Moving to Chicago
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What to know if you're moving to Chicago
If you’re planning on moving to Chicago, you may enjoy this tidbit of information: it is said that its name is derived from the Native American “shikaakwa”, meaning “smelly onion”. If this does not persuade you to move to Chicago, read our InterNations GO! Guide for information on neighborhoods, health, visas, and transportation!
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Relocating to Chicago
- There is a place for everyone in one of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods. Most of the five general areas — Lakefront, North Side, Downtown, West Side, and South Side — offer a lot of green space.
- The type of visa you’ll need to apply for in order to move to Chicago depends on the purpose of your stay.
- Chicago has the second largest public transportation system in the US. Therefore, even if you do not own a car, you will get around the city quite easily.
- There are several renowned hospitals in Chicago. Make sure you have a healthcare plan that fits your needs, otherwise treatment will be extremely expensive.
The First Skyscraper and More: A Brief History
Chicago was founded in 1833. Historically, the city has been a transportation hub between the eastern and western USA as well as between the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. Due to its geographic location, Chicago has been used for both shipping and rail transportation. While the Illinois International Port District in Chicago hasn’t been performing up to par financially in the last decade, it remains one of the USA’s few inland cargo ports able to compete with regular cargo ports.
The Great Chicago Fire back in 1871 left the city’s entire Central Business District in cinders, and the city you will see when you move to Chicago is the result of a long rebuilding process. One of the only buildings that survived the fire was the Water Tower. The city’s impressive skyline is a sight to behold. In fact, the world’s first skyscraper was built in Chicago in 1885!
The city’s architecture is one of its highlights, and the city’s infrastructure is another favorite aspect among expats. Furthermore, soon after your move to Chicago, you will note that the city is as diverse as it is entertaining!
There’s a Place for Everyone: Where to Live in Chicago
Due to its size, Chicago has neighborhoods for most tastes and budgets. Which neighborhood is best for you depends on several factors: whether or not you plan on moving to Chicago with your family, if you prefer living in an apartment or a house, and, of course, the price you are willing to pay.
Before moving to Chicago, it is a good idea to pay the city a visit and simply walk around to get a feel for the different neighborhoods. Usually there is a “For Rent” or a “For Sale” sign in the window of available apartments and houses with a private telephone number of the owner or the realtor.
Discover Chicago’s Most Popular Neighborhoods
There are 77 neighborhoods in Chicago, and below we will list a few which are well-liked by residents. The city can be divided into five general areas:
- North Side – Lakefront: If you prefer moving to Chicago’s lakefront, Lincoln Park and Lakeview are within walking distance, immediately north of the downtown area. Lincoln Park is a relatively calm and family-friendly neighborhood with tree-lined streets, good public schools and a low crime rate. Apartments and brownstones are readily available here, and residents can enjoy all 1,208 acres (4,888 m2) of the neighborhood’s namesake park along with its zoo. Similarly, Lakeview has plenty of green spots. The second-largest community area in Chicago is known for the pride parade held each June, its endless options for bars, as well as its thriving theater and comedy scene.
- North Side: Lincoln Square and Roscoe Village are some of the preferred living spaces among people moving to Chicago’s North Side. Lincoln Square, a once German-influenced neighborhood, offers a variety of music, arts, and crafts. Single-family homes are common here, which naturally attracts many families with children. Roscoe Village is safe, not too far from downtown, and there is a wealth of outdoor activities along the Chicago River. The brick homes and the number of families living there give the neighborhood a friendly small-town feel.
- Downtown: If you are moving to Chicago without children and will be working in the city with a relatively comfortable income, the Loop neighborhood might be your best bet, as you’ll be right in Chicago’s financial and governmental heart. The striking architecture and the various cultural attractions make the Loop a great place to settle.
- West Side: Logan Square is a good choice for expats moving to Chicago who can’t count on too generous a paycheck. The relatively low rents and the leisurely parks make it a popular neighborhood among working-class Chicagoans. The neighborly connection is very strong at Logan Square; the weekly farmer’s market run by locals is only one of many examples.
- South Side: Hyde Park offers pretty much anything from small studio apartments to mid-sized mansions. Home of the University of Chicago, it is popular among students and consequently, it is one of Chicago’s most ethnically diverse neighborhoods. If you are looking for international flair, you can surely find it here!
In general, most neighborhoods in Chicago contain some form of park, be it in the Loop area, Grant Park, Lincoln Park, etc. Whatever your reasons are for moving to Chicago, the third-largest city in the US, you will be able to go for leisurely strolls in a lush green area close to your home.
Chicago Info: Visas, Transport, and Health
Applying for a Visa: All You Need to Know
As you may well know, the United States government has very strict visa policies. Authorities distinguish between immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, and you should figure out which group you belong to before you start your visa application process, as the forms you will be required to fill out vary.
Regardless of the type of visa you will be applying for, note that you must schedule an interview with the United States embassy or consulate in your home country as part of the application process. For this interview, be sure to bring a valid passport, the correct visa application form completely and correctly filled out, and a passport photo.
Depending on what visa you are applying for, further documents might be needed, however, and you may even need to have a physician authorized by the US embassy or consulate in your home country examine you prior to the interview. For detailed information, please visit the website of the US Department of State as well as our InterNations Guide on moving to the USA.
What Type of Visa Do You Need?
Expats intent on staying in the USA for an indefinite period of time need to apply for an immigrant visa. To become eligible for one, you must be sponsored by a US citizen or legal resident, such as a future employer or a close relative who is a permanent citizen.
Nonimmigrant visas, on the other hand, are for expats planning a temporary stay in the USA. Please visit the US Citizenship and Immigration Services for a list of nonimmigrant visas. Once you’ve identified which visa applies to you, you can find detailed information in the menu to the left.
Cars & the Second-Largest Public Transportation System in the US
Many Chicagoans choose to get a car. As is often the case in American cities, most shopping areas, grocery stores, and other conveniences can be found outside the city center. Although there are plenty of trains, it will make your life a fair bit easier if you own or lease a car. Weekend trips to the surrounding Chicago area will be much less troublesome as well. Renting a car in the US is common practice, and this is possible at most car dealerships.
However, Chicago does have the second most extensive public transportation system in the entire USA. From commuter trains to buses and everything in between, you will find that getting around Chicago is not too much of an issue. The Chicago Transit Authority has all the information you need, including up-to-date information on schedules and fares for trains, the L, and buses.
The CTA obviously services the inner-city area, but commuter trains also run to and from both airports and a number of suburbs. In total, the CTA serves 35 suburbs around Chicago. The eight different train lines are denoted by color, as you will likely recognize from most other subway systems across the world. At the time of writing (August 2016), a single train ticket costs 2.25 USD, and a single bus ticket 2.00 USD. There are also reduced fare programs for children (aged 7–11), seniors (65+), Medicare cardholders, and elementary and secondary school students on school days.
Getting a so-called “Ventra Card” is well worth it, as it will allow you to charge money onto your Ventra Transit Account, which means you do not have to worry about carrying exact change on every ride. The CTA also offers daily, weekly, and monthly passes.
Choosing a Healthcare Plan in Chicago
Appropriate health insurance in the United States is very important, as medical care is extortionately expensive otherwise. There are several international as well as national health insurance agencies with health plans to meet your needs. It is best to get a quote online to see how much the insurance costs, which is typically based on your medical history. Online sites such as eHealth offer lists of health insurance providers by state and county.
As for health clinics, there are several well-known hospitals in the Chicago area. While the Northwestern Memorial Hospital ranked particularly highly in a recent report, Rush University Medical Center and the University of Chicago Medical Center also deserve a mention when discussing the top hospitals in the United States.
Generally speaking, the healthcare system in the United States is one of the best, and you can easily find care for any number of ailments. It is common to have a general practitioner who has a file of your medical history and can refer you to specialists if need be. The best way to find one in your area is to look in the Yellow Pages.