Moving to Philadelphia, PA: Ultimate Relocation Guide

moving to phildelphia pa

If you like cheese, on steak, on bread.

Love freedom.

And think New York City is just too damn pricey, moving to Philadelphia might be the right choice for you.

It’s a place where you can tour world class art galleries and then take a twenty-minute subway ride downtown to watch the Phillie Phanatic belly waddle.

You can see where the Declaration of Independence was signed and then walk a few blocks for beers at the same place the Founding Fathers drank.

It’s home to huge corporations, an Ivy League university, and the football fans who threw snowballs at Santa Claus. Philadelphia has the perks of any major city, for the price of a much smaller one.

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Learn everything you need to know for moving to Philadelphia

In this guide we’re going to cover how to:

Cheers!

city tavern philadelphia nightlife

Quick Philly Snapshot

  • Philadelphia is the 5th most populous city in the United States. Yeah, we didn’t realize it was that big either.
  • Philadelphia cost of living

  • With an average 1 bedroom rent cost of $1,250 per month, Philadelphia is the 24th most expensive metropolitan area in the United States. That’s not bad, especially since it’s the 5th biggest city!
  • Philly has 25 neighborhoods. That might seem like a lot, but it’s far fewer than cities like New York or Chicago. Each neighborhood has its own vibe and character, along with different rental prices. VisitPhilly.com does a great job of capturing the heart of each local neighborhood.

A few things to find that perfect Philly neighborhood

First thing’s first: set a budget. There’s no point looking at places you can’t afford, so bust out your calculator and figure out a target monthly rent. I’ll give you a minute, so take your time.

Next, take a look at this map to understand how the different Philly neighborhoods are laid out across the city.

philadelphia neighborhood map


Now here’s where your budget comes in. The rental hotspot map below will give you a good idea on where you can afford.

philadelphia-apartment-rental-heat-map

For example:

  • Rittenhouse, Society Hill, Old City, and parts of University City, you’re looking at spending between $1,500 and $2,000 for a one bedroom, or $3,000 to $4,000 for a two bedroom.
  • philadelphia china town friendship gate

  • Chinatown, Washington Square West, and Graduate Hospital would be less per bedroom, around $1,000.
  • The farthest neighborhoods from Center City — Cedar Park, Spruce Hill, East Passyunk, Pennsport, Manayunk, and Fishtown —these are places where you can find an apartment for $600 to $900.

So let’s get this out of the way now: if you’re on a tight budget, look south to East Passyunk or north to Manayunk. If cost is no object, look to Rittenhouse or Society Hill.

Where Are People Like Me Living?

We all want to live near people who are at similar points in their lives. Below is a list showing the common demographics of each neighborhood.

Also, check out this guide from Seer Interactive – a digital marketing company based in Philly.

philadelphia neighborhood demographics

Next: consider your commute to work

A close commute will make you happy. A long commute will make you sad. You’ll need to figure out how you’ll get to work before you sign a lease or a mortgage.

Here’s a breakdown of getting around the city:

If you want to have a car…

Unlike NYC, in Philly it’s feasible to own a car, but there are a few things you should know.

Highway access is good. Philadelphia has direct access to a huge network of highways, most notably I-95, which runs from north to south through the city, and the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76), which runs along the river. Be especially careful with I-76, it’s infamous for choking rush hour traffic.

philadelphia-traffic

Parking is horrible. Prepare to perpetually look for parking any time of day. Parking is so bad in Philly they even made a reality show about it.

philadelphia parking

The PPA (Philadelphia Parking Authority) is also notoriously strict, so you can expect a few parking tickets per year. If you absolutely have to have a car, look for an apartment in Fairmount or University City. Or, find an apartment with a garage.

Philly has awesome public transportation

Philadelphia doesn’t get nearly enough credit for a city with such great public transportation.

SEPTA (South Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) maintains an extensive public transportation system of buses, light rail, trolleys and rapid transit. The bus network has over 200 routes all around the city.

PATCO (Port Authority Transportation Corporation) also runs trains from Center City back and forth to New Jersey – not that you’d particularly want to go to Jersey.

30th street station philadelphia

Below is a transit map for all of Philadelphia.

Imagine for a second, Philadelphia as a living, breathing human being. 30th Street Station (pictured above) would be the heart, pumping out trains in all directions.

For example, if you chose to rent an apartment in University City and wanted to meet a friend in Old City, you could hop on the Market-Frankford Line (the thick blue line).

Or, if you’re living in Fairmount, you could take the Broad Street Line (the thick orange line) down to AT&T Station to see a Phillies game!

philadelphia septa transit map

It’s also worth mentioning, Amtrak’s regional hub is at 30th Street Station. Trains run daily to New York, Washington D.C., and various other areas. A trip to New York can take as little as one hour.

Bottom line: the public transportation system is great and it can get you almost anywhere inside the city within 20 minutes. Also, if you’re considering living in the suburbs, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey are easily accessible by train and bus as well.

Bike, Walk, Uber, Explore

You can get by with a car, but by no means do you have to have one. In fact, it’d be much easier to sell your car when you move. Everything is walking distance, and cheap Ubers and taxis are everywhere.

You can ride a bike too. There are bike racks all over, but be careful of aggressive drivers (they’re also everywhere) and cobblestone streets.

Philly is the 4th most walkable city in the country. You can walk almost anywhere within city limits in an hour or less. Philadelphia’s walk score is 78, compared a city like Los Angeles, which is only 66. New York is 88, but Philly’s bike score tops New York’s by 3 points.

Below is a walk score map. The greener the better, so you’ll be happy to see Philly’s all green.

philadelphia walk score map

Finding a safe neighborhood

When it comes to Philadelphia, some parts are extremely safe. Others, not so much.

Below is a crime map of the city. Hint: greener means less crime. You can see most crime happens in North and West Philly, with some crime hot spots in the southern parts of the city. There’s also a red circle right in the middle, but that’s mostly petty theft of tourists.

philadelphia crime map

In Center City and the neighborhoods we’ve been discussing (Rittenhouse, Old City, Society Hill, Fairmount, Spring Garden), crime rates are very low.

Straight to the point: if you want to avoid the areas with the worst crime, don’t go north of Girard Avenue or west of 40th Street. See? It’s that easy. You can find more information on crime in the city here.

If you like to party like it’s 1776…

Great nightlife is everywhere in Philly, but some areas are better than others. If you want to be in the middle of things (or far away from it) put down the beer bottle and pay attention!

  • If you’re fresh out of college, but want to hold on to the college lifestyle for a bit longer, check out University City. It’s home to Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania, hence the name. The people here tend to be younger, college-aged students, and as such there is large apartment turnover. There are tons of great college bars here, like Cavanaugh’s, which runs the Erin Express every year, a famous St. Patty’s pub crawl.
  • Moving to Philadelphia

  • Old City is, as its name implies, the oldest part of the city. Independence Hall is the centerpiece here, and it’s nearly impossible to explore for more than five minutes without tripping over ancient cobblestones or seeing an old lady dressed as Betsy Ross. Though the residents are a bit older, the nightlife is quite active. Bars like Plough & the Stars and Sto’s have a great mix of people, and are great places to watch a big game. And speaking of oldest, be sure to check out McGillins on 13th and Drury, the oldest bar in the city.
  • Rittenhouse, on the other side of Broad Street from Old City, is arguably the nicest neighborhood in Philadelphia. Rittenhouse Square is a beautiful park in itself, but the neighborhood extends for a few streets in each direction. Throughout these streets are probably the best nightlife destinations in the city. There are clubs like Coda, Rumor, and 1925 for getting dressed up and dancing. If you’re more in the mood for a casual night with your friends and a pitcher of Guinness, check out Irish Pub on 20th and Walnut or Fado on 15th and Locust.

How to find an Apartment

Okay, now that we’ve narrowed down the perfect neighborhood, it’s time to actually find a place to live in. Here’s the deal…

Philadelphia climate graph

Must-haves:

  • An apartment in Philadelphia must have heat and air conditioning. The winters in Philadelphia often get very cold, and the summers get very hot and humid. You will hate your life without quality climate control.
  • Another must-have is a washer/dryer. Unless you live in University City with all the college students, laundromats are few and far between, especially in the nicer neighborhoods like Rittenhouse and Old City.

Where to look

Here are some good websites to find apartments. Like many cities, Craigslist is very active for finding apartments (especially places owners are desperate to rent out).

Note: This DOES NOT mean you should trust Craigslist implicitly. Here’s their own guide on how to recognize potential scammers.

Understand how rental agents work

Unlike New York, in Philly rental agents don’t always charge a fee to the client. Most of the time, they’re paid a commission or fee by the owner of the apartment looking for a tenant.

ben franklin original gangster

You’ll see this notated on apartment ads as an “OP” for “owner pays.” However, if you want a rental agent to look at a ton of places, they may charge you a fee. If the apartment doesn’t pay a referral fee, a rental agent will also typically charge you a fee directly. Usually, this fee will range from a couple of hundred bucks to a month’s rent.

Important: Don’t let yourself be surprised! All of this should be worked out in advance with the rental agent. If you’re 100 percent unwilling to pay a fee, tell the agent that you only want to see apartments where the owner will pay the fee.

Yeah, finding an apartment is competitive

Philadelphia’s apartment rental market is incredibly competitive.

According to CoStar data, Philly’s homeownership rates declined by 6.1% between 2007 and 2014. With that drop, apartment vacancy rates have dropped to historic lows. The vacancy rate in Philadelphia was 3.7% at the end of 2015, which is the lowest vacancy rate since 1988. Basically, it’s tough to find an apartment in Philly.

Philadelphia has a huge college population. Many leases end in the spring, around May 31st. The ideal time to start looking for apartments is in April or early May, and be ready for a June 1st move-in.

What you’ll need in order to rent

You’ll absolutely need your Social Security number when applying for apartments. Landlords and realtors will almost always run a credit check on you and any roommates. Many will also ask you for a pay stub as proof of income.

As for deposits, most landlords will require first month, last month, and security deposit (equal to one month’s rent).

Let’s do the math. If the monthly rent for an apartment is $1,000, you’re probably looking at paying the landlord a deposit of $3,000 upon signing the lease. This will cover your first month’s and last month’s rent, and you’ll get the security deposit back minus any catastrophic damages you cause to the place playing pong with your friends.

Landlords in Philadelphia are legally bound by certain requirements, listed here. One of those rules is that each room must have at least two electrical outlets, so you’ll be able to waste TONS of electricity.

If you ever run into a problem with a landlord, there’s a page on City Hall’s website for reporting it.

Speaking of City Hall…

Finding a house near Philadelphia

So, you have kids and you don’t want to raise them in the city.

Suburbs it is!

There are incredibly nice suburbs in both South Jersey and Pennsylvania that are an hour or less from Philadelphia by train or car. From New Jersey, you’ll be taking the PATCO train, and from PA you’ll be taking SEPTA.

haddonfield new jersey

The nicest New Jersey suburb of Philadelphia is Haddonfield. It’s twenty minutes away from Center City by train and a half hour by car. The median home price in Haddonfield is just about $524K.

The nicest area in the Pennsylvania suburbs is called the Main Line, and it consists of a few towns, Lower Merion and Radnor among them. They are about a half hour away from Center City by car. Fifty minutes by train.

Also, be aware of the Philly city wage tax. As a non-resident, you’ll pay about 3.5%. Residents pay about 4%, so it’s not that big of a difference.

How to get all your stuff moved

Moving Cost Calculator

Now for the real fun, moving!

If you want to get an idea on the cost of different moving services, check out our moving cost calculator.

You also may want to have a glance at our state to state moving guide.

A few other things you’ll want to keep in mind.

Moving Permits: Due to constricted parking throughout the city, you may want to apply for a moving permit. This permit will block off street space for your moving van. You must apply at least 3 days before your moving date. The costs are $25 for 40 square feet of space. This will make your move much easier. Just be prepared for pissed off pedestrians and cab drivers.

Also, keep in mind Philly is an old city. Almost all the streets are one-way and narrow. Many of the streets (especially in Old City) are cobblestone. The buildings are packed closely together with doorways and halls much thinner than modern standards.

Moving lots of stuff, especially large pieces of furniture, will be very difficult, tiring and time-consuming. Prepare accordingly.

philadelphia row home

Everything you need to do post move

Yay! You’re now a Philadelphian. Now do these things.

ez pass

  • Voter Registration: You can register to vote when you apply for your PA driver’s license, by mailing in a voter registration form, or in person at the County Voter Registration Office.
  • Driver’s License: If you’re from out of state, you must apply for a PA driver’s license within 60 days. You’ll need to do this in person at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and you’ll be required to take a vision test. A license costs $29.50.
  • Vehicle Registration: You’re required to register your vehicle within 20 days of moving to Philadelphia. Registration fees are $36; a title costs $22.50 and a lien recording costs $27.50.
  • EZ-Pass Registration: For those unfamiliar, EZ-Pass let’s you go through toll booths without stopping. If you’re going to be commuting into the city from the burbs, EZ-Pass is a must.
  • Local dialect: Learn phrases including, iggles, jawn, wooder, lager, jimmies and more here

Philadelphia has a special municipality wage tax equal to 3.92% for Philadelphia residents and 3.5% for non-residents who work in the city. Don’t be surprised when you see this on your paycheck.

City sales tax is 8%. Philly also has some other arcane taxes, such as a hotel and liquor tax, that you can find here.

Trash & Recycling: The city handles trash and recycling. Collection days vary by neighborhood. Find yours here.

Meet people, do things!

We would be remiss not to mention all the awesome things to do in Philadelphia. Now that you’ve landed, it’s time to soak in some Philly culture.

independence hall philadelphia

For starters, go to Independence Hall. It’s where the Founders signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Liberty Bell is here too. Need I say more?

Once you’re done with that, go visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Franklin Institute. They’re a ten-minute walk apart along the Ben Franklin Parkway from one another. Hint: the Art Museum is where Rocky ran up the steps.

If museums aren’t your thing, the city has a number of awesome concert venues including, WorldCafeLive which is home to public radio’s world cafe program. For bigger acts check out, The Mann Center. And for you indie lovers, the Electric Factory, the TLA, and Union Transfer all have great show lineups.

You also should take a walk down to South Street. It’s a quirky little street that goes for blocks and blocks and blocks, so you’ll never run out of stuff to do or places to find.

south street philadelphia

Among them are Philadelphia’s Magical Gardens and world famous Lorenzo’s Pizza. Ask about the “Philly Taco” at Lorenzo’s. You’ll regret it if you don’t. You’ll regret it if you do. So just do it.

Once you’ve hit all the main attractions, we’ve also put together this list of 40 lesser known things to do in Philadelphia.

And here are some other great resources for finding great things to do in Philly…

UWISHUNU philadelphia

Welp, that’s all of it. Let us know if we missed something in the comments!