Living in Chicago
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A comprehensive guide about living well in Chicago
Interested in living in Chicago? On the bank of Lake Michigan, the Windy City is the third-largest metropolis in the United States, and being an expat there can be both thrilling and confusing. Our InterNations GO! Guide to Chicago provides you with information on contemporary life, climate, housing, and education.
Life in Chicago
- The relatively young population of Chicago is a fascinating mix of different cultures and languages.
- Chicago offers a wide range of leisure activities; from museums and art to shopping on the Magnificent Mile, there’s something for every taste.
- The climate in Chicago has it all; from cold and windy winters to warm and humid summers.
- Rental leases are normally for twelve months and utilities need to be taken care of by the tenant.
- There are many good schools in Chicago as well as some international schools; therefore, education for your children won’t be an issue.
The more than 2.7 million people living in Chicago make up the highest population of any city in Illinois and all other states in the Midwest. Chicago has been home to quite a few well-known personalities, such as the current president of the United States, Barack Obama, the infamous 1920s gangster Al Capone, and the 1990s basketball legend Michael Jordan.
The city’s fame is based on much more than the people who have made Chicago their home, however; films, art, literature, and music all have made life in Chicago thoroughly enjoyable for expats and local Chicagoans alike.
If you are considering Chicago as your expat destination, you may be happy to hear that the city’s population is relatively young, with the median age slightly over 33. Many people living in Chicago are foreign-born, making the city a fascinating mix of cultures and languages to be heard, felt, tasted, and seen on the city streets.
Contemporary Life: Museums, Arts, and More
Anyone living in Chicago will be quick to tell you that it is a very lively and vibrant city. One of its main highlights is entertainment. From cultural amusement to a swanky nightlife, Chicago has it all!
The Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago, all located on the waterfront, are big factors in making life in Chicago not only entertaining, but educational as well. For art lovers, Chicago presents plenty of opportunities to attend gallery openings or quality exhibitions.
Furthermore, expats can enjoy the various forms of performing arts the city has to offer. From ballet and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to Broadway-esque shows and the renowned jazz and blues scene, there’s a niche for everyone! Do not hesitate to check out Choose Chicago for information on upcoming events and attractions.
International Cuisine and the Magnificent Mile: Food and Shopping in Chicago
Once you have lived in Chicago for a while, the tourist attractions might lose their initial appeal, yet Chicago has much more to offer than architecture and standard sightseeing. The famous Michigan Avenue, for one, is popular with locals and tourists alike. Here, what is known as the Magnificent Mile offers anything from expensive designer brands in high-class boutiques to secondhand shops, which can make everyone’s shopping dreams come true!
The various Chicago neighborhoods — which you can read about in our InterNations Guide on Moving to Chicago — all offer distinctive flairs to satisfy the different tastes of people living in Chicago. For example, the Loop area and State Street offer a wide variety of department stores and fashion chains, including Macy’s, whose eight stories make it the world’s second-largest department store. This megastore is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Due to its multicultural population, Chicago boasts a range of international cuisines as well. As is the case in many large metropolises, over time the immigrant population of Chicago has moved into neighborhoods with residents mostly of their own origin. To this day, these neighborhoods maintain much of their original atmosphere. Without question, you will find the food in these areas positively mouthwatering, and there are places for every budget and palate, such as Greektown on South Halsted Street in downtown Chicago; Little Italy just to the southeast of there; Chinatown on the Southside; and the Ukrainian Village just southeast of Humboldt Park. It is highly unlikely that food-loving expats thinking of living in Chicago will be disappointed!
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Residing in Chicago and Education
Chicago is located in northeastern Illinois on the bank of Lake Michigan, directly on top of a continental divide that connects the Mississippi River and the watersheds of the Great Lakes. Three rivers flow through the downtown area: the famous Chicago River, the Calumet River, and the Des Plaines River.
Chicago’s nickname, the Windy City, should not be taken too lightly, as winters can be harsh: subzero temperatures, lots of snow, and, of course, windy weather. However, there’s no need to despair. Due to its humid continental climate zone, Chicago has four distinct seasons, one of which is a quite warm and humid summer.
If you have any doubts about whether or not this type of climate is right for you, visit the National Weather Service to check past average highs and lows.
Housing in Chicago: What You Need to Know
Most expats opt for rental housing as it gives them more flexibility in case their expat assignment comes to an early end. Obviously, your rent will vary depending on the neighborhood you choose to live in. For a brief overview of the city’s different neighborhoods, read our InterNations Guide on moving to Chicago.
The best way to begin your apartment search is to look in the housing sections of the local Chicago papers, such as the Chicago Tribune, the Sun Times, and the Daily Herald. Once you have found an apartment that you are interested in renting, make sure to ask what you should bring when you visit. Some landlords may insist upon seeing your passport and visa, along with the contact information of any previous landlords you may have had.
Many leases in Chicago are for twelve months, and a deposit equal to one or two months’ rent is usually required when you sign the lease. For a one-bedroom apartment near downtown Chicago, for instance, expect your monthly rent to exceed 1,000 USD.
The Choice Is Yours: Utility Suppliers in Chicago
As in most other countries, tenants are required to pay for their own utilities. Once you have settled on a move-in date with your landlord or the building management, you need to contact the various utility services in order to get electricity, water, and gas hooked up to your apartment. Additionally, depending on your needs, you should make appointments to have amenities such as internet, telephone, and perhaps cable TV installed in your new home.
The primary electricity supplier in Chicago is ComEd. Regarding heating, there are many providers such as Heat Cool Service or TDH Mechanical Inc. To find a company that fits your needs and your budget, it’s a good idea to compare different offers. AT&T and RCN are the most well-known telephone and internet providers, but there are of course many other providers, too. As for television, many Chicagoans go with Comcast. It would, however, still be a good idea to shop around a bit to get the deal that suits you best.
Education for Your Children: Schools in Chicago
Since Chicago is the largest city in the entire Midwest, it is no surprise that it also houses some of the finest universities in the country. Northwestern University and the University of Chicago offer both job opportunities for international professors as well as the opportunity to pursue further education.
For those of you moving to the Chicago area with children, rest assured that there are plenty of schools available for them. The Chicago school system is quite good, and if you are not inclined to spend too much on a private school education, sending your kids to a regular public school is always an option. Before deciding on a school, it is a good idea to visit it with your children to see if it’s a good fit.
If you prefer your children to go to an international school, or perhaps one where the institutional language is that of your home country, Chicago is also up to the task. Here are some of the most popular international schools:
- The Lycée Français de Chicago is well-liked among French expats in Chicago. It offers both primary and secondary courses, along with both the French and the International Baccalaureate.
- The British School of Chicago, which is part of the Nord Anglia Education school network, is particularly popular among British expats who don’t see themselves living in the United States for too long and prefer their children get a British education.
- The German International School Chicago, as the name suggests, offers all lessons in German. Opened in 2009, it is a non-profit private school and currently offers preschool and elementary school education.
- The Odgen International School of Chicagois a public neighborhood (kindergarten to grade eight) and selective admissions (grades nine to twelve) Full-Continuum International Baccalaureate World School. The students across the two campuses are from different ethnic and socio-economic groups and speak 14 languages other than English at home.