Tips on Moving to Washington DC: Relocation Guide

Moving to Washington DC

Photo Credit: Ted Eytan

It might be hard to imagine yourself living where you have to specify whether you’re going to the National Mall versus the regular one, but many people actually do. Sure, the northeast is home to New York City, but if you like your city to come with cherry blossoms and Wizards, you might consider moving to Washington DC.

DC is a city full of hustle and bustle that can seem intimidating from afar. Lucky for you, we’re here to help! If you’re already thinking about finding your new home along the Potomac River, look no further than our free moving cost calculator for more info on how to do it.

Moving down the street from Capitol Hill doesn’t have to be hard––that’s why we created this guide to lay the foundation for everything you’ll need to know before making a move to the nation’s capital.

Everything about relocating to DC

And if you’re looking for more info on moving to Washington DC, check out our resources on the cost of living in DC and on the DC Neighborhoods.

Quick DC snapshot

  • With a population of 692,683 residents, DC is one of the most populated US cities.
  • DC’s average rent price is $2,238, which makes it the 5th highest rent in the country.
  • And in case you failed 3rd grade civics class, Washington DC is the capital of the United States. The President, US Senators, and the vast majority of federal officials live and work in DC and the surrounding areas. If you can afford it, living in the seat of power is a thrilling experience.

For more of a visual overview of DC’s most iconic locales, check out this aerial tour.

Districts within The District

DC is super diverse but gentrification is on the rise in many areas which has led to a severe increase in the cost of living in many once-affordable areas.

The Wards of Washington DC

The neighborhoods in the DC metro area are divided into Wards.

Note how DC is separated into 4 separate quadrants: Northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast. We can’t state this strongly enough: these are VERY important. Don’t type in 100 L St SE into your GPS instead of 100 L St NW or you’ll end up in a totally different part of town.

Now, here’s a map of how rent compares throughout the District and beyond:

Washington DC Rent Prices Trulia 2022

For example:

  • The closer you are to the White House, the more expensive the rents. You’ll find most of the wealth in the northwest part part of the city whereas the opposite is the case the deeper southeast you go (mainly past the Anacostia River).
  • Downtown, Penn Quarter, Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, and Georgetown are some of the higher-end neighborhoods that’ll provide plenty of live music and happy hours but will likely run you between $2,500 and $2,700/month in rent payments.
  • People with a tighter budget can find a decent place under $1,400 in Trinidad, Langston, Kingman Park, U-Street/Shaw, and Anacostia.

However, rent prices aren’t everything. You’ll also want to find a neighborhood that suites your lifestyle.

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Where are people like me living?

The website Esri.com does an amazing job breaking down demographics by zip code with their ziptapestry tool.

Washington DC Neighborhood Demographics

For example, if you plug in Washington (20001), you’ll get a full breakdown of the primary types of people living in that area. It’s a pretty cool and easy-to-use tool.

Washington DC Neighborhood Statistics

Once you’ve found that perfect neighborhood, you’ll still need to make sure you can get to work in a reasonable time.

Let’s discuss commuting in DC.

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What are commutes like in DC?

Driving in DC can be infuriating, to say the least. The problem isn’t just all the tourists going to visit the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument, but also the dense population in such a small area.

Washington is notorious for horrible car traffic. DC drivers spend almost 2 days a year sitting in traffic.

In general, it’s a good idea to live on the same side of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers as you work. This will save you from crossing the river bridges, which serve as de-facto bottlenecks for traffic.

ez pass

EZ Pass

If you don’t have an EZ-Pass, get it!

The roads from Virginia and Maryland leading into DC have a lot of toll booths. That’s why getting one of these bad boys is so vital.

They’ve also added a bunch of express lanes from Virginia. All drivers using the new lanes, except motorcyclists, will need to have an E-ZPass in order to skip the long waits.

Those planning to carpool will need an E-ZPass Flex, a switchable transponder with a carpool setting.

You can get an E-ZPass here

A few other things worth mentioning to get you out of the traffic jam

Federal workers can receive a monthly transit benefit that pays for Metro rides and for parking at Metro stations. Other workers can take advantage of a pre-tax deduction from their salaries to pay for transit use.

Services such as Commuter Connections help link up people who want to share rides via ridesharing.

Bottom line: if you plan on driving a car to work, either live close to work or start buying some audiobooks to pass the heap of time you’ll be spending in traffic. When at all possible, take public transportation, bike, or walk.

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DC has some of the best public transit in the country

Washington DC Walk Scores

DC Public Transportation

The DC Metro offers both train and bus services.

Metrorail provides train services between 91 stations in Virginia, Maryland, and DC The Metro has six color-coded lines: Red, Orange, Silver, Blue, Yellow, and Green.

DC Metrorail Map

The system’s layout is such that it’s possible to travel between any two stations without transferring more than once. You can find out more, including train fares, here.

DC Metrobus

It’s worth mentioning, the MTA does some funky tricks with its pricing, and it’s easy to get caught at the station with the dreaded “Insufficient Funds” warning blinking in your face. To make sure you always have an even denomination left, it’s a good idea to never have more than $20 on your Metro card at one time.

The Metro is also going through a major reconstruction known as SafeTrack. Expect delays/early closings/multiple frustrations. Uber Pool is a solid, affordable alternative.

The Metrobus stops at 11,500 bus stops in the DC area. Bus stops are designated with red, white, and blue signs. Go here to find stops, routes, and discounts on rail-to-bus or bus-to-rail transfers.

Biking in DC

A lot of people bike to work too. Arlington, Silver Spring, and Bethesda are just a few of the DC-adjacent suburbs with convenient biking options.

You can also join the Capital Bikeshare program. You can get bikes for a day, 3 days, a month, or a year, and have access to them 24/7. The first half hour of each trip is free, and each additional half hour incurs a fee.

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What’s the crime rate like in DC?

So, statistically speaking, Washington DC’s crime rate isn’t great.

Neighborhood Scout puts DC’s Crime index rating at a whopping 4 out of 100.

Washington DC Crime Map NeighborhoodScout 2022

But, as with most cities, personal caution and situational awareness matter a lot more than geography and some nebulous statistic.

So, check out the map to see where the areas with the highest crime density are and do your best to not be wandering around them past midnight.

While the stats and maps may make things look pretty dire, it’s important to note that violent crime in DC is actually down significantly from 2014.

It’s pretty basic––be smart, stay out of trouble, and avoid being a jerk who invites people to antagonize you, and you’ll be fine.

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DC apartment hunting

Before we start looking for apartments, let’s first consider what kind of accommodations you’ll need in DC.

Washington DC Average Temperatures

DC has relatively mild weather for a city in the Eastern United States. Still, as is the case with the region, the winters get plenty cold, and the midsummer months can be very hot.

You’ll definitely want an apartment with heating and air conditioning.

The laundromat situation in DC can also be pretty spotty. The closer you’re to the center of the city the more likely it is to have a local laundromat nearby. But if you’re planning on commuting you’ll want an apartment with a washer/dryer.

When looking at accommodations, you should also consider how they’ll impact the average cost of utilities, particularly since everything in DC tends to be expensive.

Here are a few of our favorite websites to find apartments. Use the sort functionality to narrow down if you want a one-bedroom apartment or something bigger, set a budget, etc.

It may surprise you, but Craigslist is a very useful site in finding apartments (especially those with places whose owners/landlords 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.

DC’s rental market

Like we’ve discussed, DC is an extremely expensive city to live in. Although rents
have decreased in previous years, prices are continually fluctuating.
DC’s vacancy rate decreased to 4.57%, compared to 5.85% for the nation as a whole. Basically, there’s not a lot of places to rent, and the ones that are available are pricey.

DC rental law

Before you take the oath of renting an office, here are some links about DC rental law. And remember…rental laws in Maryland and Virginia may be slightly different, so be sure to investigate depending on precisely where you end up renting.

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DC and its surrounding suburbs

DC has some of the nicest, classiest and most expensive suburbs in the country. Places like Arlington, Alexandria, and Chevy Chase all have average household incomes at or near six digits.

Washington DC Alexandria VA Market Zillow 2022

It stands to reason that renting houses or apartments here will also be expensive. A place in Alexandria, which is on the Virginia side of the Potomac, will run you between $2,000 and $5,000. Same for Chevy Chase and Arlington.

However, if you’re looking for somewhere to live on a more modest budget (and don’t mind a bit of a commute) you can look towards Bethesda, Rockville, Silver Spring, or Takoma Park. These may be a bit further from the city than the pricier neighborhoods, but many of them make up for that with convenient public transportation options.

You might even consider investing in some capital real estate!

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Now that you’re ready to move to DC…

If you want to get an idea on the cost of different moving services, check out our moving cost calculator. Compare the best interstate moving companies, moving container companies, and rental trucks to get the job done.

You also may want to have a glance at our moving out-of-state guide for more info and tips to consider when making a long distance move.

If you plan on parking a truck on the street in DC you’ll need a permit. You can get one at the District Department of Transportation website. The permit cost is around $60 and allows you to block the street for up to 16 hours.

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Things to do once you get settled

Congrats! You’re now on track to being a Washingtonian. Now, do these things.

  • Voter registration: you can find the steps to register to vote here.
  • Driver’s license: if you’re from out of state and wish to become a DC resident, you must get a Washington license within 90 days of moving. You can find out how to do that here.
  • Vehicle registration: find the steps for registering your vehicle here.
  • Trash & recycling: the city handles trash and recycling. You can find your trash collection days here.
  • Ways to meet people: there’s always tons of ways to meet new people. One great way is to use meetup.com. But the BEST way? Join an intramural league! They play all over the city and it’s a great, social way to meet new people.

Washington DC Meetup Listings

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Washington DC’s bands, bars, and bustling hotspots

DC and its surrounding neighborhoods offer a wide variety of nightlife options whether you’re looking for a good meal with cocktails or just going out for drinks at the end of a long day.

The Board Room

Check out Tryst, a cozy barcafe that boasts non-corporate coffee and an insanely wide variety of vodka martinis.

Or, if you’re looking for something a bit more retro-nerd-chic, check out the Board Room for a night of beer and tabletop gaming!

You should also try the notable Service Bar for cocktails and a rotating menu of dishes made entirely from local ingredients.

Belle and Sebastian at The 9:30 Club

DC also has a vibrant and thriving live performance scene with well-known music venues such as: Songbyrd, the Wonderland Ballroom, the U-Street Music Hall, and the 9:30 Club. Or, if you’re in the mood for a laugh, check out the DC Improv Club (as with all improv, your results may vary).

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And here are a few cultural attractions to definitely check out

With tons of free activities and a dense, historic food and music culture paired with an overall “hustle and bustle” city vibe, The District offers a lot to new residents.

Smithsonian Museum

Photo Credit: Michael Menthold

Here is a list of 100 free activities. You can find multiple inexpensive options as well. Brightest Young Things is your go-to social guide for concerts, festivals, free (and almost free) things to do on any given night, outdoor movie sightings, bad first date options etc.

Washington Monument

Being named after George Washington himself, Washington DC is one of the largest hubs of American history in the country too. The city abounds with breathtaking monuments celebrating the rich political and military history of the United States, not to mention all of the museums. Here are some of our favorites:

  • If you’ve been sleuthing for something a bit more unique, you can gain insight into the history of espionage, you can explore the International Spy Museum.

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