Cost of Living in New York City

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New York is regarded to be the most expensive city to live in within the USA, especially in relation to salaries earned. While the cost of living is cheaper than other big cities like London, Sydney, Hong Kong and Tokyo, the 'Big Apple' is by no means a cost-friendly location.
penny rolling to show cost of living in NYC
In order to overcome this economical intimidation, most employers will offer expats moving to New York City a relocation allowance known as a “COLA” (cost of living adjustment). This initial supplement is designed to ease employees into life in the city; it helps tremendously when it comes to finding an apartment through a broker, paying deposit fees and shouldering the burden of set-up costs while jumpstarting a new life.

Furthermore, while life in Manhattan is more costly, employees who work in Manhattan are certainly reimbursed accordingly.

Expats should aim for a minimal annual income of USD 50,000 to live comfortably alone and USD 150,000 as an expat looking to support a family of four.

Housing costs in New York City

New York City is made up of 5 boroughs; Manhattan, Queens, The Bronx, Staten Island and Brooklyn.

If you choose to live in Manhattan you will find the cost of living to be extremely expensive - far closer to London standards in fact. You could almost say that Manhattan has a micro-economy in effect. To put it into perspective, a roll of Bounty kitchen paper will set you back over USD 3 in Manhattan; hop over the water to Brooklyn and you could scrape your dimes and quarters together and make the same purchase for little over USD 1.

If you go that one step further and choose accommodation in the more posh and prestigious neighbourhoods of Manhattan, like The West Village, Soho or Tribeca, your cost of living will increase accordingly, and your lifestyle will equate more closely to that of London’s Chelsea, Fulham or even Mayfair.

In all honesty though, living in Manhattan does give you more bang for your buck. This borough provides a certain quality of life in terms of the facilities and amenities that exist on your doorstep. There is a cosmopolitan feel to the city’s neighbourhoods and almost everything a person could need is available within walking distance.

Utility costs in New York City

As a tenant in an apartment in New York City you will generally only pay an electricity bill; water and gas are often covered by the building or the landlord. While this is good news, it soon becomes obvious that the cost of running an air conditioning unit over the summer months - from May to September – can cause your monthly electricity bill to triple.

Expats can anticipate an electricity bill of USD 50 per month during winter and USD 200 per month during summer.

An additional cost unforeseen by many expats is the annual bonus residents give their building staff at Christmas time – this is more New York City social protocol than enforced cost – but nonetheless, it is taken very seriously. With upwards of 15 staff in some buildings this is no small sum.

Transport costs in New York City

New York has a comprehensive subway system that covers all 5 boroughs, and the cost of public transport has managed to remain reasonable.

A single ride on the subway is still only USD 2.25, cheap even when compared to other large cities.

Buses, while slightly slower, are also a convenient and cost effective way to get around the city.
piggy bank on US Dollars
If you know you’ll be utilising public transportation frequently, you can even make getting around more economical by purchasing unlimited travel cards. A monthly travel card for unlimited subway and bus travel is USD 89. A weekly card is USD 27.

There are also options for bulk purchase with discounts attached: a USD 10 purchase comes with a USD 1 bonus included, or a USD 20 card with a USD 1.50 bonus included.

Do note that fares are continuously subject to change.

As for taxis, anyone who has taken a 10 minute black cab ride in London will appreciate how relatively cheap yellow cabs are in comparison and when sharing with friends almost an economical way to travel.

Rounding up, or even adding a dollar to the total, is normal tipping practice.

Entertainment costs in New York City

While this may seem like an unnecessary category to consider when it comes to balancing your budget, it happens that New York is one of the party capitals of the world. Eating out at some of the city’s culinary hotspots or enjoying an evening of wine and cocktails can come at a hefty price.

Expats should be aware that a 20 percent tip is obligatory in restaurants, and one dollar per drink is expected when buying a beer or wine over the bar.

Newcomers to the city will find that though expensive, the tipping culture negotiates that service in restaurants and bars is above par in New York, and that the quality of the food is generally of a high standard. Staff is paid only a modest wage and rely on their tips and therefore are conscious of providing good service and leaning on the kitchen to do their part as well.

Fast Food can be found on most street corners and while we can’t vouch for the health benefits they are certainly easy on your budget.

Grocery and clothing costs in New York City

Everyday groceries and clothing will be much more expensive in Manhattan than any of the other boroughs.

grocery cart going through aislesYou will certainly find better deals outside of Manhattan but failing that, try buying online at and in bulk, and from large main street stores and you will be sure to make some savings.

The smaller corner stores and clothes stores downtown are lots of fun to browse around as long as you are aware that they will set you back financially. Century 21, by the old World Trade Center buildings, offers large discounts on designer brands and is worth browsing for bargains.

Healthcare costs in New York City

Expats relocating to New York should note that it is very important to establish with your employer whether they are providing you (and your family) with a comprehensive health insurance policy, or whether you must organise yourself.

A visit to a general practitioner (GP) without insurance can leave you with a bill of roughly USD 200 for as little as a fifteen minute consultation. If you have insurance then you will be covered and will only have a co-pay of around USD 20 that you are responsible for.

The same is true of prescriptions, without adequate cover you will be left with a bill of up to USD 50 for your drugs.

If you do have to see a specialist, which is often the case since GPs only cover you for treatment of every day infections and viruses, you will need health care coverage that will be good for consultations, X-rays, hospital procedures, MRIs, etc. Without insurance your bills could soon amount to thousands of dollars.

Our New York City Expert

OffTheSidewalk's picture
New York City
New York City
Off The Sidewalk (OTS) was founded by three UK expats living in New York. OTS offers a definitive relocation guide and...

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