The Windy City is the third largest city in the United States, enjoying a certain appeal over several people across the nation. Frank Sinatra popularly called it “His Kinda Town”, singing the famous homage to Chicago. But what gives it this allure? Is it the sports fans mingling with the deep-dish pizza eaters, or the breathtaking diversity it boasts? Does its portrayal with respect to crime, Al Capone and the mafia echo a reality of crime rates in the city?
From getting to know what makes this city all that it is to things like the weather and the cost of living, our relocation guide for Chicago covers it all. Keep reading on to understand if moving to Chicago actually makes any sense for you beyond the undeniable allure the city possesses.
What Should I Know Before Moving To Chicago?
Chicago is the biggest city in Illinois, and with an estimated 2023 population of 2,694,240, it could feel like it’s bursting at the seams. It spans over 234 miles, and has a population density of 11,850 people per square mile. This makes it a dynamic city, constantly abuzz with the bustling of people. And yet, Chicago has a nook for everyone to call home.
Chicago is a melting pot of people, which also means some great variety for the foodies. There’s a range of cuisine available to tantalize your taste buds. Of course, you can always turn to the characteristic deep-dish pizzas and hotdogs to satisfy those cravings. The multicultural presence doesn’t stop there, as Chicago has 40 cultural heritage museums. There’s always a film screening or history exhibit about different cultures happening here.
You’ll often see certain neighborhoods demonstrate an affinity for a certain culture, whether it’s the Polish cathedrals in Northwest Side, South Shore’s Stony Island Arts Bank archive of black culture and records, or the Indian and Pakistani dining options found on Devon avenue.
Local or tourist, it’ll be a while before you get your fill of the Art Institute of Chicago, complete with outdoor areas and some fantastic dining options. Chicago has a street grid pattern, and coupled with great sidewalks, makes for a very walkable city. Bicycling is common too, and the number of parks ensures you’re always within reach of some time among nature.
No matter the season, there’s always something to do in Chicago. Winter is met with festivals under sparkling lights at night and beer fests in heated tents. Summer has outdoor movies, yoga and fishing. And this is just a glimpse at the many activities that take place throughout the year, several of which are free for all.
Crime Rate in Chicago
But to address the doubt niggling at the back of your mind: crime. Crime rates in Chicago are somewhat of a widely-addressed topic, so let’s clear those doubts. The violent crime rate comparison per 1,000 residents is 10.12, a few points ahead of the national median of 4. Of these, assault and robbery measure at 5.66 and 3.59 respectively, while the more heinous crimes of rape and murder are 0.67 and 0.21 per 1,000 residents respectively. The rate of property crimes is 32.48 per 1,000 residents, while the national average is 24. Chicago’s reputation is often in the spotlight due to its crime rates and how it is portrayed in the media. But as with any place, play it safe, be aware and smart, and you’ll do just fine.
The weather in Chicago is fairly extreme, in that the summers are hot and the winters are cold and snowy. Summer season sees temperatures that average between 78°F and 92°F, lasting from June to September. Summer sees a few showers of rain occasionally. Autumn follows soon after, with October usually being the driest month. Cool winds blow through the city, rustling the fallen leaves. Average temperatures are in the 70s, dropping to the mid-40s°F the nearer you get to winter.
Winter properly sets in by December, and you can expect an average of 37 inches of snowfall. Daily high temperatures average at around 30°F – 38°F. There’s a few showers of rain to be expected as well. Post winter, flowers start blooming as the city dons its spring avatar. Temperatures in April are around 50°F, which rise up to the 70s by May, paving the path for the summer to set in once more.
The best part about Chicago is that no matter the season or weather, there’s always some activity to partake in or experience to live out. Music festivals, beer fests, rooftop and heated tent parties, Chicago is always buzzing. Plus, you’ll always see a fellow cyclist or two, even after a snowfall.
Is It Expensive To Live In Chicago?
Another big question, this is also answered with the help of facts and figures. However, remember that figures calculated are only averages, and more accurate estimates can be derived after you take into account your monthly salary, expenses and locale of residence. Illinois charges a flat 4.95% rate for the state income tax, as well as a property tax.
Cost Of Living In Chicago
For a city the size of Chicago offering the amenities it does, cost of living isn’t all that frightening. But the fact that it is 23% higher than the national average might hint otherwise. When paired with the taxes that residents pay, it can be a bit scary for some. A family of 4 living in Chicago would spend an average of $3,802.59 each month on expenses, while a single person will spend around $1,050.57.
Groceries in Chicago are 8% higher than the national average. A loaf of bread, $3.60, costs nearly the same as a bunch of bananas, $3.64. A gallon of milk costs $2.10 and a carton of eggs costs $1.96. Healthcare is a mere 1% higher than the national average, where a doctor’s visit will cost around $112.15. At the same time, a visit to the dentist will be around $96.35 and you will be paying slightly more to visit an optometrist, which would be $105.09.
Buying A House
Owning a house in Chicago means shelling housing expenses that are 56% higher than the national average. The typical home value for houses in Chicago is $279,986, and the median house price is $539,932.
Renting A House
The average rent in Chicago has actually dropped by 7% to settle at $1,821. Houses in Chicago are rented out evenly across the price spectrum, with 56% of houses being rented for between $1,000 and $,2000 per month. 30% are on the higher end, being rented for over $2,000 a month. 46% of the households in Chicago are renter-occupied households.
Utility prices in Chicago are a pleasant 10% below national average. Your energy bill for a month can come to around $151.23, while a monthly phone bill can be around $161.21. Gas is $3.30 a gallon.
Chicago Economy And Employment Opportunities
Just like its residents, the economy of Chicago is extremely diverse, with no industries claiming a monopoly on the number of people it employs. Some of the leading industries in the area are manufacturing, tech, food processing and E-commerce. The city is the base for over 400 major corporations, out of which 36 are Fortune 500 companies.
If you’re either a software engineer, project manager or an operations manager, you’re in luck. Well that’s because these are the most popular occupations in Chicago, so finding a job won’t be half as challenging. Collectively, these occupations pay between $43k and $130k per year. If you’re higher up the career ladder, expect getting paid well enough.
In terms of popular employers, you have the University of Chicago, The Northern Trust Company, United Airlines, Inc., J. P. Morgan Chase and Accenture. The collective salary bracket for these 5 companies is wide, ranging from $49k to $158k. Wondering where you fit in? Don’t worry, as an economy as diverse as Chicago’s has some place for everyone. The average salary across all industries in Chicago is $71k.
Parents are spoilt for choice when it comes to education in Chicago. There’s a total of 642 schools in Chicago, including district-run, charter and contract schools. Public schools in Chicago are neighborhood schools, which means you have to take into consideration the nearby school when choosing a neighborhood to move to.
There are also magnet schools for children with exceptional ability in certain specific areas, as well as seven public schools that operate as “Academic Centers”. Following an accelerated learning program, these are meant for gifted and exceptional students specifically in the 7th and 8th grades.
There is an equally diverse range of private schools, all of which require clearing a test to gain admission, and some of which even have an interview. Some of the high schools in Chicago also offer the International Baccalaureate. Folks in the Windy City clearly value their education, and according to the Chicago Public Schools website, the 2023 graduation rate is a grand total of 82.5%.
Getting Around Chicago
Chicago is home to not one but two international airports: the Chicago O’Hare International Airport and the Chicago Midway International Airport. Its central location means Chicago enjoys excellent road connectivity via several major highways and interstates. Chicago itself has the Chicago Transit Authority, the nation’s second largest public transportation system.
The CTA operates the trains and buses in Chicago. You can purchase a reloadable Ventra Transit Card to pay your fares with the tap of a card, or an Unlimited Ride pass for the buses and trains. Ventra users can download the Ventra app to track trains and buses in real time and recharge your Ventra card on the go.
CTA’s L Trains
The CTA operates the L train lines in Chicago, and there’s 8 lines that have different routes and schedules to take you through Chicago. Though the term ‘L’ comes from the lines being elevated, not all of them are. 145 stations lead you across the city, with above-ground, street-level, and subway trains. The 8 lines are differentiated by color, and 2 of them operate 24/7. The Red Line takes you through downtown Chicago and connects the North and South Sides, while the Blue Line connects Chicago O’Hare International Airport and downtown. The cost for a single ticket for an adult is $2.50.
129 bus routes operated by the CTA run through the city, with stops every few blocks. Each route has its own schedule, but several lines also offer Night Owl service, that keeps buses running until 2 a.m. or later. A ticket for these buses cost $2.25 per ride.
Metra Rail is the commuter rail system serving the Chicago area. It has 11 lines that radiate from downtown Chicago, all the way up to northeast Illinois. Trains run frequently, stopping at their 241 stations, and once every hour during off-peak times. You are charged based on the distance you travel, with the base price being $4 and the highest (for the farthest) being $9.50. You can also buy a monthly pass or an unlimited ride $10 Weekend Pass. You can also purchase your ticket through the Ventra app.
You can always hail a cab in Chicago; $3.25 is the base fare with $2.25 for each additional mile. You can also download the apps and make use of ARRO and CURB, two ride-hailing services approved by the City of Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (CHICABS). Chicago also has water taxis that can get you to and from certain stops.
As mentioned, cycling in Chicago is fantastically common. The city boasts over 200 miles of protected and buffered bike lanes, conventional bike lanes, marked shared lanes, and neighborhood bike routes. Download the app and make use of Divvy, Chicago’s bike-sharing program that is available 24/7. Pay $3 for a single trip, $15 for a day pass, or an annual membership of $8.25 a month. There’s over 580 self-service docking stations and 5,800 bikes across the city, so you no longer need to own a bike to go cycling to work.
Best Neighborhoods In Chicago
There’s loads of neighborhoods in Chicago, numbering 245. And as mentioned, Chicago is diverse and eclectic, which is why you may be better suited to some neighborhoods more than others, based on who you are and what you like.
1. Wicker Park
Wicker Park peaks in terms of creativity, and alongside adjoining neighborhood Bucktown, makes up one of the largest creative hubs in the city. There’s plenty to be found in terms of shopping, art, restaurants and music. It is also home to the 606, a 2.7 mile path of abandoned railroad track that connects parks and public spaces, perfect for a long, relaxed walk. The nightlife is buzzing, the neighborhood vibe is hip. Typical home values in Wicker Park average around $588,775.
Spacious, quiet, equipped with everything you need, Beverly is perfect for new and young families. The space means you get a backyard that isn’t just a few yards of unkempt lawn. There are historic houses to be found, as well as apartments and houses that are from much more recent developments. Houses in Beverly are more affordable, with an average house value of $366,048.
The houses in Bridgeport are historic, with many being built before 1940, and yet are simple to behold. It is a residential neighborhood, with many working-class folk enjoying everything the neighborhood has to offer. The Bridgeport Arts Center adds a dash of life to the area, as do the bakeries and coffee shops. Bridgeport has fantastically affordable homes, with a typical home value of $37,516 and a median sale price of $312,900 as of 2019.
Is Moving To Chicago A Good Idea?
Chicago offers a good bang for your buck, as the slightly expensive rates are a pill easier swallowed when considering the facilities available. The public transportation is definitely beneficial for those without a vehicle of their own, and the importance given to cycling and cyclists is a pleasant bonus. As it usually does in the big cities, traffic plagues the streets, so factoring in your daily work commute is essential when picking out a neighborhood to call home. The crime aspect is worrying, as it would be in any big city. The best way to put those doubts to rest would be to speak to a few locals and get their take on the topic. Overall, moving to Chicago might just be a splendid idea for you.
Top Realtors in Chicago Share their Thoughts
1. John Grafft
“Chicago is a real metropolis, second only to New York, and housing is 1/3 of the cost on a bad day. Major corporate headquarters are based here, some of the world’s best universities call Chicago home, and the green space and lakefront beat any major US city. Walkability, bikeability, and public transit are easy. Crime and taxes? The majority of crime you’ll likely never encounter and taxes… Well there is a chink in every body of armor.”
2. Matt Laricy
“Chicago is one of the greatest cities in the United States due to its affordable price tag, walkability, access to transportation, and the bountiful job market. Not only has it been voted one of the most affordable large cities in the entire world, but it also boasts amazing culinary, shopping, and entertainment experiences. Not to mention, it has incredible scenic views overlooking the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind place to call home.”
3. Jose Hernandez
“The third-largest city in the United States, Chicago is the ideal city for those who want to live in a world-class metropolitan area with Midwest values.
Culturally rich in art, history, music, and architecture, and 77 distinctly diverse neighborhoods, Chicago has something for everyone.Chicago has one of the world’s largest and most diversified economies with key industries in business and professional services, the food industry, transportation, distribution and logistics, life sciences, and health. It is home to many of the World’s Best Hospitals and universities.
Chicago’s main attraction is Lake Michigan, with over 18 miles of lakefront, beaches, parks, and an abundance of recreational activities. Major tourist attractions are Navy Pier, Millennium Park, Magnificent Mile, Buckingham Fountain, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago Riverwalk, The Field Museum, and Chicago Architecture River Cruise.
This city is built on a grid and easy to navigate, plus there are multiple options for public transportation, so one does not necessarily need to own a car.
Chicago is known for its fascination with food, where you can experience the taste of many different cultures throughout the city’s restaurants and eateries.
Chicago is a city with big arms, which welcomes people from all cultures and ethnicities. If you are looking for a place to call home, Chicago is the place to live.”
4. Debra Dobbs
“Chicago is gritty and beautiful, diverse and homogenous, fierce, resilient, passionate. Come hither and stake your claim. The City of Big Shoulders can carry your weight.
I grew up in South Deering, at the southern edge of the south side of Chicago. After a short stint in the suburbs and a few years in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, I moved back to Chicago and landed on the Gold Coast. With vacations to hundreds of places worldwide, I remain passionate about this amazing city twenty-nine years later.
Conde Nast Traveler named Chicago the #1 big city to live in for the 3rd year in a row! We are a world-class destination known for our architecture, cultural institutions, amazing food scene, and 77 beautiful and diverse neighborhoods. But topping the list of what sets Chicago apart is a city with some of the most engaging and pleasant people you will find anywhere in the world.
When it comes to business, we have a diversified job market, with corporate headquarters signing long terms leases by the dozens. From Uber to Lyft, Kraft to Conagra, Salesforce, Amazon, Walgreens, the list goes on, with top companies on the Fortune 50 and 100 lists headquartered or holding a huge presence in Chicago. We are a tech, logistics, legal, and financial epicenter. Chicago is the 3rd largest city in the United States, but it isn’t in the top 10 most expensive cities to live in!
Chicago’s art and music scene is astounding, with the Art Institute, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago Symphony, and Lyric Opera our Grand Dames, along with a talented and passionate group of urban street artists and musicians.
Looking for an escape to nature? Our lakefront is 18.5 miles long, and we have hundreds of parks scattered throughout the city. From snowfall to the falling leaves, the city is a stunning display of nature’s beauty and bounty.
We have a walk score of 77 and a bike score of 73, making us a prime city for walking and biking. I gave up my car in 2018! You can walk or bike from Chinatown to Downtown, Lincoln Park to Wicker Park, hop on a water taxi, or the river walk, for a bit of bar-hopping.”
5. Maribel Chacon-Torres
“Chicago is a major metropolitan market, but this city can feel as small or as big as you want on any given day of the week. At every turn, you can find great food, art, and shopping. The city has amazing architecture, beautiful parks, running trails, and different cultural experiences that gives you the freedom to flex some serious downtime with friends and family. The scenery and the lakefront in this city are beautiful in every season. Whether you want a house, condo, or a vacation home in the city, Chicago offers the perfect place for your specific lifestyle. That’s why many people living here call it … Sweet Home Chicago!”
6. Serena Phillips
“As someone who fell in love with Chicago by accident and never left, I find great enjoyment and personal fulfillment in sharing all that Chicago has to offer, especially to newcomers!
Chicago is undeniably a big city with a small-town feel. It is just as easy to wander into a new restaurant or bar that you have never noticed before as it is to run into friends that you didn’t expect to. It really is the Midwestern kindness everyone boasts about, coupled with the metropolitan feel of the world’s finest cities. The worldwide representation makes Chicago the ultimate city to discover or more deeply connect with any type of heritage, culture, creed, or social scene through countless community centers, art programs, museums, festivals, nightlife, music venues, social groups, and food.
The rich architectural history rivals the diverse cuisine for endless options, historical nods, world-renowned awards, and choice. Seventy-seven neighborhoods (and growing) offer any type of lifestyle, amenity, and scenery imaginable. You can live in an all-glass skyrise over the lake one year and an all brick, tree-lined single-family home the next.
With the expansive and easy-to-navigate public transportation system, you can make it anywhere in the city for just a few dollars, and of course, there are taxis and rideshare options all at the ready. Or quickly hop jump on the Metro to a surrounding suburb.
Chicago has miles and miles of bikeable and walkable lakefront, beaches, parks, nature centers, and botanical gardens for nature lovers. But if you want to get out of the city, a short trip to the surrounding areas offers national parks, hiking trails, golfing, orchards, and more. Pet lovers will also find a haven in this extremely pet-friendly city- with dog beaches, dog-friendly restaurants & bars, and seasonal pet events year-round.”
Finalizing a moving company to handle the move is an important decision for every move, but more so with Chicago. Chicago doesn’t permit moving containers to be parked on the city streets or alleys. This means you’ll have to go with a company that has a shuttle service, and factor in that (possibly heavy) cost into your moving budget. Conversely, you need to get a parking permit when parking a moving truck anywhere. Luckily for you, we can help you get in touch with the movers who have just what it takes to help with your move to Chicago.
See also: Best Moving Companies in Chicago