- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals Washington DC Guide (PDF)
Those moving to Washington DC are often surprised by how small the city – arguably the most powerful and influential in the USA – can be. Despite its iconic image as the centre of American power, Washington DC is difficult to define, with ambiguous borders and a contrasting image.
The district is populated by little more than half a million people, yet the huge DC metro area borrows from neighbouring state land to create a metropolis ten times that size. 'DC' usually refers not only to the District of Colombia but also to parts of Maryland and Virginia that feed into the city.
The massive concentration of agencies, departments, businesses, consulates and young, eager professionals makes Washington DC so dense with potential that people from all ends of the earth seem to be magnetically drawn to it.
Living in Washington DC as an expat
New arrivals in Washington DC will likely discover job opportunities in its thriving service industry, including sectors such as healthcare, education, finance and hospitality. Alternatively, newcomers can get involved in businesses that work alongside federal operations. Being the capital of the US, Washington DC's biggest employer is the US government.
With such an array of neighbourhoods in Washington DC, new arrivals to the city will certainly be able to find a spot that suits their lifestyle and circumstances. Unfortunately, the city is rife with inequality, resulting in high poverty levels. While newcomers are likely to live in better neighbourhoods, the unfortunate realities of living in a city with such large discrepancies of income, as well as relatively high crime rates, are unavoidably noticeable.
Cost of living in Washington DC
The cost of living in Washington DC is generally quite high, especially as good quality accommodation is in high demand and therefore expensive. That said, those living close to the city centre will find that public transportation is fairly reasonable and there's really no need for a car when it comes to getting out and about.
Expat families and children
There are plenty of good schools in Washington. New arrivals can send their children to public schools that fall within certain residential boundaries at a negligible cost, although these schools can vary in quality. There is also a good range of private and international schooling options, but fees are naturally much higher.
Outside of school hours, parents will find plenty to entertain the kids in Washington DC. The city's many parks are wonderful for a day out in the sunshine. Alternatively, educational fun can be had at the Smithsonian, where there are endless things to see and do, such as visiting the zoo or one of the many museums. There are also a host of events in the city each year to entertain the little ones.
Climate in Washington DC
Washington DC has a semi-continental climate. Summers are hot and humid, with temperatures averaging between 86°F and 91°F (30°C and 33°C). During winter, temperatures regularly drop well below freezing and snowfall is common. Autumn and spring are the most pleasant times of the year and draw the most visitors to the city. The weather is generally warm, with clear skies.
Washington DC, compared to other American cities, is particularly welcoming to newcomers. Most young professionals in DC have recently moved to the city to pursue careers before relocating again. There's a frenetic energy of friendship-making fuelled by a large number of clubs, casual sports teams and nightlife. Newcomers are always welcome here.
►For more about life in the city, see Pros and Cons of Moving to Washington DC
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
Cigna Global can tailor an international health insurance plan to perfectly fit the needs of you and your family. With 86 million customers 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.
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.
Free Moving Quotes
ReloAdvisor is an independent online quote service for international moves. They work with hundreds of qualified international moving and relocation companies to match your individual requirements. Get up to 5 free quotes from moving companies that match your needs.