- Download our Moving to Washington DC Guide (PDF)
As the capital of the US and home to multinational organisations like the IMF and World Bank, the city of Washington, DC attracts a large number of international expats. Situated on the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia, its location was said to be chosen by President George Washington himself in 1790.
Nowadays, it is perhaps most famous for being the seat of government. DC, as it's sometimes known, has a wealth of history attached to it, meaning the city has developed into a dynamic and complex metropolis where both the past and the future are cherished. That said, there are both positive and negative aspects of life in DC. Here are some of the pros and cons of living in Washington, DC.
Cost of living in Washington, DC
+ PRO: Salaries are high
The high cost of living in Washington, DC, is often more than compensated for by higher salaries. The average household income is well above what's earned in many other cities in the US.
- CON: Living expenses are high too
Unless moving from another big city like New York, Boston or San Francisco, new arrivals will find the cost of living in DC is high. If from out of state or abroad, they may have to pay a lot more for housing and food than they're used to. Generally, costs get lower the further they live from Downtown DC.
- CON: Wealth inequality
Although many newcomers will find lucrative, high-profile employment opportunities in DC, there is a massive divide between the rich and the poor. Figures suggest around a fifth of the city lives below the poverty line.
Lifestyle in Washington, DC
+ PRO: Cultural diversity
A wide variety of people live in DC and the surrounding areas. Politicians, diplomats and military personnel live alongside people working for banks, non-profit organisations and all kinds of other industries. The population is generally well-educated, and the blend of backgrounds, nationalities, religions and ethnicities makes it an exciting place to live.
+ PRO: An Abundance of cultural attractions
There's plenty to see and do in Washington, DC. History and culture buffs will feel right at home among all the attractions on offer. Many of the city's museums and galleries offer free entrance to residents.
+ PRO: Plenty of weekend break opportunities
DC's central location means that it's easy to get out of the city and head to places like New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia for the weekend. The surrounding countryside is also stunning and offers loads of opportunities for those needing a dose of fresh air. There is hiking in the Shenandoah National Park, rafting on the Shenandoah River, and sailing in the Potomac or nearby Annapolis. Virginia Beach is also a four-hour drive from DC for those looking for a getaway on the coast.
- CON: Traffic and tourists
In contrast to the pace of life in Washington, DC, the traffic tends to be slow. Public transport is good, but those stuck in suburbs that aren't well-serviced by transport routes are doomed to drive. Additionally, because of all the great attractions, there are a huge number of tourists, which can make the central areas around the National Mall and Capitol Hill crowded.
Family life in Washington, DC
+ PRO: Variety of neighbourhoods
Those working in DC have a wide variety of neighbourhoods to choose from, with housing varying from centrally located apartments to suburban townhouses and family homes. Those relocating to Washington can therefore decide to live in an area that suits their lifestyle and family circumstances, provided they can afford it.
- CON: Poor public schools
Unfortunately, the public school system in DC is not up to the standards of other major cities in the US. That said, there are some excellent international schools in the city. Many families move to Maryland or Virginia to find better public schools for their children.
Weather in Washington, DC
+ PRO: Spring and autumn are pleasant
Autumn brings a welcome respite from often stifling summers in DC, while spring happily ends the cold winters. Pleasant balmy evenings and mild temperatures accompany these seasons, although spring can often change from warm to cold in a few hours. Spring is, however, also attended by gorgeous blossoms, which bring the city back to life after winter.
- CON: Humid summers
During the summer months, the weather can get hot, humid and uncomfortable. Air conditioning is a must, which unfortunately drives up electricity prices in the summer months.
Working in Washington, DC
- CON: Demanding work environment
The salaries and room for career progression are undoubtedly high in Washington, DC. That said, the demanding work environment can come at the expense of time spent with friends and family. Many employees work long hours, and those who value time with their loved ones may suffer.
+ PRO: High ceilings for career growth
There is a robust, diverse and dynamic job market in the capital due to the presence of government employers and contractors. While many may see the high competition for jobs as a negative, it breeds equally competitive salaries and benefits.
How is Washington, DC on the balance?
"It was hard to change the simplicity of my hometown with the crazy working life in the city... I used to think I would have time for everything.
I like going to runs over Rock Creek Park down to Georgetown. Grabbing coffee with friends, and brunches on Sundays." Read more about Gustavo's experience as a Peruvian living in DC.
►Read Moving to Washington DC for more about life in the city
► For more information on the city, read Frequently Asked Questions about Washington DC
Are you an expat living in Washington DC?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Washington DC. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
Cigna Global Health Insurance - 10% off any plans bought in November and December 2023
With Cigna, you won't have to rely on foreign public health care systems, which may not meet your needs. Cigna allows you to speak to a doctor on demand, for consultations or instant advice, wherever you are in the world. They also offer full cancer care across all levels of cover, and settle the cost of treatments directly with the provider. Cigna is currently offering a 10% discount for seniors (over 60) on their Silver package.
International Movers. Get Quotes. Compare Prices.
Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.