Washington DC is among the most expensive destinations in the USA, outranked only by a handful of cities. Mercer's 2023 Cost of Living Survey places the US capital at 23rd out of 227 cities evaluated, making it more expensive than Seattle but more affordable than New York, LA and San Francisco.

It's therefore essential for those moving to Washington to negotiate a suitable employment package to offset their expenses. Here are some of the major costs expats can expect to encounter while living in Washington, DC.

Cost of accommodation in Washington, DC

Accommodation costs in Washington are high. That said, as the city is home to lots of young professionals and university students, there are several cheaper accommodation options, such as studio apartments and house shares, on offer for those on a budget.

Where new arrivals choose to live can also impact their rental costs. Living in a neighbourhood outside the city or even in a town on the border of a neighbouring state will hugely decrease their costs. Although they will have to commute to work, it may be worth it for the cheaper housing options outside of Washington, DC.

Cost of transport in Washington, DC

Luckily, there isn't much need for a car in DC, especially for those living close to the city centre. Most residents opt not to have a car and use public transport or cycle to work instead. The cost of using public transport is based on the day, time and distance travelled, so those travelling long distances at peak travel hours will find themselves shelling out a fair amount to do so. Purchasing a weekly or monthly travel card is a good idea to save on travel costs.

Cost of groceries in Washington, DC

The cost of groceries in Washington can be rather steep, especially for organic and speciality products. However, there are still ways to manage one's grocery budget by shopping at chain supermarkets and bulk stores. It's wise for new arrivals to shop around and find the stores that match their preferences and budget. Supermarkets located in upscale areas tend to have higher prices, so exploring different areas for grocery shopping may yield savings.

Farmers' markets are popular in Washington and can provide fresh, locally sourced produce, often at competitive prices. Buying in season and taking advantage of special offers and discount cards at local supermarkets can also help reduce the grocery bill.

Cost of entertainment and eating out in Washington, DC

There are lots of opportunities to enjoy the nightlife, entertainment and eating out in Washington, but prices are high, and these leisure expenses add up over time. That said, for those on a budget or looking to save their hard-earned dollars, there are lots of free cultural attractions available in Washington which can enhance the quality of one's experience without breaking the bank.

Eating out in Washington, DC, offers a myriad of options ranging from upscale restaurants to casual eateries. A meal at a mid-range restaurant can be somewhat expensive, but there are plenty of food trucks, cafés and budget-friendly restaurants to choose from. Happy hours and special promotions can further alleviate costs for those who enjoy dining out frequently.

Cost of education in Washington, DC

Expats relocating to Washington with children will also need to factor in the cost of schooling. While expat children are eligible to attend public schools, many expat parents opt to send their children to private or international schools. Fees at these schools can be high, so parents should double-check that their budget can accommodate this cost.

Cost of healthcare in Washington, DC

The cost of healthcare in DC is quite high, as is common throughout the United States. Expats should ensure they have comprehensive health insurance to cover medical expenses. Even with insurance, out-of-pocket costs can be high, depending on the policy's deductible and coverage.

Healthcare facilities in DC are top-notch, offering excellent care, but at a price. It is essential to carefully review and understand one's health insurance policy and to consider any additional health needs or pre-existing conditions when selecting a plan. Employers often provide health insurance as part of the employment package, but it may be wise to explore supplementary coverage if necessary.

Cost of living chart for Washington, DC

Prices may vary depending on the product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Washington, DC, in August 2023.

Accommodation (monthly rent)
Three-bedroom apartment in the city centreUSD 5,400
Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centreUSD 3,900
One-bedroom apartment in the city centreUSD 2,600
One-bedroom apartment outside the city centreUSD 1,970
Food and drink
Dozen eggsUSD 3.80
Milk (1 litre)USD 1.37
Rice (1kg)USD 4.98
Loaf of white breadUSD 3.65
Chicken breasts (1kg)USD 5.72
Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)USD 11
Eating out
Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurantUSD 100
Big Mac MealUSD 10
Coca-Cola (330ml)USD 2.54
CappuccinoUSD 5.23
Bottle of beer (local)USD 3.23
Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)USD 0.17
Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)USD 57
Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)USD 220
Taxi rate/kmUSD 1.71
City-centre public transport fareUSD 2.75
Gasoline (per litre)USD 1.03

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