New York City is one of the world's truly global cities. This is a hub of culture, fashion, and finance and hosts people from all over the planet – an estimated 800 languages are spoken here. Its roughly 8.5 million inhabitants are split into five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island. Each has a distinct flavor and even within the boroughs you'll find a wide range of lifestyles, from all night clubbing and shoebox-sized apartments to quiet living in Victorian-style mansions.
There are countless restaurants, bars, music venues, nightclubs, and theaters. Famous art galleries. World-leading museums. Stellar parks. It's all here. Pizza at 2:00am? Obviously. Steak at 3:00am? Yep, you can do that, too. Knitting classes, crossfit boxes, mommy groups? Done. Thousands of people riding the subway in their underwear? Well, that typically just happens once a year. The city is a playground that caters to every taste and inclination.
Few places have the energy and drama, the drastic gap between rich and poor, and the frenetic pace of change of New York City.
Read on to learn about the basics (housing, transportation, internet, and more!) of moving to New York and to find the perfect neighborhood for you.
Some areas are safer than others but overall the city is experiencing record lows for crime.
In most parts of the city public transit is excellent and having a car is a headache.
Most parts of New York City are extremely expensive to live in. "Affordability" becomes a relative term here and you'll likely be discouraged by how far your budget goes. Unless you're a millionaire or are okay living in a less desirable neighborhood, expect to have a very small home.
Unless you've come from a similarly massive and busy city, moving here can be quite a change of pace. Sidewalks and subways are packed with people, streets are packed with cars, and the city is always buzzing with something going on. It can feel overwhelming and impersonal. Expect a period of adjustment while you get used to it.
"The only reason I moved to the U.S. was to live in New York City because for me it is the most complete city in the world. Having traveled to dozens of countries and hundreds of cities, I feel NYC has just about everything a person could want or need. There is a certain electricity that is produced by the collective energy of all the inhabitants of this amazing city. I cannot imagine ever moving elsewhere"
Real estate in New York City is a blood sport: the market is extremely competitive and you have to move fast regardless of whether you plan to rent or buy. A property you see in the morning could be taken by the afternoon, so it's important not to deliberate too long if you like the place. As prices in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Queens skyrocket people are moving into neighborhoods farther from the center of the city. While this cycle drives up prices in those neighborhoods eventually as well, they are typically more affordable. It's best to determine what's important to you in a neighborhood and then explore those areas to find your favorites before you start the process of finding a home. (You can use our Neighborhood Explorer to help.)
RENTING IN NEW YORK
There are a few important things to be aware of when looking for a place to rent:
WHAT YOU'LL NEED TO RENT
In order to rent a property you first have to submit an application. It's best to have copies of the required paperwork with you when you visit a property. Below are the documents you'll need:
And while not required, it's also a good idea to have letters of reference from previous landlords and or your employer.
Landlords will run a credit check on you and anyone else who will be living with you. Obviously, if you're new to the country you won't have a credit history here. Talk to the landlord or broker about alternative options, such as showing bank statements for the past few months, providing a bigger security deposit, or getting a guarantor for your lease.
If you get the property you'll meet with the landlord to sign the lease for the property. Leases are typically for a one-year period. At the time of signing you'll need to provide the first month's rent and a security deposit equal to one month's rent. The security deposit is returned when you move out provided you didn't cause any damage to the property. You'll also need to pay the broker commission at this time if you used a broker who charges a fee.
BUYING IN NEW YORK
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.
HELPFUL REAL ESTATE WEBSITES
StreatEasy - This site gets properties from all the major brokerages in the city, so has a great inventory of sales and rentals. It lets you set alerts for properties that meet your criteria so you don't have to spend your time scanning the website.
Naked Apartments - This site only lists rental properties that don't have any broker fees.
RentHop - This site lets you search for rental properties and narrow your search down by criteria. Their proprietary HopScore rates a property to let you know how trustworthy the property manager/owner is.
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 for brokers posting here.
In most parts of New York you will have excellent public transit at your fingertips. The city's subway system is one of the busiest in the world and has over 660 miles (1062 km) of track reaching into every borough except Staten Island. Billions of dollars are being spent to expand the subway's reach. Buses make up for the areas not covered by subways: over 5,600 buses cover nearly 3,000 miles with their routes.
A MetroCard is required for travel on the subway or bus and costs USD $116.50 per month, though senior citizens and those with a disability qualify for reduced fares. Companies with over 20 employees now provide a tax credit to employees who require a monthly MetroCard to come to work.
For people living in Staten Island but working in Manhattan the free Staten Island Ferry is the most common way of commuting.
Having a car in most of Manhattan and many parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and The Bronx can actually be a headache. The main roads can be snarled with traffic during rush hour, making public transit preferable for a commute. Parking your car in a garage can cost hundreds of dollars per month and street parking is both an exercise in frustration (good luck finding a spot as you spend your time circling the block) and an inconvenience (have fun making sure you remember to move your vehicle to the other side of the street during street cleaning so you don't get fined). Plus you run the risk of having your car vandalized. With that said, there are parts of the city that don't have good transit and a car may be necessary.
TRANSIT AND WALKABILITY RATINGS
For each New York City 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 New York City 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 New York City Department of Education 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. New York City 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.
Choosing an internet provider in New York is simple since you only have few choices. And depending on the building you live in you may not have any choice: some buildings are only set up for one service provider so you can either take it or leave it.
Time Warner Cable (TWC) is ubiquitous but much hated for their terrible customer service. They've been working to improve the experience recently, however. They offer speeds of up to 300 megabytes per second (Mbps) download and upload on its cable network. Speeds of 100 Mbps are sufficient for most people and cost USD $50 per month when you sign a 1-year contract. TWC has unlimited data usage.
Verizon Fios is very popular for being super fast and for their customer service, but it's not available in every building. Fios has speeds of up to 500 Mbps on its fiber optic network and costs $60 per month when you sign a 2-year contract; it also has no usage caps.
Xfinity by Comcast, like Fios, is not available everywhere in the city. It offers speeds of up to 150 Mbps. While they don't offer a 100 Mbps plan for comparison to the other providers, their closest plan is 75 Mbps and costs $80 per month.
RCN has speeds up to 330 Mbps. Like Xfinity, they also don't offer a 100 Mbps plan for comparison but their 155 Mbps plan is $45 per month and doesn't require a contract.
Despite being an urban jungle, New York is a pet-friendly city. You'll see people walking dogs of all sizes (and carrying a few of the smaller ones in purses) every time you go outside.
There are several species of animal you are not permitted to have as a pet. Generally anything considered a farm animal (that includes those cute teacup pigs) or an exotic animal (goodbye hedgehog) are illegal. So if you have anything besides fish, a cat, or a dog it's a good idea to look up whether it's allowed. New York does not have any breed-specific legislation for dogs so all pooches are welcome.
Also, 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.