Washington DC, the federal capital of the United States, is a megawatt power center of policy, government, and governance with worldwide influence. The cosmopolitan District of Columbia is a repository of the nation’s history, arts, and culture that attracts over 20 million tourists annually. DC is also an ethnic melting pot populated with residents from around the globe.
The stimulating urban energy, treasury of arts and culture, ethnic diversity, extensive public transit, and terrific job opportunities are just some of the reasons why living in this metropolis is exciting and fulfilling. But be aware that you’ll also have to deal with a high cost of living, intense traffic congestion, and expensive everything. Living the eclectic urban DC lifestyle is balanced by picturesque open green spaces and beautifully maintained parks adorned with monuments and sculptures. The unrestricted viewpoints within the city are a result of height limits established with wise foresight in the late 19th century.
No matter your political leanings, interests, or background, if you want to live in a world-class city, Washington DC provides a rich and rewarding lifestyle in the epicenter of national and world politics.
Living in Washington DC: What to Know Before Moving to Washington DC
Out of 125 US metro areas, realestate.usnews.com rates Washington DC the 19th best place to live in the nation. The city proper is home to a melting pot of about 702,455 residents, and the metro population totals approximately 6.1 million. The Monday through Friday daytime population swells to well over a million due to suburban commuters who work in the city, and living in DC means you’ll be sharing your town with about 20 million annual tourists.
Pros and Cons
As one of the world’s key capitals, everything in Washington DC is world-class, from outstanding museums to outstanding housing prices. It’s a good idea to understand DC’s pros and cons before you move.
- Ethnic diversity – The Washington DC melting pot includes 51% African-American residents.
- World-class culture and recreation – History, museums, performing arts, festivals, beautiful parks; the list of things to see and do is endless.
- Terrific employment opportunities – The strong job market draws people from around the world.
- Mild climate – Except for brutal summer humidity, you’ll be able to enjoy four temperate seasons.
- Inspiring architecture – Conservative Federalist, Neoclassical, Romanesque, Gothic Revival, and Italian Renaissance architecture is on a grand scale.
- Great sports – The MLB Nationals, the NHL Washington Capitals, the NFL Redskins, the NBA Wizards. And if you’re not into pro sports, DC is an exercise-friendly city.
- The high cost of living – About 52% higher than the US average, the cost of living in D.C. is high.
- Crowding – Over 20,000,000 tourists explore DC annually.
- Competitive vibe – Many residents vie for jobs, housing, and lifestyle status.
- Nasty traffic – Rush hour windows are long, and commuting can be tedious.
- Crime – Property and violent crime rates are much higher here than US averages.
- Humidity – Summer humidity can be oppressive.
The following tax rates are specific to Washington, DC proper. If you choose to live in DC suburbs, your tax rates will vary. In DC, the government even taxes parking – you’ll pay 18% tax on city garage fees.
- Property tax: The average District of Columbia County property tax rate is 0.545%. On a home valued at $650,000, your annual property tax rate would be $3,543. The average US property tax rate is 1.080%.
- Sales tax: The DC sales tax is 5.8%, but you’ll pay 10% on restaurant and take-out meals and alcohol purchased and consumed off-premises. The average US sales tax rate is 7.3%.
- DC income tax: Washington DC charges income tax among six brackets, ranging from 4% on the first $10,000 to 8.95% on incomes over $1,000,001. The average income tax rate in DC is 6.5% compared to the average US rate of 4.6%.
As of February 2020, the DC median home value was $636,372. With a restriction on height limits, developers can’t build up, and this contributes to high housing costs. Values rose 3.1% in 2019 and are forecast to increase by 4.3% by the end of 2020. DC housing’s median age is 65, so you may be faced with some renovations if you choose to buy.
Many who work in DC prefer to live in the outlying suburbs of Virginia or Maryland for the more affordable housing prices, lower taxes, and the suburban lifestyle. Generally, the closer you are to DC, the higher the housing prices will be.
About 52% of the DC population rent and pay a median rent price, according to zillow.com, of $2,700. In the metro-suburban areas, the median rent price is $2,200. You can use padmapper.com to find an apartment in the price range and location you prefer. Areas like Fort Washington, Walker Mill, Landover, and Seabrook offer more affordable housing.
Cost of Living
The Washington DC cost of living is about 52% higher than the US average. According to bestplaces.net, the cost of living index in DC is 152.1 compared to the US average index of 100. Exorbitant housing costs, at 240.8, are the chief contributor to the DC cost of living index. The grocery index is 114.1, utilities 106, transportation 135.3, and health is below the index average at 88.6.
The epi.org Family Budget Calculator estimates that a Washington DC metro area family of four would need to earn $8,795 monthly ($105,539 annually), to live a moderately comfortable lifestyle. Bestplaces.net reports the annual family median income is $95,995 compared to the US family median income of $70,850. Even though DC families earn more, they face a cost of living over 50% higher than the US average.
Weather and Natural Disasters
With a mild four seasons climate, May, September, and October are DC’s most comfortable months. July and August can be especially uncomfortable due to high humidity. With higher than average annual rainfall of 43 inches that’s distributed evenly throughout the year, Washington DC usually appears leafy and green.
July and August are the hottest months with average highs of 88 and 87 and average lows of 71 and 70. The coldest months are January and February, with average highs of 43 and 47 and average lows of 29 and 31. Although the average snowfall is 14 inches, it usually melts quickly.
Tornadoes and thunderstorms with high winds, hail, and flooding are the major natural disaster threats in DC. You’ll find helpful information on how to be prepared for natural disasters on the DC.gov website. The site emphasizes that every resident must have an emergency preparedness kit.
Economy & Job Market
The DC job market grew 1.8% in 2019, and over the next ten years, it’s predicted to grow 33.7%, on par with the US average growth of 33.5%. The unemployment rate is 5.6% as compared to the average US rate of 3.9%.
Most industries tie to the federal government in some fashion; the major industrial sectors include higher education, hospitality and tourism, finance, technology, research and development, professional and business services, health care and life sciences, and of course, the federal government.
Top employers include the US government, MedStar Health, Marriott International Inc, INOVA Health, Booz Allen Hamilton, University of Maryland, Giant Food, Deloitte, CSRA Inc, Leidos Holdings Inc, and Verizon Communications. DC is also headquarters of the International Monetary Fund, the Pan American Health Organization, the World Bank, and is home to 176 foreign embassies, many professional associations, non-profit organizations, think tanks, and lobbying groups.
If you’re looking for work in DC, check out dcjobs.com. They feature premier employers, internships, how to plan your job search, job fairs, and resume writing tips.
Traffic and Transportation
Because traffic congestion is such a severe problem, only about 33% of DC residents commute in their car alone. The rest find alternative means of commuting: 35% of residents use mass transit, 13% walk, 5.4% carpool, and 4.6% cycle. The Capital Bikeshare program has over 3,000 bikes among 100+ stations and miles of routes. Living in the suburbs can be cheaper, but if you commute to the city, the distance can take a toll on your time and stress levels.
Rush hours are longer in DC than in most other US cities. Plan on super-heavy traffic from 6 to 9 am and 3 to 7 pm. Traffic backs up heading into DC on Key Bridge, Southeast Freeway, Chain Bridge, and New York Avenue. The average one-way commute is 30 minutes, slightly higher than the 26.4-minute US average.
Behind the wheel, you’ll face the many complicated, congested, and confusing thoroughfares that include the I-495, AKA The Capital Beltway, which encircles Washington DC and is one of the nation’s busiest highways. There’s also the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which runs parallel to the Potomac River on the Virginia side. The 29-mile long I-295, AKA Baltimore-Washington Parkway, runs southwest from Baltimore to Washington DC, and I-95, a major north-south highway, connects Maryland, Washington DC, and Virginia. I-395 connects Springfield, Virginia to northwest Washington DC, and I-66 is the only highway running west from Washington DC into northern Virginia. I-270 runs from the Capital Beltway to I-70 in Frederick, Maryland, and is one of the area’s most congested highways, while VA Route 267, AKA Dulles Toll/Access Roads, connects to the Capital Beltway and I-66. Are you confused yet? When traveling through the D.C. metro area, be sure to use Google Maps!
According to walkscore.com, Washington, DC, has earned a walk score of 76 out of 100 and is a ‘walker’s paradise.’ With a transit score of 71 and a bike score of 69, you’ll find it easy to live in DC proper without a car.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority operates buses and trains throughout the city and into the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia. The Metro operates six lines through 91 stations. With one of the highest taxi-to-person ratios in the country, it’s usually easy to hail a cab. Commuter, express, and long-distance trains include Amtrak’s Acela high-speed train that connects to Boston, New Haven, New York, Philadelphia, and Wilmington.
Three major airports serve DC: Dulles International Airport, about 26 miles west of DC; Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, about 4 miles south of DC; and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is about 30 miles north.
What to Do
From cultural attractions, festivals, a thriving foodie scene, and trendy nightlife venues to professional sports and outdoor activities, you’ll never run out of things to do when you live in DC. Although impossible to include everything, here are some bucket list items you shouldn’t miss.
- Government Highlights: The best way to get an overview of DC is to start at the National Mall and its monuments. Then take a guided tour of the US Capitol to understand how the federal government operates. A tour of the Supreme Court should be next on your list. Now that you’re an expert on the US government, you’ll want to start exploring the other amazing cultural attractions.
- Arts and Culture: Explore the National Gallery of Art; the Smithsonian and its 17 associated museums and zoo; The Kennedy Center’s music, theater, dance, children’s, and international programs on nine various performance stages; The US National Arboretum; The National Cathedral; and The Library of Congress with the world’s most extensive collection of research materials.
- Entertainment and Nightlife: From Duke Ellington to Marvin Gaye, the contribution of D.C. residents to the world of music is impressive. Today you can hear music of all kinds in venues from small clubs to the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Check out the concerts at Capital One Arena or NGA Nights at The National Gallery of Art.
- Food and Farmers Markets: Check out U Street, Georgetown, Shaw, and Capitol Hill for trendy restaurants and cocktail bars. Small plates and happy hours are popular. Some top restaurants to try are Minibar, Pineapple and Pearls, Tail Up Goat, and The Dabney. And be sure to sample Ben’s Chili Bowl at the original location on NW Washington for a taste DC’s African American culture, history, and famous half-smoke.
- Nearby Experiences: When you’re ready for a weekend getaway, explore the orchards, wineries, hiking, and fall leaf-peeping conveniently located only an hour’s drive from DC.
- Sports: As the national pastime, baseball has had a sporadic history in DC. Today, the Washington Nationals play in southeast DC. The NFL Washington Redskins, the NHL Capitals, The NBA Washington Wizards, and the MLS DC United also have dedicated fans. Several local college football and soccer teams also have loyal followings.
Schools and Universities
One hundred ninety-eight public schools and 618 privates schools serve District of Columbia students. The top-rated public schools, all rated 10/10, are Ross Elementary School, Stoddert Elementary School, Eaton Elementary School, Janney Elementary School, School Without Walls High School, and Benjamin Banneker High School. Thirty additional schools have above average scores of 7/10, 8/10, and 9/10.
You’ll find over 22 post-secondary options in DC, but the area’s top universities and colleges include Georgetown University, George Washington University, American University, Howard University, Catholic University of America, Gallaudet University, University of the District of Columbia, Trinity Washington University, and Strayer University-District of Columbia.
High crime rates have long-challenged Washington DC. Compared to the average US violent crime rate of 22.7, violent crime in DC is over twice as high at 56.2. The US average for property crime is 35.4, and in DC, it’s 63.9.
Crime rates are highest in the urban core, including the neighborhoods of Marlow Heights, Oxon Hill, Suitland, Walker Mill, and Summerfield. You can search the dc.gov Metropolitan Police Department crime map as you’re considering various neighborhoods.
The following list of utility service providers will help you save time when you’re ready to open your new accounts. Click on the link to access the new accounts page.
- Gas service: Washington Gas, 844-927-4427
- Electric service: Potomac Electric Power Co, 202-872-2000; Clean Choice Energy, 800-460-4900
- Water service: District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority, 202-354-3600
- Trash pick-up/recycling service: Sanitation services are provided by the DC Department of Public Works, 202-673-6833
- Internet/cable service: Many internet and cable providers service Washington DC. Go to highspeedinternet.com and type in your new zip code to access providers’ plans and pricing
- Arlington, VA utility providers: Waverly Hills and Capitol Village utilities, 703-228-3000
Best Neighborhoods in Washington DC
In this list of DC’s best neighborhoods, the last two are located nearby in Virginia. We included them because many people who work in Washington, DC, prefer to live in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs. Keep in mind that taxes, cost of living, employment info, and other specific Washington DC data will likely be different in Virginia.
Bordered by P Street NW on the north, 9th Street NW on the east, H Street NW on the south, and 22nd Street NW on the west, Downtown is directly north of The White House and was a historic melting pot throughout the 19th century.
With parks, hotels, shopping, restaurants, bars, clubs, and housing, Downtown provides an exciting, dense, urban lifestyle where you can easily walk or cycle. Homes are generally three-story row houses with shops and businesses below; 71% of the residents rent.
Downtown appeals to young urban professionals, but the highly-rated schools also attract families. Niche.com ranks Downtown the #2 ‘Best Neighborhoods to Live’ and #3 ‘Best Neighborhoods for Young Professionals’ in Washington DC. Approximately 84% of residents hold a bachelor’s, master’s, or higher degree.
- Population: 3,301
- Median home value: $640,929
- Median rent price: $2,939
- Median household income: $114,322
- Schools: Center City PCS-Shaw, Francis Stevens Education Campus, Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School, Ross Elementary School, Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, The School Without Walls High School
Directly east of The White House and a nine-minute drive southeast of Downtown, Penn Quarter borders F street NW on the north, 5th Street NW on the east, Pennsylvania Ave NW on the south, and 10th Street NW on the west. The National Mall is directly south.
Central National Bank, FBI, Ford’s Theatre, the International Spy Museum, and Marian Koshland Science Museum all sit within Penn Quarter. About 80% of residents have attained a bachelor’s, master’s, or higher degree, and you’ll find that only 7% of residents are families with children. With mainly condos and apartments, Penn Quarter appeals to government employees, executives, managers, and young professionals.
- Population: 3,309
- Median home value: $488,429
- Median rent price: $2,435
- Median household income: $133,564
- Schools: Thomson Elementary School, School Within School, Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, BASIS Washington DC, The School Without Walls High School
At the east end of the National Mall and a 15-minute drive southeast of Downtown, Capitol Hill is bordered by F St NE on the north, 15th St SE on the east, I-695 on the south, and Washington Ave SW, I-395, and Louisiana Ave NW on the west.
In Capitol Hill, 52% of residents rent their homes. You’ll be able to find housing in condos, apartments, and rowhouses. Housing prices are predicted to increase by 4% by the end of 2020. Local businesses and corner groceries are plentiful in this tight-knit neighborhood.
Historic Capitol Hill is full of parks, which offer a taste of nature right in the middle of the urban core, including The US Botanic Garden, The Spirit of Justice Park, Stanton Park, Lower Senate Park, Garfield Park, Folger Park, Seward Square, and Lincoln Park. Even the Kingsman Field Dog Park adds lush beauty to the neighborhood. With all the parks and highly rated schools, Capitol Hill appeals to families but is also populated by members of Congress, professionals, students, artists, and journalists.
- Population: 10,370
- Median home value: $870,483
- Median rent price: $3,600
- Median household income: $117,350
- Schools: Maury Elementary School, Watkins Elementary School-Capitol Hill Cluster School, Brent Elementary School, School Within School, Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, The School Without Walls High School
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Densely urban, historic Foggy Bottom is a seven-minute drive west of Downtown. The neighborhood is defined by Pennsylvania Ave NW on its northern border, 17th St NW and The President’s Park on the east, Constitution Ave NW and the National Mall on the south, and the Potomac River and Rock Creek-Potomac Pkwy NW on the west.
Niche.com ranks Foggy Bottom as the #1 ‘Best Neighborhoods to Live’ and #4 ‘Best Neighborhoods to Raise a Family’ in Washington DC. You’ll find housing in attached single-family homes, rowhouses, townhomes, apartments, and condos; 68% of residents rent their homes.
Safety and highly rated schools are reasons why Foggy Bottom appeals to families. In this educated neighborhood, 87% of residents have a bachelor’s, master’s, or higher degree. You can easily walk and cycle, plus with a metro stop, commutes are convenient. In Foggy Bottom, you’ll rub shoulders with political figures and celebrities on the sidewalks, in the many parks, bistros, trendy cocktail lounges, or even when you’re shopping at Whole Foods.
- Population: 11,072
- Median home value: $437,965
- Median rent price: $2,279
- Median household income: $69,649
- Schools: Hyde-Addison Elementary School, School Within School, Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, Woodrow Wilson High School, The School Without Walls High School
Located between Foxhall Village and Foggy Bottom, this famous Georgetown neighborhood borders Reservoir Rd NW on the north, 35th St NW on the west, Dumbarton Oaks Park on the north, Waterside Dr. NW and Rock Creek on the east, the Potomac River on the south, and Foundry Branch Valley Park at the southwest border. Georgetown is nine minutes directly west of Downtown.
DC’s oldest neighborhood and a designated historic district, charming and vibrant Georgetown, offers housing in Brownstones, seven-bedroom estates, single-family brick Colonials, condos, and townhomes. About 56% of residents are homeowners. They’re also an educated bunch; 90% of Georgetown residents hold a bachelor’s, master’s, or higher degree.
A leafy green neighborhood lined with cobblestone streets, Georgetown offers plentiful greenspace with interwoven trails in beautiful parks. You’ll find it easy to walk or cycle to many bistros, trendy bars, boutiques, and convenient shopping.
- Population: 17,001
- Median home value: $1,396,426
- Median rent price: $3,850
- Median household income: $110,610
- Schools: School Within School, Stoddert Elementary School, Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, Woodrow Wilson High School, The School Without Walls High School
Located northwest of Georgetown, affluent Foxhall Village Historic District is 11 minutes west of Downtown. The borders include Reservoir Rd NW on the north, Foundry Branch Valley Park and Glover Archbold Park on the east, Canal Rd NW on the south, and MacArthur Blvd NW on the west.
Homes are typically one-of-a-kind, spacious, five- to seven-bedroom single-family residences that feature beautiful architectural styles ranging from Victorian, Saltbox, Colonial, Italianate Revival, Brownstones, and Georgian Revival. You can also find a few apartment complexes.
The vast swath of green space on the east of the neighborhood provides a lush open feel. You’ll find convenient shopping at local grocery and specialty stores. Foxhall Village is a lovely, established, safe neighborhood for families.
- Population: 5,413
- Median home value: $1,129,151
- Median rent price: $2,690
- Median household income: $141,253
- Schools: Mann Elementary School, Stoddert Elementary School, Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, Woodrow Wilson High School, The School Without Walls High School
Colonial Village, Arlington, Virginia
Colonial Village in Arlington, Virginia, is surprisingly only a 15-minute drive southwest of Downtown, Washington DC. Located directly across the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge from DC, Colonial Village borders Custis Memorial Parkway, AKA I-66 on the north; N Quinn St on the east; Wilson Blvd on the south; and N Veitch St on the west.
Colonial Village’s population is highly educated; 89% have earned a bachelor’s, master’s, or higher degree. Only 12% of residents are families with children, so most residents are young professionals.
Housing is more affordable than DC neighborhoods and is available in condos, apartments, and townhomes; 66% of residents rent their homes. Though you’ll find a limited number of amenities within the neighborhood, surrounding areas have grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, and banks.
- Population: 4,740
- Median home value: $346,556
- Median rent price: $1,852
- Median household income: $105,888
- Schools: Arlington Science Focus Elementary School, Key Elementary School, Arlington Traditional Elementary School, Swanson Middle School, Yorktown High School, Washington Liberty High School
Waverly Hills, Arlington
Conveniently located in North Arlington, the Waverly Hills Historic District is a 20-minute drive west of Downtown, Washington DC. Bordered by Old Dominion Dr on the north, N Utah St on the east, I-66 on the south, and SR 120 on the west, people move to Waverly Hills for the secure suburban lifestyle.
Waverly Hills is a family-friendly, tight-knit neighborhood that’s beautiful and very walkable. Safer than 84% of US communities and with a 97% high school graduation rate, this diverse neighborhood appeals mainly to families.
About 59% of residents own their homes, which are a mix of small to big single-family or attached row houses that range in style from Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, Bungalow, Cape Cod, and Dutch Colonial Revival. You can also find some new builds and condos. Home values are predicted to rise by almost 5% by the end of 2020.
Locals enjoy Woodstock Park and stop in for a casual meal at Livin’ The Pie Life. If you’ll be commuting to DC, the Ballston station on the Metro’s Orange and Silver lines is close by.
- Population: 4,619
- Median home value: $724,436
- Median rent price: $2,651
- Median household income: $147,798
- Schools: Glebe Elementary School, Arlington Traditional Elementary School, Swanson Middle School, Yorktown High School, Washington Liberty High School
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