Los Angeles is in a state of perpetual summer: it boasts an average of 284 sunny days per year and the temperature tends to stay in the 60s and 70s (Fahrenheit) regardless of season, although some areas do see much hotter weather.
This is a sprawling metropolitan area of 510 square miles and more than 13 million people. It has a wide range of geography to suit different lifestyles, from downtown urban living to beach towns to idyllic hideaways in the mountain ranges that surround the city and hem in its famous smog. You can go surfing, hiking, and skiing, all in the same day.
Much of what people refer to as "Los Angeles" isn't technically part of the city proper; Beverly Hills, Culver City, and Inglewood have their own cityhood and, in total, 88 cities fall within the boundaries of Los Angeles County.
Whereas the entertainment business has dominated most of LA's history, it's been enjoying a rebirth as a creative and technology hub. The region's many universities graduate more engineers than any other city in the United States. And hordes of artists, designers, and professionals from New York City and the San Francisco bay area are moving here for the lower cost of living, great weather, and growing tech scene. Tech and entertainment have merged as companies like Netflix and Hulu set up shop here.
This is a diverse city: over half the population is Latino, and there are vibrant Chinese, Persian, Korean, and Armenian communities. This diversity is reflected in the cuisine, ranging from taco stands on the side of the road to traditional French restaurants. And burger joints. Lots of 'em. Burgers are religion in this city.
Read on to learn about the basics (housing, transportation, internet, and more!) in Los Angeles and to find the perfect neighborhood for you.
Crime varies significantly by neighborhood. See the list of LA’s safest places to live.
LA is working on improving its public transit, but unless you work very close to your home you'll need a car.
The traffic in Los Angeles is famous enough that it should get its own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Gridlock is the norm on the major highways and roads during the week, and traffic jams during the weekend aren't uncommon. The key to happiness is to live near where you work.
California has been suffering from several years of intense drought, so water restrictions come and go. When it does rain, there are often massive mud and rock slides in the region's canyons that block roads and destroy homes. The more rural areas also deal with fast moving wildfires that frequently force people to evacuate. And don't forget earthquakes: this part of the state has about 10,000 a year. Most are too small to feel, but occasionally a big one comes around.
Despite being a city with extremely wealthy residents, there are over 40,000 homeless in LA and they'll be a common site near the beaches and in several commercial districts, including a large population downtown.
"Los Angeles has something for everyone. When you fly in to LAX at night and look out the window at the endless lights, it seems like the city goes on forever. But like any city, you find the areas that really appeal to you and spend most of your time there. I love that the outdoors are so accessible: I can go to the beach, go hiking in the mountains, or even go skiing."
Like several of the United States' urban centers, Los Angeles is facing an acute housing shortage that is driving up costs in many parts of the city. This also makes the hunt for housing competitive and you'll need to move quickly (or have a healthy budget) to get a place you like.
LA has very distinct neighborhoods with completely different personalities. so it's a good idea to get a short-term rental when you first arrive so you can explore the different areas to find the best one for you (or use our Neighborhood Explorer to get suggestions based on what's important to you).
Also, it's worth emphasizing that the secret to happiness in LA is to live near where you work or you'll spend a large amount of time in traffic. Traffic causes stress. Stress causes health problems. That's not good for anybody.
RENTING IN LOS ANGELES
In some of the more popular neighborhoods, things are so competitive that the only way to get a rental is to be the first person to see it and put down an application. This can mean you'll be spending a lot of time scouring rental sites looking for something that matches your needs. It also means it's a good idea to spend a week (or two) in the city before you start a job so you can be flexible. You should also plan on looking for a place to live 2-3 weeks before you need it; any earlier than that and most of what you see online will have a nearer term rental date.
As with all things in life, if something appears too good to be true then it likely is. If an apartment or home is particularly cheap compared to others around it, chances are it's not real.
Also, make sure to ask whether the property will include key appliances, like a refrigerator, washer and dryer (if there's a hookup), and even – though it's rare – a stove. Not all do and it can be an unpleasant surprise if you move in only to find out you'll have to buy one.
Note that Los Angeles does have very strong tenants' rights laws, which protect you from bad behavior by the landlord, such as unauthorized rent increases, refusal to make repairs in your home, and threats of eviction for no cause. There is a basic list of things your landlord is required to do (or not do) provided by a real estate-focused website and a much more detailed guide on the state government's Department of Consumer Affairs website.
BUYING IN LOS ANGELES
There are no restrictions in the United States on foreign citizens owning property. You'll generally need to work with a real estate agent and a real estate lawyer to complete the transaction. Foreign buyers are often required to provide a larger down payment than domestic buyers (30-40% versus 20%). A commission of 6% of the value of the sale is typically paid to the real estate agent.
Los Angeles is a haven for foreign nationals to purchase property and is particularly popular with Chinese buyers, either as a safe way to park their money or for their children who they've sent to school here. Overall, billions of dollars coming from overseas buyers are spent on property in LA.
HELPFUL REAL ESTATE WEBSITES
Westside Rentals - This popular website is one of the best resources in LA to find rental properties. In order to view the contact details for any properties that interest you, you'll need to purchase a membership. Membership starts at $50 for 30 days.
Padmapper.com - Padmapper pulls in rental properties from over 100 sources and displays them in a map view. You can easily filter the results based on home size, cost, and whether pets are allowed.
Zillow or Trulia - Similar in functionality (and owned by the same company) both sites can be searched for properties for rent or for sale. They generally have the exact same listings; the main difference is how they display the results based on your search criteria.
Craigslist - This is not just a place to find a home: you can find pretty much anything you can think of on Craigslist. But it can be a great place to find a rental or a roommate. Just be more careful with the properties you see here since there is not a lot of quality control.
Los Angeles is known for its car culture and for good reason: for anything other than local travel, public transportation here generally isn't very good. The Metro Rail system is 98.5 miles (158.5 km), which is paltry when compared to New York City's 660 miles of subway lines. Unless you live a short walk or drive from a station and work close to a station, using the train for your commute won't be very practical.
The Metro Bus system is more robust, with 170 bus routes covering nearly 16,000 stops and 1,433 square miles (3,711 sq km). Most neighborhoods have good access to bus routes. But if you're going more than a few neighborhoods away, it's a slow method of transit: you'll sit in the same traffic everyone else does and it's made worse by the fact that the bus is frequently stopping to pick up and drop off riders. The city is working to establish more express lanes for buses, but until they're common it will continue to be a slow way to travel.
The bottom line is you can survive in LA without a car, but your life will be more complicated and you'll spend a lot more time commuting and running errands. Plus, LA has a lot to offer on the weekends: hundreds of hiking trails in its mountains, miles of great beaches, easy access to great weekend trips like Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, and Joshua Tree National Park. You'll need a set of wheels to properly explore all of it.
TRANSIT AND WALKABILITY RATINGS
For each Los Angeles neighborhood you'll see a Transit rating and a Walkability rating. The Transit rating tells you how good and reliable public transportation options are in that neighborhood. The Walkability rating tells you how many local amenities (shops, restaurants, fitness options, etc.) you can walk to in that neighborhood.
There are dozens of banks in Los Angeles and for day-to-day personal banking they’re all pretty similar so you should pick one convenient to you. It’s important to consider that if you use an ATM (aka Cash Machine for you Brits) from a competing bank you will likely be charged a service fee of $2 to $4 dollars, so don’t pick a bank that is far away or every time to you need to take out cash you’ll get charged.
Alternatively, there are some banks in the U.S. that are online only. Because they don't have any physical locations they allow you to use any bank’s ATM and then reimburse you for any service fees.
Note that each bank will have its own policies, such as minimum balance requirements. Make sure you understand any requirements and fees before you open an account.
All bank deposits in the U.S. are backed by the government up to USD $250,000.
WHAT YOU'LL NEED TO OPEN A BANK ACCOUNT
Opening a bank account is a straightforward process. Once you've picked the bank you like you can visit a local branch and meet with a bank rep. You'll need the following documentation:
A social security number (SSN) or individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) are not required to open a bank account though it will make opening an account with an online-only bank difficult. You can get an ITIN from the United States Internal Revenue Service.
Education in the United States is typically broken up into five phases:
The great majority of students in the United States in elementary school and high school attend public schools. Public schools do not charge tuition (they're funded by taxes, so they're not exactly free) and are open to any school-aged children in the school district.
School districts are an important thing to understand when moving here. The United States has some terrific public schools, but it also has some terrible public schools. The school district you live in determines which public school your child can attend. You'll typically find that a home located in a good school district is more expensive than a home that isn't. It's also important to know that school districts don't necessarily overlap with an entire neighborhood – some neighborhoods may be split in half by the boundary of a school district, creating a huge difference in home prices even though the homes are separated by a few feet.
And some school districts may have a great elementary school but a bad high school, or vice versa. So if you have school-aged kids and plan to send them to public school, make sure you check the quality of the schools before you find a place to live.
The independent Great Schools organization has a useful website that grades all of its public schools on a number of criteria.
CHARTER SCHOOLS AND PRIVATE SCHOOLS
Charter schools are a type of public school but often have a private sponsor as well to help fund the school's operations. Charter schools typically pop up in communities with bad public schools. They focus on rigorous academics and are less beholden to the rules and restrictions of regular public schools. Because of their strong curriculum and teachers they are highly desirable, which means there are never enough spots for all the kids who want to go to them. Many accept students through a lottery system. This is something you may want to look into if you will be living in a neighborhood that does not have any good public schools in its district.
Private schools are another option for educating your child. Los Angeles has dozens of private schools within its borders; some of the private schools are among the best in the country and send a large proportion of students to the top institutions of higher education in the United States. There is no restriction on which private school your child can attend provided he or she meets the school's criteria (some are very competitive academically). The downside of private schools is that they do charge tuition and can be quite expensive. You're also still required to pay the taxes that fund public schools so you're double-paying in a way. Most private schools do offer financial assistance to students who can't afford the full tuition.
American healthcare may be one of the most confusing things you'll have to navigate when you move here. If you're being relocated for work by your employer and will be on an employer-sponsored visa, then typically your employer will provide some sort of healthcare plan for you and your family. If you're moving for a different reason and will not be covered, then by law you'll need to obtain healthcare on your own.
Many physicians will not provide their services if you do not have healthcare. Note that in the event of an emergency hospitals must provide treatment even if you don't have insurance. However, you can expect to receive a bill for the treatment and even simple procedures can cost thousands of dollars.
PREMIUMS, DEDUCTIBLES, COPAYS, AND COINSURANCE
When you're evaluating healthcare plans you'll see the terms premium, deductible, coinsurance, and copay. These are important terms to understand since they'll impact the cost of the healthcare plan to you.
A premium is the payment you make, typically monthly, to your health insurer to keep your health insurance plan active. If you have health insurance provided by your employer then they may pay for some or all of the premium.
This is the amount of money that you will personally have to pay for healthcare services each year before your health insurance starts to provide coverage.
For example, if your plan has a deductible of $2,000 then your health insurance won't cover any costs until they are higher than $2,000. So if you have a procedure that costs $5,000 you would pay $2,000 and your insurance would pay $3,000. If you're a healthy person who doesn't require any major treatment during the year then it's likely you'll never spend more than your deductible.
Some health insurance plans do provide coverage for basic services like an annual check-up before you've met your deductible.
Plans with a high deductible typically have cheaper monthly premium payments, but you'll pay more out of pocket before insurance kicks in. And some plans with very high monthly premiums do not have a deductible at all.
Think of coinsurance as sharing the cost of healthcare services with your health insurer. This is a fixed percentage amount that you pay for healthcare services and applies after you've met your deductible
For example, let's say you have physical therapy treatment that is covered by insurance and your health insurance plan dictates that each time you visit a physical therapist you have a 25% copay. If the physical therapy treatment costs $100 then you must pay $25 and your health insurance will pay $75.
Plans with a lower monthly premium payment tend to have a higher coinsurance amount.
Some health insurance plans have something called a "copay" when you obtain medical services or prescription drugs. This is a fixed amount that you pay for healthare services and, once again, only applies after you've met your deductible.
For example, you may have a prescription for medicine that is covered by your health insurance, but each time you go to the pharmacy to refill the prescription you have a copay of $20 – basically, you have to pay $20 to get your medicine and your health insurance covers the rest.
If your situtation or your family's situtation requires frequent trips to the doctor or you are frequently refilling prescriptions, you'll want to find a plan that has a low copay amount.
Some health insurance plans may have both copays and coinsurance.
HELPFUL HEALTHCARE WEBSITES
GetInsured - This simple-to-use site makes it easy for you to shop for insurance if you're not covered by an employer. You can filter by different criteria such as deductible amount, plan type, and health insurer.
ZocDoc - ZocDoc is an easy way to find a doctor in your neighborhood who accepts your insurance.
Very few Americans install landline phones these days, so we'll focus on "cellphones", which is what mobile phones are called here. There are two main ways of getting a cellphone and cellphone service in the United States:
CELLPHONE SERVICE PROVIDERS
Cellphone coverage is ubiquitous across this country's major metro regions but not all service providers are created equal. There are four main businesses in the United States and they each offer trade-offs between the quality of their coverage and their price.
There are many internet service providers in Los Angeles, but we'll focus on the top three:
Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable) is ubiquitous but much hated for their terrible customer service. Their basic internet service offers download speeds up to 100 megabytes per second (Mbps) for $40/month when you sign up for a 12 month contract. Spectrum has unlimited data usage.
AT&T Internet is another big provider, but isn't available at all addresses. Their U-Verse product starts at $30/month for speeds of 3 Mbps (yes, you read that correctly; it's slow) and has a data cap of 1 terabyte a month.
Frontier is actually a provider of another company's product, Verizon FiOS. You can get speeds of 50 Mbps for $45/month if you sign a 2-year contract. Speeds of 100 Mbps will cost you $55/month and 150 Mbps is $65/month. All plans have the 2-year contract requirement
Los Angeles is very a pet-friendly city. Because so many restaurants have outdoor seating, people bring their dogs everywhere, and many stores permit dogs inside.
Note that if you are renting it will be difficult to find a place that actually allows dogs or cats and you can expect to pay more for the ones that do.
It's also got a lot of areas popular with equestrians and in some neighborhoods you can keep your horse on your property.
Dogs and horses must be registered with the city each year by law. Online registration is available at the Los Angeles Animal Services website.