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Living in Los Angeles
A Comprehensive Guide About Living Well in Los Angeles
Living in Los Angeles is equal parts thrilling and overwhelming. In one day you can spend your morning hiking in the mountains and your evening dining on the beach. Unfortunately, to do all of this, you will still have to fight the infamous LA traffic. In a city of 10 million people, it is estimated that one out of every two residents has a car. Read our guide to living in Los Angeles to learn more.
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Life in Los Angeles is full of contradictions and extremes. The landscape spans from mountains to skyscrapers to beaches. Homes range from luxurious mansions to cramped studio apartments. Even neighboring restaurants on the same city block can be anything from a Michelin star eatery to a cheap taco food truck.
Home to a large shipping port and major international airport, LA welcomes expats from across the globe. Expats are just as likely to live next door to someone from their home country as they are a native Californian. The city is home to an overwhelming 10 million residents (larger than 41 US states), yet the metro area encompasses a breathable 4,751 square miles (a languid countryside compared to compact New York City).
Whether you are thinking of relocating and are looking for tips for living in LA, or you already have your flight booked, this guide will help you learn more about this exciting, vibrant city.
Life as a Foreigner
What is it like to live in Los Angeles? While Los Angeles is seen as the land of the rich and famous, a closer look will show that it is a city for everyone. Whether you like fine dining and swanky cocktail parties or quiet mountain hikes and cheap eats, the Los Angeles lifestyle has something to suit everyone.
Regarding the City: Overview
There are many pros and cons to living in Los Angeles. The city is expensive, but also diverse enough to meet nearly any budget. Some areas of the city are very safe, while others are incredibly dangerous. The standard of living is generally high, with top-rated hospitals and an abundance of cultural activities, but the high quality also comes with a steep price tag.
Luckily, with this variety comes a lot of options. Whether you have moved to LA solo, with a large family, or as an older couple, the vibrant LA lifestyle can suit anyone.
It is Expensive
LA is first and foremost expensive. It is the 10th most expensive city in both the world and in the US. At the lowest end, the rent of half of a shared apartment can still cost over 1,000 USD. You will also either need a car, which includes budgeting for gas and tolls, or money for public transportation. Even everyday expenses such as groceries are high when compared to other parts of the US. California also has one of the highest tax rates in the entire country.
|Milk (1 gallon)||4.00 USD|
|One dozen eggs||4.00 USD|
|Onions (1 pound)||1.00 USD|
|Bananas (1 pound)||0.60 USD|
|Loaf of white bread||3.00 USD|
There is a Lot to Do
Rent and living expenses may be high, but you can find activities to fit any budget. There are parks for hiking and beaches for surfing; there are museums, planetariums, and theaters to explore, as well as sporting events and concerts. Eating and drinking can range anywhere from an expensive night out at Michelin star restaurants to cheap food trucks on the boardwalk.
It is Diverse
Expats will feel at home in a city as diverse and multicultural as LA. Los Angeles County is fueled by mass immigration thanks to its active shipping port and busy LAX airport. The county is even home to one of the Top 10 most diverse cities in the US: Long Beach.
No matter where you are from, you are sure to find a bit of your home country in LA, whether it be in cuisine, architecture, or a satellite community.
A look at LA’s diverse landscape according to the 2018 US census:
|Hispanic or Latino||48.6%|
|Two or more races||3.0%|
|American Indian/Native Alaskan||1.4%|
|Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander||0.4%|
A Foodie Paradise
LA’s diversity influences much of what makes LA great, including the culinary scene. In LA, not only will you find neighborhoods with delicious, near-authentic foods from different countries, but you will also be rife with choices from every corner of the globe.
Here is a look at some of the popular cuisines in LA and in which neighborhood to find them:
|Armenian||Little Armenia (or Glendale)|
|Chinese||Chinatown (or Monterey Park)|
|Japanese||Little Tokyo (or Gardena or Sawtelle)|
The Traffic is Awful
Despite LA’s expansive public transportation system, most Angelenos commute to work using their own car: 61.7% drive without any passengers; 9.9% carpool. This car-based habit lends itself to LA’s infamous reputation for slow, unmoving traffic. Rush hour is the worst: 5 – 10 am and 3 – 7 pm. Read more about what it is like to drive in Los Angeles in our Transportation section below.
The Weather is Amazing
LA sits in a desert basin at the base of mountains. Because of this, the city is known for warm days and cool nights. According to data collected over the past 23 years, Los Angeles has some of the most pleasant weather in the US with an average of 292 annual days of sunshine and 35 annual days of rain. The temperature stays between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (13 and 24 degrees Celsius) throughout the majority of the year. You will find Angelenos sporting shorts and sandals nearly every month of the year.
The unique landscape also creates microclimates meaning you can travel from one end of the county to the other and feel as if you have traveled through a desert tundra into a cool, lush rainforest. Be advised, summers can often soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degree Celsius).
Can You Feel the Earth Move?
Los Angeles sits upon the San Andreas Fault Line, as well as over 100 other smaller fault lines. The San Andreas Fault Line is where the Pacific and North American tectonic plates push into each other, creating earthquakes.
The LA area experiences nearly 10,000 earthquakes per year. However, most of these quakes are not felt on the surface. The last major earthquakes to hit LA were in 1994 (the city of Northridge: a magnitude of 6.7 out of an 8+ scale) and 2008 (Chino Hills: a magnitude 5.5). According to seismologists, LA is due for another massive earthquake in the next 30 years.
If you are moving to Los Angeles, accept the fact that an earthquake will happen while you are there. It may not be catastrophic, but you will experience one, if not multiple. If this happens, here are a few tips to stay safe:
- Do not run. The ground is moving like an ocean wave beneath you. Tripping and falling are likely. If you sprain your ankle or break your leg, you will be in a worse position than if you had stayed still.
- Drop to the ground. Do not wait for Mother Nature to do it for you.
- Take cover beneath a table or chair. Be sure to protect your head and neck.
- If there is not a table or chair nearby, take shelter away from windows. Do not stand in a doorway. Despite popular belief, this is not the safest place to shelter from an earthquake.
- Hold on.
Just like in any city, safety is something to consider when exploring LA and choosing a place to live. LA’s safety and crime statistics have improved over the past few decades, but there are still areas that are extremely dangerous.
Gangs, Skid Row, and Compton
Los Angeles is known for violent gangs that take over entire neighborhoods. This does not mean that all of Los Angeles is run by gangs, but expats new to the city should be aware that gang activity changes drastically neighborhood by neighborhood.
As of March 2019, LA had 1,350 recognized street gangs and nearly 100,000 gang members, earning the city the undesirable nickname ‘the Gang Capital of America.’ This includes well-known gangs such as the Bloods and Crips. There are even LA neighborhoods where wearing certain colors can accidentally associate you with these gangs (red and blue for Bloods and Crips, respectively).
Compton is still a neighborhood nearly synonymous with gang violence. It is advisable to not rent property in or near the area. Skid Row, a 54-block section of downtown, is also an area that is known for a large amount of crime, and expats are advised to steer clear.
- Most dangerous neighborhood: Chesterfield Square
- Most dangerous region: South Los Angeles
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Tips and Practical Info
Where to Get Your SSN
There is not much you can do in the US without a Social Security Number (SSN). You need this in order work, open a bank account, sign a lease, install utilities, and more.
You can learn how to obtain an SSN in the working section of our US Guide.
Where to Get an SSN in Los Angeles
Los Angeles Social Security Offices can be found at the following locations:
- 12429 S Avalon Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90061
- 215 N Soto St, Los Angeles, CA 90033
- 1122 Vine St, Los Angeles, CA 90038
- 1420 W Olive Ave, Burbank, CA 91506
- 20439 Nordhoff St, Chatsworth, CA 91311
- 3840 Crenshaw Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90008
- 11500 W Olympic Blvd #300, Los Angeles, CA 90064
- 611 W 6th St #650, Los Angeles, CA 90017
- 4000 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90010
Top Phone Providers
- S. Cellular
Top Internet Providers
- Charter Spectrum
- Cox Communications
Top Cable TV Providers
- Time Warner Spectrum Cable
Shopping is everywhere in LA. Whether you are looking for high-end clothing or vintage records, you are rarely far from a hole-in-the-wall shop, outdoor mall, or market.
It is hard to think of Los Angeles without thinking of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman walking down Rodeo Drive. Nearly every movie that takes place in LA includes at least one shot of this famous shopping street. Typically laden with tourists, Rodeo Drive is all about treating yourself at high-end stores like Chanel, Dior, Cartier, and other luxury brands.
This outdoor shopping mall has set the standard by which many other outdoor shopping malls have tried to match. Designed to look like a small-town neighborhood, The Grove has perfected its model with close attention to design and customer experience. You will find an array of shops here ranging from luxury brands to mid-range clothing stores.
Despite the glitz and glamor associated with shopping in Los Angeles, flea markets are popular throughout the county. Some flea markets are annual; some are year-round. Flea markets are great places to peruse unique items such as antiques, vintage clothing, kitschy kitchenware, or custom-made furniture. Nearly all flea markets are outdoor and many include areas for eating, drinking, or listening to music.
Other Shopping Malls and Streets to Checkout
- Hollywood & Highland
- Main Street (Santa Monica)
- Melrose Avenue
- Melrose Trading Post
- Third Street Promenade
- Whole Foods
- Trader Joe’s
- Gelson’s Market
- Galleria Market
- CIT Bank
- Bank of the West
- Wells Fargo
- East West Bank
- Bank of America
- Chase Bank
To learn about how to open a bank account, read the banks and taxes section of our US guide.
The housing market in Los Angeles is as varied as its landscape. The city is comprised of 88 different regions and 472 neighborhoods, each with their own unique personality and cultural makeup. Housing options range from standard one-bedroom apartments to hillside mansions, two-story standalone homes, and more. It is possible to find both furnished and unfurnished homes, and prices between the two do not vary greatly.
Regardless of choice, it is important to remember one thing: housing in Los Angeles is expensive. Celebrities live in billion-dollar mansions. Millennials pay over 1,000 USD for a studio apartment. Most Angelenos spend at least half of their monthly salary on living expenses alone. Expats are advised to keep cost top of mind while looking for a place to live.
If you want to know where to live in Los Angeles, we have compiled a list of the most prominent regions and neighborhoods to help you with your search.
How to Find an Apartment in Los Angeles
Because there are so many housing options, it is not necessary to secure housing before arriving in LA. Expats are advised to explore the city and see properties in-person before signing a lease. Be advised that because LA is so spread out, it may be useful to hire a real estate agent to help you narrow down your search and ensure you get the best deal possible.
When searching for housing, the best options are:
Many landlords place “For Rent” signs in the windows and yards of their properties. If you see a sign, you can call the landlord and schedule a viewing. Some landlords host an Open House, where anyone can view the apartment at a set date and time.
Websites abound with apartment listings. It is advisable to use more than one website to expand your options.
Recommended online sites:
- Apartment List
- Westside Rentals
Things to Consider
Short and Long-Term Rentals
While most LA landlords prefer a one-year lease, it is possible to find short-term rentals, too. When looking online, check whether you can narrow your search by rental-term. Keep in mind that some landlords may charge extra for a shorter stay. A sublet is also a popular option.
Be advised that your choices may be more limited if looking for a short-term rental. However, short-term rentals are also more likely to come furnished, as are sublets.
How Long Will it Take to Find Accommodation?
If you are wondering how long it will take to find a good apartment, the answer may surprise you. Depending on your preferences and needs, finding accommodation in LA will not take long, but it will be frustrating. Prices are high and competition is stiff. Bidding wars are not uncommon. Expats are advised to be flexible on their ‘must haves’ and to dedicate a few hours each day to your search. Hiring an agent may be ideal as they will not only be able to do much of the hard work for you, but they can help with contract negotiations and ensuring you get everything that you need.
Renting with Pets
Like most states in the US, California law allows landlords to deny renting to tenants with pets. This even applies to service animals. If a landlord does allow pets, the law allows them to stipulate what size, weight, and breed are allowed. Expats with stereotypically aggressive dog breeds such as pit bulls, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers may find their rental choices limited. Landlords are also allowed to charge a pet fee.
This being said, there are many rental options for expats with pets. Be prepared to show veterinary certificates and registration papers.
Read more details about moving to LA with pets in our Moving section.
Specific Tips and Mistakes to Avoid During Your Search
Live Close to Work
Of all the factors to consider, this is perhaps the most crucial. LA’s traffic is infamous. News stories abound of clogged LA freeways and commuters spending hours just to move a few miles.
While LA does have an active and expansive public transportation system, Angelenos largely forgo it due to a combination of unreliability, safety concerns, and a lack of knowledge of serviced areas and stops. Because of this, getting anywhere in Los Angeles will take a lot of time, and the cost of gas and parking can add up. Most Angelenos prefer to live close to work to cut on commuting time and to decrease air pollution.
It is Expensive
Los Angeles is not only the 10th most expensive city in the US, but it is also the 10th most expensive city in the world (coming in behind Seoul, New York City, and Tel Aviv). Prices range anywhere from the most expensive neighborhood, Westwood (3,700 USD), to the cheapest, South Los Angeles (1,477 USD).
One reason for the steep price tag is that California struggles to keep up with the supply and demand of homes for its booming population. Another reason is that, with its thriving tech sectors, entertainment industry, and year-round good weather, LA is an attractive place to live. With that kind of desirability comes high costs.
Housing is not scarce in LA, but competition is still fierce. Between 2016 and 2017, LA’s population grew by over 18,000 residents. The year before that: more than 27,000. When you view a house or an apartment, be prepared to make an offer on the spot. If you do not, know that you risk someone else making an offer after you, possibly even on the same day!
Have Money Ready
Before you see an apartment, expect to pay an application fee. If you like the property, and you and the landlord agree to lease terms, you can expect to pay:
- First month’s rent
- Last month’s rent (this is not always required, but it is also not uncommon)
- A security deposit that is equal to one month’s rent. This deposit will be returned to you when you move out if there are no damages to the property.
If a landlord asks you to pay anything extra than what we have listed, be cautious. These are standard lease terms throughout the US.
It is a Buyer’s Market
A recent report by Zillow suggests that housing prices in Los Angeles may be on their first significant decline since the rise of the Second Housing Bubble in 2012. This means Los Angeles is becoming a buyer’s market. While buying a home may not be every expat’s first choice when settling in a new country, it is worth looking into.
Parking and Traffic
If you are planning on having a car in LA, ask potential landlords about parking. If none comes with the property, investigate the street parking situation:
- Is there a required parking permit, and, if so, how much does it cost?
- How easy is it to find parking?
- Are there street cleaning days?
- Are there overnight restrictions?
Even if your place comes with a dedicated parking spot, be sure to ask these questions or else you may incur a hefty fine.
It is also recommended that you investigate the traffic to and from the apartment. If you plan to drive to work, what will the commute look like? Driving in Los Angeles is a slow, frustrating process. Not investigating the traffic situation thoroughly could be a big mistake further down the road.
Know What You Want
LA’s neighborhoods are incredibly diverse and there is something to suit any lifestyle: quiet and laidback, active and social, family-oriented, or business-like. When searching for the ideal location in LA, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you want to live in an area where you can easily walk to restaurants and shops?
- Do you want to live near the ocean?
- Do you like scenic hikes?
- Do you want to drive to work every day, or take public transportation?
- Do you want a quiet neighborhood or can you tolerate noise?
- Beware of landlords who charge viewing fees. This is not common practice in LA.
- Once you have narrowed your search to a few regions, check the market area of that region. If an apartment looks too good to be true and is being advertised for well below the market price, it is probably a scam.
- Do not give money to landlords who refuse to meet you in person. It is common in LA, and within the US, for tenants and landlords to meet in person or work through a reputable management company (with a Point of Contact who you will meet). If you cannot meet face-to-face with anyone, it is probably a scam.
Just like everything else in the California city, healthcare in Los Angeles is expensive. However, this is an overall problem in the US rather than with The City of Angels alone. You can read more about the American healthcare system in our US Guide.
While the cost of healthcare in LA may be a con, the quality of care you will receive is a pro. Los Angeles is home to some of the top hospitals in the country. In a U.S. News 2018-2019 report, LA’s UCLA Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center took the Number Eight and Nine spots out of a ranked list of twenty hospitals. Cedars-Sinai also came in at Number Three for Cardiology and Heart Surgery.
No matter your medical needs, Los Angeles has top-notch medical centers to help you. If you are looking for cosmetic improvements, LA is also world renowned for plastic surgery. However, keep in mind that all of this high quality comes at a cost. Be sure to check with your health insurance provider to see what care or doctors are included in your coverage.
Top Hospitals in Los Angeles
- Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center
- Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
- Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian
- Huntington Memorial Hospital
- Keck Hospital of USC
- UC Irvine Medical Center
- Long Beach Memorial Medical Center
- Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance
- St. Joseph Hospital
- St. Jude Medical Center
- Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center
- Providence Holy Cross Medical Center
- Kaiser Permanente Anaheim Medical Center
- Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center
- Torrance Memorial Medical Center
- Glendale Adventist Medical Center
- Mission Hospitals, Mission Viejo and Laguna Beach
- Kaiser Permanente Downey Medical Center
- Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center
- Providence Tarzana Medical Center
Other Medicine and Pharmacies
If you are less enthusiastic about standard medicine, California is a popular state in the union for promoting homeopathy and alternative medicines. These types of treatments are widely acceptable and available throughout LA.
Pharmacies are also widely available throughout LA, with many being open 24/7.
How do I Find a Doctor in LA?
There are several steps to be taken to find a good doctor in LA, steps that you can take in any US city. For more information on US healthcare, please refer to our US guide.
Step One: Network
The first step to finding a doctor in LA is to network. This refers both to your social network and to your insurance provider’s network. Your US insurance provider will have a list of approved doctors that are “in network,” meaning they will accept your specific health insurance. This list will include detailed information about each doctor, such as their training and their specialties.
Ask fellow expats and any locals you meet for physician recommendations. This is especially helpful if a language barrier is a concern and you wish to find a bilingual physician. Your HR department should be a good, and confidential, resource. Be sure to search online as well and look for reviews. If you are near one of LA’s top hospitals, you can search the specific hospital’s website for a list of practicing physicians.
Below are useful websites for finding a doctor in Los Angeles:
Step Two: Check Out the Credentials
Once you have the name of a few doctors, check out their online reviews. The best way to view these is by checking their personal website or their profile on any of the websites listed above.
Step Three: Vet the Office
With your list of possible doctors narrowed down, start calling and asking to speak to the prospective physician in person. This is commonplace throughout the US. Calling the office, or visiting in person, will give you a great sense of the quality of care and respect you can expect to receive as a patient.
Los Angeles has many academic hospitals. These are teaching hospitals, where many of the doctors are still students in med schools. It may sound surprising, but these hospitals sometimes provide the best care in terms of safety and patient outcome.
When people think about transportation in Los Angeles they think of thousands of cars on a freeway at a standstill. While LA is a car-dependent city, there is also a public transportation system that is both expansive and effective.
Driving in Los Angeles
You cannot talk about LA without talking about driving. LA is often termed The Car Capital of the World due to the sheer number of automobiles on the road. It is estimated that there are nearly 6.5 million cars in Los Angeles; about 2,000 per square mile. The city is ranked one of the top cities in the US for stressful commutes with Angelenos spending an average of 53.68 minutes commuting each day. This is higher than the national average of 49 minutes.
Even expats coming from big cities may find LA’s mess of freeways, interstates, and city streets daunting. Often, roads look like a scramble of lines and turns, and it can be stressful for newcomers to make sense of directions and traffic laws.
Tips for Driving in LA
- Use a hands-free GPS navigation system. This will help ensure you reach your destination, and the device can recalculate should you make a wrong turn, which is easy to do in LA.
- Pay attention to marked carpool lanes. These can be used for faster travel, but if you use them without having a passenger in the car you can incur a hefty fine.
- There are public parking garages, pay lots, and street parking. When using street parking, read street signs thoroughly as some restrictions are enforced only at certain times of the day or week.
- Memorize the freeway numbers. If you ask for directions in LA, you are likely to get a stream of numbers thrown at you: “Take the 10 to the 110 to the 101*.” Southern Californians have a distinct way of talking about directions using only freeway numbers. Memorizing these numbers will not only help you feel like a local more quickly, but it will also help you learn your way around.
*Learn the specific ways to say freeway numbers. Some you refer to by each individual number; others you use a combination of one number plus a double-digit number. For example: 10 (ten), 110 (one-ten), and 101 (one-oh-one).
Public Transportation: Bus and Metro
You will hear many Angelenos talk about how bad LA’s public transportation is, but this attitude largely comes from a lack of knowledge. The buses and metro trains are an easy way to travel across the entire metro area without having to fight the typical LA traffic. To plan your trip, LA metro has created an interactive map that will show you all metro and bus options available to you.
Bus lines connect all major parts of the Los Angeles area. They are not always frequent (often running just two-three times an hour) and you can run into the same problem with traffic that you would in your own car. However, the buses will get you from point A to B for a reasonable amount of money. For faster options, look for express buses that cover long distances with few stops.
The metro train system is made of six lines which span Los Angeles county in every direction. These lines include both above and below ground trains (also called light and heavy rail).
- Light rail (above ground): blue line, gold line, green line, expo line, and Crenshaw line (opening in 2019 and expected to connect to the airport by 2023).
- Heavy rail (below ground): red line and purple line.
Bus and Metro Fare Costs
|Bus: 1-ride (no transfers)||1.75 USD|
|One-way trip (includes transfers)||1.75 USD|
|1-day pass||7.00 USD|
|7-day pass||25.00 USD|
|30-day pass||100 USD|
Downtown Area Short Hop (DASH) is somewhat of a novelty in LA and many locals do not even know of its existence. It is a shuttle service that operates in downtown LA and across 27 neighborhoods. There are over 30 routes to choose from and, depending on your stop, shuttles arrive every 7 – 30 minutes. The fare is only $0.50/ride.
Solving the ‘Last Mile’ Problem
One criticism you will hear about LA’s metro system is the ‘last mile.’ This refers to the metro connecting most major parts of LA, but never quite getting you exactly where you want to be (hence: you are still one mile away from your destination).
To solve this problem, LA now has several bike sharing and scooter sharing options. Bikes and electric scooters are stationed strategically around the city, and users can rent these and ride them to wherever they need to be. You must have a credit card in order to rent one. Bike and scooter shares are especially prevalent near popular destinations and tourist spots.
The hope is that these ride-shares will encourage more commuters to take public transit and thus cut down on the pollution clouding LA’s skies.
Several companies, including LA Metro, operate bike and scooter shares:
You can use this map to find a scooter near you.
Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!
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