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Where to live in the U.S.: three top cities for expats

Wondering where in the U.S. to relocate? Learn about three top centres of commerce and industry popular with expats

Expats can be found in cities and communities throughout the U.S.. offers a comprehensive list of all U.S. destinations popular among the expat community. However, for those working in the fields of finance, technology, the petrochemical and space research industries, the cities listed here are the most popular among the expat community.

San Francisco, California

The main centre for tech and innovation in California is San Francisco, renowned for its sunny climate and the high salaries in Silicon Valley. Google and Facebook have their headquarters here. In fact, there are more Fortune 500 companies in the San Francisco Bay area than in any other part of America, and average salaries here are $90,000 per annum. Many expats can command considerably more.

San Francisco itself is laid back. It has a smaller population than many other American cities, around 810,000 (its southern neighbour, Los Angeles has a population of 4.018 million). The city boasts an impressive 400 bars and 3,500 restaurants. Anyone who identifies as LGBT can expect a warm welcome. San Francisco was the first city in the U.S. to elect an openly gay mayor — Harvey Milk — and the city’s Pride festival is one of the largest on the planet. The city is culturally diverse with representatives from the Asian, African American, Native American and Hispanic races making up part of the population. The Chinese represent the largest ethnic group.

This is a young city — the average age is 38.5 years — and one of the fastest growing in the U.S. It’s estimated that a staggering 2.1 million people will have moved to the city by 2040.

Where to live

Most expats rent when moving to San Francisco, unless their employer can supply them with accommodation. A one-bedroom apartment just outside the city costs $3,389 per month to rent (all figures current at April 2019). If you’re thinking of buying a house, it’s expensive, with no shortage of properties over $1million. Condominiums are cheaper, and you can expect to pay $265,375 for a one-bed apartment in a contemporary block.

Local newspapers, real estate agents’ ads and word of mouth are the best ways to source somewhere to live.

Cost of living

In 2018, the Mercer index rated San Francisco as 28th most expensive city to live in (New York being more expensive at 13th and Los Angeles slightly cheaper, at 35th). Figures published by Numbeo show that prices for food, eating out and utilities are moderate. A litre of milk costs $1.13, and the price of a three-course meal for two in a good restaurant will set you back $80. Clothing is also relatively inexpensive — a pair of Nike running shoes can cost $86.47. With an average monthly salary of $6,558.67 and a city tax of $1.50 on top of Federal and State taxes, you’ll find that you’ll still have plenty of disposable income each month, despite the fact that San Francisco is rated as one of the most expensive cities in the U.S..


Travelling around the city, you can expect a balmy time between the months of June, July, August and September with temperatures hovering around mid 20C. December and January are the rainiest months with June, July and August being the sunniest.

Where to go

Once you’ve settled in the city, now’s the time to go exploring. The Golden Gate bridge is awe-inspiring, and it’s definitely worth visiting Presidion national park close to the bridge. Chinatown is bustling and intriguing, and the food is exceptional. The iconic Haight Ashbury neighbourhood, birthplace to the 1960s counter revolution, is full of bookshops as well as charming Victorian architecture. One of the most comprehensive guides to help you when exploring the city is San Francisco Travel with its monthly recommendations, prices and inspirational ideas.

New York, New York

This 24-hour city attracts expats thanks to its centres of finance, the arts, the United Nations and numerous business opportunities. It’s a fast-paced metropolis, a city of dreams, but the pavements aren’t paved with gold. Generations of immigrants fleeing persecution have made ‘the Big Apple’ their home. From 1892 to 1954, all immigrants entering the U.S., either to stay in New York or venture further into the country, did so via Ellis Island — 12 million people entered the country, each in search of their own American dream. Today, the island is centre of the Museum of Immigration and the Statue of Liberty. You’re not the first person to have travelled to the U.S. in search of opportunity and you won’t be the last.

Where to live

As New York is relatively easy to navigate, you don’t have to live in an expensive downtown apartment to savour all of the city’s pleasures. The metropolis is made up of five boroughs and within those it’s still possible to find an affordable place to live. Park Slope in Brooklyn is a good choice if you’ve moved to New York with your family. The area is accessible to some good schools, and restaurants, and it’s slightly less hectic than other parts of the city.

Manhattan’s West Village is charming and is close to the High Line, New York’s inner-city environmental oasis.

Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass (DUMBO) is growing in popularity due to the number of tech industries that are springing up here, but the area is expensive.

Crown Heights in Brooklyn is also becoming popular. It’s close to the Brooklyn museum and the Brooklyn botanic garden.

Many expats ask their colleagues at work for advice about accommodation when first arriving in the city. Some share a flat with their friends at first before venturing to rent somewhere independently. The website is useful if you’re looking for somewhere to buy or want to share with a roommate.

Cost of living

New York is the 13th most expensive city in the world. You can spend a fortune living here. Average monthly salaries are $4,740.52, but if you are a specialist or working in one of the professions, you can expect to earn considerably more. Most New Yorkers rent rather than buy their accommodation. Monthly rents for a downtown one-bed apartment can cost $3,125 but you’ll pay $1,000 less if you look further afield in the city (figures correct at April 2019). A monthly subway ticket can cost $121.00, and groceries including fresh vegetables are inexpensive.

Where to go

As New York is home to some of the best museums in the world, take some time out and visit Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and spend a few hours just taking in the beauty of the permanent collection as well as its visiting exhibitions. Tickets for adults cost $25, though there are reductions for families.

Sports are akin to a religion here, and you’ll be able to experience a truly American experience, hot dog in hand, when you attend a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, or watch a game of American football at MetLife Stadium urging the New York Jets on to success.

There is so much to do in this exciting city that a sensible option is to plan your trips and your budget by using one of the many online guides that’ll inspire you to explore the city. The U.S. News website has plenty of suggestions and, helpfully, gives admission prices. Even having a picnic in Central Park can be exciting — you’ll be able to people-watch, eavesdrop or simply relish the beauty of the park.

Nightclubs and music venues proliferate across the city, and Broadway productions are perfect for a special treat. Alternatively, you could visit the latest independent theatre in town off-Broadway or, for a more avant-garde experience, off-off-Broadway. This really is a city that’ll satisfy all tastes and ages.

Where to eat

A meal for two in a ‘mid-range’ restaurant will set you back $80.00. Be warned, American portions are very generous so don’t order everything on the menu. You should always tip the staff as many of them make up their salaries through their tips. Many New Yorkers tend to eat out rather than cook at home. Given that the city has some of the best delis and restaurants in the world, it would almost be rude not to sample their delights. Some restaurants can appear absurdly expensive, but the same applies to most international cities. If you’re looking for a treat, this list from The New York Times may help you make your choice.


New York’s climate ranges from the extremely cold in the winter, when temperatures can plummet to -3C, to stifling hot and humid summers where you can expect soaring heat to reach the high 20sC. Thunderstorms are frequent in the early autumn and you can expect heavy snow during the winter. With air-conditioned apartments and offices and efficient central heating, the outside temperatures will never become too unbearable.

Houston, Texas

Situated in the country’s second-largest state and home to the oil, petrochemical and aeronautics industry, Houston is the fourth-largest city in Texas. You may see cowboys, ranches, rodeos and oil wells a plenty when you move to Texas, but Houston offers a more diverse experience and has a reputation for being progressive. If you remain in or close to the city, you’re more likely to admire green spaces, the ocean and inland waterways - Houston is situated 40 miles away from Galveston on the Gulf of Mexico. The arts are strongly represented here, and sporting aficionados will have the chance to participate in and watch their favourite activities. College football and baseball are also very popular and NASA’s Johnson Space Center is also based in the city

Where to live

‘The Loop,’ is the city’s commercial district, and accommodation here is very expensive. Many expats tend to live outside of this area. Afton Oaks and River Oaks are highly desirable suburban areas, particularly with families and young professionals.

Lazybrook is situated inside ‘The Loop’ and boasts a lively atmosphere. This neighbourhood has many amenities including restaurants and shopping malls. Try to find an apartment here if you hate commuting and want to live within easy reach of the office.

Older properties as well as modern options tend to be based in the Montrose area of town. It’s popular with the expat community and you’ll find plenty of shops, boutiques and quirky restaurants. Many of the eateries offer an eye-watering Texan big breakfast, a local tradition. The first meal of the day is often cited as the most important and after consuming one of these gargantuan feasts, you’ll certainly be set up for the hours ahead.  Forget about bacon, go for brisket, eggs and, of course, grits. Made from ground then boiled cornmeal, grits are served with lashings of butter or cheese and plenty of salt and pepper — the epitome of southern comfort food. Pancakes, French toast and tacos are also on offer as well as copious amounts of fresh fruit.

Cost of living

According to Numbeo, the average monthly salary in Houston is $3792.98, though obviously those working in specialist industries can command a far higher income. Mercer Cost of Living Index rated Houston the 74th most expensive place to live in 2017.

Renting a one-bed apartment in the city centre will cost $1,343.36 a month, and outside the centre the rent falls to $879.27 per month. Fresh groceries are cheap here — a lot of produce is grown in the state. Dinning out for two at a mid-range restaurant will come to $65 for a three-course meal. As in other American restaurants, the portion sizes are huge. If you’re living in Texas, you must try a steak or a restaurant-prepared burger — they’re delicious and massive. Vegans and vegetarians won’t miss out in this meat loving state — the Houston Eater is a good website for sourcing restaurants for non-meat eaters.

If you’re planning on staying for a long time in Houston, you may want to consider buying a property. If so, then contact the Houston Association of Realtors (HAR) whose members will help with both the purchase or renting of a property. House prices in the city are slightly higher than the national average, with the average list price standing at $290,000. This could be a result of the devastating effects of hurricane Harvey in 2017, which destroyed much of the local housing stock.

Getting around

As well a metro rail system, Houston boasts local and park and ride bus services. Cabs are a joy as they only charge a flat fee of $6 for passengers to travel anywhere in the downtown area. However, if you want to travel from the city’s George Bush International Airport to the centre of town, a distance of 4.7 miles, you can expect to be charged $52. Traffic during the peak work commute times can still be heavy despite the public transportation network.

What to do

Recreation and sports figure highly on the Houston agenda. With its multiple green spaces complete with walking and bike trails, you won’t have time to sit still. Weekend farmers’ markets are very popular in the city, though if you want to shop then head down to The Galleria, Texas’ largest shopping mall, measuring an impressive 3 million square feet and visited by 30 million people a year. Despite being home to some of the most modern industries in the world, those with a passion for antiques will enjoy Thomson’s Antique Center of Texas.

The arts aren’t neglected in Houston, and the city is home to theatres, art galleries, ballet and opera. Some venues are outdoors, and it’s always worth checking out what’s on at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion to catch some of the very best ballet, music and live performances around.


It rarely snows in Houston. The last recorded fall was in 2017, and, in general, the city is famed for its hours of sunshine with temperatures reaching the high 20sC in the months of June through to September. December and January only reach lows of 18C. The annual Atlantic hurricane season, which lasts from June to November, can be devastating.  Local news stations are good at issuing warnings about these, and new houses are built to protect the occupants from the worst effects of tropical storms and hurricanes.

Once you’ve chosen where to live, you’ll need to decide whether you’d prefer to buy or rent. Read our article on finding a home in the U.S. to help you make the best decision for you.

Prices correct April 2019.

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