Anyone looking to relocate in the US, or move here at all, wants the best chance of success. So you’ll want to pick a city, town or suburb that offers the best chance of success. But how do you guage that, especially if you’re going to move to the US for the first time and don’t really know what to expect?
Some good indicators are affordability and cost of living, the current job market and job prospects, and the quality of life that each US area offers. Luckily, that’s been done for us by the US News and World Report, which has put together a list of the top 125 US metropolitan areas to live in.
TOP 20 PLACES TO RELOCATE IN THE US
The US News and World Report is owned by property developer Mortimer B. Zuckerman, who bought the media company back in 1984. He also owns the New York Daily News. While the news website has been criticised for its rankings of schools and colleges in the US, it publishes a range of ranking articles focusing on health, cars, and states. The agency used the metrics mentioned above in order to produce the list, as well as a surveying people living across the US to find out the qualities that they feel are most important in a place to live.
Obviously, people value different things when looking for a place to live, but this list is a good starting-point if you’re looking to relocate in the US and don’t have a clue where to begin. I also delved into the Australian expat community by asking the members of the Australians in America USA facebook group to tell me what they love most about living in these cities and towns.
1. Austin, Texas
I never would have thought it myself, but when you stop to consider, it makes sense that Austin ranks at the top of the list. It’s got beautiful weather, and while housing prices are trending upwards, those who live in Austin don’t pay personal or corporate income tax. And the state and local tax rates are relatively low. It’s been known as the Live Music Capital of the world since 1991, so music-lovers already have a great reason to move there. You’re likely to be doing more driving than catching public transport and the median population age sits at around 33-years-old. So it’s young enough to be cool and old enough to be responsible.
Sarah Boden loves the warm weather, the relaxed atmosphere and all the great outdoor activities that Austin offers.
“[It’s] very liberal and progressive, with lots of tech jobs, lots of great food and craft breweries,” Sarah said.
“Also I live in an apartment block with a resort style pool and gym – so I go swimming most days!!!”
You can’t argue with that analysis. Especially if you love stand-up paddle boarding. Sarah says it’s really popular here. Also, brace yourself if you’re reading this from the land downunder – Austin’s internet speed is 1,000 megabits per second. Stick that in your National Broadband Network and smoke it!
2. Colorado Springs, Colorado
A house-building boom is just one of the things that drove Colorado Springs to second position on the list. We already know that Colorado has gorgeous scenery, but did you know that Colorado Springs also has 563km (350 miles) of hiking and biking trails to explore? House prices are above the national average as the city grows, and the median rent just breaks $1000 per month. Residents spend a little less on utilities and groceries here, and while it is home to a decent amount of retired military personelle, the median age of residents is 34.
Emma Goldwin agrees that the views are “amazing and the hiking opportunities are abundant” but says that if you’re not particularly outdoorsy, you might feel a little bored here.
“Living here is expensive. Not as high as Denver, but it’s up there. The housing market is out of control here. Too many people moving here, not enough housing,” Emma said.
Vanessa Nolan lived in Colarado Springs for three years while her husband was serving in the military: “I loved every second of that place. It’s the one place I truly call home over here. Everyday I miss it: the scenery and views, the people, the outdoors activities, the weather! My only aim is to get back as fast as possible!!!”
3. Denver, Colorado
Staying in Colorado, we come to the Mile High city of Denver. It earned the nickname by being a mile (1.069km) above sea level, but also because it legalised marijuana back in 2012 and has a thriving cannibas industry. As a result, the cost of living has been skyrocketing and doesn’t look like it’ll slow down anytime soon. The median house price is well above the national average at $362,492 and the median annual salary sits at $55,910. While the climate is usually dry and sunny, Denver can be prone to quick bursts of rain, snow and lightning storms.
Clint McCaskill is soaking up the breathtaking Denver views while he can.
“View of the mountains is amazing from wherever you are. Getting in the mountains and seeing the wildlife is truly majestic! I miss the beach, but when I eventually get back home, I’ll miss the mountains,” Clint said.
“Oh and the craft beer scene is the best in the country.”
I’m not sure if he’s biased on that last comment, or if Clint is a professional craft-beer-scene ranker. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Also, I’d like that job, if possible.
Maree Froelich also loves Denver: “The views of the mountains are unlike anything you can get at home, the people are friendly and the weather is great (300 days of sunshine in the year). If you like any activity in the outdoors it’s the best place to live and if you love beer or whiskey you will also love it.”
4. Des Moines, Iowa
You might not originally consider Des Moines, Iowa as a place to relocate in the US, but that’s why this list was created – to show you the hidden gems that the US has to offer. It’s billed as a great place to raise a family, and median housing prices are low in comparison to the other top-ranked cities and towns, at $181,217. So cost of living is less of a worry here. It’s home to almost 700,000 people and has an unemployment rate of just 2.9 per cent, with a median age of 35-years-old.
5. Fayetteville, Arkansas
I’d never even HEARD of Fayetteville before, although I do take joy in purposefully mispronouncing Arkansas, so it probably serves me right. Fayetteville is in the state’s north-west, close to the borders of Oklahoma and Missouri. It’s got a thriving artistic community and 4,000 acres of parkland to explore. It also seems to be a mecca of festivals, with 180 different ones happening each year. The average monthly rent is $752 and the median house price is below average, even though houses are more expensive here than other parts of the state. It’s a place where you’re more likely to experience all four seasons over the year, but snow falls don’t usually stay on the ground for very long.
Kate Fairley has lived just outside of Fayetteville for the past seven months, and warns that she’s not an expert on the area just yet.
“The NW Arkansas area is really booming. I think Walmart (and all its associated suppliers) are behind a lot of the boom, but there are some other big companies that are setting up or have set up here,” Kate said.
“Fayetteville has the University of Arkansas there (Bill Clinton’s uni,) so it has a college-town feel. The area seems to be very different from the rest of the more stereotypical Arkansas. Lots of newcomers from around the country (and some from overseas too). Housing is quite reasonable still. There are a lot of nature areas. Lots of caverns, lakes, bike trails, fishing, etc nearby. Quite family friendly.”
6. Portland, Oregon
If you haven’t heard the informal slogan “Keep Portland Weird” then you may not quite know what you’re getting into. Watch a couple of episodes of Portlandia (obviously an exaggerated look at the city), and get back to me. It has an adult soapbox derby and hosts naked bicycle rides for starters, and I imagine it to be what Sydney’s Newtown is, but bigger. Having said that I’ve never been there, so I am probably totally wrong. You’ll be sharing Portland with a little over two million others and the average age of residents is around 37 – but you know they’re mostly younger than that at heart. You’ll pay around $1,047 in rent (average) and the cost of living is above the national average.
7. Huntsville, Alabama
Home of the US Space and Rocket Centre, Huntsville Alabama is also home to lots of engineers and other highly-educated people. It’s going through a bit of a facelift at the moment, rejuvenating the downtown area, and building more dwellings. The population sits just below 500,000 people and the average rent will set you back $759 each month. Unemployment is a little higher here, at 4 per cent and the weather gets hot and humid from around April to October. So be prepared. Who else will you find in Huntsville? Miltary retirees, and those working in the technology sector tend to dominate.
8. Washington, District of Columbia
The nation’s capital makes the list! What do I know about Washington DC? “Taxation without Representation” comes to mind – since they are represented in the US Congress by a non-voting member. But that’s besides the point really. Yes, it’s the seat of the US government, and can be overrun with political types and their hangers on, but it also means that it’s got good public transport and ammenities. Having said that, the cost of living is significantly higher than other cities – the median house price is steadily climbing and sits at $368,642 currently. Unemployment is 3.7 per cent and rent is higher here too – $1,541 a month on average. Probably one of the biggest drawcards is that you won’t be bored – there are lots of cultural and historical things to do, as well as great dining and entertainment options.
9. Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota
Minneapolis and St Paul are known as the “Twin Cities” and are almost adjacent to each other on the opposite banks of the Mississippi River. St Paul is the state’s capital and is where you’ll find all the museums and historic areas. The cities are classified as one metropolitan area and to be blunt, the temperatures fluctuate a lot. In January, the mercury can dip as low as -13c, whereas in the height of summer in August, temperatures shoot up to 28c. Not exactly the sweltering summer that we’re used to in Australia, but warm enough to comfortably appreciate the music festivals and outdoor activities. The combined population of about 3.5 million, have a higher cost of living to the national average, although the median house price is $237,367. Rent will set you back around $937 per month.
Shane Hale is in the middle of moving to Minneapolis from Texass, so far he’s impressed with his new home.
”…we are loving it! From the abundance of walking and riding paths, the many lakes (been swimming and water skiing several times already) and just the “Minnesota Nice” vibe, it’s been a great change from sweltering Houston,” Shane said.
10. Seattle, Washington
This is one of my favourite US cities – and you can read all about it in my post about Seattle. No, it’s not like London, it doesn’t rain all the time here, in fact it gets about 37 inches of rain, which is less than a lot of cities on the east coast of the country. Seattle is a little bit more laid back, but that doesn’t mean it’s sedate – it’s got a thriving city and music scene that lends to its cultural chops and at 3.6 million people, it’s not a small city at all. All of that put together pushes Seattles housing market way up – median house prices are at $403,650 and the cost of living is rising steadily. What makes that a little scary is that the average income is $61,170, which isn’t much above the national average.
Amanda Winge is a relative newcomer to Seattle, clocking up three months in the city, but she already knows that she loves it there.
“[I] have found soo many wonderful places and people, it is a very green and beautiful state and area with a variety of people of all walks of life,” Amanda said.
“And [there’s an] abundance of coffee, being that Seattle is the birthplace of Starbucks.”
Melinda Perkins likes the fact that there aren’t any cockroaches in Seattle (or so it seems) but she warns newcomers of the “Seattle freeze”, where locals seem nice enough but they’re notvery interested in including you. But Kristy says that Washington state locals are perfectly friendly: “I have found that The Seattle Freeze doesn’t exist with actual people from Washington State, they are the friendliest people….it is all the people that have moved there that have caused the freeze, it does not come from true Seattlites.”
11. Nashville, Tennessee
Welcome to the songwriting capital of the world! It seems like the sense of community is strong in Nashville, and it’s home to all walks of life. You won’t be stuck for things to do on a Saturday night, and surprisingly, the median house price is $236,367, although it is shooting up rapidly. You’ll get about 200 days of sunshine a year, although the temperature may dip to -2 in the colder months. There’s no income tax here, however there is a six per cent tax on investment interest and dividends, so keep that in mind.
Aussies Jessica Foster and Aj Wrigley were pretty much in agreeance when it came to their new home-city. Jessica has called Nashville home for two years and says that although the traffic “is a nightmare”, it’s a beautiful place to live.
“[People range] from the southern peach to bearded hipsters and everything in between,” she said.
“[And there are] four disticnt seasons and the greenest summers.”
Meanwhile, Aj has just one word to describe Nashville, and that’s “perfect”. That’s after four years of living there.
“It’s like big city without the annoying parts of a big city. People are sweet and nice. So much to do. I think we are within a days drive of like 70% of the US so it’s awesome for weekend trips. NO state income tax and we are ranked top 8 for fiscal status (meaning we are not a broke state, we have money to fix the roads, pay pensions etc),” he said.
“I’m biased but pick Nashville!!”
I think Aj wants some more Aussie neighbours to hang out with.
12. Grand Rapids, Michigan
Even the name makes Grand Rapids sound picturesque and the kind of place you’d want to move to and raise your kids (or, you know, a couple of fur babies if that’s your thing). This is where mid-west friendliness lives, and it’s so very evident in the Australian transplant I found living there. But more about him later. The cost of living in Grand Rapids is pretty good, with the average house price being $166,608 and rents hovering around $786 a month. Of course salaries take a hit for that, you can expect anything around $43,000 as an average salary here. You’re sharing the city with about a million other people and driving will be your main mode of transport.
Terence Mangan has lived in Grand Rapids for the past 11 years and he is a big advocate for the city. I’ll leave it to him to sell it to you.
“In many ways it reminds me of Sydney of about 50 years ago. And 50 years ago in right ways,” Terence said.
“It’s got it’s problems, but most things seem like they can be handled. [It’s the] best beer town (craft & microbrews), best place to raise kids, the overall standard of living is good, it’s got resurgent cities, good value real estate, and education, and they are just the ones I can remember.”
He’s not exaggerating about the craft beer scene either. Grand Rapids was voted Beer City, USA in some national poll (I couldn’t find the exact poll to reference), and USA Today readers also voted it Best Beer Town and Best Beer Scene. It’s almost as if Grand Rapids was made for Australians!
13. Raleigh and Durham (and Chapel Hill), North Carolina
If your area of expertise is technology or research, “the triangle” cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill are for you. They’re known as the “Research Triangle” because of the conglomeration of technology and education institutions. There are museums, art and cultural institutions aplenty here and that may be reflecting in the median house price, which sits at $227,814, and is rising steadily. It rains even more than Seattle here, with 43.3 inches falling on average. Count on driving most places, as the public transport system ranks lower than most states.
Kate-Eliza Dean lives in Raleigh and loves her lifestyle there.
“Everything about this place is quaint and lush. It’s small enough that there are never crowds and everyone is relaxed and friendly, but it’s big enough that there is always something to do in this picturesque city,” she said.
“Southern charm with northern influence.”
Sounds perfect to me!
14. San Antonio, Texas
We’re back in Texas, so I guess it’s a great state to relocate to in the US. San Antonio seems to be a “tourist” city, in that it’s a destination for many people who visit the US. By that token, those who live there get to take advantage of great entertainment and attractions, and it seems to be a place that many people choose to raise their families in. At 2.2 million residents, San Antonio’s median house price is well below the national average, at $200,667 and it’s climbing much more slowly than other cities. It’s sunny a lot of the year, although you can expect temperatures to rise to 35c in the summertime.
15. Salt Lake City, Utah
If you like your alcohol to be on the cheaper side of things, maybe Salt Lake City (and Utah as a whole) isn’t the place for you. But if you don’t mind buying your booze from state-run stores, then read on squire! A strongly-Mormon state, you’ll find lots of historic buildings and things that point to its deeply religious history. Salt Lake City is the place to move if you love a bit of outdoors-adventure. It’s got five national parks and a couple of ski resorts within driving distance of the city. The median age of resident is young, at just 30-years-old and there are 2.3 million people sprawled across the city. Median house prices are well above the average at $280,894 and the average monthly rent is around $924.
The only non-Australian to give their point of view is Dustin Crump (who knew all about Tim Tams AND the Tim Tam Slam before I even met him, so he’s an honorary Australian).
“Salt Lake City, Utah is a true secret treasure, with beautiful mountain adventures only 20 minutes away,” Dustin said.
“It’s a premier destination for all outdoor activities as well as some of the most stunning national parks in the country.”
16. Madison, Wisconsin
Did you not know that Madison is home to high-tech businesses and some of the country’s most acclaimed schools? Neither did I. This is where America’s cows live, but it’s so, so much more than that! It’s the best of both worlds when it comes to country and city. Or so it seems to an outsider, with industries such as technology, manufacturing and healthcare. You’re more likely to meet people who have moved into the city than anyone who was born and bred in Madison. You can buy a home for just above the median national average price, at $238,375 and rent somewhere to live for around $919. Prices have been climbing slowly since 2012. With just over 600,000 people in residence, unemployment is on the lower side, at 2.4 per cent. Just be ready for the chilly weather – in January it can get as low as -11c out there.
Neil Hanlon lives an hour away from Madison, but he visits enough to love it.
“Wonderful college town, great uni, and sits on an isthmus (narrow strip of land with water on either side),” he said.
“[The] downfall is it’s a great college town… drunk students, especially around halloween and March Madness (college basketball), actually college football season is crazy too.”
Tony Sheridan agrees, mostly because he spent a good chunk of time living amongst the students.
“…my first 9 months I was living down town in amongst the drunken student behavior,” Tony said.
“[The] last couple of years out west a little. You learn to avoid the student bars…Madison is a great place quite liberal educated progressive place. Winters here kills it for me. I’m over them and time to move on.”
17. San Jose, California
Disclaimer front and centre here: I’ve visited San Jose so many times and have written about it a couple of times as well (so read about Japantown here, or a bunch of family activities here, or the Egyptian museum and rose garden here). San Jose is close enough to San Francisco (an hour’s drive away) that you get the best of two big cities. It’s slightly more expensive than its big sister, and still has all of the amenities you’d want, including a pretty good public transport system. But beware the cost of living, you might want to sit down for this. They say that you can make a six figure salary and still not be able to properly afford living in the Bay Area and Silicone Valley, and they’re right. The median house price in San Jose is a whopping $932,108 and renters will shell out an average of $1,801 a month. Although, the average salary is $78,990 you can see why people are being priced out of the area so quickly. Unemployment is 3.3 per cent and there are almost two million people who call San Jose home.
A person I know (all anonymous sources are protected), agreed to comment on their time living in San Jose, on the condition that I do not reveal their identity. And I am nothing if not intrigued by, well, intrigue.
“Living in SJ is kind of like being a little brother. We get overshadowed by San Francisco and Oakland a lot, but in reality SJ is the 10th largest city in the US,” s/he said.
“It is also considered one of the safer big cities. But overall it is sometimes nice to fly under the radar. A sprawling city, considered by locals a good place to raise a family, yet a part of the larger Bay Area.”
The source may be blowing their cover by begging me to mention that the San Jose Sharks ice hockey team are the best team in the NHL*.
*Not actually borne out by any statistics.
18. Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas
We’ve made it back to Texas, and all of this Texas talk is kind of making me think about moving there (don’t tell Mr M, he’d be ecstatic). For the “cowboy” enthusiasts, Dalls-Fort Worth might just be the place where you can hang up your hat and settle down. Check out a couple of the reasons you should visit Dallas-Fort Worth here. It’s still got the small town feel, with throwbacks to its beginnings with cattle drives and the like. But it’s also a great place for foodies and anyone who likes to bar hop. It’s home to almost seven million people *phew* and yet, it’s cheaper to buy a house here than in most US cities – costing around $210,181. The average age of residents is 34, and unemployment was 3.7 per cent. The weather’s good too! It doesn’t really get below freezing, even in winter.
Michelle Hernandez loves living in Dallas Fort-Worth for a couple of reasons, not least of which is that there is a direct flight from the city back to Sydney, and it’s a major flight hub.
“Cost of living is awesome. It’s not far to open space if you don’t already have a large backyard, and outdoor fun. No state income tax. And sooooo many Fortune 500 companies,” Michelle said.
19. Phoenix, Arizona
I visited Phoenix to see The Saboteurs play once. So ends my experience in and knowledge of Phoenix, Arizona. I can tell you that it’s called the “Valley of the Sun” because it sees a lot of it and the mercury soars to 41c in the height of summer. You’re welcome. The cost of living in Phoenix is below the national average, but then, so is the median salary, coming in at $47,540. House prices are just above the national average and the median monthly rent is $989. They only get eight inches of rain out in Phoenix, but there’s a population of 4.4 million. I’m not sure how those two facts correlate either.
When Josh talks about Phoenix, one of the first things that comes to his mind is the coffee. My question is, do you really need coffee in a place that hot?
“Phoenix has great desert views and sunsets and a thriving coffee scene,” he said.
20. San Francisco, California
Finally, we’ve made it to my US hometown, the place I’ve lived for almost three years now and, in my humble opinion, the best place to live too. Just like San Jose, San Francisco is expensive, but according to the statistics, it’s cheaper than its little brother. I don’t know how. Maybe because San Francisco is cramming more people into apartments, whereas in San Jose, you’re more likely to buy a house. Anyway, San Francisco is still well above the national average, with the median dwelling price being $790,233 and rents hovering around $1,567. Get ready to find a room mate or two. More than 4.5 million people call San Francisco home, and because of that it’s got a lot of diversity and so many great things to see and do (want more? check out my San Francisco Guide). There are heaps of festivals, a great food truck culture, an array of museums and art galleries, comedy clubs, live music and the list kind of goes on forever.
Melissa Betch has lived in the the Bay area for two decades and says that Sydney often reminds her of the area, and I agree.
“I always think it compares with San Francisco except the SF Bay Area is more expensive. But the market is great right now if you are specifically looking for employment in tech,” Melissa said.
“I’ve been living in Oakland for almost 20 years and I love it and have yet to find anywhere else in the world to compare it. I find the weather in the Pacific Northwest comparable to Melbourne, which I’m not a huge fan of.”
TOP PLACES TO RELOCATE IN THE US (NOMINATED BY AUSSIE EXPATS)
The rankings stretch on of course, but we’re just focusing on the top 20. Some Aussie expats were a little miffed that their new home cities and towns weren’t mentioned in the top 20. Or maybe they just love the places that they’ve settled in so much that they can’t see why they weren’t included. So here are their favourites:
- Peachtree City, Georgia: Barbara Robinson loves what I’m dubbing the Golf Cart Capital. “With a population of just 35,000 and just as many golf carts, Peachtree City reminds me a little of Sydney’s North Shore without the high costs,” Barbara said.
“Peachtree City has 100 miles of golf cart paths (yes 100) connecting all areas of the city so residents can visit restaurants, shops, golf courses (there’s 4 of them), visit friends in different neighborhoods etc in our carts and nearly every resident owns one.”
- Honolulu, Hawaii: It seems that a lot of Australians are living in Hawaii, and it’s not difficult to see why they love it so much. Elise Collins is partial to the year-round warm weather and the proximity to Australia.
“Also it’s a direct 10 hour flight home so this is the closest I’ll ever be to home without being home. The beaches are beautiful, the pineapple is the best I’ve ever had and its laid back like home,” Elise said.
Dara Monahu seconds living in Hawaii: “Cheap Jetstar flights home, only four hours time difference if you wanna call home (it’s actually 20 hrs ahead but only four hrs difference), weather is gorgeous, best beaches AND mountains. It is a bit more expensive than the other states but after being here I couldn’t even consider trading it for another state.”
- Santa Barbara, California: Jo McDaniel has lived in a few different US cities, but she spent 16 years in Santa Barbara and swears by the amazing weather and beaches.
- Orange County, California: Tho Tran nominates the OC because of its proximity to almost everything.
“…it’s close to the beach, freeway, airport and [an] easy drive anywhere. The weather is perfect all year around,” Tho said.
The only downside seems to be the traffic jams.
- Kansas City, Missouri: Lyndal Cox votes for Kansas City in Missouri because “it’s modern, less expensive, great food restaurants, and friendlier people than most other areas“.