Since we’re only staying here until December, we wanted to have everything pretty much figured out before we arrived. I know some people who’ve moved without having an apartment or a place to live and found one when they arrived, but that just wasn’t practical for us. If it takes you a week or two to find a place and you’re only going be here a little over three months… well, it seemed like a hassle. Of course, finding an apartment over the internet and renting it sight unseen isn’t easy either.
Finding a furnished rental for only three months
After scouring the university’s website, craigslist, and countless other websites without any luck, I finally found an apartment through Sabbatical Homes. It was the only place I found where they had short-but-not-too-short furnished rentals available. It was hard finding a furnished apartment (and someone willing to rent it for only a few months), and it was more expensive than what we initially thought, but at least the utilities are all included and I can walk to school.
I had to pay the first month when we signed the contract a few months ago (while I was still in Spain) and won’t lie, I was a bit nervous about it, since you hear so many scam stories… but the landlord was super nice and gave me the e-mail of the previous tenant so that I could talk to her. I even went as far as Googling her so that I could be fairly certain that this wasn’t a setup, either… too much? I just wanted to be sure everything was okay.
The only problem with this apartment was that it didn’t have a TV – and we really wanted one, since Andoni needs to practice on his English and it really helps if we can watch TV shows. Thankfully I was able to buy a very cheap TV and have it shipped before we arrived, and the landlords kindly left it inside. I also set up a Comcast account and arranged for them to come set it up the day we arrived – they’ve assured me there won’t be any cancellation fees.
Bank accounts, paying bills, money, etc.
If you’re from abroad, chances are you don’t have a US bank account nor US dollars. Since we’re only staying for a few months, and all our money is in Spanish bank accounts, we decided to not open a bank account here if we could avoid it. We brought a bit of cash but we’re sticking to paying everything with our usual credit cards from back home, since we don’t have to pay any fees. Yes, I feel awkward paying small $2-$3 purchases with a credit card, but who cares. Even most farmer’s markets (and food trucks!) allow you to pay with a credit card nowadays.
As for how we’re paying the apartment, we’re sticking with PayPal. That’s how I made the first payment from Spain and I asked if we could continue with this since it’s easier for us. Regarding the TV bill (or other utility bills you might have), most places accept money orders, so you can simply go to a USPS with your credit card in hand and have them prepare a money order for you for the amount required. That’s what we did last week and so far so good. If we’re ever in the US for longer than a few months we’ll likely open a bank account, but for the time being, this works for us. Of course, keep in mind that USPS charges about $1 per money order, so if you have to pay a lot of bills, this might not be for you (we only have to pay one for three months so $3 seems okay and saves us the trouble of opening and closing the bank account).
Getting around: MBTA, Hubway and Zipcar
Let’s start with the MBTA. We don’t use it a lot (I walk to school and Andoni bikes to class) so we haven’t signed up for a $70 monthly pass, but that’s a possibility, one we might consider for Andoni once the weather gets worse. Occasional trips are $2.50 but if you buy a CharlieCard you can bring that fee down to $2 per trip (or even less if you’re an underage student / senior). The problem is, CharlieCards are difficult to find… they don’t sell them everywhere. The other day we located a place where a sign said they sold them there but no one was at the booth so we couldn’t buy one.
Another possibility is the rental bike system Hubway. I love the concept – you have bike stations all over the greater Boston area and you can pick / drop off bikes there; the monthly fee is $20 and trips under 30 min are free. BUT. We signed up for it more than two weeks ago and the keys still haven’t arrived to our apartment. I’ve had to call them four times – and the last two they’ve given me 72h passes until the keys arrive. Very annoying though, since I’m going to have to call them again. At this rate, we’re only going to use the monthly pass for one month! Otherwise, it’s fairly easy to use (there are apps so you know where the stations are, etc.) and very easy to get around by bike here.
If you simply need a car sometimes, I’d recommend looking into Zipcar. And especially, if you’re affiliated with a university or big company, look into whether they have especial plans – we signed up for a $25 fee but they gave us $75 in credit through the university, which was great. It’s an awesome car share / rental system that allows you to rent cars for as little as one hour, so it’s perfect if you need to go shopping, for example. We used it last week to go to The Home Depot and the grocery store and it was awesome. I wouldn’t recommend it for rentals longer than a day though, in that case it would just be cheaper to book through a normal car rental agency.
Other than that, we’ve also been walking a lot more than usual. For example, we usually walk to the grocery store which is 10-15 minutes away from our apartment. It’s a bit annoying (especially since our fridge is tiny so we can’t fit a lot more than some veggies, a carton of juice and a gallon of milk so we have to go every few days) but thankfully the weather has been cooperating so far.
Other stuff like gym memberships
In general, I’d recommend setting up monthly memberships that don’t auto-renew so you don’t have to worry about canceling everything when you leave. We’ve signed up for a fall-term membership at the university’s gym and so far it’s been great.
Do you guys have any tips for this Boston newbie? I’d love to hear any recommendations on where to eat/what to do/etc!