workers or in the military. Always be wary of giving personal information, financial information or payments of any kind to unfamiliar people.

Although it presents increased risk, renting apartments from a distance can be simplified – as long as prospective leaseholders use available resources to the fullest degree.

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