Moving to the US: a guide to life in the city with a young family

Making a move overseas can be tough. As you and your family prepare for a move to the United States, here are some things you can do to ease the transition.

Xe Consumer North America

June 17, 20218 min read

Mother and father with two young children in Brooklyn, New York City

Planning a move to the United States? Chances are, you’ve got a lot of questions. One common source of questions and concerns is how you and your family will be able to acclimate to life in a new country—and depending on where you’re moving, this could be quite the task.

Cities like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Austin, and San Francisco are popular places to live for locals and expats alike, but they come with their own fair share of challenges. And when you have young children, certain aspects of city life can get even more complicated.

This article was written in conjunction with Louise Rook’s The Moving Overseas Podcast. If you’re interested in further conversation on this topic, take a look at the recent episode City living with a young family.

Moving to American cities: 2 things to keep in mind

Don’t get too excited—your to-do list will end up being much, much longer than 2 items. But as you prepare for your move, have these two thoughts in the back of your head.

  • Research the place you’re going. The United States is a large country, with experiences vastly differing from state to state, or even within your state. Life in Denver will be vastly different than life in St. Louis or New York. (And as any New Yorker will tell you, life in Manhattan will be vastly different than life in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens or Staten Island.)

  • Be prepared for the unexpected. A bit of an oxymoron, we know. While you may not be able to see everything coming, you can leave room in your plans for any potential surprises. Whether it’s by giving yourself as much extra time as possible or securing extra documentation, planning for the worst could be the best move in the long run.

Life in the city vs. life in the suburbs

As far as most people are concerned, life in the city versus the suburbs is like night versus day. Here are some of the differences to note.

  • Crowds. Cities tend to be much more densely populated than suburban or rural areas. While that does offer lots of opportunities to meet new people, some people can find it overwhelming. You may also find that running errands or getting things done will take longer due to the larger crowds and more congested traffic—if you need to go to the DMV, be aware that you could be in for a long wait.

  • Expenses. In major cities (particularly major coastal cities), things can get expensive. Childcare in particular is a cost that is known to add up in the city. If you plan on utilizing childcare services in your new home, you may need to allot more of your budget to that.

  • Space. City housing tends to be smaller than its suburban counterparts. Instead of suburban homes, you’ll see more apartments, often without yards or common areas for the kids. If your kids are young, you’ll want to live near a park or other public area to get out and get some fresh air.

  • Transportation. In the wide, spread-out suburbs, you’ll need a car to go to work, to take the kids to school, and to find things to do on the weekends. Depending on the proximity of key businesses, many city dwellers opt to forego cars altogether and walk or use public transportation to get around. If you’re new to the US and don’t have the credit history to get your own car, living in the city could be a way to avoid that headache while you build your credit score.

  • Entertainment. Here’s where it gets fun. One perk of life in the city is the wide array of things to do and places to go—be it theatres, parks, museums, or restaurants. And as we just mentioned, it’s easier to find these things within walking distance in the city. But with fun comes a cost—literally.

Managing the transition

Let’s face it: even if you’re just moving to a new place in the same city, there’s always going to be a brief adjustment period where you’re trying to find your way. Moving to a city in another country might take a bit longer to adjust to.

Take advantage of apps and other resources to keep in touch. Whether you’re using Duolingo to perfect your English, Skype and WhatsApp so you and your family can keep in touch with friends and family back home, Xe to send money from your old bank account to your new US bank account, or Meetup to, well, meet up with other families and expats in the area, the digitally connected world can help you stay connected in person as well.

While the city may seem fun, it could also seem overwhelming, and don’t worry about “putting yourself out there” before you’re ready. As anyone who’s made a huge move will tell you—it takes time. If you need some time to just sit in with your family and adjust to your new home, go on ahead. The fast pace of cities means that something’s always going on: which means that no matter how long you wait, you’ll always find something to do.

Is it difficult for children?

Ask any kid who’s had to make a move: getting uprooted from your friends is no fun. But as these kids will also likely tell you, you’d be surprised at how quickly they can acclimate.

One piece of advice that many expats have is to research your schooling options carefully, and to try to keep them in the curriculum they’re coming from if possible. For example, if they were previously attending a British school, see if there’s one in the area. If there’s an international school nearby, that could also be a good option to ease the transition.

Many expats with young children have found that their children can be a great way to meet people, be it through the friends that they make in school or through going out to local playgrounds or other kid-friendly activities.

Many expat parents have said that they were surprised at just how easy it was for their kids to adapt to the move. But as we said above, sometimes it just takes time. Your kids may need a bit more time to adjust to their new home, and may need some calls with old friends or time to themselves before they’re ready to explore.

What about the cost of living?

Figuring out the exchange rate between your former home currency and the US Dollar is one step. The next step is figuring out how to budget for the (potential) extra costs of living in a metropolis.

Well, potentially. A 2018 study of 35 major American cities and their associated suburbs found that living in the city was actually cheaper for 25 of the 35 cities sampled. However, another study around that time found that city dwellers spent an average of $9000 USD more per year on living costs (housing and childcare) compared to their suburban counterparts. Still another has found that utility costs and grocery costs are lower in cities compared to the suburbs and rural areas.

While the cost of living varies greatly across the United States, factoring in the expense of a global health insurance plan can add significant value. Not only does it ensure you have access to high-quality healthcare no matter where you are, but it can also potentially save you from exorbitant out-of-pocket medical expenses during unexpected international health emergencies, making it a prudent addition to your budget considerations.

The moral of the story? It can be tough to predict just how the cost of living will compare (especially depending on which city you’re moving to). As we said above, research is king, and this is one of those things that you’re going to want to research thoroughly as you build your budget.

One great feature of cities is the abundance of local vendors. If you want to pick up some food or clothes, or are in the mood to do some browsing, see if your city has a farmer’s market, or try out some of the local stores and vendors. It’s a great way to save, and you’ll likely find some hidden gems.

Now, what’s great about city life in the US?

A move to the US can feel intimidating. But many people who’ve made the move have said that they and their families love their new home. Between the size of the country and the wide variety of places to see (from cities to national parks), there’s always a new adventure around the corner.

As you plan out your move, make sure to follow along with the Moving Overseas podcast for interviews and insight from those who’ve made the move. And watch this space: in the coming weeks we’ll continue diving into the moving process, including shipping, packing, and what to do if you want to bring your four-legged friend along with you.