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Your Guide to Moving to New York City

New York City skyline against colorful sunset sky
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New York City at a glance

  • The population of New York City is over 8 million as of 2018, making it the largest city by population in the U.S.
  • The median household income in New York City is $60,762, with rent averaging $1,396.
  • Public transportation is the most popular way to get around New York City; the Metropolitan Transport Authority provides convenient 24-hour bus and rail service that’s often faster than traveling by car.
  • Four out of 10 New Yorkers were born abroad, so the city is a melting pot of culture and diversity.
  • New York City is home to several major sports teams, including the Mets, Yankees, Knicks, Nets, Giants, and Jets.

Moving to New York City: The basics

What’s the population of New York City?

One of the first things you’re sure to notice upon moving to New York is that there are a lot of people — over 8 million residents and 65 million tourists in 2018 , to be more precise. To put the city’s size into perspective, there are nearly as many residents in NYC alone as there are in the country’s three next largest cities: Los Angeles (3.9 million), Chicago (2.7 million), and Houston (2.3 million).

When people describe New York City as a cultural “melting pot,” they’re not exaggerating. Nearly 40% of the city’s residents were born outside of the U.S.

Census data indicates that the gender split in New York City is pretty even, and about 44% of the population is married. The median age in NYC is 37, with a large chunk of the population between the ages of 20 and 40.

Many might see NYC as a city that never stops growing, but it’s actually maintained a relatively stable population for decades. While census data shows that about 200,000 people left the city in 2018, nearly 100,000 new residents arrived from overseas. Other fledgling New Yorkers come in the greatest numbers from California, Florida, and Texas.

What’s the cost of living in New York City?

It may not come as a shock to those of you who are familiar with NYC, but the Big Apple consistently tops the list of most expensive cities in the country. Payscale reports that the cost of living in New York City is 129% higher than the national average.

And when you think of the cost of living in NYC, the first thing that comes to mind is probably real estate — and with good reason. New York City’s high housing costs are well known (it’s actually the second most expensive place to live in the U.S., right behind San Francisco).

The median home value in the city is $570,500, and about 90% of dwellings already occupied. Sixty-seven percent of NYC residents are renters — or to put it another way; there are more people who pay rent in NYC than there are residents of Los Angeles as a whole.

That said, let’s break down the costs for renters. The median rent in New York City is $1,396/mo., about 36% higher than the national average of $1,023. The cost of renting can vary widely based on location, with the Tribeca, Garment District, and Soho neighborhoods coming in at the highest and South Bronx, High Bridge, and East Brooklyn coming in at the lowest.

Day-to-day expenses in New York City aren’t the cheapest, either. A loaf of bread costs $4.27 on average, a gallon of milk is $2.49, and a dozen eggs are usually priced around $2.32.

How much are New Yorkers making to afford all of this? The city’s median household income is just over $60,762, which is right on par with the national median. The median individual income is higher than the national median, sitting at $37,693.

Let’s see how the cost of living in New York City compares to that of Los Angeles and Chicago:

City Name Population Cost of Living (Compared to National Average) Per Capita Income Median Home Price Median Rent
New York, NY 8.4 million +129% $37,693 $570,500 $1,396
Los Angeles, CA 4.0 million +43% $33,420 $599,700 $1,376
Chicago, IL 2.7 million +23% $34,775 $246,500

$1,077

*Data sourced from the U.S. Census and Payscale

How’s the New York City job market?

The first step in moving to New York City is usually finding a job. Here’s the good news: The city’s job market is booming and has been since the recession of 2008, having added over 700,000 jobs since then. As of 2018, there were 4.55 million jobs in NYC (a record-breaking number), and unemployment was only 4.1%.

While minimum wage in New York City is just $15/hour, most of the city’s employees make more than that. The average salary for New York City workers is in the range of $75,000 and $89,900. This might have something to do with the fact that some of the world’s most profitable companies are located in the city. NYC is home to 71 companies on the Fortune 500 list and 113 on the Fortune 1000 list.

Some of the city’s largest employers are in the financial sector and include Ernst and Young, J.P. Morgan Chase and Company, and Morgan Stanley. Other types of popular jobs include executive assistant, project manager, and software engineer.

Not sure what type of work you’ll do once you’re living in New York City? Consider the city’s fast-growing industries: business services, leisure and hospitality, and health care.

What do I need to know about New York City’s education?

If you’re moving to New York with kids, you might decide to enroll your little ones in the New York City public school system. They’ll join over one million other students in more than 1,800 schools spread out over about 30 districts. The graduation rate for high schoolers is nearly 75%, which is a bit lower than the national average of 84.6%. If you prefer a private school, you have a choice of over 220 options.

Public school zoning in New York City works a bit differently than other cities. The city’s Pre-K for All program grants any family in the city with a three- or four-year-old access to a free full-day program hosted in either an early education center, district elementary school, or Pre-K center. This is extremely helpful for working parents who move to New York City and can’t afford to pay for childcare.

For kindergarten through fifth grade, children are assigned to the zoned school in their neighborhood as usual, although they may be sent to a neighboring school if the nearest one is overcapacity. Placement changes for middle school and high school, switching to an application-based system. If a student is accepted to a school that’s not within walking distance, they’ll be eligible for a free MetroCard.

The New York City public school system also includes charter schools. Places in these privately run, publicly funded schools are filled by a random lottery from pre-kindergarten all the way through high school, although preference is given to returning students and their siblings.

As an alternative option, you might also choose a Montessori school for your child. This is an educational model that focuses on self-directed learning in multi-age classrooms. The American Montessori Society currently lists dozens of schools in New York City.

Many people end up living in New York City to attend college. The city has over 120 higher education institutions, including renowned schools like Columbia University, Fordham University, the Juilliard School, and the Manhattan School of Music.

What are the safest areas in New York City?

It might come as a surprise to you that New York City has a pretty low crime rate when compared to other cities of similar population size. That said, some areas are certainly safer than others. According to Neighborhood Scout, the three safest neighborhoods in the city are Madison Avenue and East 50th Street in Midtown, Roosevelt Island, and Madison Avenue and East 96th Street in Carnegie Hill.

But before choosing a place to live in New York City, you should check crime data for the neighborhood. In some areas of the city, dangerous areas and safe areas are only a few blocks away from each other, so it’s important to get as specific information as possible. The New York City Police Department makes crime data available through its CompStat 2.0 online portal.

How do I get around New York City?

One of the best perks of living in the Big Apple is that public and private transportation is plentiful. In most cases, you won’t need your own car, and having one may actually be a burden due to heavy traffic and limited parking.

Many New Yorkers prefer to use the city’s buses and subways as their primary form of transportation; not only is public transportation more affordable than traveling by car, it’s often much faster with traffic. Google Maps estimates that a commute from Lower Manhattan to Rockefeller Plaza only takes 15 to 20 minutes by subway during morning rush hour, while the same journey can take up to an hour in a car or taxi.

If you purchase an Unlimited Ride MetroCard, you can use the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) buses and subways as many times as you’d like for a flat weekly or monthly fee. The cost of a 7-day pass is $33, while a 30-day pass is priced at $127.

If taking the subway isn’t your thing, ridesharing apps and taxis are also readily available. Prices for each can vary, and each charges riders in different ways. For example, Uber uses surge charging when things get busy, while taxis instead charge a higher rate if the vehicle is moving slowly in traffic.

As of late 2019, pay-per-use scooters are not yet available in the city, and some areas are actively working to ban their introduction. However, the city has teamed up with Citi Bike to create a bike-sharing system with over 13,000 bicycles.

What’s the weather like in New York City?

New York City experiences four distinct seasons, ranging from hot, humid days in the summer to chilly snow showers in the winter. The average high reaches a peak of 85 degrees Fahrenheit in mid-July and drops as low as 39 degrees in late January. Rainfall typically totals just over three inches a month.

What are New York City’s fastest-growing neighborhoods?

If you’re moving to NYC, you know that the city has five boroughs, but you may not realize that within those borders are hundreds of individual neighborhoods that each offer their own unique personalities and amenities. Not sure where you’ll land when you get to the Big Apple? Consider one of these fast-growing neighborhoods.

In New York City:

Dumbo: 

The neighborhood’s name is an acronym for its location, “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass,” placing it right on the East River. It’s a quiet, laidback neighborhood of about 5,000 people where apartments are priced between $3,895 and $6,495/mo., which is extremely pricey for the city. The subway is the easiest way to get around, with commute times to Manhattan just 20 minutes on the F train. While the neighborhood doesn’t have much of a nightlife, it makes up for it with stunning natural views.

Long Island City

Located on the western tip of Queens, Long Island City has developed into a modern neighborhood. Once filled with warehouses and rail yards, the neighborhood is now home to high-rise apartments and condos. It’s serviced by eight nearby subway stations and has a population of over 47,000. Zumper lists rent prices starting at $2,510/mo. and going up to $4,325/mo.. While this sounds expensive, it’s actually not a bad deal for the area and proximity to Manhattan.

Downtown Brooklyn:

You’ll find Downtown Brooklyn just south of the Manhattan Bridge and right in the heart of the borough that shares its name. Nearly 62,000 people call this bustling neighborhood home, thanks in part to rezoning rules in 2004 that allowed for new residential spaces. However, demand is still high, so you can expect to pay $2,937/mo. to $4,950/mo. in rent to live in this area. There are nearly a dozen subway stations nearby, so getting around Brooklyn and the greater metro area is easy. If you’re commuting to Manhattan, give yourself around 30 minutes to get to work.

Forest Hills:

With a population of nearly 73,000, Forest Hills is a booming neighborhood in Queens that still offers a small-town experience. It’s located east of Grand Central Parkway and south of the 495 interchange, and it offers a unique mix of architecture, including Art Deco, Rustic, and Tudor. The neighborhood is also pretty inexpensive compared to other fast-growing areas; rent is typically around $1,900/mo. to $3,296/mo. This is a neighborhood where a car can come in handy, though there’s plenty of foot traffic and one subway station. Getting to Manhattan takes just under an hour on the subway.

Brooklyn Heights:

Once known as Brooklyn Village and sometimes called “America’s original suburb,” Brooklyn Heights is located south of the Manhattan Bridge on the East River. It’s a beautiful place to walk around thanks to its gorgeous historic architecture, river views, and tree-lined streets. Its nearly 62,000 residents have plenty to do during the day and on weekends, but nights are generally quiet. Even better is that this urban paradise is a breezy 25-minute commute from downtown Manhattan on the A, 2, or 4 train. Unfortunately, the convenience will cost you, with rent averaging $2,391/mo. to $5,944/mo.

In the New York City Metro Area:

Port Chester:

Located northeast of the hustle and bustle of NYC proper, Port Chester, NY, has a population of nearly 30,000. The town has a significant Latin-American community, and its downtown area is walkable with lots of restaurants and shops. The train station is also located downtown, and it will get you to Penn Station in just over an hour. Rent starts around $1,800/mo. and goes up to $3,300/mo.

Long Beach:

If you’re a transplant from a coastal town or want to live near the city and the beach, Long Beach is a wonderful compromise. Located along the south shore of Long Island and home to just over 33,000 people, the city is only an hour from Penn Station when you take the Long Island Railroad. The average rent prices of $1,800/mo. to $4,250/mo. might sound high, but aren’t bad when you consider that the average unit is much larger than in the city, often coming with two to four bedrooms.

Living in New York City: The fun part

For the sports fan:

Living in New York gives sports fans something to do all year round. The city is home to major league teams in every major sport. You can catch a baseball game with the Mets or Yankees; sit courtside for the Knicks or Nets; or cheer on the Giants or Jets in football. You can also attend the U.S. Open tennis tournament, follow college basketball, find a favorite soccer team, or even partake in the NYC Marathon.

For the culture-seeker:

New York City may be known for many things, but its arts and history scene is a major attraction. It’s home to world-famous museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), as well as educational destinations like the American Museum of Natural History and the Museum of the Moving Image. For fun family days out, make sure to visit the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and the Bronx Zoo. Short on cash? There are tons of free options to check out, too. Time Out and Thrillist are great resources for upcoming activities if you run out of ideas.

For the foodie:

New York City has countless options for foodies, and a simple internet search of your favorite kind of dish will yield dozens, if not hundreds, of restaurants to try out. However, if you’re looking for something that’s quintessentially NYC, it has to be pizza. The city even has its own New York-style pizza, featuring large slices and thin, foldable crusts. But even if you’re looking for something different, such as Neapolitan or Sicilian, you’ll find them and more scattered throughout every borough. Check out Eater for the latest hotspots to try across all cuisines.

For the traveler:

New York City is the perfect hub to live in for those who love travel. There are three international airports within an hour of downtown Manhattan: LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy, and Newark Liberty. Skiplagged regularly lists flight deals starting at $50 round trip to domestic destinations and $130 to fly internationally. You can also take the train or rent a car to visit some great weekend getaways within a couple hours of the city, such as the Hamptons, the Hudson River Valley, and Shelter Island.

For the outdoor explorer:

Lots of people associate living in NYC with bustling sidewalks, never-ending traffic, and tall buildings, but the city has quite a bit to offer in terms of outdoor recreation. Central Park is the area’s most well-known green space with 843 acres of gardens, lawns, walking trails, water features, and more. On the west side of the city, the High Line is a 1.45-mile elevated trail with more than 500 different types of greenery to enjoy.

What you probably didn’t know about New York City

  • Among the many other things it’s known for, Central Park is a birdwatcher’s dream. Over 200 species visit throughout the year, including up to 100 rare varieties.
  • The Wyckoff Farmhouse is the city’s oldest building. Construction began in the 1650s, and it underwent several renovations through the 1900s until it was nearly destroyed by a fire. In the 1980s, it was restored and is now open as a museum.
  • The Statue of Liberty, the 151-foot-tall beacon located in the New York Harbor, was delivered in 350 pieces in 1885, but construction to put her together didn’t start until 1875.
  • In addition to a large human population, New Yorkers own more than one million pets.
  • There are 42 different buildings in New York City that have their own zip codes. These include the Empire State Building, the MetLife Building, and 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
  • The island of Manhattan was first purchased by the Dutch from Native Americans in 1626 for today’s equivalent of around $1,000. That’s less than the average rent for a single apartment today.

The bottom line

New York City has something for everyone, from food to culture to outdoor activities. Many who inhabit the city couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Despite high living costs, NYC offers a sense of diversity and community that many other major cities just don’t possess.

While this guide is intended to give you an overview of living in New York City, it barely scratches the surface. For more in-depth information on specific aspects of moving to NYC, check out local resources such as NYC Go, New York Magazine’s The City, and the City of New York official website.


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