- Download our Moving to Washington DC Guide (PDF)
Washington DC is among the most expensive destinations in the USA, outranked only by a handful of cities. Mercer's 2023 Cost of Living Survey places the US capital at 23rd out of 227 cities evaluated, making it more expensive than Seattle but more affordable than New York, LA and San Francisco.
It's therefore essential for those moving to Washington to negotiate a suitable employment package to offset their expenses. Here are some of the major costs expats can expect to encounter while living in Washington, DC.
Cost of accommodation in Washington, DC
Accommodation costs in Washington are high. That said, as the city is home to lots of young professionals and university students, there are several cheaper accommodation options, such as studio apartments and house shares, on offer for those on a budget.
Where new arrivals choose to live can also impact their rental costs. Living in a neighbourhood outside the city or even in a town on the border of a neighbouring state will hugely decrease their costs. Although they will have to commute to work, it may be worth it for the cheaper housing options outside of Washington, DC.
Cost of transport in Washington, DC
Luckily, there isn't much need for a car in DC, especially for those living close to the city centre. Most residents opt not to have a car and use public transport or cycle to work instead. The cost of using public transport is based on the day, time and distance travelled, so those travelling long distances at peak travel hours will find themselves shelling out a fair amount to do so. Purchasing a weekly or monthly travel card is a good idea to save on travel costs.
Cost of groceries in Washington, DC
The cost of groceries in Washington can be rather steep, especially for organic and speciality products. However, there are still ways to manage one's grocery budget by shopping at chain supermarkets and bulk stores. It's wise for new arrivals to shop around and find the stores that match their preferences and budget. Supermarkets located in upscale areas tend to have higher prices, so exploring different areas for grocery shopping may yield savings.
Farmers' markets are popular in Washington and can provide fresh, locally sourced produce, often at competitive prices. Buying in season and taking advantage of special offers and discount cards at local supermarkets can also help reduce the grocery bill.
Cost of entertainment and eating out in Washington, DC
There are lots of opportunities to enjoy the nightlife, entertainment and eating out in Washington, but prices are high, and these leisure expenses add up over time. That said, for those on a budget or looking to save their hard-earned dollars, there are lots of free cultural attractions available in Washington which can enhance the quality of one's experience without breaking the bank.
Eating out in Washington, DC, offers a myriad of options ranging from upscale restaurants to casual eateries. A meal at a mid-range restaurant can be somewhat expensive, but there are plenty of food trucks, cafés and budget-friendly restaurants to choose from. Happy hours and special promotions can further alleviate costs for those who enjoy dining out frequently.
Cost of education in Washington, DC
Expats relocating to Washington with children will also need to factor in the cost of schooling. While expat children are eligible to attend public schools, many expat parents opt to send their children to private or international schools. Fees at these schools can be high, so parents should double-check that their budget can accommodate this cost.
Cost of healthcare in Washington, DC
The cost of healthcare in DC is quite high, as is common throughout the United States. Expats should ensure they have comprehensive health insurance to cover medical expenses. Even with insurance, out-of-pocket costs can be high, depending on the policy's deductible and coverage.
Healthcare facilities in DC are top-notch, offering excellent care, but at a price. It is essential to carefully review and understand one's health insurance policy and to consider any additional health needs or pre-existing conditions when selecting a plan. Employers often provide health insurance as part of the employment package, but it may be wise to explore supplementary coverage if necessary.
Cost of living chart for Washington, DC
Prices may vary depending on the product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Washington, DC, in August 2023.
|Accommodation (monthly rent)|
|Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre||USD 5,400|
|Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centre||USD 3,900|
|One-bedroom apartment in the city centre||USD 2,600|
|One-bedroom apartment outside the city centre||USD 1,970|
|Food and drink|
|Dozen eggs||USD 3.80|
|Milk (1 litre)||USD 1.37|
|Rice (1kg)||USD 4.98|
|Loaf of white bread||USD 3.65|
|Chicken breasts (1kg)||USD 5.72|
|Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)||USD 11|
|Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant||USD 100|
|Big Mac Meal||USD 10|
|Coca-Cola (330ml)||USD 2.54|
|Bottle of beer (local)||USD 3.23|
|Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)||USD 0.17|
|Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)||USD 57|
|Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)||USD 220|
|Taxi rate/km||USD 1.71|
|City-centre public transport fare||USD 2.75|
|Gasoline (per litre)||USD 1.03|
What's the cost of living like in Washington, DC?
"Products and services are getting more costly, and I feel companies are having challenging times adjusting salaries to compensate for inflation...
One can expect to pay around USD 1,700/month for a decent place in the city. Things nowadays (2023) are not as cheap as they used to be. A cup of coffee might be around USD 6 on average, and one can expect to pay about USD 20 for a full meal without the drinks and tips (usually 20 percent of the bill)." Read more about Gustavo's experience as a Peruvian living in DC.
►Read the Accommodation in Washington, DC, page for tips on finding a place to live in the city.
►Lifestyle in Washington, DC, provides tips on how new arrivals can spend their free time.
Are you an expat living in Washington DC?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Washington DC. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
Cigna Global Health Insurance - 10% off any plans bought in November and December 2023
With Cigna, you won't have to rely on foreign public health care systems, which may not meet your needs. Cigna allows you to speak to a doctor on demand, for consultations or instant advice, wherever you are in the world. They also offer full cancer care across all levels of cover, and settle the cost of treatments directly with the provider. Cigna is currently offering a 10% discount for seniors (over 60) on their Silver package.
International Movers. Get Quotes. Compare Prices.
Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.