Thinking about moving to New York City? The first thing you should know is that New York is a city of extremes.
More billionaires live in New York than any other city in the world, but more than 60,000 people sleep on the streets every night. You can grab a slice for a buck at any number of pizza joints all over Manhattan, but you might pay upwards of $3,000 a month to rent an apartment on the island. It’s a vital hub for many industries—media, finance, real estate, tech—but getting a foothold can be difficult because of the competition.
Geographically, New York isn’t huge, but more people live here than any other city in America—8.6 million of them, in fact. If you’re coming from a smaller place (that’s a given if you’re moving from another U.S. city), living here might feel overwhelming—but it will probably also feel exciting.
Though living in New York City isn’t always easy, it’s often thrilling. As you get to know the city better, its quirks and secrets become known—and that makes living here all the better.
But before you make up your mind, here are 19 things to know about life in the Big Apple.
1. New York is more than its stereotypes.
You’ve probably heard the stereotypes about New Yorkers: We’re rude, we hate tourists and clueless transplants, we’re ruthlessly ambitious, and we walk too fast. And while there’s an element of truth to all of these things (especially that last one), the city—and the people who inhabit it—are so much more complex than whatever portrayals you’ve seen in pop culture.
For instance: Nearly half of the city’s population is made up of people who were born not just outside of the city, but outside of the United States. It’s truly a melting pot, as cliche as that term may be. And that rudeness? It’s more of a combination of bluntness and impatience. Things move fast here—it’s not a languid city, like Los Angeles—and you have to learn to keep up pretty quickly. (Yes, that also applies to walking.)
But you might also find yourself weeping in the middle of the street one day—hey, it happens—and someone will offer you a tissue. Or you may be struggling to carry a stroller up the subway stairs, and someone will offer to help. For all of our brusqueness, New Yorkers also perform small acts of kindness for one another every day; live here long enough and you’ll undoubtedly develop both the tough exterior and the squishy marshmallow center that are unique to New Yorkers.
2. Picking a neighborhood you like will make or break how much you like living here.
Geographically speaking, New York isn’t huge—it’s estimated to cover just over 300 square miles—but there are hundreds of neighborhoods scattered throughout five very different boroughs. And at the end of the day, going back to your apartment in a neighborhood that truly feels like home will vastly improve your quality of life. Don’t pick a place based on preconceived notions of where you think you should live; spend some time getting to know the various boroughs and neighborhoods, figure out your priorities, and the right place will eventually find you.
3. It’s important to know the history of your neighborhood.
Change is a constant in New York City, and each of its neighborhoods has lived many lives. But knowing the backstory of your neighborhood—and respecting it—is also crucial, and essential in making the switch from being “a person who lives in New York” to a New Yorker.
This is particularly true if you end up moving to a gentrifying area. Many of New York’s historically lower-income neighborhoods have undergone huge changes in a short period of time, often to the detriment of the longtime residents of those areas. (See: rents outpacing the median income of a neighborhood, affordable businesses closing, businesses trying to capitalize on an area’s once-bad reputation.) It may be tempting to look out for your own economic interest once you move in, but learning about the place you’re living, being respectful of the people who’ve lived there for years, and committing to being a good neighbor will go a long way toward making your new home feel like, well, home.
4. You will walk more than you think.
Invest in several pairs of good walking shoes if you plan to make New York City your home. Unless you’re lucky enough to be close to a subway stop on both ends of your commute, you’ll be putting them to good use. For most New Yorkers, walking a couple of miles or more is just part of your daily routine. (A mile is equal to approximately 20 north-south city blocks, FYI.)
5. It truly is a 24-hour city.
New York comes by its whole “city that never sleeps” nickname honestly. Bars are legally permitted to open at 7 a.m. and close at 4 a.m., and there are places that take advantage. You’re never far from a bodega or drugstore that’s open into the wee hours in the event that you need toilet paper or Gatorade at 2 a.m., and you’ll find plenty of not-totally-necessary services—taxis, gyms, restaurants, spas, and more—that are open around the clock.
6. New York is an explorer’s dream—and we’re not just talking about Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Did you know that the highest point on the eastern seaboard (south of Maine, anyway) is located in Staten Island? Or that a section of old-growth forest, with trees that are many centuries old, can be found in the Bronx? Or that you can ride a zipline and go bouldering in Queens?
The point is, there’s so much more to the city than the typical tourist destinations or neighborhoods that are anointed as the next big thing. Spend some time in the outer-outer boroughs—in places like Staten Island’s Little Sri Lanka, located around Tompkinsville and Stapleton; or Forest Hills, an early planned community in Queens lined with elegant Tudor homes—and you’ll hardly believe you’re in New York City at all. And that’s one of the most wonderful things about living here: New York constantly challenges your expectations of what this city is; you just have to be ready to explore it all.
7. You will find yourself in a constant state of FOMO.
If you’re considering moving to New York, its reputation as a cultural capital is probably one of the reasons why. The options are myriad, and incredibly varied: You can check out a Broadway show or see experimental theater on the Lower East Side. Musicians play nightly at stadiums (Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center), historic venues (Apollo Theater, Village Vanguard), and DIY spaces deep in the outer boroughs. There are literally hundreds of museums, from the massive (the Met! MoMA!) to the tiny and unheralded (have you visited Harlem’s trash museum?). Carnegie Hall. Snug Harbor Cultural Center. El Museo del Barrio. Lincoln Center. The Empire State Building, for Pete’s sake.
So yes, New York is the best place to be if you’re seeking out new experiences and cool things to do. But that also means you’ll constantly struggle with the fear of missing out. The best way to overcome that is to remember that you’ll have plenty of time to experience what the city has to offer. Once you get here, make the time to soak it all in.
8. NYC’s economy is strong, but not for everyone.
New York City has, in many ways, bounced back from its post-9/11 and post-Great Recession economic instability: The unemployment rate in the city is around 4 percent, personal income is going up, and our GDP is the highest of any major city in the nation. But New York state also ranks first in income inequality in the United States, and the gap between the richest and poorest residents of New York City is only getting worse. More New Yorkers than ever before are experiencing homelessness, and nearly half of all households here are rent-burdened, meaning they put more than 30 percent of their annual income toward housing.
9. Living here is really, really expensive.
New York perpetually finds itself near the top of the list of the most expensive cities in the United States (typically behind San Francisco), and a recent survey found that the cost of living here is 22 percent higher than the national average. In order to live comfortably—defined as spending no more than 50 percent of your income on necessities like housing and food costs—you’ll need to make nearly $87,000 per year, according a 2017 survey of urban living expenses.
That’s not to say that there aren’t pockets of affordability, or neighborhoods where the monthly rent won’t break the bank (have you considered the Bronx?). But unless you’re very wealthy, you’ll spend a good chunk of your money on essentials like rent, groceries, and getting around—so make sure your expectations are realistic. (Or be ready to forgo some of those comforts.)
10. Buying a home is out of reach for many New Yorkers.
According to Zillow, the median price for a home in New York City is currently around $825,000—a significant jump over the $200,000 you’d need to buy a home elsewhere in the United States. If you have enough money stockpiled for a down payment (and all of the associated costs of buying a home in NYC, like property taxes, common charges, etc.), you may be lucky enough to be able to buy a place, but for most people, homeownership is out of the realm of possibility. (The proof is in the pudding: According to the latest NYC Housing and Vacancy Survey, only 32 percent of New Yorkers are homeowners.)
11. And those dreams of renting in Manhattan come at a hefty price.
The median asking rent in Manhattan is, according to the latest data, above $3,000/month; in Brooklyn and Queens, it’s closer to $2,500/month. Even in the Bronx, that figure is creeping toward $2,000/month. The point: Renting an apartment here isn’t cheap, which may explain why a huge chunk of adult renters end up living with a roommate. Some neighborhoods are less expensive than others, though; you can use guides from brokerages like MNS or CityRealty to get a sense of the cost of rentals in particular areas. But fear not—if you want intel on how to rent an apartment in NYC, we have a guide for that.
12. Beauty is everywhere—but it’s less conventional.
New York may not have the mountains and beaches of Los Angeles or the seaside cliffs and bay views of San Francisco, but there’s plenty of beauty to be found in this concrete jungle.
The ceiling at Grand Central Terminal, with its little brown smudge that reminds you that it was once covered in grit. The brownstones of Bedford-Stuyvesant, with their iconic stoops, at golden hour. Midtown’s skyscrapers as you sail along the East River on the NYC Ferry. The lights of Coney Island at night from the top of the Wonder Wheel. The view of the skyline at night when you’re flying back from out of town. Kids splashing in the fountain around the Unisphere in the summer. All of this, and more, will dazzle you on a daily basis.
13. Our public transit options are robust, but getting around can still be a challenge.
Do not—we repeat, do not—think you need to own a car in New York City. For most city residents, it ends up being more trouble than it’s worth; plus, there are so many ways to get around the five boroughs that it’s largely unnecessary. In addition to the subway system—the largest and only 24-hour transit system in the country—New York has a bus network that hits every single borough, a thriving bike-share program (and more miles of protected bike lanes than ever before), multiple ferry services, a couple of commuter rail lines, yellow taxis, and ride-hailing services.
That being said, it’s not always easy to get around. New York traffic is terrible, and you might be able to walk across town faster than if you take a cab. There are entire swaths of the city that are subway deserts; bus service can be slow and unreliable, and congestion is a huge issue. Subway stations have a serious accessibility problem. And for all of the city’s efforts to make cycling safer, there are still huge strides to be made in protecting bikers. (We weren’t lying when we said it was a city of extremes.)
14. The subway is both a blessing and a curse.
New York’s subway system is, you may have heard, in a bit of a crisis at the moment. Years of disinvestment, coupled with outdated technology and a governing body that isn’t exactly well-run, have made riding the train a less-than-pleasant experience. You will inevitably be stuck underground for what feels like an eternity in a too-crowded subway car, or will have to wait on a steaming, stinky platform in the summer for a train that never comes.
But even with those issues, the subway remains the lifeblood of New York, and a marvel in its own right. It runs 24 hours a day—not always reliably, but still—and can take you to nearly every corner of the city, all for the cost of a MetroCard swipe. (Remember what we said earlier about exploring the city? Riding the subway to a neighborhood you’ve never visited is one of the easiest ways to do just that.) Plus, it’s one of the best places to indulge in a very New York-y pastime: people-watching.
15. It’s not a peaceful city, but pockets of serenity do exist.
Yes, New York is loud, fast-paced, and crowded—and you’ll probably contend with all of that on a regular basis (especially if you work anywhere near Times Square). But it’s not impossible to find tranquil spots; they just might not be the places you expect. Some of the best peaceful corners are, in fact, hidden within the busiest parts of the city—secret green spaces like Greenacre Park or the atrium at the Ford Foundation are ideal for escaping the hustle and bustle of Midtown, for instance.
16. It’s an awesome place to raise kids—really!
We realize that, unless you’re a one-percenter, you’ll face intense space and school challenges (sign up for every affordable housing lottery and bookmark the independent public school review website InsideSchools.org stat). But who needs a backyard when you’ve got massive, landscaped, attraction-filled parks in every borough (14 percent of NYC is green space)? Plus, our world-class museums (many with suggested admission fees for natives), diverse theater scene (including cutting-edge shows for young audiences), and plentiful free public libraries (three separate systems with 143 branches combined) are just as crucial to a New York City kid’s education.
Another Big Apple bonus: how quickly kids become independent thanks to our annoying but extensive public transportation system. While their counterparts in the ’burbs and sprawling cities pine for the day they can drive, the MTA lets them go free-range in middle school, so they can hit beaches in summer and sledding hills in winter, and commute to school sans chaperone. (Parents say once you get over your fear, it’s freeing.)
17. You have to be prepared to deal with anything.
You might get stuck in a subway car for an hour with your cell phone close to dying. (You’ll remember to charge it before your next commute.) A pigeon might poop on your head while you’re walking down Fifth Avenue. (You’ll learn to carry tissues or hand sanitizer with you.) Your upstairs neighbors might have a 2-year-old who constantly flushes toys down their toilet, causing your ceiling to cave in. (You’ll be sure to have your super on speed-dial, and extra towels just in case.) You might, horror of horrors, get bedbugs.
And those are the relatively minor issues: Every day, New Yorkers are confronted with bigger problems, like experiencing homelessness, getting priced out of their neighborhoods, or dealing with street harassment. It’s not an easy place to live. But you’ll learn to handle the difficult moments—and there will be difficult moments—and they’ll give you a deeper appreciation for the good ones.
18. It may take time to fall in love with New York.
Starting and maintaining a relationship with New York City is a lot like doing so with another person: It’s exhilarating at first, but the glow may wear off quickly. It’ll take some time and effort to keep the spark alive. You may not even fall in love with the city right away—and that’s okay. But there will come a moment when it hits you that you live in New York City. That moment is different for everyone; it might come when you find yourself standing next to the Empire State Building, or taking the 7 train from Queens into Manhattan and catching a glimpse of the skyline in the distance. You might be sitting on a park bench downtown, eating lunch on break from your job. But the moment will come when you think: This is so perfectly New York.
19. And once you do, you will feel like you can make anything happen here.
New York has always been known as the place to go if you are young, scrappy, and hungry (as a very famous musical by a bona fide New Yorker put it). And while it’s become harder to make a living in the city if you’re not already on solid footing—see what we said above about the cost of living, and the competition in many fields—there’s still something about New York that draws people in, year after year.
There’s a famous Dorothy Parker quote: “London is satisfied, Paris is resigned, but New York is always hopeful. Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it.” It’s that spirit—one of hope and ambition; that idea that anything can happen—that makes this city worth dealing with, even with all of its problems and peculiarities.