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Moving to Houston? Here’s what you need to know

Houston combines Southern hospitality with big-city energy. As the fourth largest city in the U.S., it’s also the most diverse. More than 140 languages are spoken here, and more than one-fifth of the people in the metro region are foreign-born.

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Alison Rogers
Journalist and real estate broker

Houston combines Southern hospitality with big-city energy. As the fourth largest city in the U.S., it’s also the most diverse. More than 140 languages are spoken here,  and more than one-fifth of the people in the metro region are foreign-born. Some thirty percent of those immigrants are from Mexico, and one-quarter are from Asian countries like China and India. 

The natural setting of Houston (also known as “H-Town.”) is very flat, which leaves the city prone to flooding. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey caused widespread damage and flooding, with an average of two and a half feet (760 mm) of rainfall. However, Houston’s vibrant arts and sports scenes, great job prospects and world-class healthcare continue to make it an appealing place to live.

How to find an apartment

If you’re moving to Houston from abroad, check out our rental tips for newcomers to the U.S.. Real estate in Houston is affordable compared to many other major U.S. cities. The Houston Association of Realtors (HAR) releases market updates on a monthly basis. In December 2019, for example, average rent for single-family homes was flat at $1,764. 

If you have no U.S. credit history, ask your landlord if he or she uses Yardi, Intellirent or First Advantage. These are all credit service companies that will accept an international credit history from Nova Credit-enabled countries like Australia, Canada, India, Mexico and the UK.

Since Houston has many neighborhoods, you’ll want to focus your search on just a few. Neighborhoods are generally grouped as being either “inside the loop” of Interstate 610, or “outside” of it. To familiarize yourself with different places, read profiles of areas from EaDo (that’s short for East Downtown) to Houston Heights to Montrose. The business district is Uptown, also known as the Galleria neighborhood. If you’ll be commuting by car, ask prospective landlords about the availability and cost of parking.

Most landlords will want you to pay rent in U.S. dollars from a U.S. bank (to set up a bank account in America, see below). Also, ask about each property’s security deposit. Under Texas law, there is no limit to how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit. If you have a dog or cat, expect to pay another security deposit for your pet. If your landlord wants you to have someone co-sign your lease, you can use TheGuarantors, a Nova Credit partner. TheGuarantors will act as your co-signer for a fee, usually 7%-10% of your annual rent.

Your landlord has responsibilities to you as well. Under Texas law, locks are required on all exterior doors, with a security brace, sometimes called a “charley bar,” required on sliding glass doors. When you move out, the landlord must return your security deposit within 30 days. 

How to get around

Houston is a very car-oriented city. Fewer than 7 percent of city residents walk, bike or take public transit to work. Houston’s public transportation system, called Metro, is a collection of bus and light rail lines. The light rail serves Downtown, the Texas Medical Center, and other destinations, but it’s tough to go completely carless in Houston. 

A 2019 study found that Houston commuters have some of the longest travel times in the U.S. Houston Commuters reported spending 59.15 minutes a day travelling to and from work. Rush hour, especially in the afternoon from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., can be particularly bad in terms of traffic. Houston TranStar, a partnership of Houston city and county governments and transportation agencies, provides a map showing where traffic is. You can also use the TranStar website or mobile app to find current travel times on a number of popular routes. 

Unlike some other states, Texas requires you to prove that are legally residing in order to obtain a driver’s license. You can use documents from the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to meet this requirement. Generally an I-766, known as a “work permit,” will suffice; you can get more detail on paperwork standards here. You will also need to present proof of identity, proof of Texas residency and your Social Security Number, if you have one. You will need to pass a rules-of-the-road knowledge test, which can be taken in either English or Spanish, as well as a behind-the-wheel driver’s test.

How to set up your finances

If you’re coming from overseas, check out Bank on Houston. Bank on Houston is a coalition of banks and credit unions set up to serve underserved banking customers. Accounts are low-cost and can be established with small minimum deposits. To open an account, you’ll also need identification (such as a passport or a driver’s license) and proof of residency (such as a utility bill). Many banks in Houston, whether in the “Bank on” program or not, will also accept a Matrícula Consular (a Mexican Government-issued ID card) as a form of identification. 

Houston has many bank branches; more than 600, according to Bank Branch Locator. This map shows which branches of which banks are near you.

Once you’ve set up a bank account, the next step is to transfer the credit history from your home country. You did the hard work of building it; now Nova Credit will help you get it over the border. Nova Credit’s technology allows you to transfer your existing credit history from countries including Australia, India, Mexico and the UK and bring it to the U.S. You can also begin to build your U.S. credit history by getting a cell phone plan and applying for a credit card, as well as renting an apartment. Nova Credit offers partnerships with several respected financial companies to help you get started. 

How to find a job 

Houston has a varied economy with many strengths. Located near a large and famous oil strike in 1901, the city became and remains the center of the U.S. energy industry. Houston is a world leader in oil and gas exploration, production and marketing. Houston is also one of the top cities for manufacturing in the U.S. 

It is also home to a number of large U.S. companies. Twenty-two of the Fortune 500 largest U.S. public companies are headquartered there. The Texas Medical Center, which includes a noted cancer hospital and a children’s hospital, is the largest medical complex in the world. The medical campus has more than 100,000 employees; on its own, it would be the eighth-largest business district in the U.S.

Houston’s economy has been growing for the past couple of decades, even though the energy sector slumped during that time. The downside of that growth is that the cost of living has risen as well.

However, the industries that are strong in Houston tend to pay well. A report from the Dallas Federal Reserve notes that average earnings for workers in the utilities sector were $134,235. For energy and mining, they were were $120,700, and for chemicals $113,496. Business and financial services earnings were $104,444, and for machinery manufacturing, they were $103,421.

The takeaway

For more resources on how to navigate your new life in the U.S., visit Nova Credit’s resource library where you can learn about everything from renting an apartment to finding the best credit cards for noncitizens.

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