Before moving to the USA it is always a good idea to have lived in the US first as there is so much difference to being there on vacation as you get to experience the culture and local way of life first hand. Renting allows you to do this whilst putting you in a great position to look for a property to buy in your own time.
Before you start to look around, it helps to have a good idea of what you are looking for. Do you need a city apartment or a house in the suburbs? How many bedrooms? Does it need to have good transport connections? How about a garden? If you have kids, then good schools are an issue as are shopping facilities. If you narrow down your choices in this way you can limit your search and save yourselves a lot of time in the process.
The different terms used in the US to describe different types of property may be confusing so here's a list of the most common:
Apartment – flat
Duplex/Split Level – apartment situated on two floors
Half Bath – room with a toilet and sink basin but no bath
Walk-Up – apartment in a block accessible only by stairs
Bachelor/Efficiency – bedsit or studio flat
Rooming House – a house with rooms to let
It's also worth remembering that in the US, the first floor is actually the ground floor, so if an apartment is described as being on the second floor, it will be on the first floor.
Finding a Rental in the US
The first places to look would be local newspapers. Sunday editions of local papers usually have a full real estate and rental section or you can pick up rental guides from supermarkets and street racks (usually located near a real estate). Large real estate agents often have their own rental section or you could visit large apartment complexes as many have their own rental offices.
Local supermarket and visitor centre noticeboards are also good places to find advertised properties.
Every tenant over the age of 18 must submit an application to rent a property and along with your application you will need some photo ID such as a passport, social security number, proof of income, bank details and references. A credit check will be run at a cost of around $25 per person. Some companies will ask for a holding deposit which you will get back if your application is unsuccessful. If not it will go towards your first month's rent and a security deposit will be taken of between $75 - $300 which will be refunded once the tenancy is over. Security is not the same in the US however so make sure that your deposit is put into an escrow account.
US law can be biased in favour of the landlord so it's essential to read the terms of your contract carefully and find out about any parking or maintenance fees. You can take out renters' insurance to protect you against claims for damage that was not your fault.
There are many online guides to renting in the US including Path2USA Guides for a more detailed information.