Where to Live in the USA & Should You Rent or Buy?

So, you’re thinking of making the move across the pond. You’ll be joining around 20,000 British citizens moving to the USA from the UK every year.

There are plenty of good reasons why. The USA is a vast country with amazing landscapes and diverse environments. You can explore deserts, coasts, towns, cities, mountains, forests – even swamps and jungles.

You’ll find lots of living space and the promise of the great outdoors, vibrant cities and much bigger properties than at home. Brits moving house to the USA love the warm and friendly people and enjoy a high quality of life with everything they need at their fingertips.

There are also good career opportunities and high wages. If you have a family, then the prospects of your child receiving a good education are high. And if you’re looking to buy property in USA, there are some great investment opportunities.

This guide will help you plan your international move to the USA, with useful tips for renters and buyers – like how much it costs to rent or buy property in the USA, the best regions to live, price comparisons, utility and maintenance costs and everything you need before you consider relocation.

Which Region Should I Choose to Live in the USA?

Never forget how big the USA is. Your experience of living there could be very different depending on where you choose to live, and if you choose to buy or rent a house in the USA. It’s important to think about what you most want from this move and which region can give you what you’re looking for. Let’s break it down to see.

The Northeast (New York, Boston, Philadelphia)
Best for job opportunities

The Northeast might help you keep any homesickness at bay – like the UK, you will experience all seasons with a temperate climate. Cities like Boston and New York are not dissimilar to our cities at home culturally and when it comes to lifestyle. They have lovely summers, but their winters are much harsher than ours.

In New York, job opportunities here make this a premium location for anyone looking to establish a successful career in the USA. Boston and Philadelphia bring a lot to the table too, as vibrant cities where you can get it all.

The high cost of living in these three cities can be difficult, but the trade-offs are professional opportunities that are second-to-none, with rich history and culture that forms the very heart of the USA. The Northeast also has two of the best universities in the world – Yale and Harvard.

The MidWest (Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit)
Best for living space

If you’re making this move because you have dreams of buying or renting a US home with the classic perfect green lawn and lots of living space, the MidWest might be for you.

This region is famously known as ‘America’s breadbasket’ because of its wide open wheat and corn fields. The MidWest is also home to the Great Lakes. Many MidWesterners opt to spend idyllic summers enjoying the lake life. The low cost of living means that your money goes further, especially in cities which provide a great value alternative to the urban lifestyle in the Northeast.

Think of cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, Indianapolis and St Louis, with a host of museums and top-class restaurants. The winters can be tough to live with, but the summers are spectacular.

The South (Atlanta, Dallas, Miami)
Best for cost of living

The south is generally the cheapest region compared to the north, whether you’re aiming to buy or rent a house in the USA. The property taxes and utilities are typically lower in the southern states, living costs are low, and Texas and Florida don’t even have an income tax.

This makes the region a very attractive prospect for younger people, particularly families and graduates. There are some outlying places in the south with a high cost of living, like Miami, which is struggling to match a recent fast rate of growth.

However, this also makes Miami one of the country’s most important cities with a flurry of new jobs opening up, development and many people making the move. The weather is a positive factor. It’s warm all year round. But remember, there is also a higher risk of severe weather like tornadoes, hurricanes and flooding.

The West Coast (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle)
Best for weather

Maybe you’re attracted to the glamour of the West Coast. The pull factors of California are deservedly well-known, but there is so much more to this region, including plenty of job opportunities and some of the wealthiest states in the USA. The real plus here has to be the weather.

In California it’s all about year-round sunshine. Expect rainier weather further north in Oregon and Washington, but you’ll also get lush scenery and stunning summers. These are all states that are perfect for hikers and sporty types. You have the chance to find adventure here, with everything from camping to mountain climbing to white water rafting in a number of national parks.

Each state has a vibrant wine and foodie culture. The drawback is, like on the East Coast, a high cost of living, especially in cities like San Francisco. This is true whether you want to buy or rent a house in this part of the US.

Renting vs. buying

Like in the UK, renting a house in the USA is a simpler option than buying, but comes with its own pros and cons. Buying means that you have your own property, ideal for those of you who are looking to settle permanently.

Maybe you’re used to owning your own property in the UK, and this will help you feel more at home after your relocation to the USA, or perhaps you’d rather rent and discover if you like a neighbourhood before committing – both are valid options.

Of course, buying a property can come with financial risk, while renting is a safer option for the short term, but costly in the long term. If you’re looking to move on in the future, renting a property will give you more freedom to do so. Which option you choose depends on your needs.

Renting a House in the USA

Renting a house tends to be the most popular option for British expats arriving in the USA. Even though renting a house is probably simpler than buying a house in the USA, there are still many things you should know before entering the market.

Where to Rent a House in the USA: Best Places for Expats

The first question should be – where? The average monthly rent for a house in the USA is $1,326 a month, but in such a large country where rental prices vary wildly, it’s important not to be too focused on the national average. If you’re looking to find job opportunities in popular cities like San Francisco, New York and Boston, you should also be clued into the average rent price of $3,200. Washington, DC, Los Angeles and San Jose are also difficult places to find a bargain.

Not all cities are this expensive. Chicago’s average rent price is $2,224. In Dallas, it is $1,194. Across the south and Midwest, you can find cheaper rent prices in cities, but especially in more suburban or rural areas. As in the UK, you should expect that a minimum of 30 per cent of your salary will be used to pay rent in the USA.

When you rent a house in the USA, more suburban or rural areas will likely come with a lower cost of living, but public transport links may be poorer than in the populated cities of the east and west coast. You might need a car to commute to your job. In such a large country, the idea of what constitutes a ‘long’ car journey is very different to that in the UK. It’s possible that you may need to drive for at least one and a half hours to reach work.

Think hard about the location of your rental home before committing. Make sure you do as much research as you can beforehand and keep other factors in mind. If you have a family, you will need to consider education options – you might find better public schools in the suburbs – and crime and safety.

Wondering where to start renting a house in the USA? Start by searching for a place to rent online using a search engine or dedicated rental websites. You can research properties and read about potential neighbourhoods.

Or you may feel more comfortable entrusting a real estate expert (known as a realtor or locator) with the task. They can listen to your specifications and find a property that best suits you. It’s less common to use a real estate expert for renting a house rather than buying, but if it makes you feel more comfortable, then go for it.

It’s important to be realistic about the type of property you want to rent. It will be more difficult to find an entire house in a populated city like New York. Consider apartments or condominiums – a building split into several units, individually owned. And expect smaller living spaces due to the high costs, while other cities and suburbs will likely offer much more space than you get in homes in the UK.

What Do You Need to Rent a House in the USA as a Foreigner?

Wondering how to rent a house in USA? As a foreigner renting a property in the USA you’ll need to be ready to provide documentation, especially as you won’t yet have a credit rating in the USA, so your landlord or landlady will likely want copies of your work contract or proof of employment along with your financial information.

A landlord may also demand a higher security deposit, the equivalent of two months’ rent or more, as you won’t have local references from other homes (you could always consider bringing references from the UK to see if they help). And do check, as many US states have put limitations on the size of security deposits at no more than three and a half months’ rent – so don’t be forced with parting with more money for your dream home.

You will further need to provide proof of ID, bank statements, proof of immigration and a reference from a previous landlord.

Renters’ insurance is an important step to protect your home from damage or theft. Remember that the cost of renting probably won’t include utility costs, so take that into account when budgeting.

Pay Attention to Your lease

Read the terms of your lease closely. Your lease will detail your rights and responsibilities as a tenant, the cost of utilities and the terms and conditions for living in the property, including the length of the agreement. It may also contain clauses about how the rent should be paid and if or when it will increase. Just as you would in the UK, go over it carefully – particularly as some things may differ from the UK, like who is responsible for replacement if items break etc.

Buying a House in the USA

If you’ve decided to buy property in the USA, the process is more complicated than renting, but the rewards can be greater. Buying a house can be a valuable investment and help you settle much faster into a new community, knowing that you have a permanent home. Depending on how long you stay, you might even save more money than by renting a house in the USA.

Where to Buy a House in the USA: Top Locations for Expats

We recommend that you secure the services of a real estate expert before considering buying a property in the USA. The process is more complicated, and while it’s possible to research online, agents have the local knowledge of neighbourhoods that you won’t have as a recently arrived foreigners, and they can help you identify, evaluate and consider the finances of purchasing a property.

Figuring out the location is an essential part of deciding the budget. The same cities with high rental prices – New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, and Washington – are equally expensive to buy. The median home price in New York City is $850,793.

There are a number of desirable states to live like Hawaii, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California, which also comprise the top five most expensive in the country for property prices. As with renting, the South and the MidWest represent the cheapest areas for prices. Iowa, Illinois (even with Chicago), Tennessee, Oklahoma, Ohio and Texas are among the cheapest states to buy property.

Can Foreigners Buy Property in the USA?

Yes – there aren’t any laws or rules restricting foreign ownership of US property. However, remember that owning a house doesn’t help you gain residency, and you must still arrange your residency status separately. It would be ideal to seek the advice of a lawyer in this case, as buying can obviously be much more complex than renting. Each US state has different laws and rules regarding property ownership.

What do I Need to Provide as a Foreigner?

Regardless of where you buy, it’s likely that you will need to provide proof of identity (for example, a passport, social security number or visa), proof of address and residency status, proof of income and proof of affordability (this could be bank statements, financial records your credit score, as well as evidence of any standing loans).

It’s possible that to secure this purchase, you need to arrange a mortgage. The great news is that the average deposit people put down to buy their home in the USA is just six per cent, compared to around 15% for a first-time buyer in the UK.

Of course, you’ll need to secure a mortgage, which can be tricky for non-residents or those who are recently arrived, and may come with less favourable terms. As well as a host of residency documents, you will have to prove any sources of income relative to your application, evidence of good credit history, and show that you have sufficient funds to sign for a house, including six to 12 months of mortgage and tax reserves along with details of a US bank account.

When you’re buying a house in the USA; keep in mind the other associated costs beyond the price of a property. Once you’ve identified a property that you’d like to purchase, you might request a home inspection to fully examine its condition and may need to pay an application fee to submit your loan application.

Then there are one-off costs that you will have to cover; title search and insurance (0.5 to 1 per cent), recording fees (0.2 to 0.5 per cent) and legal fees (0.5 to 1 per cent), as well as minor fees such as transfer tax, to transfer the title from one homeowner to another.

In the USA, the sales commission is paid by the seller, so this at least won’t be your responsibility as a buyer. There may be financial help or a program available to assist you if you’re a first-time home buyer. Make sure to find out!

Our Top Tips for Relocating to the USA

Of course, there are other important factors to consider when choosing a place to live beyond buying or renting a house in the USA. There are other important things you need to do before you make the big move.

Access to Healthcare and Education

The USA’s size means that good healthcare and education can be very variable. University education in the USA is very expensive, and USA health insurance is essential, as healthcare isn’t free at the point of delivery.

For health, some states have more affordable insurance than others, with a higher concentration of medical centres and hospitals. Remember that even with a good insurance plan, your outgoings on healthcare will likely be higher than in the UK.

Evaluating individual states based on healthcare is easier, but still relies on a lot of different factors. Hawaii seemingly has the best healthcare system in the country with the lowest number of preventable deaths, but then it ranks 31st for accessibility.

Iowa is second overall because of its affordability and easy access to healthcare, even if it has slightly worse health outcomes than Hawaii. It’s worth examining what resources are in your potential neighbourhood too, as the healthcare system of an entire state is not always the full story.

Education is similar. The areas with the highest-ranked education systems may be somewhere you had never even considered. There are frequent lists and rankings to determine the best-performing states in education, but it’s wisest to examine the education system in your local neighbourhood.

Consider factors like standardised test scores and the public high school graduation rate, all publicly available statistics. For further education, it’s wise to consider graduation rates but also debt and tuition costs.

Sort Your Visa

You’ll probably know already that the visa issue can be complicated, but as a Brit who wants to relocate to the USA, you will likely need the ‘family-based’ or ‘employment-based’ immigrant visa channel.

You can follow the various options on this US government page, with the Immigrant Visas section at the bottom. Of course, if you are moving for work, discuss in detail with your employer what type of visa they want to apply for on your behalf – some visas don’t allow spouses to work, for example.

And if you’re looking to apply yourself, make sure you can meet all the requirements for visas that are provided for investors, those creating work opportunities in rural or high unemployment areas.

For more information on the types of Visas avaialble for moving to the USA, as well as information on Green Cards and how to aquire one, see our article on Do I need a Green Card of a Visa?

Analyse Safety and Crime Rates: Keeping Safe as a British Expat in the USA

If you’re moving to the USA from UK, this is an important factor in deciding where you want to live – particularly as violent crime rates tend to be higher in the USA than the UK. Rest assured, the USA is far safer as a whole than it used to be. The overall crime rate in 2020 was 60 per cent lower than in 1980.

Generally, the Northeast is the region with the lowest crime rates in the USA. The property crime rate is 34 per cent lower than the rest of the country, and violent crime 26 per cent lower. New Hampshire and New Jersey were the lowest-ranking states for crime statistics.

By contrast, the highest crime rates occurred in the South – the states of New Mexico and Louisiana – although Washington DC is an exception as a north-east state with a very high crime rate. This is a very broad view, of course. As with education and healthcare, it is best to research potential neighbourhoods first and decide on a more localised basis.

Financial Assistance for Expats: How to Get Help Moving to the USA

You may be able to get financial assistance with your move if the costs seem steep, although this is more likely when moving within the USA rather than relocating from another country. It’s worth exploring this list of available programmes and checking your eligibility.

The Office of Community Services, via local Community Action Agencies, offer grants to assist low-income families in moving. If you’re moving to the USA for a specific employer, you should also enquire with them to find out if they can support your moving costs.

Cultural and Recreational Opportunities for Expats in the USA

If you’re something of a culture vulture, you’ll want to know about the cities with the best cultural opportunities in the USA. It’s no surprise that New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington DC are on the list. However, the USA is full of hidden gems. How about smaller cities like Saint Paul (Minnesota), with its collection of museums and winter carnival? Or Baltimore, with its distinct neighbourhoods and beautiful harbour? Or Nashville, the home of country music? There are cultural opportunities everywhere you look.

The same is true of recreation. The USA is full of national and state parks, national forests, designated wilderness areas and monuments. It is one of the most geographically diverse countries in the world. The most popular recreational activities include running, fishing, hiking, cycling, camping, skiing and kayaking. Snowboarding is an increasingly popular activity. The US National Park Service has plenty of great ideas for how to spend your free time away from the city.

Public Transportation and Infrastructure

It’s no secret – if you don’t drive, some places in the USA will be difficult to navigate. Public transportation remains inadequate even in many cities. New York, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington DC generally score highest for public transportation, while on a wider scale, the states of Illinois, Ohio and Indiana score highest for infrastructure in the US for various factors, including extensive road and rail networks and their centralised locations within the country, with the east coast in easy reach.


There are so many different factors to consider before moving to the USA from UK. Deciding whether you want to buy or rent a house in the USA is one of the most important because it also means taking a decision on so many other aspects of your relocation.

It will also help you decide where you would like to live, what type of education you might want for your children or what healthcare provision you want to make for your family. You also should consider the move from a financial perspective. Can you afford to buy, with all the extra associated costs of buying property in the USA? If you find that you can, maybe it will be the best way to feel settled after making such a big step in your life. Or if you’re unsure about where to settle, renting a house in the USA is a great way to start.

The key advice that we can give you is to plan ahead, even down to the smallest details. Ensure your preparation by making a budget and researching regions, cities and potential neighbourhoods. Whether you want to rent or buy, think about consulting real estate experts and perhaps seek legal advice. Read the small print on any lease agreements for renting. If you get the planning right, there’s less chance of an unpleasant surprise.

Tick one of the biggest tasks off the list by arranging your mover now. 1st Move International can help you ship your furniture and possessions via the UK’s premier shipping lines, with faster sailing and professional packing. You can contact us here to find out more about 1st Move International’s services or fill out the quick quote form for a free estimate for international removals to the USA.

About 1st Move International

1st Move International are a specialist international moving and shipping company offering packing, shipping and insurance for shipping household goods and personal effects overseas. We have a global reach covering over 80 countries and 6500 worldwide destinations. You can get an international removals quote here or find more information on our international removals UK to USA service here.

Avatar for Mike Harvey
As the Managing Director of 1st Move International, Mike Harvey brings more than two decades of logistics expertise and three years of specialised experience in international relocations to his role. His comprehensive knowledge spans the intricacies of overseas shipping, secondary yet crucial areas such as visa application processes and immigration requirements, and the wider topic of moving abroad including topics such as comparative analyses of cost of living, healthcare and educational systems worldwide. This expertise allows 1st Move International to equip people with the information they need to not just move overseas, but to make informed decisions about whether, and where, to relocate.