Palm Trees to Skyscrapers: Moving to New York City

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me for advice on moving to NYC, I could upgrade myself to a one-bedroom apartment in the city (a joke only hustling millennials of the city will understand). The United State's largest city, with 8.5 million people and counting, is also one of the most expensive and difficult to live in. With a little flexibility, perseverance, and insider knowledge, moving to the greatest city in the world can be easier than you imagined (#werk).

It's been a year and a half since I moved to New York City "for good," but let's not forget my first stint in the city back in 2013. I'll save you the trip to my blog archives and take you down memory lane: I packed my bags, moved up North, lived in two apartments and one hotel, and then decided it was way too expensive for a fresh-out-of-college gal to handle on her own so decided Florida was the best post-grad step for me.

The decision to move to New York City the second time around was easy. It wasn't a matter of if, but when. I had a vision of continuing my personal and professional journey in a place that would empower me and, also, endlessly tease my desire for discovery. New York City was it.

Landing the Job

First thing's first. I recommend making a responsible move to New York City. This doesn't mean you have to land a job on Wall Street with a six-figure salary. Anything from internship, freelance work, entry-level job, position upgrade, etc., works. So long as you're moving here with purpose and passion, everything will fall into place.

You're not coming here with a job transfer? LinkedIn Jobs can be your saving grace for the traditional money maker. You can browse online or download their handy app, but this has been one of the most seamless ways to find the plethora of opportunities available in the big city. Especially for those in the communications or advertising field, where NYC serves as the mecca, this platform provides a streamlined way to maximize your opportunities. 

Have your sights set on freelancing within your field? Start by branding yourself with social channels and a website and start to, truly, hustle. You can even try unconventional routes like posting your service offerings on NYC Craigslist or a website like Fiverr, where you can post unique services from consulting to laborious tasks starting at $5.

So you're the cool kid on the block offered to move for a new job or transfer to the Big Apple? One of the most common questions NYC newbies will ask is: how much more money should I ask for? While the important topic of "how to negotiate your salary or die trying" will come from me another time, the short answer is about 15 to 20% of what you're currently making. In my case, I moved from Florida where I remained away from city and state taxes. The shocker of having a third of my paycheck going to "the people" was tough to swallow. If you can swing it, try negotiating things like subsidized monthly metro cards, a hefty moving allowance or a signing bonus (example: after a six-month review, give me $3,000).

You're going to be living in one of the most expensive cities in the United States, make sure the paycheck or side hustles are up to par. 

Price, Size, Location

That's my NYC rule. I can't tell you when or why I made it up, but I can tell you I'd bet a lot of money on it being a law of life. When you're apartment hunting in the city, you won't get all three: price, size and location.

What I mean is, you might get an apartment within a conservative budget, but it might be small and it might be a 40-minute commute to work. What if you value your space? You might be able to find something at a nice distance with a roomy feel, but you're going to shell a lot more money for it. When I first moved to the city, I knew I'd have trouble down sizing and I couldn't stomach paying more than $1,000 for rent. I ended up living in deep uptown Manhattan's Washington Heights in a huge (I mean this, huge) bedroom for a total bargain, and was happy while it lasted. Figure out what your priorities are within these three spaces before apartment hunting and you're going to find it much easier.

If price is a priority, you're going to have to search outside the central Manhattan walls. Having a small budget when you first move to the city is totally normal and, if you ask me, totally recommended. It's likely that your first apartment won't be totally what you're looking for since it's found mostly out of need. And remember the affordability rule: your salary should be at least 40 times your slice of the rent. In fact, most landlords and rental companies require it. Less expensive neighborhoods at a reasonable distance from the city center include Washington Heights (Manhattan), Bushwick (Brooklyn), Astoria (Queens) and even some gems in New Jersey near the trains.

If size is a priority, you're going to have to find your way outside of downtown. While it's certainly possible to find large spaces below 34th street, it's either at a hefty price tag or totally outside of the norm. Neighborhoods like Upper East or West Side have some great spaces for reasonable prices. Another option is to get yourself out of Manhattan, period, and you'll find the square footage increases by the block. But, don't limit yourself to only thinking "big," size can mean comfort for you. My personal rule: I need a kitchen that's separate from the living room. It's a non-negotiable for me if my couch is touching the fridge. My room, however, is only for sleeping so coziness doesn't bother me here.

If location is a priority, you might find yourself giving up the luxuries of some of the space parameters or low budget monthly rent to get yourself near the things you want be by. Perhaps it's work or play, but you're within your right to want to find a place that suits your daily routine. Chances are, millennial, that downtown is where all the magic is happening for you. If you can't find something that meets your budget and standards in a hot spot like East Village, SoHo or Tribeca, get a little creative and venture out, but stay near a train to get you there faster. For example, Hell's Kitchen (Manhattan) or Williamsburg (Brooklyn) are great neighborhoods near speedy train lines and reasonable taxi prices to get you to downtown in a New York Minute. 

Actually Doing It

You set a budget and some checklist items for a new home in the city, you narrowed down the neighborhoods, and you're ready to put in work. Great resources for actually finding your place include:

  • Gypsy Housing: While unconventional, I've had the most luck here. This is a "members only" forum for New Yorkers and New Yorkers to-be where people share open spaces or room search announcements. Anything from, "I have a room opening up" to "I am interested in finding XYZ with a room mate," this is an easy place to find gems. Tip: Set notifications for specific key words to the neighborhood, price or size you're looking for.
  • SpareRoom: If you're looking to save some time finding something new yourself and just want in on a good deal or existing unit, this is the place to go. The website, and app, help connect you with people who are already a part of a lease - or are in the process of starting one - and, well, have a spare room. Play around with their filters to save you the most time while you hunt.
  • StreetEasy: One of the most popular apartment finder sites. This is a good option if you're looking for a credible and reliable apartment with a group of friends or on your own. They also make one of the best NYC apartment transition guides on the web! Alert: the good ones likely have a broker's fee.
  • NYC Craigslist: If you're brave enough to overlook the negative stigma that comes with this platform, then this is the method for you. Craigslist, by far, has some of the most gems. I've had friends find solo apartments in incredible neighborhoods for a great price. The trick here is to make sure you're playing with the filters available, such as "distance from," price and other amenities buttons. The safest way is also to "search by date." If something's been listed for far too long, it is likely for a reason.

Make a few appointments, and be prepared for some of them to be virtual, and get ready for an adventure of apartment hunting. You should set aside at least three months' worth of rent for the places that ask you for first month, last month and a security deposit. The good news is you get a lot of that back when it's time to move again. If you're looking to save some time and get legitimate help, set aside a Broker's Fee which may come in handy for securing a lucky find. Here's a helpful guide on how to safely secure your apartment with "red flagged" descriptions, how to spot a scam, etc.

Once you've signed on the dotted line, it's time to hire a moving service. You can opt for someone to do it all for you without having moved a personal muscle, or hire handymen through friend recommendations that are usually cheaper but have no official business in this space. Alternatively, you can pack it all up yourself and grab a group of friends and a U-Haul van to help move you around. Here's a helpful guide for all that jazz. 

Next step: book the one-way ticket.

The Paperwork Piece

You finally moved and you're sitting on your couch (or floor) the first night in your new apartment over a warm bowl of something you ordered on Seamless. Look at you, you learn so fast! Now you have to take some time to make sure all the necessary transition documents are in order. The longer you stall this, the more problematic it becomes in the future.

  1. Officially change your address: Use USPS's handy moving tool to officially change your address to your new one. This will make sure that the move becomes official-ish and your mail is sent to the right location. And, guess what? This comes with moving coupons from popular sites like Bed, Bath & Beyond, Wayfair and Amazon. 
  2. Change your billing addresses: Often overlooked, don't forget to change that address attached to your bank accounts, credit cards and other important and ongoing memberships. You'll thank yourself later when you're punching in your zip code at your nearest retailer.
  3. Make an appointment with the DMV: If you're already a registered driver, you must obtain a New York State driver's license and surrender your out-of-state license within 30 days of establishing residency. Read more about that here, set an appointment and get your shiny new piece of plastic.
  4. No need for driving? Identify yourself with an IDNYC: As a government-issued photo identification card, IDNYC secures the peace of mind and access to City services that come from having recognized identification. IDNYC also provides a dynamic series of benefits to cardholders, including a free one-year membership at many of the City's leading museums, zoos, concert halls, and botanical gardens. Get one here.
  5. Register to vote! Don't be left behind when it's your turn to exercise your constitutional right to make a change in this country. Unless you'd benefit the greater good by keeping your old city on file (*erm, Floridians*), then make the switch upon moving. In New York state, you can get all that and so much more done via their electronic voter registration platform.
  6. Protect your valuables with renter's insurance: Living in a big city sometimes comes with risks. For as little as $5 per month you can protect yourself against these dangers - and so much more. Companies like Lemonade have incredible quick and easy-to-use platforms for securing your goods, while also providing a really friendly user experience. What's even better is this specific apartment/home insurance company has a giveback program where the "extra" money goes right back to local charities. Sign me up!

Building Your New Life

That's it...for now. You've mastered the job and apartment search, you signed the paperwork and filed your important matters, now it's time to sit back (ever so slightly) and enjoy the fruits of your labor

You will get homesick from time to time, it will take you months to find your go-to coffee shops and dives, you might need to friend-flirt for some time before finding your gal/guy gang, you will struggle, you will grow, you will laugh, you will cry, but you just accomplished what many millennial dreamers wish for:

moving to New York, New York.