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13 Things to Know Before Moving to Raleigh, NC

October 1, 2021

It's easy to see why Raleigh makes the list of best places to live in North Carolina. Its relatively affordable lifestyle and housing are a big win for renters. While the job market is booming, the city still retains its small-town feel in an area known as "The Research Triangle."

With over 1,200 restaurants, Raleigh is a draw for foodies and nightlife lovers. There’s something for everyone, whether you're a college student or establishing a career in research or technology.

Before packing your bags and heading to North Carolina, here's everything you need to know about moving to Raleigh.

1. What it's Like Living in Raleigh?

Raleigh, North Carolina, is home to 464,485 residents. The city earned its nickname as the City of Oaks for its tree-lined streets, whether Downtown or in the nearby suburbs. The city is also celebrated for its universities, technology, and Research Triangle attracting career climbers and millennials. But the city isn't just for busy urban dwellers. Raleigh’s idyllic backdrop and robust economy also draw families and retirees.

Raleigh was established as the capital of North Carolina in 1792 and is now the second-most populous city in the state next to Charlotte. The city was also one of the earliest examples of a US-planned city. Unlike many cities dating back to the American Revolutionary War, Raleigh was planned out in a grid pattern with a 19th-century Greek Revival–style capital building at its center.

Raleigh is regularly ranked as one of the best places to live in the US due to its healthy job market, plentiful oak trees, temperate weather, and educational opportunities. With over two dozen breweries, locals enjoy museums, culture, and a booming food and drink scene. In short, there are plenty of ways to have fun.

2. Cost of Living in Raleigh

According to Payscale, the cost of living in Raleigh is 1.9% lower than the national average, while housing is 9.7% lower than the national average.

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

  • Energy bill: $161.62
  • Loaf of bread: $3.77
  • Doctor's visit: $113.92
  • $2.39 for a gallon of gas

Recent trends show the average rent in Raleigh is on the rise. Expect to spend around $1,457 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,472 for a two-bedroom apartment. To live comfortably in a one-bedroom apartment in Raleigh, your income should fall around $43,710 a year or $22.42 an hour. For a two-bedroom apartment, you'll need to earn at least $44,160 a year or $22.08 an hour.

The median income in Raleigh is a generous $67,266, as reported by the Census Bureau in 2019. By comparison, the median income is $54,602 in the rest of North Carolina.

Keep in mind those figures are just an overview of the cost of living in Raleigh and are different from a basic living wage. Living above the poverty threshold in Raleigh and making a good living requires $16.32 an hour for a full-time employed single individual with no children. You'll need a higher salary or a few side hustles to afford nightlife, vacations, and restaurant outings.

3. What to Know About Taxes

Taxes are a bonus of living in Raleigh, North Carolina. There's a flat income tax rate of 5.25%, and every taxpayer in the state pays this flat rate regardless of their filing status or how much they earn. North Carolina is also attractive for its low property taxes and sales taxes near the national average.

North Carolina offers tax-exempt purchases to lighten your budget, like prescription medications and some types of groceries. There's also no tax on Social Security Retirement benefits.

4. Who's Moving to Raleigh?

Raleigh attracts new renters from across the East Coast and South! People from Durham, New York City, and Charlotte are moving to Charlotte, NC, while renters in Raleigh search for apartments in Durham, Charlotte, and Wilmington.

For more information, read our Renter Migration Report.

If you're interested in moving to a new state, read our Step-by-Step Guide.

5. Raleigh Job Market and Economy

Raleigh has a thriving job market with roots in higher education and technology. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, and the nearby Duke University attract students and staff looking to grow their academic careers.

The city is also part of the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Research Triangle thanks to its proximity to significant research industries and a hub of technology and biotech. Manufacturing, trade, transportation, utilities, and finance are also key industries around Raleigh.

There are more attracting newcomers to the City of Oaks than the robust job market and varied industries. Raleigh's low unemployment rate means top companies and industries compete for talented workers. Like most cities, Raleigh struggled during the pandemic but now boasts an unemployment rate of 3.8%, significantly less than the national average of 5.8%.

6. Public Transportation in Raleigh

Like most of North Carolina, Raleigh is a driving town, but you can still get around with public transportation and proper planning.

GoRaleigh is the least expensive transportation option around Raleigh and Wake County. The system operates 27 routes in the metro area and five regional and express routes in the Triangle area. Bike enthusiasts also use the GoRaleigh bus rack to make riding part of their daily commute.

A single ride fare costs $1.25, though youths ages 12-years-old and younger and seniors 65-and older ride free with a GoRaleigh ID card. Passes will save even more money with daily, weekly, and monthly options. You'll spend $40 on a 31-day pass with unlimited rides.

Raleigh is a dream for bicyclists with its two major routes traveling throughout the city. Locals and tourists traverse the “Mountains to the Sea” route that runs from Maine to Florida. For day-to-day cycling and commuting, the city is working on establishing more bike paths and also encourages use of the extensive Capital Area Greenway System.

Unlike other cities, train travel is a popular option in Raleigh. In fact, the city is home to one of Amtrak’s busiest stations in the southeast. Locals hop on passenger trains between Raleigh and Charlotte for commutes and meetings. You can also spend the weekend taking the train all the way to Philadelphia, New York, Miami, and Washington D.C.

If you live in Downtown Raleigh, you’re in luck. The R-Line offers a free, eco-friendly connector that takes locals to nearby restaurants, shops, music venues, museums, and everything else Downtown has to offer.

Uber and Lyft also help Raleigh locals live car-free. While you can also grab a taxi, they're the most expensive transportation option.

If you're a single adult without children, you'll spend about $5,113 for transportation in Raleigh each year. If you live in a household with two adults with one child, you'll pay an additional $11,672 for transportation.

7. The Weather in Raleigh

Raleigh may be situated in the south, but locals still enjoy living through all four seasons. Like most of the south, Raleigh summers are hot and humid, while winters are short and cold. Rainfall is common year-round, and though you won't see tons of snow in Raleigh, snow skiing in the mountains is just a few hours away. The most temperate, comfortable months in Raleigh stretch from April until June.

8. Things to Do Around Raleigh

Raleigh is called the “Smithsonian of the South” for good reason: The city offers plentiful historic attractions, free museums, and educational institutions. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences welcomes visitors to its history exhibits, hands-on classes, and year-round events. Kids have their own pint-sized brand of fun at the Marbles Kid Museum with interactive exhibits and movie screenings.

The North Carolina Museum of Art is an art fix for local creatives. Here, they display the first major museum collection in the country to be formed by state legislation and funding. Locals enjoy free admission to explore the permanent collection and outdoor Museum Park.

With the nickname "City of Trees," outdoor fun is always on the agenda in Raleigh. Pullen Park is a unique public park housing one of the oldest amusement parks in the world. Locals come for the carousel, pedal boat, mini train ride, and frugal attractions.

Umstead State Park attracts hikers, trail runners, bicyclists, and equestrians looking to explore multiple trails. You'll find a nationally acclaimed garden and some of the largest and most diverse collections of landscape plants at the JC Raulston Arboretum at N.C. State University. Moonlight in the Garden is one of the Arboretum’s most popular events and a must-attend.

9. Food Scene and Nightlife in Raleigh

The food scene in Raleigh attracts award-winning chefs and is a contender against world-class food cities. Raleigh is home to over 25 breweries and features flagship favorites like Poole's Diner, Crawford and Son, and the more casual Morgan Street Food Hall. Transfer Co. Food Hall serves up everything from burgers to burritos near the North Carolina State Capitol building.

Nightlife thrives around Raleigh with rooftop bar options like the A.C. Hotel Raleigh North Hills. Downtown bar hoppers head to Raleigh Times Bar in a historic building that once published the Raleigh Times. For beer, the Raleigh Beer Garden holds the world record for the largest selection of draft beer in its massive 8,500-square-foot venue.

Live music venues welcome visitors to historic venues, like the Lincoln Theatre. This unique venue was once a movie house dating back to 1945. The Pour House Music Hall books national touring acts and bands with an excellent selection of cocktails and craft brews. For an alternative sound, KINGS and Neptune Parlor feature live music, D.J.s, and local beers. In between acts, locals play vintage arcade games.

10. Major Annual Events in Raleigh

You can count on Raleigh to host high-energy annual events that draw crowds from around The Triangle. St. Patrick's Day boasts a parade and festival, and the Got to Be NC Fest includes live bluegrass music, rides, and a draft horse pull competition.

For a quieter, educational affair, the North Carolina Science Festival features hundreds of science and technology events. The North Carolina State fair features an agricultural exposition, carnival rides, exhibits, and competitions.

There's always a 5k or race going on somewhere in Raleigh. Locals also join the City of Oaks Marathon and run the annual "hometown race" in Raleigh.

11. Raleigh Sports Scene

The Carolinas show love for each other’s sports team, but North Carolina is home to its own professional sports team. The NHL's Carolina Hurricanes, or The 'Canes to locals, play in PNC Arena from September to April. College sports are also a big deal around North Carolina, where locals root for Duke and North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Locals also show their allegiance to the Carolina Panthers, Tar Heels, and the Courage soccer team.

12. Top Universities in Raleigh

Education is a cornerstone of Raleigh’s economy and culture, with top universities attracting world-class thinkers, athletes, and academic staff. Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, and nearby Chapel Hill offer academic, research, and athletic opportunities. Some of the city's biggest employers are local universities, including Duke University and Duke Health Systems.

13. What Neighborhood in Raleigh Should You Call Home?

When you live in Raleigh, locals have their choice of trendy, downtown neighborhoods or quiet enclaves. Here are a few options to start your apartment search.

Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill isn't technically a Raleigh neighborhood but is a popular option for University of North Carolina students and staff. It's also a foodie's paradise with a student population helping fuel the nightlife scene’s pubs, cafes, and dining options. Chapel Hill is also among the most diverse and LGBTQ+ friendly areas in North Carolina, with parades and festivals.

Cameron Village

Cameron Village started out as a master-planned community, though became a trendy shopping district. Locals call it the "Village District," and many residents find it appealing for quick commutes to Downtown.

Downtown Raleigh

Downtown Raleigh is walkable and filled with urban amenities. Evening concerts, Friday art walks, and nightlife are all within reach in Downtown Raleigh. The area is also a hotspot for startups making their home in Research Triangle Park.

University Park

University Park is full of students, families, and young professionals. There are many well-regarded public schools in University Park, and renters have their choice of coffee shops and casual burgers and sandwich eateries.

Need more ideas on where to live in Raleigh? Learn more about the best neighborhoods in Raleigh here.

Final Thoughts

Ready to move to Raleigh? Start apartment hunting with Apartment List and learn which Raleigh neighborhood is best for you!

If Raleigh doesn't seem like the right place for you, consider other places to live in N.C.




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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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