Moving to Washington, DC: 20 Things To Know Before Moving

Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States attracts more than only politicians and government employees. It is a bustling city full of culture and history that attracts Americans and tourists from all over the world.

Moving can be frustrating, stressful, especially when you are relocating to a big city like this. Larger cities are unique in their cultures and, usually, there are some unwritten rules that new residents must learn through experience.

If you are one of the many people considering a move to Washington, D.C., below are a few things you need to know before you settle in our country’s capital.

Moving to Washington, DC: 20 Things To Know Before Moving

In this article

1. The City is categorized into Quadrants

It is easy to navigate through D.C. as long as you know that it is divided into quadrants: Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, and Southwest. The quadrants start at Lincoln Park in the Capitol Hill area.

If you are asked by a friend to meet them at 370 K Street, be sure to ask if they mean K Street Southeast, K Street Northeast, K Street Northwest, or K Street Southwest. This means the cardinal direction must be added when you are describing a street.

2. It’s Cold Here

You may call me naïve, but when I first relocated to D.C. from Massachusetts, I was made to believe that Washington is the south. So, I expected the weather to be south-like. However, I got a snowmageddon city instead without having proper experience of removing snow.

If you plan to move during the winter, pack your snow boots, hat, gloves, and coat. Because you will need it.

Read our guide on Best Time of The Year to Move

3. Get Ready for the Cost of Living

It won’t surprise you that the cost of living in Washington D.C. is reasonably high. D.C. ranked 8th on the list of most expensive cities in the United States.

If you are moving from NYC to D.C., you might not be so much shocked by the costs. However, if you are moving from a far distance, get ready to pay much more for food, housing, and so on.

Generally, housing becomes more expensive based on your proximity to the Downtown. So, even if you are moving from inside the city, you should expect the cost of a 2-bedroom apartment Downtown to cost more than your 2-bedroom apartment in Bethsaida.

Fortunately, the higher cost of living in Washington tends to be even out by an over-the-average household income at $70,000 here compared to $49,000 in Tulsa, OK.

4. It Is Beyond Just a Government Town

Yes, Washington is home to the federal government, and a lot of people in the D.C. area are government workers. But it is not the only gig in town. Washington D.C. has an entire knowledge economy that’s bringing young, educated people from all around the country.

If you are looking to move to D.C., but you are not certain you are ready to work for the federal government or in the agency of the government, don’t worry. There is a huge private sector that presents opportunities for those that wouldn’t work in government, too.

5. Know Your Neighborhoods

The number one thing you will need to do is pick a place you’ll live. The D.C. area offers different neighborhoods with different rent costs.

Capitol Hill and Eastern Market are, for instance, more livable neighborhoods and are some of the best neighborhoods to live in Washington D.C. if you’ve secured a job at the Hill since the distance is walkable or you take a bike.

If you have an interest in a more advanced neighborhood, you might consider Logan Circle, with its style of house related to the Victorians dating far back to 1870. The neighborhood is generally great for shopping and dining.

6. There is Inequality Everywhere

Similar to most major metro areas in the country, the rich folks walk among us, common citizens. You’d never notice the difference. But it’s cool.

Washington is an information-based economy where the world’s smartest people gathered to change the world. And based on a recent study, Washington is one of the cities that have the most millionaires per capita.

Wealth in Washington is casual, unlike in New York where it is more obvious. As the cost of living never stopped rising, the entire community squeezed.

Neighborhoods are divided towards color lines. And while areas are bustling with new development, top public services, $3,000 studio apartments, and so on, others experience increasing crime and crumbling infrastructure.

7. Traffic can be Tough

Some residents of Washington D.C. do without owning a car and rely on the streetcar, buses, Metro, Uber, and taxis. If you are a car owner in D.C., you should get ready for terrible traffic. You may find a cheaper home or apartment in the suburbs but if you are driving a car, it can take much of your time, and get you frustrated.

8. Drinking Culture is Real

Drinking culture is the only real and existing culture in Washington. Happy hour makes things brighter around this place. However, because there is alcohol everywhere and everyone is drinking, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

According to resident, I am operating on an alcohol-free level. And yeah, I need it. Since I moved to Washington, I quickly learned that happy hour is not only about drinks after work hours but represents inter-office bonding and one way to relieve the stress of the day.

9. Taxes Operate Differently Here

One other factor that contributes to the high cost of living in D.C. is the taxation system. Taxation in Washington is complicated. The sales tax in D.C. is 5.75%, but some purchases are taxed at an expensive rate.

For instance, the tax on alcohol that you can buy and take off-site is 10%, and as are takeout orders and restaurant meals. Hotel tax of 14.5% exists, and if you plan to park your vehicle in a garage, the tax rate is 18%. Washington D.C. has an estate tax, unlike some neighboring states like West Virginia.

10. You can easily walk or bike around D.C.

If you like to get around on foot, you are in the right place. It is very difficult to get lost in Washington because of an easy-to-follow street grid system. The streets starting from North to South are numbered, and the streets from east to west are assigned letters.

The United States Capitol is the central point for the lettered and numbered streets. Together with these numbered and lettered streets, there are also diagonal streets named after states.

If you decide not to walk, you can easily bike around D.C. You can get a rental bike from Capital Bikeshare if you don’t have one.

11. You can find Love in D.C.

Dating is fun in D.C. there are many horror stories and coffee meetups gone crazily wrong. But still, you have a good chance. For each horror story, there are lots of couples who met in Washington D.C. and the numbers keep growing day by day. Yours is never too late in Washington D.C.

12. There are many Free Museums around You

While you might spend much money on sales tax over your years as a D.C. resident, you don’t need to spend money to visit top-class museums. Even though not all the museums in the city are free, but most of them are. It’s is a perk of living in Washington and it is worth taking advantage of, and not only when your friends and relatives visit from another town or city.

Alongside regular exhibitions, many museums film SCR nings, free talks, receptions, as well. This is a nice perk for any D.C. resident.

13. There is a Public Transit System, But Most Residents Drive Personal Cars

Even though there is public transportation in the city, most residents of Washington own cars. But that doesn’t mean you necessarily need a car in the city. The subway system in D.C. (Metro) runs across the city and into nearby towns, and it’s completely reliable.

To get to areas that are not serviced by the Metro, you can consider a Metrobus. However, a little patience may be required to catch a bus since some don’t often run. If you need to get around fast and don’t have your car, you can either catch a Lyft or Uber.

14. Brunch is a Real Deal

Residents of Washington D.C. who have the opportunity love to brunch. Areas with a high population of young demographic or residents tend to have many brunch places and these spots are usually crowded on the weekends. If your heart is fixed on trying out some brunch option, make a booking, get there early, or get ready to wait. Happy hours and small plates are also big in Washington D.C.

15. You Can Easily Find Green Space

While you imagine D.C. as a place for outdoor activities, there are chances to hike, kayak, and enjoy the outdoors in the city. Located in the city limits is Rock Creek Park and is a national park occupying 1,754 acres of space. This is a perfect place to escape the sidewalks of the city and go for a trail run or hike.

Some other great places to have a good time are the National Arboretum and Glover Archbold Park.

To enjoy the weather, visit the Georgetown Waterfront for nice views of the Potomac River or rent a paddleboard or kayak and spend some hours on the water.

16. Be prepared to see Many Tourists and Activists

Since Washington D.C. is the capital of the country, expect to see many tourists visiting the museums and monuments in the city. The National Mall is often crowded with school groups taking tours around the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, political buffs exploring the Capitol, and tourists from other countries looking at the White House.

While the area is often crowded with people, expect to see excessive crows around 4th of July, Memorial Day, and in spring exactly during the cherry blossom bloom.

The District also attracts crowds of protestors and activists, because of the availability of national lawmakers. Regardless of your political leanings, it is always good to be aware of marches and protests, because they can affect auto traffic and pedestrian.

17. Remember to Downsize

Before moving, try to explore the chance that you won’t have the same quantity of space as you do now, especially if you are relocating into an apartment on Dupont Circle, for instance. Bigger cities can sometimes mean smaller spaces, so living in Washington D.C. might imply that you will be storing some of your household goods.

Self-storage units are properly maintained and provide safety and security components. This service is helpful when you figure out you don’t have space for all your household furniture at your new home. You can store a boat if necessary, too.

18. Be on the Lookout for the Cherry Blossoms

If you don’t work or live closer to prime cherry blossom real estate in the city, looking out for it on the news to discover when the blossoms are at the highest level is good. It is truly an appealing site, and a great way to feel connected to other residents since different people of different ages and backgrounds will all be out taking photographs of the pink blossoms.

19. Pick a Neighborhood Wisely

The neighborhood you choose will affect the cost of living, closeness to parks, commute, access to the metro, and a lot more. So before you put your signature on that lease to a new apartment, be sure to find out the neighborhood that matches your needs.

If you desire to be closer to Downtown and want nightlife and restaurants at a stone’s throw to you, Dupont Circle, Capitol Hill, and Penn Quarter are worth considering.

If you prefer to have your options close by, but don’t want a much-refined vibe, consider Adams Morgan and Shaw.

20. Walk Left, Stand Right

This is especially true when you are on escalators or stairs in the Metro stations. The length of some of the escalators is much and you want to avoid standing in the way of busy commuters during rush hour.

Frequently Asked Questions

If I move to Washington DC, do I need to retake a driving test?

If you come to Washington DC from another state in the United States, you have 30 days to get your new license before you breach any laws. As a side note, DC is a bit unique from other states when it comes to vehicle licensing and driving licenses.

To convert your driving license to a DC REAL ID driver license, you must be able to establish residency in DC. You can usually pre-apply online and will need to have ready Proof of Identity, Social Security Number, DC residency proof.

If I move to Washington DC, how long until I must enroll in new health care coverage?

Typically speaking, you will have 60 days from when you made your move until the day you enroll in your new coverage (or make a change in your plan). If you were moved to the District of Columbia by an employer, then your healthcare change should be near immediate.

The Medicaid program is handled through a program called DC Healthcare Alliance which provides treatments and services like hospital care, cancer screenings, blood pressure treatments, preventative care, and more if your income is below a certain limit.

Why is Washington DC not one of the 50 states?

Washington D.C. has remained a district (as in the District of Columbia) rather than a fully incorporated state for a number of reasons. The main reason for DC’s lack of statehood is the same reason every state gets 2 senators regardless of population – our system is designed around maintaining the equality of power amongst states.

The founding fathers of the United States felt that by locating a national capital within a state that would give the state an unfair level of importance and prominence amongst the other states. While we no longer view the states in quite the same way as our founders once did, many of these rules still play a key role in our functioning.

How is the economy in Washington DC

While parts of D.C. have a bad reputation, that only tells a very small part of the story. Like any major city, DC has had issues, but it is also the second most active US office market for foreign capital and the Washington, DC metro area is among the top 5 strongest economic hot spots in the United States.

While California is known for Silicon Valley, DC has actually seen incredible job growth in the business and trade sectors. As far back as 2015 the District of Columbia was considered a top global financial center, and ranked ahead of Boston, Chicago and Frankfurt.

Is there anything to do in the District of Columbia?

There is so much to do in DC! Whether you are interested in history, science, art or any other facet of culture there will be a world renowned museum or performance center geared for it. Being an international hub and the capital of the United States means that large amounts of federal money has been invested in the arts and culture of the area.

Within a mile of the capitol building are countless memorials, museums and stories. There are also plenty of parks, malls, and other entertainment venues easily accessible by the DC metro. You will find it hard to become bored in the nation’s capital as there is always something special happening.

What is the weather like in Washington DC?

Like nearby Virginia and Maryland, Washington DC definitely has seasons. You will experience snow and you will have hot summers and everything in between. Luckily the geographical location of Washington DC means that these seasons aren’t as cold as they get up north, or as hot as they got down south.

For many on the east coast, Washington DC provides a relatively more mild, centrally located option than moving to the deep south or far north.


Moving to another place is not easy, especially if you are new to the place or are not familiar with large crowds and a bustling feel. Washington D.C. in particular may seem almost difficult for outsiders to navigate, but the truth remains the truth. Washington is a warm city, full of culture, life, and history, just waiting for you to hop in.

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