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Living in Houston
A comprehensive guide about living well in Houston
The idea of living in Houston has not reached the worldwide popularity New York or Los Angeles enjoy — and wrongly so, many would argue. Houston has a lot to offer and our guide has information on what awaits expats considering a life in Houston.
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Life in Houston
- The population of Houston is very diverse: there’s a large population of African Americans as well as the third-largest Hispanic population in the entire country.
- Your health will be in good hands in Houston. There are more than 90 hospitals in Houston as well as the prestigious Texas Medical Center.
- In terms of leisure activities, Houston does not disappoint: the multitude of theaters or the thriving underground music scene make sure that you will not get bored.
- If you are going to drive around Houston, you will need a lot of patience: traffic is a major problem on Houston’s streets.
With more than two million people living in Houston proper, the city trails only New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago in terms of population. Taking Houston’s giant metropolitan area into consideration, you are looking at the USA’s fifth-largest urban agglomeration, with a population exceeding six million people. While the city might not yet have reached global acclaim, Houston is impressive in every respect.
While this is arguably true about almost every large city in the USA, living in Houston is indeed a very multicultural affair — and this has long been the case. African Americans who have built a life in Houston have been strongly represented in the city nearly since its founding days, and still constitute a large portion of Houston’s population.
However, the population of people from various Latin American countries, such as Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala, is growing. In fact, Houston now has the third-largest Hispanic population in the country. The city also boasts a large Asian population, especially made up of Vietnamese Americans. While it may not be as many, there’s also a large number of people who are of European ancestry. People whose ancestors hailed from Germany and the UK in particular are fairly commonplace, but there are also many people with Greek, Hungarian, Russian, and other European roots.
The fact that the population is so multicultural will surely not escape you, and no matter your origin, it’s safe to assume that there is a thriving community of your compatriots living in Houston.
Are You Prepared for the Heat?
Invariably, one of the first things people discover about Texas is the heat, and the state’s largest city is no exception — you can expect to experience upwards of a hundred days with temperatures nearing and even exceeding 30°C. Combined with the extreme levels of humidity in the city, the heat quickly becomes too much to bear for those who have little to no experience dealing with such conditions. Luckily, Houston has absolutely no lack of air conditioning.
If you have respiratory problems, it would be wise to consult your doctor before embarking on your new life in Houston, as the air quality in the city is far from the best, unfortunately. Air pollution is a bit of an issue for some people living in Houston due to the many manufacturing plants and other industries located either nearby or within the city limits, with high smog concentrations being a major concern in particular. As a result, Houston is among the most polluted cities in the nation (it ranks 16th), according to a nationwide comparison of the American Lung Association.
Theater, Sports, and Much More: Leisure Activities in Houston
While living in Houston, you will get to enjoy the fine arts nearly year-round. Beaten only by New York, the Houston Theater District has the second-largest concentration of theater seats in a US downtown area, and it is home to a multitude of theater and performing arts groups. If a quiet day at a museum is more up your alley, Houston also delivers: a visit to the famous Museum District will surely scratch your itch, no matter if your particular field of interests lies within fine arts, natural sciences, or history.
Those who enjoy a nice day out in the open can hardly pick a better city than Houston: of all the larger cities in the USA, Houston is number one in total area of parks! Families will enjoy the several playgrounds Houston’s park system has to offer.
Music fans thinking of living in Houston will have a plethora of venues specializing in various genres to pick from — while the local music scene has not achieved as much critical acclaim as the scenes in other megacities, delving into the underground is always worthwhile. Last but not least, let’s not forget the sports buffs: in Houston, you’ll get to enjoy games in all of the main American pastimes. While the young Houston Texans football team (founded in 2002) has yet to make much noise in the NFL, the Houston Rockets basketball team has often been a force to reckon with in the NBA.
The Dining-Out Capital of the USA
The USA Today referred to Houston as “the dining-out capital” of the nation in 2005. In that year, the people of Houston ate out more often than the residents of any other major US city and Houston is still referred to by this nickname. It’s no surprise then that there are more than 10,000 restaurants in Houston, representing over 70 different countries and American regions.
The city is especially known for its Tex-Mex cuisine as well as Vietnamese cuisine. There are dozens of award-winning restaurants in Houston such as Hugo’s or the Oxheart. Besides these prestigious restaurants, Houston is also popular for its Food Trucks. You can find them camped out at street corners during lunchtime, offering you everything from crepes to burgers or chicken and waffles.
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Healthcare in Houston
The Cream of the Crop: Texas Medical Center
As with many other aspects, Houston shines when it comes to medical institutions. The Texas Medical Center (TMC) is the largest of its kind in the world, employing more than 100,000 people on its premises in the southwestern part of the loop. Among the TMC’s institutions are 21 hospitals with different specialties, including the world-renowned University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and several children’s hospitals, various medical and nursing schools, and a number of research facilities. In addition to the many employees, upwards of 60,000 students and volunteers are affiliated with the TMC.
Applauded for their quality both nationally and worldwide, often among the best in their field of specialty, the member institutions of the TMC are sure to be able to take care of whatever ailment might befall you during your time as an expat in Houston.
While the TMC is unquestionably the Houston area’s most notable address for all things health and medical research related, it’s certainly not the only one. The Houston metropolitan area boasts more than 90 hospitals and thousands of physicians, many of whom have undergone excellent training in one of the city’s many educational institutions. Safe to say, your health is in good hands in Houston.
Health Insurance: Make Sure You Have It Covered
Healthcare and health insurance have been two of the biggest topics in recent years in the US. Historically, the USA has not offered its citizens a comprehensive national healthcare plan, earning it the unfortunate distinction of being the only so-called “first world country” without one. While much of the USA in general, and the Houston area in particular, has excellent healthcare options, many of them are much too expensive for low-income parts of the populace. The two current public healthcare plans, Medicare and Medicaid, aim to offer those people at least some degree of coverage. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 is aiming to make healthcare more affordable and accessible for everyone.
As an expat in Houston, you will most likely not be affected by this. You should, however, keep in mind that you should buy a comprehensive insurance plan yourself if none was included in your remuneration package. Otherwise, you would essentially be uninsured. Be sure to discuss this matter with your employer when negotiating the details of your contract. Many jobs come with the added bonus of a company health insurance plan by default, so you should not miss out.
Traffic and Transportation in Houston
Driving in Houston: Prepare for Traffic
Because of the country’s vast distances, US citizens are renowned for their propensity to drive wherever they need to go — calling cars part of the American way of life would be no overstatement. Indeed, you might find that it is more common to see multiple cars parked in front of a house than none at all. In Houston and Texas, both near-synonymous with oil, the car is of course also held in high esteem. While Interstate Highway 610 (the Loop) is a beltway enclosing the city, Beltway 8 (Sam Houston Parkway) encloses its metro area, facilitating easy travels to and from the city center and between many of its suburbs.
However, as the vast majority of commuters drive their car to and from work, it’s no wonder the situation on the streets and roads is oftentimes stressful. In a report published by INRIX, , Houston was ranked the fourth most congested city in the USA in 2015, with an average of 74 hours per year wasted in traffic by each commuter.
Getting Your Driver’s License
Even though, you are allowed to drive in Houston for one year with a foreign driver’s license as a visitor, it is highly advisable to acquire a Texas driver’s license as soon as possible after moving to Houston Driver’s licenses are not only a prerequisite for handling an automobile, but are also your main proof of identification in everyday life. The Texas Department of Public Safety has a detailed, step-by-step guide on how to apply for a license, including a list of requirements.
Once you have obtained your driver’s license, make sure that you don’t forget to renew it when the time comes. A Texas driver’s license is usually valid for six years. After that, a renewal is necessary to continue driving legally. Renewals can be made online, by phone, by mail, or in person.
Alternatives to Driving: Taking the Bike or the METRO
If you’d rather not join the hordes of car commuters, you’ll be happy to hear that there has been a positive trend in terms of availability of alternatives to the automobile. These do not only include the obvious public transportation systems, such as railways and buses, but bicycles as well. Never a city to miss out on a superlative, Houston’s Bikeway Program has made it number one in the nation in terms of total length of its bikeways — over 300 miles (483 km).
The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County — METRO, for short — is the service provider for most of the public transportation in Houston. METRO’s range of services includes a large bus network with more than 1,200 buses as well as a line of light rail services dubbed METRORail. Currently only two tracks are in service, but another line is already under construction.
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