4 tips for international students looking to rent in New York City

rent in new york city
It can be extremely difficult to find an apartment in New York. Here's what to look out for. Source: Spencer Platt/AFP

It’s no secret that New York City is one of the most expensive places to live.

Last year, the World Economic Forum listed it as the most expensive city in the world, taking the top spot and only rivalled by Singapore. 

More than that, it’s estimated that single individuals need at least US$6,606 to survive. This includes the cost of rent in New York City.

For international students, this is quite a sizeable amount — especially considering rent typically takes up around US$2,000 to US$4,000 of that. 

Typically, New York apartments are portrayed to be small, shoe-sized spaces that hardly give enough room for comfortable living. The reality is not much different. 

Throw in the occasionally unreasonable landlord and money-hungry real estate brokers, and it makes finding a reasonable place to rent in New York City extremely difficult.

This is especially true if you are forsaking traditional student accommodation and venturing out into the city on your own. 

However, this doesn’t mean that such a feat is impossible.

Here’s a look into what you can expect as an international student moving to New York, and how to find an apartment of your own. 

Finding a place to rent in New York City

Consider all aspects of your neighbourhood, including transport, before committing to it. Source: Spencer Platt/AFP

Determine the best neighbourhood to live in

While most New York neighbourhoods are pricey for the average student, there are still some that can offer you space and comfort at a lower cost.

These are scattered across the city’s five boroughs: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. 

Each borough offers their own set of pros and cons.

For example, Manhattan gives you access to the heart of New York, being close to the Financial District, Midtown, and all the main attractions you’d see on the big screen.

However, it is densely populated, with 1.6 million people. This makes renting here extremely expensive. 

Brooklyn is known for being more grounded — home to delicious food, plentiful live music, street art, and more.

It is also known for its diversity and inclusion. Still, the borough is becoming more gentrified by the day — making it less affordable as the years go on.

Many renters in New York try to choose a place that balances the cost of rent and location.

As a student, however, it might make more sense to rent in a cheaper neighbourhood, even if it’s located further away from your campus.

It’s likely that you’ll have more flexibility in your class schedule, giving you more time to travel to university if needed. 

Some of the most popular neighbourhoods for students in New York include Fordham Heights in the Bronx, New Springville in Staten Island, and Washington Heights in Manhattan.

This is because these spots rank among the most affordable neighbourhoods in New York. 

Use a variety of property search websites

Most renters begin their hunt for an apartment online — and as a student, you’ll be no different.

As such, it’s important to know which websites to consider when looking for an apartment to rent in New York City. 

Some property search websites you can use include NY Rent Own Sell, StreetEasy and Zillow.

These websites often have their own check and balances in place, giving you the confidence that you’ll be speaking to reliable, trustworthy rental agents. 

Other websites like Craigslist may give you more options and flexibility in terms of rental costs. But it is unregulated, meaning that you’re at a higher likelihood of getting scammed.

Joining Facebook groups may give you the same flexibility — as well as allow you to search for roommates to share rent — but with no verification involved, you run the same risks. 

Each neighbourhood in New York offers its own unique quirks. Source: Spencer Platt/AFP

Arrange for a viewing

You might find an apartment that looks spacious, clean and with enough storage online. Be wary of this.

Rental agents often tend to advertise them as such through sly camera tricks and angles, making a property look much more attractive than it actually is. 

This makes arranging for viewing extremely important for an international student. It’s crucial that you travel to the apartment in person to determine whether it is suitable for you.

This also allows you to check its travel routes and surrounding areas, which you won’t be able to figure out through a mere listing. 

Of course, many international students who are travelling from outside the country may not have this privilege.

If this is the case, try asking a friend you trust in the city to view the apartment for you. They can take videos and pictures of the property, look out for specific requirements, and more. 

In the worst-case scenario, ask for a virtual viewing. This may not be as reliable as visiting in person, but will still give you an idea of what to expect before you make your payment. 

Make sure you have all your documents in order

As an international student, you’ll have more steps to take to secure your apartment to rent in New York City compared to local residents.

Usually, these will include providing a set of documentsYou can expect your landlord to ask for: 

  • Your passport or photo ID
  • Your bank statements 
  • Proof of financial assistance if you are on a scholarship or loan
  • Your student visa 
  • Your university offer letter
  • Any recommendation letters

Unless your landlord has a valid reason, always provide photocopies of your original documents.

Consult your student union if your landlord is asking to keep the original copy of your visa, passport, or anything else.