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15 Things to Know Before Moving to New York, NY

By: Susan Finch
May 12, 2021

New York City has the largest population density in the US and is still growing. The city attracts newcomers to its stable job market, diversity, rich culture, and an, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” attitude.

The city also earned a reputation as a place where big finance, theater, and counterculture neighborhoods can thrive side by side. You can find anything you want in New York City, whether it’s an apartment on the waterfront or a chance to go out seven nights a week.

Before packing up and moving to the Big Apple, here's what you need to know about living in New York City.

1. What it's Like Living in New York?

New York is home to 8.4 million people and is the most populous city in the US and ninth globally. People from across the country and world relocate to New York or visit the number one tourist destination in the country. You may hear a variety of languages spoken around New York's diverse neighborhoods and boroughs.

New York is known as the epicenter of US commerce with thriving industries, higher education opportunities, and endless nightlife. The city is a popular choice for young professionals, students, and millennials in finance, trade, healthcare, real estate, media, publishing, and more.

New York City has a longstanding reputation as a business epicenter. The origins can be traced to its roots as a trading post on the tip of Manhattan by Dutch colonists in 1624. From 1785 until 1790, New York City was the capital of the United States, and the Statue of Liberty greeted immigrants arriving in the country by boat. The city has long stood for freedom, liberty, and diversity.

A few things in the Big Apple take locals and visitors by surprise. Oysters were so famous in New York City during the 19th century that workers used the shells to pave Pearl Street. The city's Federal Reserve Bank has the most extensive gold storage globally with $90 billion, all held 80 feet below street level. The first pizzeria in the United States also opened in NYC in 1895 and has been roughly the subway ride cost since the 1960s.

2. Cost of Living in New York

Living in New York is more expensive than just about anywhere else in the US, followed by San Francisco. According to Payscale, the cost of living in New York City is 129% higher than the national average. Housing is 369% higher than the national average. Depending on your salary, the lifestyle, job opportunities, and nightlife that New York City offers may be worth the trade-off.

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

  • Energy bill: $210.08
  • Loaf of bread: $4.27
  • Doctor's visit: $127.32
  • $3.47 for a gallon of gas

New York City rent will likely take up the most significant part of your budget. The average rent in New York City rose to $1,601 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,685 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 New York, you need to earn at least $48,030 per year or $23.09 per hour. For a two-bedroom apartment, you'll need to make at least $50,550 per year or $25.28 per hour.

The median income in New York City is currently $63,998, as reported by the Census Bureau in 2019. By comparison, the median income is $68,486 in the rest of New York.

Median income estimates are different from the recommended basic living wage. Living above the poverty threshold in New York City requires $21.77 per hour for a single individual working full-time. You'll need to find a well-paying career or launch a few side hustles to afford the nightlife, vacations, and restaurants the city has to offer.

3. Who's Moving to New York?

New York is one of the most diverse cities globally, where 800 different languages are spoken. People move into New York City from other multicultural areas. According to Apartment List's most recent migration report, the highest percentage of people moving to New York are from Philadelphia, Miami, and Washington.

There are several outbound moves happening around New York City as well. Renters who currently live in the city, but are considering moving elsewhere, are searching for apartments in warmer climates, such as Miami, Philadelphia, and Atlanta.

4. Taxes

Plan ahead on taxes if you live in New York City and budget accordingly. It's one of the few cities in the US that has a personal income tax and is paid on your state return. The sales tax is higher at 8.875%.

5. The Job Market and Economy in New York

The Big Apple, one of the country’s economic powerhouses, is known for its mega-industries. New York City hosts the largest municipal and regional economy in the US. The city generated a gross metropolitan product (GMP) of over $2 trillion in 2019. The metro area also boasts the largest economy in the US.

Finance, media, and entertainment are robust industries in New York. Some of the world’s largest corporations are also headquartered in the city. The Wall Street Stock Exchange, the United Nations, American Express, Conde Nates, HBO, Shutterstock, Tiffany's, and more, all call New York City home.

New York City has a reputation as the Northeastern "Silicon Alley", which started emerging in the 1990s. The alley stretches from Midtown to Lower Manhattan and is home to digital presences like Razorfish and Doubleclick, which Google acquired.

6. New York Climate

New York City is known for its chilly falls and winters, though has a humid, subtropical climate. Build up a wardrobe for cold, wet winters with snow and slush. During the summer months, hot and humid weather is the norm. New York is a four-season city, although many count the winter holidays as the fifth. The city lights up with holiday lights, pop-up stands, decor, and the monolithic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

The city's coldest month is January, where temperatures dip to 32.6 °F degrees on average. However, it's common for the weather to drop close to 0 °F several times each winter. The hottest temperatures come about in July, where temperatures around 82.9°F degrees are expected.

New York City usually requires a walk to the subway every day for restaurants and errands. Whether it's a frigid winter day or a hot and humid one, layers are essential. Many older apartment buildings in New York City don't have central air, though many come with window units. Remember to factor in utility costs during extreme weather to stay comfortable.

7. Public Transportation in New York

New York City offers one of the best public transportation systems in the country. The MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) provides subways and busses that connect the five boroughs in New York City. Cabs, taxis, Uber, and Lyft are also available throughout the city. Fares cost $2.75 per ride on the MTA or $127 for a 30-day pass.

Grand Central and Penn Station offer a wider selection of train transportation to New Jersey, Connecticut, Long Island, and areas north of the city. Commuting in and out of the city, as well as to different states, is common.

Biking is a very popular option around New York City but requires some caution in high-traffic areas. Parts of the city offer multi-use paths and areas like the Hudson River Greenway and Bronx River Pathway. The seasonal Governors Island also offers biking, festivals, and Greenpeace. The biggest parks in the city and outer boroughs, like Central Park and Prospect Park, are also the perfect places to soak up some green space in the urban jungle.

Depending on where you live, you can also rely on a ferry service to get around New York City. Areas at the tip of Battery Park, the East River, South Brooklyn, Astoria, Soundview, and Governor's Island, are just some of the places you can grab a ferry or water taxi.

With so many public transportation options around New York City, you don't need a car to get where you need to go. Public parking is limited and notoriously expensive, although it's possible to find free street parking in the outer boroughs like the Bronx and Staten Island. The farther away you live from Manhattan, the more likely you are to find parking options.

8. New York Neighborhoods

New York City's diverse neighborhoods and boroughs range from upscale and affluent to funky. Here's where to start your apartment search.

Upper West Side

The Upper West Side is known for its classic brownstones, luxury apartments, and proximity to Central Park. You're close to everything from fine dining to pubs to celebrity neighbors.

East Village

The East Village is a trendy neighborhood with bars, small music venues, restaurants, and coffee shops. The community took root in counterculture influence and creative pursuits, but has increasingly become more affluent and filled with young professionals. It's also a popular option for students, musicians, and the creative-minded.


Manhattanville is also known as West Harlem or West Central Harlem. The diverse neighborhood is residential in nature and has been gentrifying over the last decade. Columbia University purchased real estate in the area for expansion. Pubs, eateries, and shops are available, although you'll still find warehouses and old-school poultry markets.

Washington Heights

Washington Heights is situated in the uppermost part of Manhattan and was named after the fortification of Fort Washington. The area is known as "Little Dominican Republic" and blends older residential buildings with some of the city's best attractions. You won't find many pubs and restaurants in Washington Heights, though you are close to stunning attractions like the Met Cloisters, which houses medieval art.

9. New York Food & Drink Scene

New York is celebrated for its iconic food scene. Bagels are the cornerstone of every breakfast, and sometimes lunch. You can also grab a slice of pizza for about the cost of a subway ride. Pastrami is also a popular menu item at restaurants and delis. Top everything off with a slice of fresh cheesecake or Italian ice.

Part of what makes New York City's food scene so grand is the ability to wander into neighborhoods that cater to your favorite dishes. Little Italy, Chinatown, Koreatown, and Brighton Beach all offer ethnic eats from Italian to Russian. It's easy to see why the city earned #4 as the best foodie destination in the US.

NYC Restaurant Week offers a little of everything. The event is held twice a year, with participating restaurants offering pre-made lunches and dinners. It's a score if you want to eat at the city's finest restaurants where prices are usually the lowest you'll ever see them.

10. New York Outdoors

New York City may have a reputation as an urban jungle, though it offers 28,000 acres of green space. Central Park is the pinnacle of the city's green space. You'll also find Umpire Rock with an outcrop of gigantic boulders protruding from the bedrock. Central Park isn't the city's largest park. Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx is over three times as large.

For some activity, go biking in Wolfe's Pond Park in Staten Island. As the borough's largest park, you can enjoy waterfront biking in a more laid-back setting on the south shore. Stop by your local farmer's market, which might fill an entire city square, like Union Square in Manhattan. Grab a ferry and take a picnic over to Governor Island, where you can also rent a bike.

The city also offers free kayaking on the Hudson River during warmer months. You can find kayaking spots throughout the city and take advantage of 30-minute free rides.

11. New York Nightlife

Nightlife is a significant economic and cultural driver in New York City, with over 25,000 establishments to choose from. Trivia nights are popular around the city at bars and clubs. Locals head to Paul's Cocktail Lounge for hip cocktails in an A-list crowd. Le Bain features a disco and rooftop bar with Hudson River Views. Elsewhere entertains crowds in a warehouse turned multi-concept venue and restaurant.

Blend culture with nightlife with a performance at Carnegie Hall or get tickets to the New York City Opera. New York City is also known for its iconic night at the museum. MoMa, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and the Whitney Museum of Art all offer regular evening performances, lectures, and small concerts.

New York City is a beacon for media and entertainment. Attend a TV show taping, including Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Good Morning America, and Late Night with Seth Meyers. Saturday Night Live is also a popular option, though it is notoriously tough to get tickets.

12. Best Things to Do In New York

There's more to do in New York City than you'll probably ever have time for. Attend a new Broadway show or see something off-Broadway at a cheaper price point. The TKTS Booth in Times Square and Brooklyn offers deep discounts for same-day shows with unsold tickets.

Museums are plentiful, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), MoMa (Museum of Modern Art), and the Guggenheim. Many museums around the city are either "suggested donation," but you can pay what you want. Others offer free or heavily discounted admissions once a month.

The Empire State Building and top of Rockefeller Center, or Top of the Rock, are ideal for skyline viewing. Visitors and locals pay their respects at the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum. A trip to the Statue of Liberty is a must for everyone, or you can take the free Staten Island Ferry and get close-up views of Lady Liberty on the way.

Times Square has morphed into a pedestrian area where walkers have more space to explore and spread out. To see the skyline and enjoy multi-borough attractions, walk the length of the Brooklyn Bridge from lower Manhattan into Brooklyn Heights. After reaching Brooklyn, check out the Brooklyn Bridge Park for 85-acres on the East River lined with eateries, shops, and greenspace.

13. New York Annual Events

New York's annual events operate all year. The Macy Flower Show offers two weeks of exotic flowers and plants from around the world at Macy's Herald Square.

Film lovers have their choice of film festivals throughout the year. Jane Rosenthal and Robert DeNiro launched The Tribeca Film Festival to showcase film, lectures, music, games, art, immersive programming, and more.

The Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival NYC is held at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Live demonstrations, music, performances, and authentic eats and beer take over the garden each spring, as visitors stroll the grounds littered with cherry blossoms.

New York City Pride March is one of the largest annual LGBTQ+ marches globally with millions of spectators. Demonstrations, live music, performances, and pop-up booths take over the city as colorful flags and costumes line the streets.

The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival is an annual, multicultural sporting event in Corona Park in Queens. The festivities celebrate the fifth moon of the lunar calendar. Visitors enjoy traditional Chinese foods and performances while over 120 dragon boat teams from across the country glide through the water.

There's nothing more iconic than the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting each year. The tree is usually lit during early December with a live televised ceremony from 7 pm until 9 pm. Ice skating at Rockefeller Center and exploring holiday pop-up stands around the city are also popular pastimes.

Over one million people come out to enjoy Times Square on New Year's Eve to see the ball drop. Revelers show up as early as possible, and by mid-afternoon, streets are packed. Savvy locals try to book restaurant tables with a view, a hotel room, or get an invite to a coveted apartment with Times Square views for the event.

14. New York Sports

New York is a sports town with fiercely loyal fans. For football, choose from the Buffalo Bills, New York Giants, or New York Jets.

The city also has a severe baseball rivalry. If you're new to the area, decide whether you're a New York Mets or New York Yankees fan before baseball season kicks up.

The NBA's Brooklyn Nets and WNBA's New York Liberty sink hoops for the crowd. For NHL action, the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, and New York Rangers skate across the ice. There's even a lacrosse team in Long Island called the New York Lizards, and American professional soccer clubs called the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC.

15. Universities in New York

There are 110 universities and higher education options in New York City, where nearly 600,000 students attend. The city offers an exciting and dynamic backdrop for both students and staff looking to work in academia.

New York University, or NYU, is a private university known for its Visual and Performing Arts, Social Sciences, Business, Management, and Marketing programs. The school has a location near Washington Square Park and Greenwich Village, which offers a trendy backdrop with pubs and boutiques. There's also a campus located in Downtown Brooklyn.

Columbia & Barnard are situated in the Morningside Heights area of Manhattan stretching along Broadway between 116th and 120th Streets. You'll find an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, and greenspace.

Barnard College is known for its Social Sciences, Biological, and Biomedical Sciences, and Visual and Performing Arts programs. The school is a private women's liberal college and operates under the parent university of Columbia. The University of Columbia is known for its Social Sciences, Engineering, Computer and Information Sciences, and Support Services programs.

Cornell University offers major degree programs in applied economics and management, industrial and labor relationships, civil and environmental engineering, and more.

The United States Military Academy at West Point is located about 50-miles north of New York City on a stunning campus along the Hudson River. The academy focuses on developing cadets in intellectual, physical, military, and moral-ethical character.

Final Thoughts - Should You Move to New York?

Ready to move to New York City and call the Big Apple home? If Brooklyn catches your eye, start thinking about which Brooklyn neighborhood is best for you.

Start apartment hunting with Apartment List.

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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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