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Living in New York
Best Places to Live in New York
If you dream of moving to the city that never sleeps, this guide tells you all about the best places for expats to live in New York. Our relocation experts have experienced the Big Apple first-hand, meaning we have amazing insider knowledge on unexpected places for you to call your new home. Quick tip: if you’re heading to Manhattan with your family, don’t copy the celebrities. Head to the Upper West Side instead of Tribeca.
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Living in New York is a lifelong aspiration for many expats. Whether you’re a big Breakfast at Tiffany’s fan or just love the iconic city skyline, making this city the next step in your career is a bucket list item. Once you have made the leap and accepted the job offer (or even plan on moving there to find work), you’ll need to know: which is the best area to move to in New York according to my needs?
Whether you prefer access to great restaurants, amazing schools, or a house with a garden, this diverse city truly offers something for everyone. This deep dive into the 5 regions of New York (Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island) looks at where to live for singles and families, as well as for people starting their career versus those who are already established.
At a Glance:
- New York is home to 8.6 million people, making it the biggest city in the US.
- Over 800 languages are spoken in New York city, with English and Spanish being the most common.
- Winters in the city are notoriously cold, while July is the hottest month at an average of 85°F (29°C).
- The New York subway is the 7th busiest in the world. Over 1.6 billion people rode the subway in 2019, with an average of over 5.4 million people riding on a weekday.
- A New Yorker’s average commute time is 54 minutes.
New York’s Most Popular Areas
It can be hard to figure out where to live in New York. Most people have heard of places like Harlem, Tribeca, and the Upper East Side. But, just because these are some of the most popular neighborhoods to visit, it does not mean that they are the best places for expats. To figure this out, you need to delve a little deeper into the boroughs.
This article highlights our favorite neighborhoods in each of the five boroughs. To help you narrow down where to live, we explore cultural aspects, the cost of renting and buying property, and the overall feeling of an area from a first-hand perspective.
Prepare to broaden your horizons as we suggest the unexpected: families might enjoy live in safe areas in the Bronx, and Manhattan is not all expensive mansions and tourist traps. Plus, have you ever considered living in Queens? Young couples and professionals will love the opportunity to get more space for their money in one of the most diverse places on earth.
Getting to Work
Before you choose your home, you should know that New Yorkers are more likely to commute to a job in their own borough. If your job is in Brooklyn, for instance, search for the most popular neighborhoods in that area for real ease when commuting. Overall, you can expect your commute to average around 40 minutes if you work in midtown Manhattan. A monthly unlimited-trip subway pass will cost 127 USD, so prepare to add this expense to your bills.
Earnings versus Rent
Realistically, no matter which borough you choose, you will spend at least 50% of your salary on rent; if you’re in Manhattan, expect this to rise to as much as 65%. Some landlords will check that your gross annual income (before tax) is 40 times your monthly rent. After all, it is the 9th most expensive city in the world to live in according to the 2019 Mercer Cost of Living Index. You might get more space for your money in different neighborhoods, but high rent is the literal price you pay to be in this fast moving, dynamic, and vibrant city. For most New Yorkers, it is a sacrifice they are willing to make.
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Moving to Manhattan can seem daunting. The most densely populated of the five boroughs, fitting around 1.63 million people into about 23 square miles, the island is home to many of New York’s tourist attractions. Yet, Manhattan is more than Times Square and Wall Street. With excellent public and private schools, beautiful green areas, and incredible architecture, Manhattan really is what you make of it. Whether you are a professional moving alone or relocating as a family, there’s something for everyone in this borough.
A Shorter Commute
As the hub of the New York economy, many jobs are based in Manhattan. Over 80% of people who live in the borough work here, and the population almost doubles every day due to commuters. For workers, the borough’s extensive subway and bus access is a huge bonus. This is before you consider the incredible culture and nightlife available, from shows on Broadway to the six Michelin Star restaurants in Midtown alone, and the huge parades for events like St Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Gay Pride.
How Expensive is Manhattan?
It will come as no surprise to expats that Manhattan housing is almost 5 times more expensive than the average US city. A single person’s average spend is around 1,600 USD before rent. Some things to be aware of include:
- Renting a studio costs around 2,700 USD a month.
- For a 2-bedroom apartment, you can pay closer to 5,000 USD a month.
- It is easy to spend 100 USD on a mid-range three course meal with drinks for two, and cocktails set you back on average 17 USD a drink.
- Visiting the American Museum of Natural History (23 USD), Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (25 USD), and other world-renowned museums is possible on a budget.
- Numerous parks and green spaces, like the famed Central Park, are free.
Upper West Side: A Family-oriented Dream
If you are an expat moving abroad with your family, or if you are a professional couple planning to start a family, you should head to the Upper West Side. The smaller cousin of the famed Upper East Side, this quiet neighborhood is more than just beautiful Brownstone housing. A stone’s throw from Central Park, a huge benefit of living in this area will be enjoying your weekends strolling around New York’s extensive museums, shopping in Bloomingdales, or people watching in a local coffee shop (à la Friends).
Raising a Family
The Upper West Side is a fantastic place to raise children. The local public and private schools, including the renowned Dwight School, are sought after for both elementary and secondary education. For those with an interest in the arts, the Julliard School is located here, along with the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. Plus, the average commute is just under 30 minutes, giving you more time to spend with the kids outside of school hours.
How Expensive is the Upper West Side?
If nestling between the Hudson River and Central Park sounds perfect to you, know that living in this incredible location does not come cheap. Accommodation in the Upper West Side can be very expensive, averaging around 3,700 USD a month for rent and around 1.27 million USD if you’re looking to purchase. Our advice? House hunt in the north of the neighborhood for a better chance of finding a bargain.
Inwood: Affordable and Green
Integrating into a new area can be difficult for expats, especially single professionals who have little time outside of work. While there’s always InterNations events to check out, we recommend moving into a neighborhood where the locals look out for one another and create a vibrant community. Inwood, in Upper Manhattan, epitomizes this feeling; the northern tip of the island feels more like a peaceful suburb than an area with only 30 minutes average commute time into the city.
More than a community, one of the unexpected benefits of living in Inwood is the green environment. Isham Park and the rolling Inwood Hill Park are both fantastic for families and couples to wonder around on a summer’s day. Fort Tryon Park in neighboring Washington Heights, home to the beautiful MET Museum Cloisters, is within walking distance. If getting a beer is more your thing, bars with a chilled out feel line the Hudson.
“Manhattans Last Affordable Neighbourhood”
Even better than a great location? This area is not expensive by New York standards. Called “Manhattans last affordable neighborhood” by the New York Times, you can expect to pay around 2,300 USD a month for a 2-bed apartment and around 409,000 USD to purchase a 2-bedroom home here.
Roosevelt Island: An Unexpected Beauty
If moving to New York is not out there enough for you, we have a solution. Want an area that has great connections to the City, an interesting history, beautiful skyline views… and where you can live amidst the ruins of prisons and hospitals? All of this with a diverse, international population?
A Close-Knit Community
Around 14,000 people live in Roosevelt Island, located in the middle of the East River and measuring only 2 miles long. Living mostly around Main Street, this small, close knit community is a great neighborhood for professionals and couples who are looking for a comfortable place away from the hustle of city life. Most of the housing is for rent—costing on average 3,400 USD a month—as the Island was leased to the New York State Urban Development Corporation in 1969.
Incredibly Well Connected
A huge benefit of living on Roosevelt island is how connected it is to Queens and Manhattan. If you want to visit Queens, you can go on the Q102 bus or take the F train. For Manhattan, the F train is also available, or you can take the aerial tram between 06:00 to 02:00, Sunday to Thursday, to 59th Street and Second Avenue. There is also access out of the island in the Astoria ferry route, which takes around 37 minutes to reach Wall Street/Pier 11.
Perhaps the most well-known place for expats after Manhattan, Brooklyn has grown to become the most populated borough with 2.5 million inhabitants. It has changed dramatically in the past few decades, with locals complaining about gentrification while newcomers enjoy the extensive eating out and alternative music scenes. One of the benefits of living in the area is that experiencing the culture of the borough, including its historical jazz and hiphop scenes, is much cheaper being in Manhattan.
Over 50% of the area’s workers choose to live in Brooklyn, with the majority of the remaining Brooklynites taking advantage of the extensive bus and subway network. Brooklyn is bordered by water, including the East River, the Upper and Lower New York Bays, and the Atlantic Ocean. This means that there are also many ferries connecting commuters to surrounding boroughs. The famous Brooklyn Bridge that towers over the East River is just one way of reaching Manhattan, while the Verrazano Narrows Bridge takes you to Staten Island.
How Expensive is Brooklyn?
With enhanced infrastructure and rapid gentrification came increasing house prices. The cost of living is slightly cheaper than Manhattan, however, at around 1,200 USD a month to cover basic costs including utilities.
- The average rent in Brooklyn hit an expensive high of 3,000 USD a month in the summer of 2019.
- A two-bedroom apartment costs closer to 3,500 USD a month.
- A mid-range, three course meal for two with drinks will cost you around 80 USD.
- You can always stroll along the Coney Island boardwalk for free.
Red Hook: The Arty Peninsula
If you are a young professional on a budget, look no further than Red Hook. Right by the water, the industrial shipping area thrived before facing a huge decline in the 20th Century. By the 2000s, artists and tech firms took advantage of the cheaper rents to set up shop. Now is the turn of the big developers, with IKEA heading to the area in 2008. While this investment helps the area’s growth, it also means smaller independents are now competing with huge malls.
Other than being part of an up and coming area, young professionals will find a huge benefit of living in Red Hook is the rent prices. We recommend this area for people in the early stages of their career because most of the housing here is townhouses. This means a lot of shared apartments, with communal living areas and bathrooms.
If you are considering this in the short term while you find your feet, the average monthly rent of around 2,725 USD might persuade you. Remember, this rent will be shared between whoever is in the apartment, meaning it is possible to find a room in a 3-bedroom apartment for well under 900 USD a month.
You should be aware that the rapidly changing neighborhood still has a secluded, small-town feel, most prominent in its lack of adequate transportation into the city. It can take around half an hour on foot to reach the nearest F train station (Smith-9th Street); B57 and B61 bus lines connect you to Brooklyn but can be unreliable. If cycling is more your thing, the area increased accessibility when it gained access to the Citi Bike scheme in 2016.
Most interestingly, IKEA has its own ferry to Wall Street Pier 11 in Manhattan, after New York authorities realized they needed to use the dry dock that the company had bought. There are lots of options but, with a commute time of around an hour to the city, they are not quick.
Clinton Hill: Laid-Back Culture
If you are a professional couple looking to settle in a vibrant, but still laid-back area, you should choose Clinton Hill. The locals include students from the Pratt Institute as well as creatives and professionals looking to live outside of Manhattan—people who are wanting to settle and find a community spirit, instead of looking to party. Beautiful architecture is abundant here, giving you more space for your money when you rent. A two-bedroom apartment, for instance, costs around 3,000 USD a month. It is easy to see why over 30,000 people call the area home.
A Bustling Neighborhood
One of the biggest benefits of living in Clinton Hill is the burgeoning cultural scene. An incredibly diverse neighborhood, eating out here is eclectic and affordable, with plenty of smaller restaurants to match the influx of upmarket dining. What’s more, the area is near to some of Brooklyn’s musical hotspots, including the beautiful Howard Gilman Opera House and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. There are also plenty of distilleries and beer houses that, thanks to the large student population in the area, mean a night out here caters for all budgets.
Explore New York
Another reason to live in this neighborhood is how well connected it is to both Brooklyn and the wider boroughs. It takes around 35 minutes to reach Midtown Manhattan on the A or C train or about 40 minutes by taking the B62 bus. To head into Queens, grab the G train. It is also possible to walk to downtown Brooklyn in about 30 minutes. If you want a great place to live and settle as you navigate your way around New York, this area is for you.
Prospect Heights: Family Friendly Vibes
For families heading to Brooklyn, Prospect Heights is the area to research. It has a smaller population than similar neighborhoods (around 22,000 people live here) with a low crime rate, perfect for peace of mind. Renting here is around 2,750 USD a month, with an average purchase price of 759,000 USD. This makes it relatively affordable to set up home in one of the Brownstone buildings in the neighborhood.
Keep the Kids Busy
One big benefit of living in Prospect Heights with children is the easy access to green areas. Prospect Park with its impressive Grand Army Plaza is in the vicinity, as well as quick access to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. If you are looking for something educational to do at the weekends, Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Public Library are great spaces to visit.
Commute by Bike
Cycling around is also possible; 5% of workers commute by bike from the area, one of the highest numbers in New York. With the exception of cyclists, the average commute time from Prospect Heights is around 42 minutes. It is connected to the surrounding areas by subway lines B, C, and Q, and has multiple bus routes. Walking to downtown Brooklyn takes around 35 minutes.
The Bronx is another borough of New York that has experienced a lot of redevelopment since the 1990s. This has not always been effective; South Bronx still contains the USA’s poorest congressional district, and some neighborhoods feel isolated with few transport connections into surrounding boroughs. Still, the area has become popular with young professionals looking to escape the price hikes of Manhattan and Brooklyn and those wanting to get a taste of the area’s rich cultures and established nightlife. What you might not expect, however, is that plenty of neighborhoods are suited to families.
A Rich Heritage
Perhaps the greatest benefit of living in the Bronx is its diversity. Over 50% of people living here are of Hispanic or Latino origin and over 35% of the boroughs 1.43 million inhabitants were born abroad. The most common languages spoken include Spanish, French, and languages from West Africa including Yoruba and Igbo.
Part of the sporting heritage of the area is its link to baseball. The Yankee stadium is here, but do not try driving on game day as the traffic will be bad. In general, the public transportation in the Bronx is often underfunded and has a reputation for being unreliable. Be warned: if you work in Manhattan, your commute will be around 50 minutes.
How Expensive is The Bronx?
One important reason that people choose to live in this area are the cheaper rents, though these are rising quickly. This is due to the Bronx’s population growing faster than any other borough, as of the 2017 census.
- A studio rents for around 1,700 USD a month.
- A 2-bedroom apartment costs around 2,300 USD a month.
- If you’re looking to buy a property, Zillow calculates the average home value to be around 380,000 USD, although other retailers estimate higher at 480,000 USD.
- A three course, mid-range meal for two with drinks will set you back around 40 USD.
Bedford Park: Suburbia in the City
The first of our recommendations for Bronx-based families is Bedford Park. If you are looking for suburban, peaceful living with under 40 minutes to commute to midtown Manhattan, this is the neighborhood for you! For almost a century, families have often chosen to live or holiday in this area in order to escape fast-paced city living. Residents have formed a close-knit community around the Queen Anne houses that have become a city landmark district, as well as the tree-lined streets and easy access to the beautiful Bronx Botanical Garden (30 USD at the weekends) and Mosholu Parkway.
Family Friendly Community
Families in the area find that it is a wonderful place to raise children, and it is convenient if they decide to attend nearby Fordham University. What is worrying residents of the area is, as with most of New York, the influx of developers into the neighborhood. Yet, the community is used to fighting to keep their suburban feel—they have been organizing to improve the area for almost three decades. There are also a lot of complaints about a lack of parking but, considering the historical nature of the area, this might be hard to change.
Buy (While You Can)
Property prices are on the rise here as more and more people discover how pleasant the neighborhood is. There are still some lower priced rentals to be found and you can expect to pay under 1,600 USD a month for a 1-bedroom apartment, and around 2,000 USD a month for a 2-bedroom apartment. Property prices rose over 50% between 2014 and 2018, peaking at a median of 185,000 USD. Though this seems extreme, nearby areas such as Motts Haven and Concourse grew at around a staggering 65% in the same time period, and housing prices in the Fordham neighborhood grew almost by 80%.
Morris Park: A Hidden Gem
Morris Park is a traditionally Italian neighborhood that is considered a hidden gem: one of the most family-orientated areas in East Bronx. There are more reasons to choose this area of New York to live than just excellent pasta and pizza, though. Locals love that they live with some of the lowest crime rates in New York, good local schools, and big neighborhood celebrations. Over 30,000 people visited the area after Italy won the Soccer World Cup in 2006, doubling the population of the neighborhood.
Places to See
Some of the benefits of living in Morris Park are the unexpected places to discover in the area. Whilst the architecture often leaves something to be desired, you can visit beautiful buildings like the East 180th Street Subway Station, which houses lines 2 and 5 (running from the Bronx through Manhattan to Brooklyn). Stations like this mean morning commute to Manhattan takes around 40 minutes.
The neighborhood is also close to the Bronx Botanical Garden (30 USD at weekends) and Bronx Zoo (31 USD) if you need time out with the kids. Eating here is fun as well, with lots of local bakeries, bodegas, and cafés, to fulfil all your snacking needs.
But How Much is Housing?
To buy a family home here you are looking at spending around 420,000 USD, which will usually buy a two-bedroom house. Properties here are often multi-family, and larger 5-bedroom housing sells for up to 850,000 USD. Renting is a good option here; around 2,000 USD a month will get you a two-bedroom apartment, though if you’re quick off the mark you can find properties for less.
Working in Manhattan but want to live in Queens? You will be in the minority. Around 40% of residents here work in Queens versus 35% commuting to Manhattan. It is around an hour to commute from the center of the borough into the city, with the subway being relatively inaccessible and indirect. Due to this, we recommend that city workers and couples without families live in this borough, though workers who travel a lot for business may enjoy living so close to both JFK and LaGuardia Airports.
The Queen of Culture
A benefit for younger professionals living here is that, similarly to the Bronx, Queens is incredibly diverse. Over 160 languages are spoken in the area, with cuisines from across the world readily available. There are also a huge number of public cultural events to take part in, with celebrations for national holidays and many arts exhibitions and performances. Sports fans will enjoy that the US Open is played in the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing.
How Expensive is Queens?
For young couples, Queens is a fantastic place to choose to settle thanks to the recent influx of development. If getting more for your money than a Manhattan property is important to you, this is the place to be. The ever-increasing prices are not welcomed by locals, but many areas are keeping their character in the face of gentrification.
- The average price for a studio here is 1,900 USD a month.
- A two-bedroom apartment costs around 2,800 USD a month.
- Couples buying in the area should expect the average house price to be around 517,000 USD.
- You can find a three-course meal for two with drinks for around 35 USD, though Numbeo states that the average mid-range meal like this would cost over 77 USD.
Astoria: A Food Haven
Considering that some areas of Queens have a commute of over an hour, Astoria is ahead of the pack at only 38 minutes. For young couples working in Manhattan’s Upper East side this can be even shorter, at around 25 minutes. Yet, this is only one reason to choose this neighborhood. Astoria is famed for its amazing and eclectic food options, with Greek food being a specialty here. You can even do food tours around the area. This mini trip around-the-world has emerged from a population of only 160,000 people, around 40,000 of whom are foreign-born.
Astoria is more than just food. With gorgeous green areas and exciting places to see, couples can explore at the weekends. This includes sites like the Museum of the Moving Image, Socrates Sculpture Park, and Astoria Park that holds the oldest and largest outdoor swimming pool in the city. The park also offers incredible views of the Manhattan city skyline, so you can appreciate the city you live in from a different perspective. Once you have wandered the parks, you can visit a different kind of green space: the excellent and welcoming Bohemia Beer Garden, the oldest bar of its kind in New York.
Inexpensive For Young Professionals
Young professionals can rejoice knowing that a huge benefit of living in Astoria is that it is cheaper to rent than Manhattan, even with the similar commute times. Studios cost a relatively inexpensive 1,900 USD to rent per month. Two-bedroom apartments are more expensive, at around 2,600 USD per month. Notably, rental prices are falling incrementally in the area. Sale prices are creeping up, however, averaging around the 800,000 USD mark. Considering the neighborhood is regarded as safe, especially compared to many areas in Queens, it is a great place for someone living in New York for the first time.
Flushing: Cheap and Cheerful
Entering Flushing feels like you are entering a different kind of New York. It has developed organically as families have moved into the area, meaning it does not have the planned “grid” feel of Manhattan. New Yorkers seem to respond positively to this different feeling as well, even though the architecture of the area can leave something to be desired. Flushing has one of the busiest subway lines in Queens (line 7), with commutes to midtown Manhattan taking around 50 minutes.
Weekends Well Spent
A reason to live in Flushing is the many cultural activities available. If you want a quiet weekend here, you can spend an afternoon exploring the Queens Botanical Garden (6 USD April to October), then an evening at the Queens Theatre (around 25 USD a ticket). If plays are not your thing, check out the rest of the Flushing Meadows Corona Park to experience the Queens Museum (8 USD) and the New York Hall of Science (16 USD). One thing to take note of is that Flushing is known for its incredible Chinese food—better than in Manhattan China Town, so the locals say.
Cheap Rent for Studios
Surprisingly, a big benefit of living in this popular area for commuters and young couples is how cheap it is to rent a studio. You can find a rental for around 1,600 USD a month, with the average rent prices generally being around 1,900 USD per month. It is more expensive to buy property here, with average sales prices of around 760,000 USD. But for most young professionals moving up the career ladder in New York, choosing an area with cheaper rent makes more sense.
Expats from far and wide come to Staten Island when they want to take a bite of the Big Apple without eating the whole fruit. Here, you can have a house with a garden and space to move around your rooms; families and couples appreciate that there are none of the legendary bedroom/kitchen/toilet one room “apartments” that haunt students and young professionals. To get all this space, you sacrifice being part of the true New York city culture. That is no small thing, and perhaps a reason why Staten Island is the least populated of all the boroughs.
Transport Out of Staten Island
If you’re a big believer in the “Land of the Free,” the ferry crosses the Upper New York Bay and offers incredible views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, as well as Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. Completely free to use, the ferry is loved by Staten Islanders who work in Manhattan as a reliable and beautiful part of their commute. The other main transport connection is the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which joins the Island to Brooklyn. Commute times are some of the longest in the US as a result, averaging at over an hour and ranging to two and a half hours in bad traffic.
How Expensive is Staten Island?
Professionals and families on a budget might choose to live on Staten Island. One of the big benefits of livingin the area is the lower average rental prices, making it relatively less expensive to reside here.With the Staten Island Railway and plenty of MTA bus lines around the island, it is easy enough to live away from the North Shore and still feel well connected to the hub of the island.
- In mid-Island, rent is around 1,500 USD a month for a studio, rising to up to 2,300 USD a month for a two-bedroom apartment.
- Prices on the North Shore are higher, at around 1,800 USD a month for a studio and 2,800 USD a month for a two-bedroom apartment.
- A three-course, mid-range meal for two costs around 65 USD.
- It is free to ride the Staten Island Ferry.