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Foreigner renting in USA for a few months


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#1 d000hg   Members   -  Reputation: 939

Posted 16 May 2011 - 08:06 AM

Update 7/26/2011: jump to new post


We're thinking about having an extended 'holiday' to the USA for a few months as a bit of an experiment - to see if we like living abroad and leaving everyone we know without having to go through it for real. I work as a kind of freelancer so can keep on top of things anywhere, and my wife is considering volunteering at a kindergarten since we know a work permit is likely to be too complicated to be worth it for only 3 months.
Because it's not for such a long time, I think we need what's called a "serviced apartment" in the UK... essentially a cross between hotel and renting so you get a fully furnished apartment with utilities, cable, internet all provided. It doesn't seem realistic to rent normally and have to sign up for internet, especially as foreigners with all the paperwork.

I'm interested in any thoughts from those in the US, but we're particularly looking at California somewhere. I'd love to know any information about the right search terms to use costs, things I should look out for unique to USA/CA, etc. Any links for official information like immigration/visa issues I should use - UK/US have relaxed attitude on visas for short visits but I'm sure they won't allow us to just turn up for several months.

All constructive contributions welcome!

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#2 zer0wolf   Members   -  Reputation: 1022

Posted 16 May 2011 - 08:17 AM

I think your main bet is to look at extended stay hotels. They're furnished, all utilities included, have small kitchens, and you can get really nice discounts when staying for 30 days or more.
laziness is the foundation of efficiency | www.AdrianWalker.info | Adventures in Game Production | @zer0wolf - Twitter

#3 ChurchSkiz   Members   -  Reputation: 535

Posted 16 May 2011 - 08:30 AM

I think your main bet is to look at extended stay hotels. They're furnished, all utilities included, have small kitchens, and you can get really nice discounts when staying for 30 days or more.


Please don't do this, expensive and you'll hate your life after a few days.

Just rent a furnished apartment for a few months or do a sub-lease (where you take over for someone's lease before it ends so they don't pay a penalty). If you have to, you can rent furniture for not that much (around $100-$200 a month).

Craigslist is a good place to start for unconventional renting, apartments.com or rent.com may work too.

Unique to CA is high crime, ultra-liberalism, mud slides, uncontrollable brush fires, earth quakes, and outrageous pricing. Also, great beaches, good looking women, lots of poker, and In-n-Out burger.

If you're in the UK you're probably used to higher prices, for us suburban americans it's a little crazy. I rented a 1 bedroom apartment in a craphole outside Sacramento for the same price as my 3 bedroom house outside Charlotte.

Unless you're abnormal though you will have a damn good time, California has something for everyone and the year I spent with my wife there was one of the best times of our life.

#4 zer0wolf   Members   -  Reputation: 1022

Posted 16 May 2011 - 09:00 AM

Finding an apartment to sublease came to mind, but he may have difficulties getting all the utilities and whatnot setup due to being a foreigner. There is a lot of variety that you find, though. There are also professional apartment finders who are zero cost to you because they make their money from the actual apartment complexes.
laziness is the foundation of efficiency | www.AdrianWalker.info | Adventures in Game Production | @zer0wolf - Twitter

#5 ChurchSkiz   Members   -  Reputation: 535

Posted 16 May 2011 - 09:59 AM

Finding an apartment to sublease came to mind, but he may have difficulties getting all the utilities and whatnot setup due to being a foreigner. There is a lot of variety that you find, though. There are also professional apartment finders who are zero cost to you because they make their money from the actual apartment complexes.


The last couple apartments I rented at had a "short term" furnished unit where they just billed the renter all the utitlities. It was a few hundred extra a month but probably much more convenient in a situation like this. I don't think you would know though unless you called each specific complex and asked about it.

#6 d000hg   Members   -  Reputation: 939

Posted 16 May 2011 - 11:30 AM

So far, I've done a couple of quick Googles in areas like SF and Palo Alto and been rather surprised with prices; ~$200/day even when booking for 30+ days. That's more expensive than the same accommodation in central London! Maybe I'm searching for the wrong things.

As far as I know, I definitely need an arrangement where utilities are not billed to me directly but either included (preferable) or billed to the landlord and I pay them. Trying to get an account with a utility company for 3 months with no SSN just sounds like a great way to get annoyed!

So I saw the term "temporary" mentioned a few times, is this what I refer to as "serviced"?

BTW, in my mind I was imagining more an apartment in a house than in a block/complex. Is the latter more common... nicely laid out apartments with shared amenities, maybe a pool, etc?

#7 frob   Moderators   -  Reputation: 29885

Posted 16 May 2011 - 11:37 AM

... we know a work permit is likely to be too complicated to be worth it for only 3 months.

I'm interested in any thoughts from those in the US, but we're particularly looking at California somewhere. I'd love to know any information about the right search terms to use costs, things I should look out for unique to USA/CA, etc. Any links for official information like immigration/visa issues I should use - UK/US have relaxed attitude on visas for short visits but I'm sure they won't allow us to just turn up for several months.


California is huge, so you'll want to refine your search to just a few of its locations. Compare over 400 000 square km of California to the 243 000 square km of the entire UK.

California also includes a wide range of climates with a range of population densities. You can choose from dense population coastal cities like LA, San Diego, and San Francisco. If you want to get away from the people, there are many smaller suburban and sparse coastal towns. You can choose the forest in the mountains with cities like Sacramento or smaller towns like Grass Valley or Truckee. Similarly there are cities and towns in the desert; there aren't many desert places like Death Valley in the UK. :-) There are many places not just in California but across the United States that are basically vacant of humans, if you wanted to take that route.

Choosing smaller towns may be harder to find work with your visa since there are fewer options, but still should not be too difficult.


Just like in the UK, the availability and costs will vary by location. You will have many options for short-term living within the bigger cities, but it will cost more. Many towns and suburbs have apartments that match your requirements to varying degrees, and with varying costs.

Assuming you can narrow your list down to a few cities, Google can be your friend. The search "short term furnished apartments Pasadena" gives hundreds of housing options just outside of Los Angeles; most cost under $400/month and are fully furnished. They range from blocks of apartments to smaller (and a bit more expensive) condo-style units that are basically the same as the UK description of serviced units. You can also find smaller basement apartments or duplex houses in the price range, but these are much less likely to be fully furnished and serviced.

Check out my book, Game Development with Unity, aimed at beginners who want to build fun games fast.

Also check out my personal website at bryanwagstaff.com, where I write about assorted stuff.


#8 d000hg   Members   -  Reputation: 939

Posted 16 May 2011 - 11:53 AM

Thanks Frob. Truth is we don't really have a fixed place, I appreciate CA is pretty massive after trying to take a 'quick' drive from LA -> SF along hwy1! The only thing we'd likely rule out is desert. SF itself seems nice, probably LA also although my concern is to make sure it's not some grotty apartment with scummy neighbours :)
Loads of my searches are coming up $3-4k per month which to me seems a lot.

I was not planning on a work visa on the basis it would be too hard to get. Anyone know otherwise?

#9 zer0wolf   Members   -  Reputation: 1022

Posted 16 May 2011 - 12:15 PM

Loads of my searches are coming up $3-4k per month which to me seems a lot.

You're coming up with $3-4k per month because the San Francisco bay area is one of the most expensive places in the country to live. You could get a really awesome place in say Austin or even Chicago for half that.
laziness is the foundation of efficiency | www.AdrianWalker.info | Adventures in Game Production | @zer0wolf - Twitter

#10 frob   Moderators   -  Reputation: 29885

Posted 16 May 2011 - 12:53 PM

Loads of my searches are coming up $3-4k per month which to me seems a lot.


You specifically listed San Francisco. That is one of the most population-dense cities in the nation. It's a popular location not just for business, but also for vacation and pleasure travel. The bay itself is limited by space, nestled between mountains and the ocean, making the land very expensive. You might as well be looking for a spot central London for equivalent cost.

The places you'll find in San Francisco proper are not made for residential stays, but are generally for 2-3 week suites for business travelers and vacationers with fat wallets.

You'll probably want more traditional residence farther away from the city. You'll likely need to find somewhere more than an hour drive from the city before it becomes inexpensive. The problem is that you either need to go over the mountains, or face the long drives and slow drop in property value as it enters suburbia in the desert. Personally I suggest the mountains, Felton and Boulder Creek are beautiful areas. Not exactly cheap, but close enough to the bay area and outside the desert.

Check out my book, Game Development with Unity, aimed at beginners who want to build fun games fast.

Also check out my personal website at bryanwagstaff.com, where I write about assorted stuff.


#11 d000hg   Members   -  Reputation: 939

Posted 16 May 2011 - 01:50 PM

Thing is I can actually get something in central London, the very centre, for about 2/3 of those prices. And those prices are being pretty consistent all the places I look in CA, not simply in SF itself. My searching may lack finesse - loads of these sites ask me exactly which towns/areas to look in and I've never heard of most. "Somewhere near(ish) the sea" isn't a valid search option :)

Will continue searching with a bit more diligence and a map!

#12 frob   Moderators   -  Reputation: 29885

Posted 16 May 2011 - 02:26 PM

Thing is I can actually get something in central London, the very centre, for about 2/3 of those prices. And those prices are being pretty consistent all the places I look in CA, not simply in SF itself. My searching may lack finesse - loads of these sites ask me exactly which towns/areas to look in and I've never heard of most. "Somewhere near(ish) the sea" isn't a valid search option :)

Will continue searching with a bit more diligence and a map!



There are many places designed for business travel and vacationing, they will be billed by the night or by the week. They are expensive like you mentioned.

Anywhere that's got dedicated web pages showing pricing and billing and other details will probably be business-oriented (expensive), vacation-oriented (expensive), or large apartment complexes with high enough turnover that they need a nice web site. You'll want to avoid all of these.



Make sure you are searching for regular residence. Since you wanted to avoid large apartment complexes you will probably have the best luck going through the local ads and newspapers of the areas you are interested in. Craigslist was already mentioned for sub-let. These should be around $400/month for 1-2 bedrooms for the areas you've described. Also consider looking at college towns, they tend to have a lot of vacancies during the summer as students sub-let the months that they are away; you may find those around $100-$200/month over the three month break.

You might also consider "home exchange" services where you are effectively sub-letting a regular family residence. These should start around $1000/month, and can be a good deal if you get in with a good family.


If you are seeing higher costs than that, I'd attribute it to poor Google-fu skills or lack of coffee.

Check out my book, Game Development with Unity, aimed at beginners who want to build fun games fast.

Also check out my personal website at bryanwagstaff.com, where I write about assorted stuff.


#13 ChurchSkiz   Members   -  Reputation: 535

Posted 16 May 2011 - 03:23 PM

Thing is I can actually get something in central London, the very centre, for about 2/3 of those prices. And those prices are being pretty consistent all the places I look in CA, not simply in SF itself. My searching may lack finesse - loads of these sites ask me exactly which towns/areas to look in and I've never heard of most. "Somewhere near(ish) the sea" isn't a valid search option :)

Will continue searching with a bit more diligence and a map!


Why don't you tell us what you're looking for and we'll give you some friendly advice on cities/areas to narrow down. Culturally, geographically, etc. what are your goals?

#14 stupid_programmer   Members   -  Reputation: 1599

Posted 16 May 2011 - 03:49 PM

Rent is just crazy in California. I live outside of Sacramento and I'm paying $850/month for a 750 square foot one bedroom apartment. Back where I come from that would be maybe $400/month. Coming from outside the country I'm not sure you are going to find anything "cheap". Craigslist and subleasing out a room from a larger apartment or house is probably going to be your best bet. Generally the person who is the owner/primary leaser will be the one responsible for paying the bills every month.

If you stay in the nicer areas of the cities apartment complexes aren't to bad. I have a fireplace and a little patio on my upstairs apartment that faces a field with some trees in it. There are a couple of pools and a fitness center in the main building. There are even nicer places then the one I'm living at that aren't to far away.

#15 d000hg   Members   -  Reputation: 939

Posted 17 May 2011 - 12:57 AM

It's a good point that the places on the top of Google are the premium places, their sites are more like brochures :)

Frob you said:

. The search "short term furnished apartments Pasadena" gives hundreds of housing options just outside of Los Angeles; most cost under $400/month and are fully furnished

When I did that exact search on Google I was still getting lots of the top links pointing to places 10X the cost. Do you have an actual result from your search I can look at?

I live outside of Sacramento and I'm paying $850/month for a 750 square foot one bedroom apartment.

See, to me anything under $1000 is 'cheap' if it's nice and not in a dodgy neighbourhood. I did a search in Sacramento and found quite a few in the $700-1000 range but I think they were standard lets (despite searching for furnished); I'm not sure how much extra for being furnished/short-term I'm going to pay though. Like would I be paying $1000 for your $850 apartment as a short-term let, or $1500? BTW Is Sacramento one of the places 'over the mountains' - forgive my lack of local geography?

Why don't you tell us what you're looking for and we'll give you some friendly advice on cities/areas to narrow down. Culturally, geographically, etc. what are your goals?

Again, I don't really know, the point is I don't know what to expect, hence the trip! I suppose probably living on the beach is too atypical of actual life - as an experience of what moving abroad might be like.
I have some business links with SF/Palo Alto but it looks like that's outside my price range. We would want to be at least near a proper city rather than out in the sticks, seems pointless moving to CA from the UK and not getting all the restaurants and take-out food :)

How reputable is Craigslist? We have it in the UK but it's hardly popular. We have well-recognised national house-search sites and I always got the impression CraigsList was person-to-person with no protection.

#16 ChurchSkiz   Members   -  Reputation: 535

Posted 17 May 2011 - 05:33 AM

Why don't you tell us what you're looking for and we'll give you some friendly advice on cities/areas to narrow down. Culturally, geographically, etc. what are your goals?

Again, I don't really know, the point is I don't know what to expect, hence the trip! I suppose probably living on the beach is too atypical of actual life - as an experience of what moving abroad might be like.
I have some business links with SF/Palo Alto but it looks like that's outside my price range. We would want to be at least near a proper city rather than out in the sticks, seems pointless moving to CA from the UK and not getting all the restaurants and take-out food :)

How reputable is Craigslist? We have it in the UK but it's hardly popular. We have well-recognised national house-search sites and I always got the impression CraigsList was person-to-person with no protection.


San Jose is probably a good place to start then. It's not too far from SF or Palo Alto (assuming there is no traffic). Only about 45 minutes from Santa Cruz (nice beach). Oakland is another affordable choice.

Don't worry about being "in the sticks". You'll have to intentionally look for land if you want to be in isolation. Even the smaller cities in CA rival "big cities" in other states.

Craigslist is the defacto standard for buying and selling in the US. When I look for anything, I go there first. If I was going to look for a place to rent, I'd look on apartments.com and rent.com for the regular lease in a building type deals, but if I was looking for something unorthodox Craigslist is the place to go. You're right though, it's p2p and unprotected, so make sure you don't give out your credit card or agree to meet someone alone in a dark alley.

#17 frob   Moderators   -  Reputation: 29885

Posted 17 May 2011 - 10:11 AM

Why don't you tell us what you're looking for and we'll give you some friendly advice on cities/areas to narrow down. Culturally, geographically, etc. what are your goals?

Again, I don't really know, the point is I don't know what to expect, hence the trip! I suppose probably living on the beach is too atypical of actual life - as an experience of what moving abroad might be like.
I have some business links with SF/Palo Alto but it looks like that's outside my price range. We would want to be at least near a proper city rather than out in the sticks, seems pointless moving to CA from the UK and not getting all the restaurants and take-out food :)

How reputable is Craigslist? We have it in the UK but it's hardly popular. We have well-recognised national house-search sites and I always got the impression CraigsList was person-to-person with no protection.


I've already recommended going over the mountains; Boulder Creek and Scotts Valley are nice towns. The commute into Campbell or even San Jose over the mountain is more distance but roughly the same clock time as fighting the other commuters since the traffic jams are generally going the opposite direction.

You'll still pay the premium for being close to the city, and also being in the mountains and redwood forest. Searching the area this one looks fairly nice. (Short term home rental for $1800/month)




As for how I did my search, I opened Google maps, zoomed in on the area, and then looked at the little map pins. Since it is filtered by actual location you will get better results than a web search that only finds the brochures. "Furnished Apartments" search near San Jose brings up tons of little dots that can be clicked on for more info. Those right down town are 1 bedroom for about $1500/month, those farther away from downtown, usually the places without web sites (just links to a management association) tended to be closer to $800-$600 per month.

Check out my book, Game Development with Unity, aimed at beginners who want to build fun games fast.

Also check out my personal website at bryanwagstaff.com, where I write about assorted stuff.


#18 BeanDog   Members   -  Reputation: 1063

Posted 17 May 2011 - 03:27 PM

I have found my last 6 dwellings in a row on Craigslist. It's very widely used for this purpose here, and is a decent place to find a rental.

~BenDilts( void );

Lucidchart: Online Flow Chart Software; Lucidpress: Digital Publishing Software


#19 d000hg   Members   -  Reputation: 939

Posted 17 May 2011 - 04:08 PM

San Jose is probably a good place to start then. It's not too far from SF or Palo Alto (assuming there is no traffic). Only about 45 minutes from Santa Cruz (nice beach). Oakland is another affordable choice.

Don't worry about being "in the sticks". You'll have to intentionally look for land if you want to be in isolation. Even the smaller cities in CA rival "big cities" in other states.

Thanks for the specific advice.

As for how I did my search, I opened Google maps, zoomed in on the area, and then looked at the little map pins.

Ah, thanks. I was doing a straight Google search, not a map search.


I have found my last 6 dwellings in a row on Craigslist. It's very widely used for this purpose here, and is a decent place to find a rental.

Cool. How wary do you have to be to check out the 'seller'... are there any inbuilt protections or certificates landlords have to have legally, or is it a 'wild west' situation? Especially talking to these guys from overseas, I'm nervous the way people were nervous in the early days of eBay!

I found a map-based plugin/mashup thingie for rentals on Craigslist, anyone recommend these kind of things and if so is there a 'standard' one? Being used to sites like http://www.rightmove.co.uk/ Craigslist just looks kind of primitive to me.

#20 BeanDog   Members   -  Reputation: 1063

Posted 17 May 2011 - 05:36 PM


I have found my last 6 dwellings in a row on Craigslist. It's very widely used for this purpose here, and is a decent place to find a rental.

Cool. How wary do you have to be to check out the 'seller'... are there any inbuilt protections or certificates landlords have to have legally, or is it a 'wild west' situation? Especially talking to these guys from overseas, I'm nervous the way people were nervous in the early days of eBay!

I found a map-based plugin/mashup thingie for rentals on Craigslist, anyone recommend these kind of things and if so is there a 'standard' one? Being used to sites like http://www.rightmove.co.uk/ Craigslist just looks kind of primitive to me.

I don't know of any trustworthy certifications for landlords; it's pretty much wild-west to be honest. But that's not restricted to Craigslist. I'd be hesitant to rent any place without physically going to a handful of places in the area, personally talking to the landlord (and current/previous resident if possible), and so forth.


I've never used a mapper for Craigslist, as I've always known the areas pretty well.

~BenDilts( void );

Lucidchart: Online Flow Chart Software; Lucidpress: Digital Publishing Software





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