Moving to Houston
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What to know if you're moving to Houston
Moving to Houston is a step many have taken before, but its popularity has not kept pace with other major cities in the US. If you are about to make Houston your home, or are considering it, our Relocation Guide is the perfect starting point: we have all the relevant information on moving to Houston, from visas to neighborhoods.
All about the US
Relocating to Houston
- The cost of living in Houston is the second lowest among the ten most populous metro areas in the whole country. Housing in particular is affordable in Houston.
- The Houston metro area is the fifth largest in the country and it is divided into over 80 neighborhoods.
- The US immigration legislation is one of the most comprehensive in the world. The type of visa you need to apply for depends on the purpose of the move.
- The initial steps of the application process for a visa are usually taken care of by your employer; otherwise, you need to contact your nearest US consulate or embassy.
Houston: A Boomtown from the Beginning
If you are at least somewhat familiar with the history of the USA, you are probably aware that its cities are fairly young in comparison to major cities in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. This also holds true for Houston: being just shy of 200 years old and having experienced a number of growth spurts and booms, the city you will experience when you move to Houston is a very modern one. This may not come as a surprise, however, due to the city’s economic and technical prowess, which is what made Houston famous in the first place. Many people settle in Houston because of its status as a hub for the energy sector, medical research, and the aerospace industry.
Outside the Loop
As is typical for major cities in the USA and many other parts of the world, Houston, however large the city itself may be, boasts an even more impressive metropolitan area. In fact, in Houston, you’ll find yourself in the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the entire country. If you do not mind commuting and would like to escape the hustle and bustle that invariably comes with life in a metropolis, you might want to opt for the city’s satellite towns rather than moving to Houston proper. Keep in mind, though, that moving to the suburbs might mean spending a lot of time in your car, although other transportation options also exist. See our article on living in Houston for details.
A very clear line separates the city center from the suburbs, namely the inner city ring road, Interstate 610. Locally known simply as the Loop, this road is an important point of reference, as neighborhoods are often referred to as being either inside or outside the Loop. Inside, you will not only find the core of Houston’s business world, but also quite a few residential areas. In fact, new, high density areas have been and are being added to accommodate the growing interest in moving to Houston’s center.
Where to Live: Houston’s Many Neighborhoods
With over 80 distinct neighborhoods in Houston, every expat is sure to find his/her place in this big city. Where you’ll end up depends on your wishes. Below we have listed some of the most popular neighborhoods:
- Memorial Park / Washington Corridor: With its location near many of the city’s roadways, Memorial Park makes quick commutes to other parts of Houston possible. The neighborhood has seen a revival in recent years with new townhouses and apartment complexes, but it has not lost its original charm. You can escape urban life at Memorial Park, which also makes it a great place for families.
- Montrose: Located in the heart of the city, Montrose offers everything you’ll need: shops within walking distance, some of the city’s best cuisine, or the Houston Museum District. Even though real estate prices have risen over the past years, you can still find single family houses at a good price.
- Greater Heights: This neighborhood is one of the oldest in Houston, and you’ll find historic homes next to modern apartment buildings. Due to its growing popularity, real estate is quite expensive in this area. Nonetheless, its eclectic and artsy energy and the many hiking and biking trails make the Greater Heights a great place to live.
- Midtown: This neighborhood offers various types of housing; lofts, apartments, townhouses, and historic homes. With a range of restaurant opportunities, an energetic nightlife, and its proximity to several universities, the area attracts a lot of young professionals. If the hustle and bustle of the city is too much, you can always take a break in the Midtown Park or the Elizabeth Baldwin Park.
- West University / Rice Village: The West U neighborhood, as it is called by its residents, offers a combination of green trees and modern buildings. Home to some of the best public schools in the country as well as the prestigious Rice University, it is very popular among families. Located inside the Loop and only 15 minutes from downtown, commutes are also not a problem.
Looking for Affordable Housing? Houston Has It
Among people moving to Houston and around the nation, the city’s housing market is renowned for being one of the most affordable among all major cities. In fact, Houston has the second-lowest cost of living among the country’s ten most populous metropolitan areas, in large part thanks to the affordable housing market. Due to a strong demand, however, it’s been unavoidable that prices have been on the rise. Nevertheless, there should be something for every taste in the range of different housing options available to expats.
If you have lived in other major cities around the world before moving to Houston, you have almost certainly been faced with the problem of available housing being scarce. In Houston, this is not as big of an issue, but it would be wise to still keep in mind that demand is high, and competition can be fierce.
New in Houston? Here You’ll Find Help
Many employees are granted relocation benefits by their employer, who may also pay for a relocation company to help with the process of moving to Houston. Of course, taking matters into your own hands is also an option. If you do shop around for housing yourself, hiring the services of a reputable agency or realtor, whose knowledge of the city will no doubt prove useful, is definitely recommended in a metropolis as extensive as Houston.
Free resources are also available, many of which aim to assist expats and other newcomers in making Houston their home. The Greater Houston Partnership offers a highly useful guide at no cost on moving to Houston in both digital and print form — be sure to ask for your copy of their Houston relocation guide.
Visas for Relocating to Houston, USA
The US Immigration Legislation: Don’t Get Overwhelmed
You’d hardly be going out on a limb by saying that the USA is the archetypical immigrant country. Throughout the centuries, immigrating to the USA has been associated with a sense of new opportunities and fresh beginnings in the New World, and the country’s popularity with expats from all over the globe is still immense.
Thus, it does not seem to be all that surprising that the country maintains some of the most comprehensive and, at first glimpse, overwhelmingly complex immigration legislations in the world. The massive annual stream of hopefuls from abroad looking to start a new life in the USA has necessitated tightening entry and immigration requirements. Generally speaking, there are two major visa categories: immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, the latter of which will be explained below.
Your Different Visa Options
Obviously, not every expat on assignment in Houston will be there on a permanent basis. To cater to the special needs of these expatriates, the government offers various nonimmigrant visa categories, each tailored to best meet the specific requirements expats may have. Note that most of these categories also limit the range of options you have during your stay in Houston, be it the duration of your stay or the occupations you are permitted to fill. Below, we have detailed some of the most important ones. For a comprehensive list of all visa categories and their requirements, we strongly advise visiting the homepage of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Specialty Occupations (H-1B)
The USCIS defines a specialty occupation as a job requiring at minimum a bachelor’s degree, or a job for which special knowledge is a prerequisite. This includes acclaimed fashion models and international researchers associated with the Department of Defense. Each year, a maximum of 65,000 H-1B visas are awarded, and the initial duration of the stay is limited to three years.
Intra-Company Transfer (L-1A)
For the L-1A visa, the name says it all: if you are going to be sent to an existing Houston-based subsidiary of your employer or are going to be entrusted with the task of establishing a new one, you should apply for this visa. You must have spent at least one year working for your company within the past three years, and your position in Houston must be of an executive or managerial nature.
Expatriates with Special Abilities (O-1)
The O-1 visa is tailored towards expats who have reached national or international acclaim, recognition, or distinction. If you truly excel in the field of science, education, business, sports, arts, or film, this might be the visa for you. The visa is initially valid for three years, but in some cases it can be extended by a year at a time.
Treaty Trades/Investors (E-1/E-2)
The USA maintains a large number of trade treaties with other countries, and nationals of those countries can apply for an E-1 visa, provided they engage in principal and substantial trade with the US. Nationals of treaty countries who intend to substantially invest in a US company can apply for the E-2 visa. While initially limited to two years, both visas can be extended as long as you meet the qualifications.
Temporary Business Visitor (B-1)
If your time in Houston will be limited to the attendance of, for instance, a relevant conference or receiving training, or if you will only spend a few weeks consulting with business partners, the B-1 visa might be for you. Please note, however, that this category does not allow you to take up employment.
The Application Process
If you have already secured a work contract with a Houston-based employer, they will usually guide you through the initial steps of the application process. There are also a number of administrative issues only your company can take care of, such as obtaining a Labor Certification from the Department of Labor. Meanwhile, it is your responsibility to arrange for a personal interview at the nearest US consulate or embassy, a list of which can be seen on the website of the Department of State. The list of requirements can be viewed on the website of the Bureau of Consular Affairs.