- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals Washington DC Guide (PDF)
While dwarfed in population by cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, Washington DC remains a huge drawcard for visitors to the United States.
As the capital of the US, and home to multi-national organisations like the IMF and World Bank, Washington attracts a large number of international expats. Located on the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia, its location was said to be chosen by President George Washington himself in 1790.
Nowadays, it is perhaps most famous for being the seat of government, D.C. as it's sometimes known, has a wealth of history attached to it, meaning the city has developed into a dynamic and complex metropolis where both the past and the future are cherished. However, there are both positive and negative aspects of life in DC and here are some of them.
Cost of living in Washington DC
+ PRO: Salaries are high
The high cost of living is often more than compensated by higher salaries. The average household income in D.C. is well above what’s earnt in many other cities in the U.S, and it needs to be to cover the high housing costs.
- CON: Living costs are high too
Unless you are moving from another big city like New York, Boston or San Francisco, you’ll find the cost of living in D.C. is fairly high. If you’re arriving from out of state, or abroad, you may have to pay a lot more for housing, food etc than you're used to. Generally costs get lower the further you live away from Downtown D.C.
- CON: Wealth inequality
Although many expats will find lucrative high-profile employment opportunities, there is a massive divide between the rich and the poor, with figures suggesting around a fifth of the city lives below the poverty line. This is perhaps reflected in the high crime rate; the district was once dubbed the murder capital of the US, but the violent crime figures have since got much better.
Lifestyle in Washington DC
+ PRO: Cultural diversity
A wide variety of people live in Washington D.C. and the surrounding areas with politicians, diplomats and military personnel mixing with people working for banks, non-profit organisations and all kinds of other lines of work. The population is generally well educated and the blend of backgrounds, nationalities, religions and ethnicities makes it an interesting place to live.
+ PRO: Variety of neighbourhoods
Those working in D.C. have a wide variety of areas and suburbs to choose from, with housing varying from centrally-located apartments to suburban townhouses and family homes. Therefore those relocating to Washington can choose to live in an area that suits their lifestyle and family circumstance.
+ PRO: Cultural attractions
There's plenty to see and do in Washington DC. Once done with their day’s work, history and culture buffs will love all the attractions on offer. Furthermore, many of the city's museums and galleries offer free entrance to residents.
+ PRO: Plenty of weekend break opportunities
The city’s central location means that it’s easy to go on a weekend city break to places like New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia. The surrounding countryside is stunning and offers loads of opportunities for those who want to get a dose of fresh air. There is hiking in the Shenandoa National Park, rafting on the Shenandoah River, and sailing in the Potomac or at nearby Annapolis. Virginia Beach is a four-hour drive from DC, for those who want to head to the coast. .
- CON: Traffic and tourists
In contrast to the pace of life in Washington DC, the traffic tends to be slow. The public transport is good but those in the suburbs are doomed to drive. Additionally, because of all the great attractions, there are a huge number of tourists which can make the central areas around National Mall and Capitol Hill very crowded.
- CON: Poor public schools
The public school system in D.C. is awful, but there are some excellent international schools. Many families move out to Maryland or Virginia to find better public schools for their children.
Weather in Washington DC
+ PRO: Spring and autumn are pleasant
Spring and autumn provide a welcome respite from often stifling summers. Pleasant balmy evenings and mild temperatures accompany these seasons, although spring can often change from warm to cold in a few hours. Winters are cold.
- CON: humid summers
During the summer months, the weather can get hot, humid and uncomfortable.
Working in Washington DC
+ PRO: High ceilings for career growth
There is a strong, diverse and dynamic job market in the capital as a result of the presence of government employers and contractors. While many may see the high competition for jobs as a negative, it breeds equally competitive salaries and benefits.
- CON: Demanding work environment
The salaries and room for career progression are certainly high in Washington DC. But the demanding work environment can come at the expense of time spent with friends and family.. Many employees work long hours, and those who value time with their loved ones may suffer.
► For more information on the city, read Frequently Asked Questions about Washington DC
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
With 86 million customer relationships in over 200 countries, Cigna Global has unrivalled experience in dealing with varied and unique medical situations and delivering high standards of service wherever you live in the world.
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.