Searching for the right city to call home is a lot searching for love. In both cases, they say that when you’ve found the one, you just know. It’s a nice sentiment, but when it comes to choosing a city to call home, we’d rather rely on facts than romance. After, all, it’s far too easy to get swept up in the dreamy haze of your potential new hometown’s Instagram account and assume that living there will be a magical world of rooftop lounges with views of the skyline and afternoon strolls through pristine parks where everyone stops to say hello. While we’re totally in favor of getting after the dream of a new city, the last thing you want is to arrive and find out that said dream was just an illusion. Instead, guarantee your happiness in a new city by taking the time to research these eight things before you get there:
This is number one on our list for a reason. If you have to work three jobs to afford that tiny studio apartment with five roommates, you’re not going to have the energy or the money to actually enjoy the city. Starting off somewhere new is always challenging, but it shouldn’t be so hard that you’re up at night stressing over how you’re going to afford electricity and food. To figure out whether or not a city is affordable, look for these key figures: the average cost of renting an apartment, the average cost of buying a home, the median income, what wages are like in your desired field and how much you’ll be paying in taxes. You can also look into the average cost of things like groceries, gas and anything that’s unique to your spending habits. For example, if you’re planning on joining a gym, find out the costs of gym membership options in the area. Remember, the concept of affordability means different things to different people, so consider your own budget and spending habits when doing this research.
2. Getting Around
Everyone has a preferred mode of transportation. If you’re someone who would rather walk, ride a bike or take public transportation than use a car, you might find yourself disappointed if you end up living in a driving city. If you like to go out a lot, you’ll want to know if the city has rideshare services like Uber and Lyft or if you’ll have the fork out the money for an old fashioned cab. And if you’re someone who considers gridlocked traffic a deal breaker, look up the city’s average commute time. You can use Google Maps to determine how easy it is to get around by your chosen mode of transportation; just select the car, bus, pedestrian, bicycle or rideshare icon to find out. Don’t automatically rule out a city that’s not super walkable; you’ll probably still be able to find a few neighborhoods where everything is accessible by foot. Websites like Walk Score can help you suss them out.
3. The Job Market
A city’s job market is a somewhat ambiguous concept that only really makes sense if you think about it in terms of how it’s going to affect you specifically. Approach it from the perspective of your desired field but keep an open mind too. Is there a major industry or company that accounts for the bulk of the jobs in town? Can you see yourself working there? Look on websites like Indeed and LinkedIn for job postings to get an idea of what’s out there, but also check out an online edition of the city’s local newspaper for listings as well.
Don’t assume you already know what the weather will be like. Some regions will surprise you. For example, if you’re moving to Seattle because you love the rain, you might be disappointed to find out that the city actually only receives 36 inches a year—one less than the national average. Look up how many inches of rain, how many inches of snow and how many days of sun the city gets per year. What is the average low for each month? What is the average high? Are there any unusual or extreme weather patterns (think tornadoes, flash floods and dust storms) that the city is affected by? Make sure you know what you’re getting into before you decide whether or not to pack that jacket.
So your friend who used to live there says it’s sketchy but your aunt who visited once says it’s safe. Who do you trust? No offense, but the answer is neither of them. Determining the safety of a city is a two step process. First, get a broad overview of general crime statistics in the city by using a website like NeighborhoodScout. This will give you an idea of what types of crime occur more often than others in the city. Next, use a website like CrimeMapping to hone in on specific areas. This is helpful if you already have a few apartment complexes or neighborhoods in mind, as you’ll be able to see a regularly updated map of specific crimes that have been reported nearby. Seeing a lot of disturbances of the peace near an apartment complex downtown? It could translate to drunken rowdiness on the weekends. Great news if you’re going to be out on the town yourself, bad news if you’re someone who needs eight hours of sleep a night. Seeing a lot of motor vehicle theft? You and your brand new ride may want to park your lives elsewhere.
If you have or are planning to have kids, choosing a city with a great school system is ideal. Besides looking at how good the schools are overall, look at the schools in the neighborhoods that appeal to you. Compare charter schools, speciality schools and private schools. Think about the future by keeping your eye on higher education options in the city as your children (or you) may want to take advantage of an in-state tuition rate at some point.
7. The Local Opinion
The best advice on deciding whether or not a city is right for you doesn’t come from a chamber of commerce website or a Wikipedia page. It comes from the people who already live there. If you can visit beforehand, take the time to talk to your Uber driver, your bartender, your Airbnb host and everyone else you meet. Ask them what they like about the city and what they don’t like about it. See what neighborhoods they recommend and which ones they think you should avoid. How would they describe their perfect weekend? If you can’t visit, search the Internet for a Reddit thread, a City Data forum or even a community Facebook group for that city where you can learn from locals.
8. Fun Stuff
You’re probably not moving to a new city just so you can work and pay bills and sleep. Unfortunately, that magical community where no one needs a job and everyone uses cupcakes as currency doesn’t exist yet (though there’s probably a startup working on it right now), so you’ll have to be somewhat responsible no matter where you live. Fortunately, if you choose the right city, your life can also be full of fun stuff like annual events and local traditions, restaurants and bars and parks and outdoor activities. Look for a city that offers things you’re into, whether it’s a strong arts scene, a ton of nearby hiking or an impressive array of museums. As an added bonus, a city that shares your interests will translate to new friends who share your interests, making you feel like a local before you know it.