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18 Things to Know Before Moving to Washington, DC

By: Susan Finch
February 3, 2021

The District of Columbia may be renowned for its fierce politics and rich history. However, there's so much more to living in Washington, DC.

The area is filled with vibrant culture and national attractions. Those are driving newcomers into its best neighborhoods.

The population is predicted to increase by 47% by 2045. That makes it a hot spot for newcomers looking for a robust job industry that stretches beyond politics.

If you’re thinking about relocating, here’s what to know before moving to Washington, DC.

1. Washington, DC is a Booming Metropolis

Washington, DC is more than a compact US District. It’s also a bustling urban center with tons of neighborhoods and suburbs experiencing steady growth.

During 2020, there were 709,951 people in DC. The annual growth rate hovered around 0.52% for several years.

You also have your choice of neighborhoods, each offering its own look and feel. They range from hip and trendy to low-key and quiet.

2. It’s True, DC Doesn’t Have Representation in Congress

The District of Columbia is a District, not a state. That means there is no Congressional representative for the area. However, locals can vote.

Instead, Congress oversees DC through various committees. Don’t worry if it takes you a while to wrap your head around it. It’s confusing even for long-term locals.

3. Get to Know the DMV

If locals are talking about the DMV around town, they’re probably not talking about the Department of Motor Vehicles. Instead, it stands for "District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia."

The metro area is also surrounded by I-495. If you live within it, you’re “in the beltway.”

When you live in the DMV, you’re also close to Arlington, Alexandria, Bethesda, Baltimore, and other areas. Of course, the idea of “close” is relative when you’re dealing with DC traffic.

4. The Cost of Living in Washington, DC is High

Rents in DC are notoriously expensive. However, they've seen a sharp decrease during the coronavirus pandemic. If you are considering a move, now would be a great time to score a deal on a Washington DC rent special.

Median rents around Washington DC are $1,552 for a one-bedroom and $1,569 for a two-bedroom. That's still above the national average of $1,090 for a two-bedroom. However, it’s historically low for DC. As the pandemic eases, you should also expect the average rent in DC to start rising.

If you're not sure how much you should make to live comfortably in DC, you can follow the 30% rule. The rule stipulates you should only spend 30% or less of your gross income on rent.

If you’re paying $1,552 for a one-bedroom, you should earn at least $5,175 a month before taxes. Of course, sharing an apartment with a roommate or two will cut costs.

Learn more about the cost of living in Washington, DC.

5. Washington, DC's Job Market

When it comes to working in DC, politics ranks high on the list. However, it isn’t the only game in town.

The District is also home to many international organizations. Those include the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and trade unions, such as the American Federation of Labor Building.

Locals also work at non-profits like the National Parks Conservation Association, and global transplants work among the 176 foreign embassies. If you want to work near politics but not entirely in it, a lobbying group like the National Association of Broadcasters also calls DC home.

DC is also growing as a tech hub, with more and more tech companies setting up shop in the area.

6. DC Neighborhoods Have Something for Everyone

There’s something for everyone in DC, whether you want nightlife and pubs, peace and quiet, or arts and culture. Here are a handful of neighborhoods to choose from.

Adams Morgan

Adams Morgan offers an eclectic and energetic vibe where young professionals and families alike are welcome. It's laid-back enough to feel right at home. However, there's also a lively pub and restaurant scene with nearby green space.

Capitol Hill

Locals in DC may refer to "The Hill" to reference where Congress gathers, or a neighborhood full of colorful row houses. Both are correct.

Capitol Hill is home to the US Capitol Building. It's a densely populated urban neighborhood. It's relatively quiet on the Hill, although you're close to the best of what DC has to offer.

The community is ideal if you work in government and want a quick walk to work. But it does come with a higher price tag.

Georgetown

Georgetown and its namesake university is a paradise for students, young professionals, and shoppers. Stroll alongside 19th-century mansions while pub-hopping and boutique shopping.

The neighborhood comes at a high price tag. However, most residents think it's worth the trade-off.

Logan Circle

Logan Circle is home to bars, boutiques, and plenty of architecture to marvel over. Culture lovers take in a show at Studio Theater or Black Cat.

You're also less than a mile away from restaurants, Italian eateries, and public transportation. You can also enjoy a stroll in this walkable neighborhood.

Dupont Circle

Settle into Dupont Circle where post-Civil War-era buildings frame the neighborhood. The area is home to the namesake traffic circle that's also home to green space for lounging and an afternoon of chess. It's also the ideal place to hit the bars, restaurants, and a massive farmer's market founded in 1977.

Foggy Bottom

Foggy Bottom attracts students and staff for its proximity to George Washington University and Georgetown University. You're close to the National Mall and history haunts, not to mention stops for brunch and views of the Potomac River.

Edgewood

Edgewood is less expensive than many neighborhoods in the District of Columbia. But it’s also farther from all the action.

Families make themselves at home, as well as young professionals just launching their careers. You'll still find shops and restaurants without heading into the heart of DC.

Woodley Park

Woodley Park is situated between the Smithsonian National Zoo and Washington National Cathedral. It offers a more suburban vibe without being far from the action. You can hop down to the National Mall, bars, and pubs in surrounding neighborhoods with ease.

Learn more about some of the best neighborhoods in Washington, DC.

7. DC Traffic is Dense, but Public Transportation is Great

Washington, DC is a more driveable city than most, but that doesn’t mean traffic isn’t a tangle. Rush hour is intense, and although a car is ideal for weekend getaways or trips to the suburbs, public transportation is the best option to get around town.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority includes rail and bus transit around the District, Virginia, and Maryland. Fares start at $2.00, but you'll pay more for peak hours. Monthly unlimited passes are also available. Uber and Lyft are also popular choices for getting around DC.

8. Washington, DC’s Climate

Many people think of DC as a chilly northeastern city. However, it’s actually below the Mason-Dixon Line. You still get four seasons and some snow, but winters are relatively mild.

Summers are hot and humid. They feel even hotter when the tourism season swells.

9. Locals Embrace the History of Washington DC

As the nation's capital, locals take the history of DC seriously. It’s impossible not to when there are historic landmarks and iconic government buildings around every corner.

Depending on where you live, you could be within walking distance of The White House, Capitol Building, Supreme Court, Lincoln Memorial, or the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial.

National, Smithsonian, gardens, and private museums also abound in DC. Many are free and welcome visitors year-round. Take your out of town guests to:

  • The National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • The National Museum of the American Indian
  • The National Air and Space Museum
  • U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • National Zoo
  • National Arboretum

Historical homes are also plentiful around the District, like President Woodrow Wilson House.

Art lovers aren't forgotten in DC. You can fuel your creative inspiration at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Gallery of Art, and the National Portrait Gallery.

10. Indulge in Fabulous Food and Nightlife

Washington, DC has an impressive culinary scene and its own delicacies, like the half-smoke. This local sausage delicacy resembles an oversized hotdog that's spicy, smoked, and covered in herbs and chili sauce.

You’ll find cuisine from around the world and award-winning restaurants to choose from. St. Vincent Wine features a 4,000 square-foot outdoor space, charcuterie platters, and an expansive wine selection.

Catch the game at the two-level Rebel Taco with margaritas, sangrias, and bloody Marys. Locals take their brunch habit seriously. Rebel Tacos is the place to go for a "Hangover Burrito" and a 1.5-hour bottomless brunch on weekends.

For Malaysian food, try Makan for rice dishes with funny incidents like fried anchovies and palm sugar. Rooster & Owl is the perfect place if you can't make up your mind between Asian, Italian, and Middle Eastern flavors.

11. DC Has a Thriving Music and Performing Arts Scene

You don't have to go far to find live music and performance art around DC. Past performances at the 9:30 Club featured Bob Dylan and Radiohead.

Locals grab dinner and a show at The Hamilton Live. The Howard Theatre boasts a Sunday Gospel Brunch and artists including The Roots.

Catch a play, concert, or dance performance at The Kennedy Center. Over at the National Theater, locals come for Broadway-caliber performances and tours. For something more intimate and edgy, stop by Studio Theatre to connect with your theater community.

12. DC is a Sports Town

Despite all the politics and culture going around DC, it also has a booming sports scene. Stop by your favorite sports bar to see the Washington Nationals hit a home run, DC United score a goal, or the Washington Football Team make a touchdown.

The Washington Wizards and women’s Washington Mystics shoot hoops with the best. DC even has a competitive hockey team, aptly named the Washington Capitals.

13. Colleges are Scattered Around Town

DC takes its higher education seriously. Students worldwide come to study at George Washington, American, Howard, Georgetown, and the Catholic University of America. With the influx of students comes college sports fandom, particularly in Georgetown. Go Hoyas!

14. The Fight for Statehood is Real

According to the District of Columbia Government, “residents affirmed the desire to become a state, and 86% of voters supported the Washington, DC Admission Act.”

It can be a sticky subject for locals. Those license plates you see around DC, "No taxation without representation," are not ironic.

15. Tall Buildings Aren’t a Thing in DC

It's not your imagination. Buildings around Washington DC are dwarfed in comparison to New York City and Boston. Enacted in 1899, the Height Act limits buildings to 90 feet after the Cairo Hotel was built in 1894. There’s a long-standing rumor that the Act had something to do with the Capitol Dome's height, but locals know better.

In reality, the Cairo Hotel was shockingly tall compared to anything else being built back in those days. District residents worried about fire safety, aesthetics, and potential health issues from the sunshine it blocked. The Height Act passed and DC has had a more diminutive skyline ever since.

16. Battling Crowds During Cherry Blossom Season is Worth It

Cherry blossom season in Washington, DC is a sight to behold. The national festival commemorates the 3,000 cherry blossom trees Mayor Yukiko Ozaki of Tokyo gifted to DC in 1912.

The festival draws over 1.5 million people each year. It also features over 200 performances.

The crowds are intense, but DC is gorgeous when it’s awash in so much color and wonder. There are nearly 4,000 cherry blossom trees just on National Park Service land alone.

17. Sales Taxes Get Confusing

Washington, DC has a lower sales tax rate than many metro areas. For example, New York City’s sales tax rate is 8.875% when you combine all the surcharges and use tax.

DC’s current tax rate is 6%. It generally applies to sales taxes on personal property and other services.

Pretty simple, right? But it gets interesting. Here’s the rest of the story when it comes to DC sales tax:

  • 10% tax rate for liquor sold for off-premise and on-premise consumption
  • 18% tax rate for commercial parking lots
  • 14.5% for hotels and transient accommodations

Keep an eye on your purchases and sales tax to align your shopping budget accordingly.

18. Government Shut-Downs Seriously Impact the Entire City

When Congress fails to pass funding legislation to finance the government, shut-downs occur. Of course, they’re disruptive across the US, but they have heightened consequences around DC.

A rippling effect occurs in every industry. Whether you work at a boutique or a restaurant, government shut-downs mean workers are at home and not spending money. It doesn’t take long before the local economy across the District starts to suffer.

It’s always wise to beef up your emergency fund anywhere you live. However, it’s especially important if you work in the government or an industry that serves the government. You’ll end up with more peace of mind as you enjoy life in DC.

Final Thoughts

Ready to settle into a District known for its history, gorgeous architecture, museums, and culture? Register for Apartment List to find apartments in the best neighborhoods in DC.

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AUTHOR
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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