Moving to Chicago, IL? This guide will help you make as smooth a transition as possible.
If you're relocating or moving to Chicago and are looking for an apartment, we're here to help! ! This "start-to-finish" tips + advice guide was painstakingly cobbled together and organized from all kinds of resources — focused on mixing local insight and hard data. I'm hoping it will help answer a lot of questions you'd otherwise have to find scattered across the internet.
Let's get started!
Here's the high-level overview of how to move to Chicago.
Now that you're planing your move, here are the broad strokes of the rental market in Chicago:
Chicago is the ninth most expensive U.S. city to rent in, according to this report. So while it may not be the most exciting ways to begin your search for an apartment, setting a target budget and a maximum budget for your monthly rent will be key to finding an apartment in Chicago.
Chicago has 245 neighborhoods — that's a lot. We just wanted to prepare you if you're not familiar with the area, so you can start to understand where in Chicagoland you'll want to live. We've put together a list of the best neighborhoods in Chicago to help you get you acquainted with them.
Summer move-in dates are very popular, which can make for a hectic search. High demand in the summer means apartment applications can get way more competitive between the months of June and September. If it works, renting off-season can offer a less stressful search experience.
If you're not understanding the above gif, then watch Mulan immediately!
Here's how this guide will help you with relocating to Chicago.
We'll walk you through the "answers" to the following questions...
- What is the cost of living in Chicago? Every metropolitan market has a unique profile of costs, from everyday expenses like groceries to the cost of renting an apartment. We’ll help you get a grasp on how what life in Chicago will cost. From there, we can focus on helping you understand...
- What are the right neighborhoods in Chicago for me? There are a lot of Chicago neighborhoods — 245 to be exact — within 78 "community areas". Lots of options! The four major elements that factor into choosing a neighborhood are price, commute, lifestyle fit and safety. We’ll help you better understand Chicago’s neighborhoods to make the decision about what neighborhoods might be right for you.
- How do I find an apartment in Chicago? This step is typically the most stressful part of the moving experience. Looking for apartments has a lot of nuance and moving pieces. We’ll help you get a handle on what the best apartment search approach for your style will be.
- How do I move my stuff? Whether you’re moving from another country or from the suburbs of Chicagoland, moving isn’t easy (or cheap). We’ll walk you through some moving options recommended by now-locals/current residents. The goal is to show you some less stressful and/or cost-effective solutions to physically moving your life to your new apartment in Chicago.
- What do I need to do to get settled quickly? I wanted to put together a closing chapter here to help you quickly tie up all the loose ends that come with moving. Hopefully it can save you a lingering post-move headache.
What is the cost of living in Chicago?
The monthly cost of living in Chicago for renters is around $1,400 (per person).
To be clear, that covers just the basic necessities — food, housing, heat, electricity, cable and internet. This image helps break down the prices on some other expenses:
Let’s take a look at how we reached $1,400 per month.
Combining information from multiple sources, that cost came out to $1,385/month + transportation. Of course your lifestyle expenses will make that price a bit higher once we throw phone bills, gym memberships and nightlife (or any other hobbies) into the mix.
Obviously, the largest expense you'll have throughout the course of your stay in Chicago is your rent — so we've put together a little infographic to help you get a bead on rent prices in Chicago.
Also, what you spend on rent is a function of how important your apartment is to your quality of life.
Domu, a listing service for landlords in the Chicagoland area, has a pretty nifty "rent calculator" that can help you estimate what you might want to spend on your monthly rent based on your current income and how important your apartment is to your quality of life. For example, here's what the breakdown looks like for someone pulling in $45,000/year. Click the image below to try it for yourself!
You can also check out this map recently provided by local news station WTTW, which combines rent price information from both Domu and Zumper:
Now let's add some local insight to this data — according to residents, "Chicago is a [expletive deleted] steal."
That's right! I posted a recent Bloomberg article (7/15/15) trying to claim that Chicago had become "too expensive" for young renters in Chicago starting in 2012 to get a read on what the community thinks. Overwhelmingly, Chicago residents defended how affordable the city is relative to "comparable" cities around the U.S. For a city that offers as much as Chicago does, sounds like the cost of housing is a pretty sweet deal!
Definitely should have put quotation marks around "too expensive" in my title ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Explore our entire post on the cost of living in Chicago:
Here's a preview of everything we cover in the article — click on the image below to check it out!
Where should I live in Chicago?
We won't presume to make any recommendations here, but we'll give you some good, solid information to help you decide for yourself.
For starters, try browsing our Chicago Neighborhoods web tool.
We put together an information-rich, interactive map of Chicago's neighborhoods to help give you a hand with understanding which neighborhoods will make the most sense for your specific move. Check out the sneak peek below and click to give it a try for yourself!
And here's a high-level look at the whole Chicago scene.
Districts, community areas and neighborhoods make up the far reaches of Chicagoland, each of which has it's own feel and vibe. These neighborhoods personalities are captured in succint fashion by WikiVoyage, which offers a fairly robust peek into what living in Chicago is like. Feel free to click the image below to get more of the details on Chicago's neighborhoods!
Image source: WikiVoyage
We can offer a bit more guidance, as well.
In our "Best Neighborhoods in Chicago" post, we break down the “top” neighborhoods for young renters (~25-34 years old) and also for families based on population breakdowns, the percentage that population represents of the whole population in the neighborhood, the volume of apartments available, the median age and the average rent. From our discussions with renters in the past, each of those elements factor into more compelling neighborhoods for young renters and families.
Here's the breakdown of popular neighborhoods in Chicago we developed:
And again, safety is a major factor for a lot of renters I’ve spoken with over the years. Back in 2013, this Chicago Magazine article features a map of the top 5 “safest” and “unsafe” neighborhoods based on the 2012 yearly Police Department Raw Data. Click below to see the full details.
And just for context, a lot of areas in Chicago are getting all sorts of gentrified. Gentrification obviously has negative implications — prices rise, displacing residents — but often comes with a decrease in the crime rate as well. I mean, just look at how the areas to the north and west of downtown Chicago have developed over the past 9 years.
How do I find an apartment in Chicago?
Again, finding an apartment in Chicago is a pretty involved process. There's a lot that goes into it and a lot to sort through. We've done our best to lay it all out — in clear, plain English — so you can feel as prepared as possible and set yourself for a more successful and less stressful seach.
Spoiler alert...telescopes are not an effective way to find an apartment in Chicago. No matter how telescope-y they are.
Here are the primary takeaways, written by a Chicago real estate "insider" who we reached out to who's had a lot of experience helping renters find apartments in Chicago:
- Determine your "must haves" and your "would-like-to haves." Before you even start looking, sit down and figure out what are necessities in your new apartment.
- Timeline is important! In my experience, a lot of people start looking way too early, or way too late. The ideal time to start looking is about 45 days before your move date.
- Locators are not evil, but sometimes just walking around is better. Some brokers will have exclusive listings, so it's okay to call many different brokers to get your search info to them.
- It's okay to decide on one of the first few places you see. It used to be okay to see a place, take a few days to see other places and decide, and then go back and apply for that place — but not anymore.
- Be ready to apply if you like the place! If your application is complete and the landlord can review all your information first, you're more likely to get the place as most of them will work on a first-come, first-serve basis.
- Is there any reason I shouldn't try using a locator? Nope — overall, it doesn't hurt to have as many eggs in the basket as you can when it comes to having feelers out there for available apartments.
A huge shoutout to Matt Reddington for his help with these!
Click below for full details on how to find an partment in Chicago!
Also, roommates can save you 33-62% on housing costs in Chicago. Say what!? The more people, the less each person pays for rent. Here’s the breakdown of average rents by apartment size:
- Average rent (per person) with one roommate = 33% less than 1Br/Studio
- Average rent (per person) with two roommates = 57% less than 1Br/Studio
- Average rent (per person) with three roommates = 62% less than 1Br/Studio
Just look at how much fun they're having!
How do I physically move my possessions? First, you need an awesome checklist.
And check the forecast in the days leading up to your move!
The last thing you want to do is to be unprepared for a downpour on move-in day. Ugh! Tarps, boots and rain jackets will be key to have at the ready (not at the bottom of a suitcase or box!)
Next, you need movers you can trust.
Moving locally? There are a couple cool new options in town!
Check out Buddytruck. "Buddytruk is a mobile app that connects you with a buddy (with a truck) to make your moving and delivery needs easier, affordable, and community-oriented. Truck rental companies make a fortune off of their soaring prices for moving truck rentals. Buddytruk provides an alternative to local movers that connects people who are looking for on demand local delivery service and moving help with others in their community that have the vehicle to do the job." They were featured in ChicagoInno in November 2015 — looks pretty awesome!
Check out Dolly. Dolly is a marketplace that allows background-checked "Helpers" with pickup trucks, vans, and large SUVs to connect with people who need help with micro-moves in the city. They claim the average cost of an apartment move with Dolly is $200, which sounds incredibly awesome to me. And lucky for you, it looks like they're only in Chicago and Seattle right now. Woohoo!
Moving from out of town?
Check out Unpakt. Unpakt brands itself as a kind of "Yelp for moving" — essentially, you can enter your move details, compare prices and reviews, choose a verified mover, and book online. They'll instantly show you exact prices based on how much stuff you have—no ballpark estimates or hourly rates.
What I really like? They have customer service standards for all the moving companies on their platform. If there's a complaint from a customer, the moving company is placed on probation. From a values standpoint, I really appreciate seeing a company that is looking to protect customers while also rewarding good partners.
Check out moveBuddha. In a phrase, moveBuddha helps you choose how you want to move your posessions from A-to-B. moveBuddha helps you compare the costs and requirements of hiring professional movers, getting a storage container, or doing your own move. Here's a graphic of what a move from NYC to CHI might look like:
And check out the writeup LifeHacker did on them if you want another opinion!
What do I need to do to get settled quickly?
Changing your address? Updater is just the coolest.
We all know that there are a few address-related changes to make after moving into your apartment:
- Mailing Address
- Subscriptions & Loyalty Programs
- Cable & Internet
Updater helps you easily change your address with the USPS and transfer subscriptions and utilities.
This entirely free service helps you organize communications about your move in one platform. According to Updater’s site, their experience that saves you 4 hours of time/hassle, while also giving you access to some deals with their exclusive partners.
They partner with major brands that you’re likely using already. Not much else to it. Plain, simple, awesome.
Have a car? Figure out if you need it first!
If you're on the fence about whether you want to keep your car or not, here's a good thread on reddit where locals discuss where/when a car in Chicago makes sense — just click the image below!
Want to keep your car? Get a City Vehicle Sticker.
Tom Tunney — Alderman of Chicago's 44th Ward — has a great FAQ on City Vehicle Stickers.
What is a City Vehicle Sticker? The City Vehicle Sticker is an annual wheel tax levied by the City of Chicago. If you have a vehicle within the city limits for a period of thirty (30) days or longer, you are required to purchase a sticker.
When do you need to get a sticker by? As a new resident, you'll have 30 days from your move-in date to purchase and display a Chicago City Vehicle Sticker.
Where can you buy a sticker? City Vehicle Stickers can be purchased online through the City Clerk's EZ>BUY online sales application. You can get a sticker using your Illinois license plate number, street name and last name.
City Vehicle Stickers can also be purchased in person at one of the following City Clerk locations:
- City Hall (121 N. LaSalle, Room 107)
- City Clerk South Side Satellite Office (5674 S. Archer Ave, Unit A)
- City Clerk North Side Satellite Office (5430 W. Gale St)
Click below to see the full article on Alderman Tunney's website!
And don't get towed...
Street cleaning/sweeping is a thing, and if your car is in the sweeper's path, it'll get towed. Avoid the stress and calendar clogging hassle of manually trying to remind yourself of when to move your car and subscribe to SweepAround. Simply search for your Chicago street address, and find out when your street will be swept next. Click below for more info!
Use Chicagoist to find fun things to do once you've settled in.
Sure there are all sorts of "Things to Do" blogs, Facebook groups and Twitter lists out there, but Chicagoist is the most legit (in my estimation). They've got everything from news to the arts and food and everything in between. Check it out!
And let this HuffPost piece help you get acquainted.
"Even if you made the move on your own, it won't take long to make connections and get into the Chicago groove. To help ease the transition, here's a list of musts for every new Chicagoan."
And if you can, keep it light and fun. You're going to love it in Chicago!
This video on "True Facts about Chicago" should help you learn a little more about your city, while getting a laugh or two:
Still wondering, "Why Move to Chicago?"
Lovin' Trends — a website that makes likes relevant to specific cities — put together a fun list of reasons why moving to Chicago can be great.
Here's the top 5 of their list of "27 Reasons Why You Need To Move To Chicago Right Now":
1. You'll be able to ice skate in majestic surroundings like this in the winter.
2. The public transport actually works and makes the city so easy to get around.
3. Millenium Park should be the template for all other parks around the world.
4. The view from up high is something else.
5. The cityscape is absolutely stunning no matter what angle you see it from.
Some Extra Resources
Not Chicago specific but nonetheless some of the most useful guides I have come accross:
- Corporate Moves: A Guide to Negotiating a Relocation Package: some essential information about what to ask for in your package and calculating your costs. They have some great stats about how much companies usually reimburse or pay directly for items such as packing your items or moving your car.
- The Ultimate Guide for Couples Moving in Together: by ultimate, they do mean ultimate. This guide gives you an outline of the topics to address with your partner before the move instead of during and also gives some great tips logistics wise about how to downsize from two apartments to one.