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A Comprehensive Guide about Living in New York

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  • Javier Vazquez

    Even in a crowded city like the Big Apple you can easily get lost. With InterNations I've made some really good friends and also added to my business contacts.

Roughly 8.5 million people are currently living in New York City. Meanwhile, the New York metropolitan area stretches across four states (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut) and is home to a staggering total of 20.1 million.

New York City itself consists of five boroughs — Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island — and the city houses some of the most ethnically and culturally diverse communities in the USA and in the world. In total, around 37% of the residents living in New York are foreign born.

Needless to say, this makes New York an exciting city to live in. At the same time, it makes the expat experience a lot easier for foreigners living in New York, who otherwise might be concerned about losing touch with their home culture. No matter where you come from, you are bound to eventually meet someone from your native country.

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Life in New York

  • New York City is the place for expats not wanting to lose touch with their culture. Being one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in the States, the chance to meet people from your home country is high.
  • The city attracts millions every year with its over 1,400 arts and cultural organizations and countless theaters and musical stages.
  • The best public transportation system is found in the city that never sleeps, where the subway runs 24 hours a day and even the suburbs are well connected by bus and commuter rail.
  • Healthcare is still an issue in the States, but the New York City government offers a comparatively inclusive healthcare system.
  • Children between five and 21 years can attend public school in New York City for free, regardless of their immigration status or citizenship.

The City That Never Sleeps

In the eyes of many, life in New York is synonymous with glamour and excitement. For many immigrant and US families living in New York’s homeless shelters or on the streets, however, the reality is quite different. In fact, one-fifth of New York City’s residents live below the poverty line. Learn more about the Cost of Living in New York in our article.

Nevertheless, the city’s bright neon lights, illuminated skyscrapers, and dazzling reputation tend to outshine such statistics. For people who enjoy life in a buzzing city with a vibrant, never-ending nightlife and a cutting-edge arts and cultural scene, living in New York would indeed be a dream come true.

In 2016, New York was ranked number two on Long Finance’s annual list of the world’s top global financial centers, right after London. New York City is one of the safest big cities in the States, so expats living here can rest easy. The city is also home to a good mass transit system, over 1,400 arts and cultural organizations, more than 700 art galleries, and plenty of public green spaces covering roughly 30,000 acres or 46 square miles (119 km²), which adds up to 14% of New York City.

International employees working in high-end jobs may never have to confront the grimmer sides of life in New York. Despite high property prices, long commutes, and constant exposure to loud noise and endless throngs of people, there is indeed much to be said for living in New York City.

The Cultural Capital of the US

The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (including the Metropolitan Opera) and Broadway’s many theater and musical stages attract millions every year. Fans of slightly wittier, less lavish and commercial productions will probably find what they’re looking for in one of the countless theaters on Off-Broadway or Off-Off-Broadway. Traditionally, these terms merely referred to the geographic locations of stages in relation to the official theater district. These days, however, the different stages cater to the widely varied tastes of the theater-going public. Safe to say, your life in New York City will never grow dull.

From exotic restaurants to traditional American diners, bars, night clubs, and live music concerts, there is always a new place to eat, drink, or dance for people living in New York. Various festivals also take place in different parts of the city throughout the year. Lovers of outdoor performances should, for example, visit the Central Park Summer Stage for free plays and music.

To find out what’s going on in the city, you can always check out the events section on the New York City government website. Alternatively, simply purchase a weekly listings magazine, such as Time Out New York, to find out about current events.

New York: Local Life and Transport

Humans of New York

New Yorkers are notorious for being unfriendly and sometimes even mean. Despite this popular stereotype, most people in New York are actually quite friendly and obliging, perhaps even more so than one might expect in a city of its size. It is not uncommon for passers-by to stop and offer their help if someone looks lost, or for neighbors to be on friendly, even familiar, terms.

However, friendliness shouldn’t always be mistaken for friendship. While New Yorkers are certainly open and welcoming and will try their best to make you feel at home, relations tend to be somewhat superficial until you really get to know someone well. It is only polite to take an interest in your new acquaintances’ lives, but too personal questions and revelations should be avoided at first.

Hot and Cold: Climate and Weather in NYC

New York City has a humid continental climate, with temperatures regularly reaching, and at times exceeding, 90°F (32°C) in the summer. On days with high humidity, the heat can even seem near-subtropical.

Especially in downtown Manhattan, this is exacerbated by air conditioning units in taxis, offices, and apartment buildings pumping hot air into the atmosphere to maintain constant low temperatures inside. From April to October, the sun shines bright on the Big Apple, but winters are cold and usually come with a mix of snow and rain.

Air pollution and smog can cause problems for people with asthma and other respiratory diseases, and the city government has been working hard to reduce CO2 emissions in recent years. According to the New York Taxi & Limousine Commission, for instance, 60% of New York’s yellow taxi fleet consists of hybrid-electric cars. Similarly, the city runs the largest “green” fleet with more than 2,000 buses running on natural gas rather than gasoline.

No Need for a Car: The Public Transportation System in NYC

The general census is that less than half of all NYC households own a car, which puts the city in quite an exceptional position in the USA. Unlike in most other parts of the country, public transportation is indeed the most popular form of transit in New York, and the majority of the population relies on it for the daily commute.

As to be expected, then, New York does have the best public transportation system in the United States. The extensive subway network operates 24 hours a day, and the large public bus fleet and a commuter rail network serve the suburbs and other parts of the metropolitan area.

The ticketing system is fairly simple. The MetroCard, which can be purchased at most subway stations, is valid for travel on buses and on the subway. It can be recharged and used on a pay-as-you-go basis, or even as a weekly or monthly travel pass.

For more information on New York City’s public transportation, such as fares and timetables, please refer to the website of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Links to all other train or bus operators can be found in the transportation section of the New York City government website.

For the Sporty Ones: Cycling and Walking

Cycling and walking account for over 10% of all modes of commuting in New York City. Since 2013 the city has its own bike share system, Citi Bike, which has become an essential part of the transportation system. The Citi Bike system currently has 500 stations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Jersey City and 8,000 bikes. By the end of 2016, Citi Bike plans on expanding their bike fleet to 10,000 bikes and adding new stations in Manhattan, Jersey City, and the Brooklyn neighborhoods.

There are also free cycling maps available from the Department of Transportation and the Department of City Planning. The network of bike paths is, however, rather rudimentary, and riding a bicycle on Manhattan’s streets is not recommended for the inexperienced, casual cyclist.

The Famous Yellow Cabs

Even if you have never been to New York, the sight of a yellow cab on the streets of Manhattan will no doubt feel familiar to you. They are indeed a very popular way of getting around — so popular, in fact, that trying to hail one from the street when it rains can be well-nigh impossible.

To the surprise of many, not all taxi drivers know their way around, as many of them are foreign themselves. So be prepared in case they ask you, their passenger, for directions. Passengers are expected to sit in the back seat (unless there is not enough room) and to give the driver a 10% to 20% tip.

Healthcare and Education in New York

Healthcare: Not Affordable for Everyone

Unlike most other developed countries, the USA does not have a comprehensive public healthcare system. Nationwide, there are only two government-sponsored healthcare programs, Medicare and Medicaid. While Medicare caters to pensioners and people with disabilities, Medicaid is designed to support poor families in precarious living conditions.

Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, healthcare has been more widely available and affordable. However, many people still rely on health insurance packages offered by their employers.

Health Insurance: Have You Already Chosen Your Plan?

Most companies offer a choice of different healthcare plans to their employees, and many plans cover the employee’s immediate family as well. Some packages come with low monthly contributions but high excess payments. Others cover a larger percentage of treatment costs in return for higher monthly rates. Note that virtually no insurance package offers 100% coverage of costs arising from medical treatment.

Some people choose to join a healthcare organization or network such as an HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) or a PPO (Preferred Provider Organization). For a monthly premium, these organizations grant their members access to healthcare and treatments provided by a selected network of doctors.

Where to Find Information on Healthcare in New York City

New York City’s government provides a comparatively inclusive healthcare system with several government-sponsored schemes. Expats would be wise to take a look at the brochure series for Individuals and Families and Small Businesses. It is available for download in several languages, including Arabic, Bengali, and Urdu, from the Office of Citywide Health Insurance Access.

There are various public and private hospitals across the city, the latter usually offering better facilities at higher prices. The New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation’s interactive map can assist you with locating the nearest public hospital or healthcare facility.

What You Need to Know about Education in New York City

In New York City, children between five and 21 years of age with no high school diploma are entitled to attend a public school for free in their district, regardless of citizenship and immigration status. In order to enroll, parents need to register their child at their zoned (=local) school. The NYC Department of Education’s School Search Tool can assist you in determining your school district and zoned school.

Usually, parents need to provide proof of address and an immunization record for their child. A list of required immunizations and walk-in immunization clinics in New York City can be found on the NYC Department of Health’s website.

High school students need to register at an Enrollment Office in their borough of residence. It is advisable for expats to find out as much as possible about a school before registering their child, as teaching standards and records of academic achievement can vary significantly.

Finding the Right School for Your Children

In the absence of a nationwide curriculum or educational authority, standards are determined by each individual school district and depend on the respective neighborhoods and their available funding. However, if your local public school satisfies your expectations, there is no reason your child should not attend.

Of course, there are numerous private schools in New York City as well, and some of them also offer boarding facilities. Some schools offer the International Baccalaureate instead of, or in addition to, the US high school diploma.

The Independent School Admission Association of Greater New York provides a school directory along with information on enrollment, financial aid, and other issues. A range of websites exist that rank New York schools, such as School Digger and Zillow, which might also be of interest to you.

Connect with like-minded expatriates

Discover our welcoming community of expats! You’ll find many ways to network, socialize, and make new friends. Attend online and in-person events that bring global minds together.

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  • Javier Vazquez

    Even in a crowded city like the Big Apple you can easily get lost. With InterNations I've made some really good friends and also added to my business contacts.

  • Noemi Roussel

    The top events organized in the New York chapter helped me get to know expat women from France and many other countries all over the world.

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