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14 Things to Know Before Moving to Chicago, IL 2021

By: Susan Finch
April 20, 2021

1. What it's Like Living in Chicago

Chicago is home to 2.71 million people and is among the largest cities in the US, as well as the most populous city in the Midwestern United States. People from around the world relocate to Chicago, or simply visit this lakefront city. You may hear a variety of languages spoken around Chicago's diverse neighborhoods.

Chicago is also known as the epicenter of the Midwest with thriving industries, higher education opportunities, and urban beaches along the shores of Lake Michigan. The city is a popular choice for students, staff, as well as corporate career climbers in finance, leisure, hospitality, and more.

Chicago has long been a mainstay of thriving urban centers in the US. French explorers, missionaries, and fur traders arrived in the 17th century, followed by a US Army fort. By 1837, business started booming as Northern businessmen saw the real estate potential in Chicago's emerging transportation hub. A fire destroyed much of Chicago's business district in 1871, though it continued to grow rapidly as a dominant Midwestern hub for business, sports, jazz, and culture.

A few things in the Windy City might surprise you. It offers the bluest waters outside of the Caribbean and is home to 37 movable bridges across the Chicago River. The flow of the Chicago River moves in reverse after a sewage issue threatened the city in the 1900s. Engineers reversed the water to pour into the Mississippi River watershed.

2. Cost of Living in Chicago

Living in Chicago is pricier than many midwestern cities like Indianapolis, though cheaper than a metropolis like New York City. According to Payscale, the cost of living in Chicago is 23% higher than the national average. Housing is 56% higher than the national average. Depending on your salary, the lifestyle Chicago offers may be worth the trade-off.

Here's an idea of how much things cost when moving to Chicago, as reported by Payscale:

  • Energy bill: $151.23
  • Loaf of bread: $3.60
  • Doctor's visit: $112.15
  • $3.30 for a gallon of gas

Chicago rent will likely take up the most significant part of your budget. The average rent in Chicago rose to $1,131 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,247 for a two-bedroom apartment. Rents are starting to rise again after a sharp decline during the pandemic. To live comfortably in a one-bedroom apartment in Chicago, you should have an income of at least $33,930 per year or $16.31 per hour. For a two-bedroom apartment, you'll need to earn at least $37,410 per year or $18.71 per hour.

The median income in Chicago is currently $58,247, as reported by the Census Bureau in 2019. By comparison, the median income is $65,886 in the rest of Massachusetts.

Median income estimates are different from the recommended basic living wage. Living above the poverty threshold in Chicago requires $16.32 per hour for a single individual working full-time. You'll need to find a well-paying job or start some side hustles to afford the nightlife, vacations, and restaurants.

3. Who's Moving to Chicago?

Chicago is a diverse city with people moving in and out from different parts of the world. You’re in good company if you’re hoping to relocate from a nearby midwestern city. According to Apartment List's most recent migration report, the highest percentage of people moving to Chicago are from Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Detroit.

There are also outbound moves happening around Chicago. Renters who currently live in Chicago, but are considering moving elsewhere, are searching for apartments in warmer climates, such as Phoenix, Miami, and Los Angeles.

Learn more about moving to a new state.

4. Taxes in Chicago

Chicago locals enjoy some flexibility when it comes to taxes. Illinois currently taxes income at a flat 4.95% rate. The sales tax rate can get pricey when you live in Chicago. The minimum combined 2021 sales tax rate for Chicago is 10.25%. This figure represents a total of state, county, and city sales tax rates.

Are Chicago property taxes high?

If you're interested in homeownership, plan to spend 1.55% for an average effective property tax rate.

5. The Job Market and Economy in Chicago

Like many urban centers, Chicago's economy and job market took a hit during the pandemic, but conditions are showing steady improvement as the pandemic wanes. Chicago has one of the world's largest and most diversified economies with a typical Gross Regional Product (GRP) of nearly $700 billion.

Leisure and hospitality are significant industries in Chicago, as well as manufacturing, transportation, Information Technology, and Health Services. Depending on the type of career you're building, JPMorgan Chase, Deloitte, Boeing, United Airlines, and Ford Motors are all significant employers around the greater Chicago area.

6. Chicago Weather

Chicago lives up to its nickname of "The Windy City," although the city has evolved over time. It’s believed the name was used initially to depict locals as people who liked to brag a lot. However, Chicago's proximity along the shores of Lake Michigan makes it breezy during summers. Wind can get fierce during inclement weather, and winters are cold.

In fact, Chicago winters are notoriously brutal. The city’s coldest month is January, where temperatures dip to 0-degree average. The hottest temperatures come about in July, where temperatures around 81 degrees are common. The mild summers make Chicago a desirable place to live, work, and play, although it's essential to layer up even during warmer months.

7. Public Transportation in Chicago

The Chicago Transit Authority operates the L trains, CTA bus service, and some surrounding suburban options. You can also hop on the Metro Rail for transportation between Chicago and the rest of the suburbs. If you live near the waterfront around Michigan Avenue, the Chicago Riverwalk, Ogilvie, or Chinatown, you can hop a water taxi to get to work.

Living in Chicago without a car isn’t challenging in the slightest if you live near public transportation. Chicago Public Transportation runs about $105 for service on the L train. You can also add in Uber, Lyft, taxi, cycling, and urban walking to make up the gaps of not having a vehicle.

Transportation will take up more of your budget than in other cities. Expect to spend about $5,149 on transportation as a single adult—families of two working adults and a child need at least $11,753.

8. Best Chicago Neighborhoods

Chicago offers something for everyone, from upscale high-rise living to trendy urban lifestyles. Here are some of the best Chicago neighborhoods to explore.


Bucktown is perfect for renters who enjoy nightlife, entertainment, and quick access to public transportation. Music lovers stop at The Hideout for art, music, poetry, and plays. Run or bike along the elevated Bloomington Trail to catch gorgeous views of the city while working up a sweat.

Hyde Park

Hyde Park is home to historic structures and has housed many famous people throughout American history, from Amelia Earhart to Chaka Khan. The neighborhood is also home to the University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry, which is located in the last remaining building from Chicago's World Fair in 1893.

Wicker Park

Wicker Park is known for its view of the area where Milwaukee Avenue and North Avenue meet. It's similar to the Flatiron Building in New York City. However, instead of the NYC skyline, Chicagoans can admire the Chicago skyline and the city's hustle and bustle from this hipster haven.

Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park is more than a tourist spot. It's a robust neighborhood located around the crown jewel of the city. It's also home to the Lincoln Park zoo, the oldest free zoo in the country. For outdoor lovers, Lincoln Park features a host of trails and walkways that are perfect for taking in the changing leaves in the fall.

River North

River North is a newly revitalized area that's perfect for those who love urban living, art, and food. It's located within the Near North Side District, home to the Cold Coast and Navy Pier communities. Renters enjoy repurposed warehouses and manufacturing plants in this creative-minded community full of galleries, pubs, and coffee shops.

Read more about the best Chicago neighborhoods here.

If you're concerned about safety in your Chicago neighborhood, take simple precautions like not walking alone at night. Stay informed about crime around your community by joining a watch club.

9. Best Food in Chicago

Chicago has long enjoyed a reputation as a famous food town. Bon Appétit Magazine even named Chicago the top food city over New York City and other worthy contenders. Chicago is home to prestigious James Beard Award winners, including Lettuce Entertain You, Sun Wah BBQ, Arun's, and Parachute.

Of course, you can't live in Chicago without adopting a love of deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs. Load up your next steamed hot dog with yellow mustard, white onions, green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, and pickled sport peppers. A dash of celery salt is crucial to top off your iconic Chicago hot dog.

Chicago boasts a booming cocktail scene with everything from curated concoctions to tiki-inspired drinks. Grab a drink at Time Out Market Bar, enjoy spirit-infused drinks from Scofflaw, or dance the night away with your favorite local DJs at The Whistler.

Savor the flavors of the city at the Tastes of Chicago, the world's largest food festival. Held every year in Grant Park, you'll get to savor some of the best flavors in the city while enjoying live music and performances.

10. Chicago Parks and Outdoor Recreation

Despite the concrete jungle reputation of Chicago, there are 570 parks in the city. Parks, green space, and trails surround Downtown Chicago. The most popular options are along with the waterfront areas, perfect for a day of jogging and cycling.

Chicago's parks are also full of gems. Famed designer Frederick Law Olmsted designed Washington Park, a gorgeous park home to the DuSable Museum, a bird and butterfly sanctuary, and a few lagoons.

You can also hit the beach without leaving the city properly. Try North Avenue Beach, 12th St Beach, Montrose Avenue Beach, and the dozens of lake trails that make a living in Chicago a unique, waterside experience. North Avenue Beach is home to 22,000 square feet of space featuring upper decks and portholes to enjoy the sparkling waterfront.

Spending time outdoors is a cornerstone of Chicago living. You'll see why they call it "the city in a garden."

11. Best Things to Do in Chicago

Chicago is a world-class city with endless attractions and things to do year-round. Root for the home team at Wrigley Field, which sits on the North Side of Chicago. The historic stadium was built in 1914 and has housed the Chicago Cubs for over a century.

Sears Tower, also known as Willis Tower, has 108-stories and sits 1,450 feet high. Take a tour on the Ledge Skydeck for the views, take advantage of a unique photo op, and to learn more about the tower and city's history.

The infamous Bean, or Cloud Gate, is the hallmark of public art in the heart of Chicago. The sculpture is the centerpiece of AT&T Plaza at Millennium Park in the Loop area. The reflective Bean is made of stainless steel, drawing visitors to interact with its reflective surface.

Taking in Chicago's architecture is a favorite pastime in the city. Take a self-guided walking tour and snap some shots of the Aqua Building, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Carbide and Carbon Building.

Spend a day walking around Navy Pier. Opened in 1916, the amusement area and shipping facility comprises 50 acres of gardens, venues, shops, and restaurants. There's also a 150-foot Ferris wheel and a historic carousel.

12. Chicago Sports

Chicago is a huge sports city where locals take team spirit seriously. You have your pick of the Bears, Bulls, Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks, Sky, and Fire FC. Even if you're not a basketball fan, Chicagoans are loyal to 15-season NBA player Michael Jordan. He helped win six championships with the Chicago Bulls, and his presence is felt heavily around Chicago.

Wrigley Field is an iconic institution and has hosted the Chicago Cubs for over a hundred years. You can see a tour for yourself and learn more about the history of the stadium.

New on the Brooklyn scene, Whirlyball opened in Bucktown to bring locals bowling, laser tag, and whirly ball, all in one place. You can also find rock climbing, yoga, and more at Brooklyn Boulders Chicago.

13. Chicago Universities

Chicago is ideal for higher education students. Pursue an undergrad or graduate degree in the Windy City at one of Chicago's renowned institutions.

The University of Chicago is located in the Near West community adjacent to the Chicago Loop. Some of the significant fields of study include public policy. President Obama formerly served as a professor at its Law School.

Northeastern Illinois University is a public university with 8,000 students and is a Hispanic Serving Institution. The learning and research community is known for its degrees in Speech, Psychology, Health, and Engineering.

DePaul University is the largest Catholic University in the US and a private institution in Chicago. It's known for its Business, Management, Marketing, Journalism, Arts, and Science related studies.

Loyola University is a Jesuit Catholic University known for its biology, science, nursing, psychology, marketing, and finance programs. Students who live on campus enjoy the waterfront and proximity to areas like Hartigan Beach and Tobey Prinz Beach Park.

14. Chicago Annual Events

Chicago's annual Lollapalooza music festival was founded in Grant Park in 1991 before spreading to the rest of the country. Performances include rock, heavy metal, punk, electronic music, hip hop, and more. Summer dates span four days and draw thousands of attendees.

The annual Chicago Jazz Festival is a popular Labor Day Weekend tradition that helps promote jazz appreciation. The Millennium Park festival is free and features both veteran and up-and-coming jazz artists.

Runners and supporters gather at the Chicago Marathon every October. The marathon is the fourth-largest race and is a pinnacle achievement for runners.

Finding Your Chicago Apartment

Ready to move to Chicago or to a city nearby? Start apartment hunting with Apartment List.

If Chicago doesn't seem like the the city for you, check out the best places to live in Illinois!

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Susan Finch is a freelance writer and content manager focusing on local experiences, travel, and anything relating to really good food and craft brews. Her work has appeared in travel guidebooks and national magazines and newspapers. Read More
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