Finding an apartment in New York City is awful. Finding an apartment in New York City from overseas is nearly impossible. There are scams everywhere, and once you finally navigate through those, you'll come to realize that even when it's not a scam, it can still be terrible.
You're sitting in your home country and you're planning your trip to New York. You've got your outline but you need somewhere to live when your plane first lands, so you jump onto Google. “Apartment in New York” seems like a good start. “About 1,030,000,000 results” ??♂️
You'll come across StreatEasy, Roomi, someone will mention Craigslist which you browse through but can't quite comprehend what on Earth is going on with any of them, you'll probably search Facebook, and you'll resign yourself to picking one at random to make this problem go away.
Without being in the city to actually inspect these places, it's going to be incredibly difficult to ensure that it's real, has four walls, has a roof, and the person you're moving in with doesn't like warming their underpants on the toaster.
It's a bit of a nightmare. So what really are your options?
Sharing or getting your own apartment in New York
If you're brand new to the US, and especially New York, you need to know one thing: To get an apartment on your own you need to earn 40 times the monthly rent. That means if your rent is $3,000/month, then you need to be pulling in $120,000/year to even be considered. At all. Without that, you're not even being considered as an option.
Once you earn that much, you are pitted next to others with solid credit scores (you can read about those here), and a history of former rentals, which will mean they've got an advantage over you, and you're probably a great candidate!
So the conclusion you are probably going to have to come to is that you will have to live with someone else when you first arrive and “sub-let”.
Sub-letting is a huge thing, and in New York City, unlike many other places, people do it much later into their lives so you won't be the only 30, 40, or 50-something that has a spot for their toothbrush besides 2 others.
But it can be a nightmare finding a good roomie, so there are some options.
Co-living in a New York apartment
“Co-living” is the hip new term given to (basically):
Moving into an apartment with others where there's a third-party company taking care of things like cleaning, furniture, and household supplies, so you don't have to.
The benefit is that you're moving into something that meets a few standards, and that has someone with a vested interest watching over to ensure that everyone plays nice.
Living alone when you first arrive
But what about if you really want to live alone?
Well, you have two real options. A broker will make your life a lot easier. Some people reading this will say “YOU DON'T NEED A BROKER” and I don't disagree, but it will make your life easier if you've just arrived. They have the ability to get more information across and have connections that can skip over a few hurdles.
How did I find my first apartment in New York?
When I moved to the city, I found my first place through the Australians in New York & NYC Accommodation Group which was great because it felt like I could trust the place I found online (Facebook, mutual friends from Australia, the whole thing).
I basically broke most of the rules I've suggested below about transferring money and got REALLY lucky. Since then, I've met so many people who are out thousands of dollars, so don't fall for the traps and use an extra dose of wits at every turn.
Using mutual friends, networks like America Josh, and anyone else you know is absolutely the best way to get your foot in the door and know the deal is real.
Top things to remember to avoid rental and apartment scams
Never wire money or transfer money directly from your account to another account. It's gone. There's no getting that back if something goes sideways.
Never trust checks. They can bounce well after you think you're in the clear.
Document everything. Dates, times, names, everything. You want to have a paper trail that leads.
Ask for lots of documents. It's a risk to you as well as the landlord so any legitimate landlord will want to make sure you know all the ins and outs.