So you want to move to New York City?

By Kiri Milburn
This was originally published September 25, 2014 on

Relocating is never easy.  When you move to another country breaking down is a rite of passage.  On the subway, at the cell phone store, or into your overpriced box of salad at Wholefoods.  Never dreaming it could cost $15.

Hunting for somewhere to live is gruelling enough for Americans in New York.  For foreigners it can be near impossible.  Not couch surfers over-staying their 90 day visa on a hope and a prayer.  Foreigners who have come to New York and need a permanent residence.

Here’s what to do if you’ve bought the ticket and are still looking for somewhere to call home:

Open a bank account and get a secured credit card

Open an American bank account and get a secured credit card asap.  Even 3 months of water-tight US credit history is advantageous when applying for apartments.  Be warned that landlords will not take your Australian credit history into account.

Although you don’t need a job to do this, you may need to provide the bank with the amount of your credit limit as a security deposit.  The deposit will not be reimbursed to you for one year.  Just think of it as another investment into your future here – another way of showing your conviction to stay.

Flash your savings

Showing you have a lot of cash in the bank and / or being willing to pay a high deposit will make you more attractive to landlords.  If you end up having to empty your piggy bank, negotiate an agreement that allows you to recoup some of your deposit back over the course of the lease.  Hot tip: know how to transfer your foreign currencies into a US account and draw a cheque by the time you start apartment hunting – cash deposits generally aren’t accepted.

Sub-lease a room initially

Not having to sign a lease means less paperwork and fewer vicious inquiries into your visa / job / financial situation if you’re looking for somewhere prior to your big break.  If this is proving more difficult than you thought, or you begin to think you’ll settle for living in a wardrobe.  Stop.  Breathe, laugh at these or submit your own horror stories. Then get back on craigslist.  You’ll get there.

Your own place? Meet the rental brokers of New York City

Whether or not you enlist the services of a broker is dependent on your income and the time you’re willing to devote to the apartment-hunting process.  The broker fee can be anywhere between one month’s rent and 15% of the annual rent (it’s a well paying gig – some only have to work 6 months of the year).  Although this seems scandalous, brokers have access to a larger pool of apartments than you’ll find online for no-fee.

Also, now you’re a New Yorker you may not have the time or patience to labour over apartments, and would rather outsource the process.  That’s not to say great no-fee apartments and private rentals aren’t out there.  They are.  Just be prepared to hunt for them and you might be surprised.

Prepare your case in advance

Being organized and ready to pounce pays off, whether you’re looking to rent a room or your own apartment.  To strengthen your case you should have:

  • Copies of your credit history
  • A social security number (if you have a job)
  • A letter of recommendation from your employer detailing your sponsorship to show you’re not a flight risk
  • Pay stubs ready to go
  • At least $8,000 cash to cover overheads; and
  • Letters of recommendation from previous landlords (even if overseas)

To avoid going crazy – map your progress

Looking at so many apartments in between working and socializing and lot of other busy New Yorker things will drive you crazy.  After a while all the apartments can blur.  You can easily lose sight of your original criteria and be on the verge of settling for second best.

Don’t do it! Stick to your guns and map your progress using Padmapper to make an informed, rational decision.

Woo some American pals

If your application includes a US resident with a lengthy credit history it makes things a lot easier.  Start assimilating – you know they want you to.

Woo the landlord

Try and get some intimate one on one time with the landlord.  Personify your application.  If they get to know you a little, understand you, and maybe even like you it, could be the key to securing your room / apartment.  If you can’t speak to the landlord write a short profile of yourself / and your roomates.  Maybe even a love letter about the pad.  Every little bit helps!

Don’t despair

You can do this.  One day your story of triumph will be woven into the apartment-hunting folklore of this great, pain in the ass of a City.  And you’ll be sipping martinis on your balcony.

Author: Australian Women in New York

Australian Women in New York (AWNY) sources stories and guides that will help make you win the Big Apple. We also love to profile fabulous Aussie and Kiwi women.

2 thoughts

  1. This is only a tiny bit. So much more. You really need to work on your move 12-18 months out. Try doing it with kids – everything just get more complex!!!

  2. So so true. Living it right now and after viewing 25+ apartments and having 1 application knocked back we are moving into our new “home” away from home this weekend. Keep the faith and keep going.

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