For some students (usually those in the first year or two of an undergraduate degree program), living “on-campus” in college/university residence halls is mandatory. For everyone else, living off-campus might be preferable for a variety of reasons,
or might be necessary if your school has limited housing options.
Some schools will provide assistance with the process of finding housing. You should start by asking your school’s “Residence Life” department if they have recommendations. Getting advice from current students is also a good idea - they might know of good apartments to rent or people seeking new roommates.
Unless you have family or friends in the USA to stay with upon arrival, you will probably need to find a
temporary place to stay for your first few days or weeks. If you will not live in college/university housing,
it is a good idea to wait until you have arrived before you sign a rental agreement so you can:
Explore neighborhoods around your school’s campus (see the Philadelphia Neighborhoods section above);
Look at housing options in-person; and
Meet any potential roommates.
Temporary Accommodation Options:
Airbnb has a range of short-term rentals from whole apartments to sofas in shared houses.
Flipkey offers private room and apartment rental.
Agoda, Expedia, and Trivago allow you to search for rooms in hotels in addition to private residences.
Couchsurfing is an online, global community of people who open their homes to visitors for free.
When searching for housing it is important to have a budget in mind. The amount you can afford to spend on rent will determine the type of housing you focus your search on. You should also consider the fact that most rentals expect you to pay the first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and a security deposit (usually equal to one month’s rent) when you sign a lease.
Some rentals may include the cost of certain utilities (e.g. electricity, water, internet), and others may require the renter to pay these independently. Since utilities can add considerable monthly costs it is a good idea to find out from the landlord what is your responsibility to pay.
Curbed Philadelphia has some useful resources for renters, including a rental inspection checklist and a primer on basic tenant rights in Philadelphia.
Living in a shared house with other students or professionals is generally much cheaper than living on your own in an apartment. In addition to lower rents, these houses are usually furnished and equipped. Roommates can also be a valuable source of community and social interaction when you are new to a city.
Sometimes a landlord or agent will be responsible for recruiting new renters. In this scenario, it may not be possible to meet others who live in a house before moving in. It is also common for the other people renting rooms in a house to find replacements when someone moves out. In this case, prospective renters will usually get an opportunity to meet the people living in a house. This can
be helpful to assess how compatible your lifestyle and interests are with your potential roommates.
How to find shared housing:
Craigslist* has the most listings of any website for rooms in shared housing, which you can search based on location and filter for price and preferences (e.g. non-smoking household, pets, gender preference, etc.).
Hotpads has fewer listings, but offers various filters to help you search.
Ask around the student community to see if anyone is looking for a new roommate.
If you would prefer to live on your own, there is no shortage of options across the city. Private apartments are not often furnished, so this is important to consider when thinking through your budget. Many apartment rentals are overseen by property management companies, which can mean less flexibility when negotiating the terms of your lease than working with an individual landlord.
How to find private apartments/houses:
Craigslist* is also a good option for apartment listings, and is often favored by individual landlords because there is no cost to advertise on the platform.
Rental Beast and Zillow feature useful information about rentals and make contacting landlords and management companies easy.
*Be careful when using Craigslist, as the website does not vet listings. Do not share personal information or make any payments (rent or otherwise) until you have seen a property in-person with the landlord or their authorized representative and received a written rental agreement. You can find tips on avoiding Craigslist rental scams here.