(Update: October 2023)
Call it Manifest Destiny. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have made a habit of packing up in search of a better life. Using Conestoga wagons or following Route 66, they’ve sought education and job opportunities far from home.
Roughly 13% of Americans moved each year before the onset of the pandemic. After the onset of the 2020 pandemic, 22% of Americans moved in response to the virus or know someone who has. More recently, Census data shows that despite a decline in shorter-distance moves, longer-distance moves picked up in 2022.
And in 2023, the country’s movers are still on the move.
Whether it’s retirement, remote work protocols, or in the face of inflation, we’re witnessing new post-pandemic moving trends and patterns for movers nationwide. One where movers continue to seek out nature and affordability.
So, we wanted to know what are the moving trends in 2023? Which states and cities are popular? What’s changed?
We’ll look at moveBuddha’s proprietary data to uncover which states people are leaving (and moving to) in 2023, so far.
Table of Contents:
What’s happening in 2023?
- Big skies, warm weather, and beaches rule in 2023. South Carolina, North Carolina, and Montana are proven winners year after year after year — interest for moving to these states has outpaced moves out from 2020 through 2023.
- Dense, urban areas are (still) losing out: California, New Jersey, and Connecticut all had significantly more outbound moves than inbound.
- Move over Texas and Arizona. Of the most searched states with at least 10K mover queries, North Carolina, Florida, and Colorado are attracting the highest proportions of inflow in 2023.
- 2023’s top cities to move to so far by highest inflow-to-outflow ratio are Asheville (NC), Ocala (FL), Myrtle Beach (SC), Dillon (CO), Greenville (SC), Saint Augustine (FL), Wilmington (NC), Franklin (TN), Pensacola (FL), and Kissimmee (FL).
- Which big(ger) cities are making a post-pandemic comeback? #1 Charlotte, NC is the most popular big city to move to in 2023. Followed by #2 Denver (CO), #3 New York (NY), #4 Tampa (FL), and #5 Boston (MA).
- California Leavin’. California’s major cities are still losing big in 2023, with San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles among the bottom 5 biggest cities seeing way more moves out than in.
I. Nationwide, what is different in 2023?
Fueled by a desire to escape the perceived risks of public transportation and apartment elevators, densely-populated urban areas lost twice as many residents in 2020 as in previous years.
That trend continued throughout the pandemic, as newly-remote workers found they could work from smaller cities in their new jobs and take advantage of affordable homes and nearby nature. At the same time, early retirees called it quits. As a result, the balmy southeastern states and mountain west swelled with newcomers, who came out in droves.
Even though they’re not the boom states of 2020, the most popular destinations of 2023 follow many of the trends we’ve seen over the past few years.
Overall, areas with a lower cost of living, a steady climate, and better access to outdoor activities are seeing the most growth. More expensive areas will continue to see people leave as the cost of living becomes an even greater challenge.
Click the year “button” below to see the changing trends:
While the most popular states of the pandemic begin to see fewer move-ins, which states are rising to fill their place?
South Carolina, North Carolina, and Montana are seeing way more moves in than out in 2023.
And it’s not just in 2023. These states have proven themselves winners in the eyes of movers year after year — interest in moving to these states has outpaced moves out since 2020.
The Lone Star and Sunshine States are still popular among movers, but the stifling heat in Texas and the monster storms hitting Florida in recent years could be one reason that popularity has decreased.
States like South Carolina and North Carolina continue to attract way more moves in than out in part due to their relative affordability and milder weather than their more expensive southern neighbors. The Carolinas face the threat of flooding and hurricanes, but they may be safer “climate havens” than Texas and Florida.
Montana may not be considered affordable when compared to Southern havens like the Carolinas. However, it is a popular place to move for those coming from high-cost housing states like California and Washington.
The surge in interest for moving to Montana destination cities like Bozeman could repeat the vicious cycle of housing unaffordability, though. Nearly 30% of Montana households across the state are paying more than 30% of their pre-tax income on housing, showing that Americans nearly everywhere are being squeezed by the housing affordability crisis.
II. Getting away from the Crowd: 2023’s most and least popular states
Nationwide, where are people moving in 2023?
We analyzed moveBuddha search data to uncover this year’s most and least popular states to move to (and away from) in 2023. Data analyzed spans from Jan 1 through Sep 30, 2023.
Most popular states of 2023
South Carolina continues to be a hot spot for American movers in 2023 for many reasons. One main reason is the state’s affordable cost of living, which is 11.5% cheaper than the national average. The healthcare and tech industries are also growing rapidly in many SC cities like Columbia, Greeneville, and Lockhart, bringing workers to The Palmetto State.
You may get a sense of why these states are recent winners. As Americans find the freedom to work remotely, they increasingly value spending time outdoors, pursuing recreational opportunities like sailing, skiing, whitewater rafting, and hiking. After all, an afternoon escape to a regional park can make a tough remote work day bearable.
Likewise, southern states with mild weather and ample outdoor recreation opportunities, like South Carolina, Tennessee, and even Arkansas, top the charts for inbound compared to outbound moves. While you’ll find big-city life in any of these states, they’re better known for outdoor concerts and stunning nature preserves.
Least popular states of 2023
For outbound moves, densely populated urban states were the least popular destinations, with many more people looking to leave than relocate there. Four of the top five least popular states ranked among the 10 most densely populated U.S. states.
California and New Jersey lost the most residents compared to those moving in. In addition to being densely populated, they face affordability challenges. New Jersey residents pay the country’s highest property taxes, deal with exorbitant real estate and rent prices, and increasingly see corporate headquarters leave the state, taking jobs with them. It’s only natural that New Jersey residents would give up the shore in pursuit of more affordable housing and plentiful jobs. Nearby Connecticut is facing the same challenge and also losing residents.
The story should be familiar to residents of Illinois and California. Both were economic powerhouses whose residents were increasingly wrestling with unaffordable housing and high property taxes. As both California and Illinois lose employers, their residents consider following close behind.
The most searched states: Are moves still heading to Texas and Florida?
When it comes to pure volume of searches, the most populous states top the list: California, Florida, and Texas. But volume doesn’t tell the whole story. Sure, there may be 30,000 searches for moves involving Texas cities. But if nearly half of those searches are for moves exiting the state, Texas isn’t really making any population gains.
So, to understand which states are really seeing the most mover action — whether those moves were flowing in or headed out, we compare searches for moves in vs. moves out: Hence, our in-to-out ratio.
Looking at the states with at least 10,000 searches for moves in 2023 (from Jan 1 through September 30), we found which of the nation’s most searched states rank at the top and bottom for moves by inflow-to-outflow ratio:
|Rank||State||2023 In-to-Out Ratio|
III. Small Cities, Big Nature: Which cities were especially popular in 2023, across the country?
We know which states are dominating U.S. migration this 2023, but which cities are leading the pack? As you might expect, it wasn’t highly populated urban hubs that drew new residents. Instead, small and mid-sized cities with plenty of affordable housing and outdoor recreation came out on top.
Top cities to move to in 2023
|Rank||City, State||In-to-out Ratio|
|1||Asheville, North Carolina||3.01|
|3||Myrtle Beach, South Carolina||2.87|
|5||Greenville, South Carolina||2.28|
|6||Saint Augustine, Florida||2.15|
|7||Wilmington, North Carolina||2.02|
Asheville, North Carolina, is booming with new residents. Nearly 93,000 people lived in the city in 2019 and more than 260,000 across Buncombe County, according to census data. By 2030, the state estimates the number will spike to nearly 297,000.
Why is Asheville so popular? Let us count the ways: an abundant access to nature, a vibrant music scene, and the city’s reputation as a foodie paradise make it the most popular American destination city in 2023.
Myrtle Beach, SC, and Wilmington, NC, are two other uber-popular coastal Carolina destination cities. Wilmington’s large historic district, vibrant waterfront, and proximity to the “salt life” are a few reasons its one of America’s most popular cities.
The popularity of Myrtle Beach has surged for years. A recent moveBuddha report ranked it as the best U.S. city for new home construction. The cost of living in Myrtle Beach - for now - is also very affordable compared to other cities on the East Coast.
The appearance of four Florida cities in the top 10 shouldn’t be surprising, either. Ocala took the #2 spot thanks to lower new home prices, a quiet lifestyle, and growing cultural options. It’s known as the “Horse Capitol of the World,” after all.
Greeneville, SC, is yet another Carolina city seeing a surge in popularity, landing at #5. The strong job market in Greenville is a big reason why. Opportunities abound in the city in the healthcare, tech, and manufacturing industries, with companies like BMW and GE employing thousands of residents in the area.
Exit cities of 2023
|Rank||City, State||In-to-out Ratio|
|2||Bronx, New York||0.49|
|5||San Mateo, California||0.55|
|9||San Jose, California||0.57|
California’s struggles to retain residents continue in 2023, with seven Golden State cities seeing large numbers of residents looking to leave. Bakersfield leads the list, but other cities include Oakland, San Mateo, Sunnyvale, Pasadena Fresno, and San Jose.
Surveys show that many Californians actually love living in California and applaud the state for its diversity. The problem is the cost of living has become exorbitantly high. The Golden State has had three consecutive years of population declines, according to census data. Four in ten Californians say they’re considering moving out because it’s too expensive to live there, according to one new statewide poll.
The reasons for leaving #9 San Jose may be a bit different than why folks want to leave #1 Bakersfield. But it likely boils down to one main thing: cost of living.
The Bronx in New York City took the #2 spot for least desirable, and Stamford, CT, took the #4 ranking. Connecticut has seen residents continue to flee since the pandemic for various reasons, including trimming expenses and finding less densely populated areas. About 40% of residents leaving Connecticut are 65 or older and finding new states to retire in.
Columbus, Ohio, appearing on the list is a surprise, considering the city is poised to become Ohio’s largest by population by 2025, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That said, Ohio is one of the least popular states to move to in 2023, and Columbus could be suffering this year due to the overall unpopularity of the Buckeye State.
Big city trends: Which urban areas are the most popular to move to in 2023, so far?
Looking purely at cities with the highest search volumes (at least 1,000 searches in and out), we can see which of the nation's largest cities are most or least popular to move to.
For the first time since 2020, movers are expanding their focus beyond the hot move-to cities of the pandemic.
Big cities with the highest in-to-out ratio:
|Rank||City, State||In/Out Ratio|
|1||Charlotte, North Carolina||1.65|
|3||New York, New York||1.3|
|8||Las Vegas, Nevada||1.18|
The most popular large city to move to in 2022? Charlotte, North Carolina, with 165 moves in for every 100 out.
Surprisingly, the data shows that big Northeastern cities like New York and Boston may be slowly making a post-pandemic comeback. Other data backs up this trend. NYC gained more residents than it lost in 2022, reversing a trend that started in the pandemic.
Data from commercial real estate firm JLL indicates a better picture of population gains in major U.S. urban cores, with most downtowns experiencing an improvement in net migration rates in 2022 compared to 2021. moveBuddha’s 2023 data backs this up.
Falling from the number one spot in 2022 - Tampa is still at the top of the list of big cities to move to in 2023, so far. And, with three months left to go could still make a comeback.
Cities like Seattle and Portland, Oregon, which struggled during the early days of the pandemic, are among the top large cities seeing interest in 2023. Meanwhile, Sunbelt and Mountain West cities like Denver, Las Vegas, Houston, and Phoenix continue the positive momentum.
Big cities with the lowest in-to-out ratio:
|Rank||City, State||In/Out Ratio|
|1||San Francisco, California||0.66|
|2||San Diego, California||0.75|
|4||Los Angeles, California||0.79|
|5||Brooklyn, New York||0.85|
It's no surprise that California cities dominate this list with San Francisco losing the most residents: only 66 moves are headed into the city for every 100 headed out.
Lifestyle moves in 2023, from remote-ability to affordability
The shift toward the Sunbelt and Mountain West has been evident for years, and it’s continuing as remote work stubbornly remains, people flee high-cost states like Illinois and New Jersey, and Baby Boomers retire to the beaches.
California’s notable struggles to retain residents remain a theme in 2023. Despite loving the California dream, residents there can no longer afford it. Texas and Florida have stolen the spotlight in recent years as top destination states, but South Carolina and North Carolina are steadily rising as competition.
After another summer of climate disasters, you’d think climate change would influence movers’ decisions more. But as a recent moveBuddha study showed, it’s not really a factor. For example, Hawaii is the second most popular destination state in 2023 even after the devastating wildfires there this year that claimed so many lives.
People usually move to be close to family or for work opportunities, but another reason is for money and lifestyle. Looking at the most popular states and cities in 2023, it’s evident movers are choosing vibrant small towns and cities that offer cultural amenities and more laidback lifestyles. It doesn’t hurt that the cost of living is better, too.
Movers also want more space to stretch out, a trend that accelerated in the pandemic and hasn’t let up since. States like Montana, Tennessee, Arkansas, and South Dakota remain popular in 2023 for their rural charms, big skies, and abundance of land to roam.
With the pandemic finally fading from memory, we’re settling into a new normal that seems anything but normal. Putting the political circus of American life aside, movers want the best bang for their buck in low-cost-of-living areas in this era of inflation. And if means they have more space and can get away from the hustle and bustle, they’re taking it.
Methodology & Sources
We use moveBuddha proprietary data collected from 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 to analyze moves trends. 2023 data includes mover search data collected from Jan 1, 2023 through September 30, 2023. The data comes directly from the moveBuddha Moving Cost Calculator.
In-to-out ratio: We rely primarily on the in-to-out ratio equation in our analysis to see which cities are earning more residents by moves in than losing them via moves out: [Number of queries for moves in] ÷ [Number of queries for moves out] = [in-to-out ratio].
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