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Where to Live for Expats in the United States Of America

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: August 2013

Where you want to live in the USA depends on many factors. There are practical considerations, especially employment, but also accommodation prices, the cost of living and availability of local amenities. Then there are emotional criteria, such as the desirability of a place – whether what you desire is happiness, safety, friendly locals or an active social life.

In most parts of the USA, it should not be hard to find fellow expats; nearly 40 million foreign-born people live there, which is about an eighth of the total population. Hispanics are the largest minority and can be found in most areas, particularly in the south-western states and Florida. Minorities from virtually every other country in the world can also be found, mostly in cities in the North-East, the west coast and Hawaii.

The cost of living is generally moderate in the United States, lower than that of many other Western countries. This is particularly true in central parts of continental USA. Some cities in the North-East, such as New York, Boston and Washington, are rather more expensive, but not exorbitant.

For an expat, connections to your home country and to the rest of the US are an important factor. Most expats live in large cities where transport connections are excellent. Even small towns are not too far from an airport – except in the Rocky Mountain region. This region is, however, the best for getting away from it all. An outdoor style of life, with skiing, white-water rafting, hiking and many other activities is possible in this area.

If you are moving to a particular city because of a job, the question of where to live in restricted to whether you should live in the city centre, in the suburbs or in the commuter belt. Urban decay and the violent crime that can result from it are problems in many US cities. Often the city centre or ‘downtown’ area is unsafe to live in so it is generally recommended to live away from these areas. Some of the ‘Rust Belt’ cities, such as Detroit, Flint and Cleveland have this problem particularly badly, as do some cities in California, such as Stockton and Oakland. Whichever city you are preparing to move to, it is a good idea to find out how safe it is.

Nowadays, one of the safest large US cities to live in is New York. Crime has been drastically reduced in the ‘Big Apple’, largely as a result of ‘zero tolerance’ policing methods. New York is probably the most cosmopolitan city in the world, making it easy for you to keep in touch with your own culture while experiencing something of many others. New York is also one of the world’s most exciting cities, with superb nightlife and shopping and abundant cultural activities. It is, however, also one of the most expensive cities in the world for property.

Los Angeles, the USA’s second-largest city, is famous for being the world’s entertainment capital, having some very fine beaches and an extremely agreeable climate. It does, however, have problems with smog and suffers from a lack of public transport; as a result, Los Angeles’s traffic jams are some of the worst in the world.

Chicago, the third largest city, scores moderately well in most liveability surveys. It is famous for its food, nightlife and shopping. The city centre is not one of the safest in the country, however, and the winters are harsh.

If you are going to live in the countryside (with your partner, for example), small town America is very different from the big cities. The residents will probably be friendlier and have more time for you than those in the metropolises. The towns and small cities in New England are best for a quieter lifestyle with more characterful architecture.

According to overall liveability rankings, two of the most desirable US cities to live in are Honolulu, in Hawaii, and San Francisco. The latter city was a centre of the ‘hippie’ movement and has a particular attraction for those with an alternative outlook on life.

Natural disasters are quite a problem in the US, and if you are especially keen to avoid them, the best places are the North-West (and Alaska and Hawaii) and some parts of the North-East. Texas and the Deep South do not fare so well on this scale.



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