- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals Washington DC Guide (PDF)
While dwarfed in population by cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, Washington DC remains a huge drawcard for visitors to the United States.
As the capital of the US, and home to multi-national organisations like the IMF and World Bank, Washington attracts a large number of international expats. Situated on the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia, its location was said to be chosen by President George Washington himself in 1790.
Nowadays, it is perhaps most famous for being the seat of government. DC, as it's sometimes known, has a wealth of history attached to it, meaning the city has developed into a dynamic and complex metropolis where both the past and the future are cherished. That said, there are both positive and negative aspects of life in DC.
Cost of living in Washington DC
+ PRO: Salaries are high
The high cost of living in Washington DC is often more than compensated for by higher salaries. The average household income is well above what’s earned in many other cities in the US.
- CON: Living costs are high too
Unless moving from another big city like New York, Boston or San Francisco, new arrivals will find the cost of living in DC is high. If from out of state, or abroad, they may have to pay a lot more for housing and food than they're used to. Generally costs get lower the further they live from Downtown DC.
- CON: Wealth inequality
Although many newcomers will find lucrative high-profile employment opportunities in Washington DC, there is a massive divide between the rich and the poor. Figures suggest around a fifth of the city lives below the poverty line.
Lifestyle in Washington DC
+ PRO: Cultural diversity
A wide variety of people live in Washington DC and the surrounding areas. Politicians, diplomats and military personnel live alongside people working for banks, non-profit organisations and all kinds of other industries. The population is generally well educated and the blend of backgrounds, nationalities, religions and ethnicities makes it an interesting place to live.
+ PRO: An Abundance of cultural attractions
There's plenty to see and do in Washington DC. History and culture buffs will feel right at home among all the attractions on offer. Many of the city's museums and galleries offer free entrance to residents.
+ PRO: Plenty of weekend break opportunities
Washington DC's central location means that it’s easy get out of the city and head to places like New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia for the weekend. The surrounding countryside is also stunning and offers loads of opportunities for those needing a dose of fresh air. There is hiking in the Shenandoa National Park, rafting on the Shenandoah River, and sailing in the Potomac or at nearby Annapolis. Virginia Beach is also a four-hour drive from DC, for those looking for a getaway on the coast.
- CON: Traffic and tourists
In contrast to the pace of life in Washington DC, the traffic tends to be slow. Public transport is good, but those stuck in suburbs that aren't well serviced by transport routes are doomed to drive. Additionally, because of all the great attractions, there are a huge number of tourists which can make the central areas around National Mall and Capitol Hill crowded.
Family life in Washington DC
+ PRO: Variety of neighbourhoods
Those working in DC have a wide variety of neighbourhoods to choose from, with housing varying from centrally-located apartments to suburban townhouses and family homes. Those relocating to Washington can therefore choose to live in an area that suits their lifestyle and family circumstance, provided they can afford it.
- CON: Poor public schools
Unfortunately, the public school system in DC is not up the standards of other major cities in the US. That said, there are some excellent international schools in the city. Many families move out to Maryland or Virginia to find better public schools for their children.
Weather in Washington DC
+ PRO: Spring and autumn are pleasant
Autumn brings a welcome respite from often stifling summers in DC, while spring happily ends the cold winters. Pleasant balmy evenings and mild temperatures accompany these seasons, although spring can often change from warm to cold in a few hours. Spring is, however, also accompanied by gorgeous blossoms which brings the city back to life after winter.
- CON: Humid summers
During the summer months, the weather can get hot, humid and uncomfortable. Air conditioning is a must, which unfortunately drives up electricity prices in the summer months.
Working in Washington DC
+ PRO: High ceilings for career growth
There is a strong, diverse and dynamic job market in the capital as a result of the presence of government employers and contractors. While many may see the high competition for jobs as a negative, it breeds equally competitive salaries and benefits.
- CON: Demanding work environment
The salaries and room for career progression are certainly high in Washington DC. That said, the demanding work environment can come at the expense of time spent with friends and family. Many employees work long hours, and those who value time with their loved ones may suffer.
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.
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