- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals Washington DC Guide (PDF)
Washington DC offers a variety of high-quality housing options. However, the actual city limits are considerably smaller than most expect and many expats who move to Washington DC end up living in neighbouring Virginia or Maryland. These nearby states generally offer better options for suburban family living and cheaper accommodation.
Many neighbourhoods in Washington DC are full of students attending the assortment of nearby universities, or young professionals who have recently moved to the city to start their working life. Residential family homes are usually found farther out of the city centre, and vary in terms of quality and price, depending on their neighbourhood and proximity to public transport.
Because property becomes more expensive closer to the city centre, commute times via car are long. Therefore, accommodation near public transportation routes, such as the bus or metro lines, is highly sought-after.
Property prices and rent in Washington DC are among the most expensive in the country. It'll likely be the largest monthly expense for expats planning to relocate there.
Types of accommodation in Washington DC
Apartments are the most common type of housing in the city and range from single-room studio apartments to luxury multi-bedroom lofts and penthouses. Rent will naturally vary according to size and location, with the more expensive apartments being closer to the city centre. Practically all apartment buildings are equipped with modern facilities and amenities.
Another option for expats looking to rent in Washington DC are townhouses, which are cheaper than single-family homes but also generally have separate entrances and multiple storeys. These are often historical Victorian homes built in a row along one street, hence they are also referred to as rowhouses.
Single-family houses are fully detached residences which may be best suited for a full family, as they normally include a garden and are located away from the city centre. Despite being predominantly in the suburbs, single-family detached houses are particularly expensive. It is therefore advised that expats realistically asses their housing budget before making any commitments.
Finding accommodation in Washington DC
Due to limited space in the city, expats are advised to begin the search for accommodation as early as possible. Knowing one’s price range and desired accommodation type is essential as it will clarify the search and simplify the decision-making process. It is worth considering factors such as space requirements, amenities and proximity to shopping hubs, public transport and schools.
Expats may want to find a local real estate agent who understands the local area and can help identify a home suited to their requirements. If considering living in the Maryland or Virginia suburbs, expats should keep in mind that agents require separate licences to work in different states. It may, therefore, be necessary to employ several realtors to scout the surrounding areas thoroughly.
Renting accommodation in Washington DC
With DC being such a small city, it follows that accommodation is in high demand. This has made accommodation expensive and harder to come by than in some other American cities. If an expat has their heart set on a place, they should act quickly as good properties don’t tend to stay on the market for long.
The rental process
As in most of the USA, to secure a rental property, potential tenants will need to obtain an application form from the landlord. Subsequently, the landlord will contact their chosen tenant and together they will sign a standard lease agreement. Having a US bank account will act in one's favour when applying to rent accommodation in Washington DC, especially for expats without a social security number.
Furnished or unfurnished
Most accommodation tends to be unfurnished in Washington DC, though furnished apartments are also available. Furnished accommodation usually includes everything from appliances to bedding and cutlery. Furnished accommodation is usually more expensive and typically work on a shorter lease term. Unfurnished accommodation rarely means a completely bare apartment or house. Properties usually still come with large appliances like ovens, washing machines and fridges.
Rental contracts are traditionally valid for a year with the option to renew when the term is over.
Usually, renters will be required to put down an amount equivalent to a month’s rent as a security deposit. This deposit is refundable once the lease has come to an end. If any damage has been done to the property, the deposit will be used to cover the cost of repairs.
Expats renting accommodation in Washington DC should check the conditions set out in their lease to find out the details on utilities. In some cases, the landlord may assume responsibility for utilities like gas, electricity and water, but tenants will usually be expected to pay for extras such as telephone services, internet and cable TV packages. Expats should spend some time looking into different service providers as one can often find a good range of inclusive deals for telephone and internet services.
►Cost of Living in Washington DC gives information on living expenses in the city
Are you an expat living in Washington DC?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Washington DC. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
With 86 million customer relationships in over 200 countries, Cigna Global has unrivalled experience in dealing with varied and unique medical situations and delivering high standards of service wherever you live in the world.
Aetna International, offering comprehensive global medical coverage, has a network of 1.3 million medical providers worldwide. You will have the flexibility to choose from six areas of coverage, including worldwide, multiple levels of benefits to choose from, plus various optional benefits to meet your needs.
Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.