The Ultimate Guide to Moving to Illinois

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Illinois may be the birthplace of the skyscraper and the one-time home of Abe Lincoln, but in the Prairie State corn is still king. The Illinois state grain is corn, another state vegetable is sweet corn, and the Illinois state snack is popcorn. With its rich soils and level ground, a full 75% of the state is devoted to farmland. Much of Illinois’ landscape was once a vast grassland, but you’re now more likely to see seas of soy, oats, wheat, hay and — yes — corn, dotted with sheep, cattle and hogs. These 28 million arable acres aren’t the state’s only draw, of course. Illinois is also home to the nation’s third-largest city — Chicago — which draws droves of visitors each year to its sights and shores.

Chicago may be the Prairie State’s only big city, but it’s also the largest metropolis in the entire region. Both a cultural and transportation titan, city of Chicago is a dominant economic force in Illinois and in the nation — its GDP now exceeds $1 trillion.

Don’t discount the smaller cities and towns around the state, though. The Quad Cities, for example — located on the northwest border with Iowa — create a rich and lively community. At every turn, you’ll find everything from art museums to breweries to incredible state parks to explore. On the southern border with Missouri, smaller cities like Belleville and Edwardsville are a part of the greater bi-state area of St. Louis, which gives residents access to the jobs, healthcare and cultural resources of a major city within a short drive from home.

As the fifth most populous state in the union, the Land of Lincoln now has the fifth-largest GDP, following California, New York, Texas and Florida. With a low cost of living, top-notch educational and job opportunities and access to high-quality social services, the state of Illinois can be a great place to relocate, especially if you’re raising a family.

Whether you’re moving for career, family or the lure of Lake Michigan, Illinois is a welcoming place to call home.

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Living in Illinois

Illinois has one of the largest and most diverse economies in the nation. With a civilian labor force of 6.1 million people, careers were the #2 reason people relocated to Illinois last year, according to United Van Lines 46th Annual Movers Study. But unemployment here remains above national levels and is ticking up. In December 2022, the unemployment rate had reached 4.7%, — over a point higher than the national average.

The agriculture industry generates $19 billion dollars of revenue for the state each year. Even more is generated by agriculturally adjacent industries, like farm equipment and real estate. Corn and soy crops are used for food, feed and fuel. In fact, the state produces more ethanol than any other, while also generating a significant amount of soy biodiesel.

Chicago is home to 35 Fortune 500 companies — the second-highest of any metro area — including Abbott Laboratories, Allstate and State Farm. So, those seeking employment in Illinois have diverse industries to choose from. But the appeal of lower corporate taxes in other states has enticed even state stalwarts like Caterpillar to do the unthinkable and relocate; the company is now based outside Dallas.

At $72,563, Illinois’ median household income is higher than the national average and above those of all its neighbors. The cost of living in the state is relatively low, but transportation costs are above the national average. Chicago may be to blame for that. Despite its well-developed public transportation system, there is no stopping the Windy City’s sprawl. Chicago has been ranked the 2nd most congested city on the planet.

As in many states, housing costs in Illinois spiked in the last two years, with single-family homes and condo prices rising 4% in 2022. But home values now seem to be settling down: December prices ended 2.1% lower than the previous year. The state does impose relatively high property taxes as well. With a state property tax rate of 2.05%, Illinois has the second-highest rates in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation. The majority of the revenue goes to school funding, though, so the trade-off may ultimately be a value-added proposition for some families.

Speaking of education, Illinois is home to several highly respected colleges and universities, including Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, the School at the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Each campus has its own academic specialties, from medicine to journalism to design, so no matter what your child may want to study in the future, they’ll likely be able to pursue their dreams without ever leaving the state (unless you’d really like them to be a little further from the nest).

Weather in Illinois

With a 400-mile difference from the top of the state to the bottom, weather in this Midwestern state varies substantially from north to south. No matter where you live, you will experience four unique seasons. However, summers will be more intense along the Tennessee and Kentucky border, while winters prove more severe near Wisconsin and Iowa. Temperatures average 22°F during winter in the north and roughly 37°F in the south. The average summer temperature ranges from 75°F-80°F, though you can expect daily highs to be far hotter.

Illinois is a fairly wet state, which is why it can produce such abundant crops. You can expect around 34”-46” of rain in an average year, with the higher amounts falling in the lower half of the state. Illinois does have its share of intense storms, from flash floods to tornadoes. Those tend to peak between April and June.

High winds and lake effect snow also affect residents of the Windy City and in nearby areas. Chicago sees around 38” of snow in a normal year, but in the late days of January in 1967, 23 inches fell within 30 hours, setting a record that hasn’t been broken to this day.

Springtime in Illinois is often something of a tease. Because the state is in the path of warm air from the Gulf and frigid air from Canada, it can seem like winter has ended in late February only to have it roar back in March and not leave for good until late April. But really, who can complain about even a short respite from the cold … as long those spring blossoms don’t freeze on their branches.

Fall is generally more predictable and comes with fewer storms than spring, so if you’re planning to move to Illinois, September and October are two of the best months to relocate here.

Most Populous Cities in Illinois

The state of Illinois is now home to more than 12.5 million people — more than any other state in the Midwest. The vast majority of Illinois residents live in the greater Chicagoland area, which encompasses the state’s second- and third-largest cities of Aurora and Joliet, though medium-size cities dot the state, generally building a critical mass around colleges and universities. The Bloomington-Normal area, where Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan Universities are located, has a combined population of over 130,000. Peoria, another centrally located city, has over 111,000 residents who enjoy the laid-back, riverside vibe of the college town, where Bradley University students help keep the area fun and vibrant. Springfield, the Illinois state capital, is home to the University of Illinois – Springfield. Home to just over 113,000 residents, they enjoy all the Abraham Lincoln history and Route 66 memorabilia they can handle.


Chicago is now the third-largest city in the country. Just under 2.7 million people call the Windy City their home. Chicago’s population hasn’t grown much over the past 10 years, but the metro area now contains a whopping 10 million people. Chicago’s suburbs extend in every direction except the east, which would be a difficult place to reside, unless you intend to live on a houseboat on Lake Michigan. Housing in the Windy City costs far less than what you’ll find in other large cities, particularly on the coasts. At $277,600, the median home value in Chicago is slightly above the national average, as is the median gross rent of $1,209.

With industries as numerous as its cultural offerings, Chicago has a diverse manufacturing economy, with business sectors ranging from finance and film production to advanced manufacturing and design. A total of 35 Fortune 500 companies are based in the Chicagoland area. But small businesses, non-profits and educational institutions — like the University of Chicago, Loyola, DePaul, Columbia College, Northwestern and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago — are just as important to the lifeblood of this major metropolis.


Illinois’ second-largest city, Aurora, is just 45 miles west of Chicago. Located on the Fox River, downtown Aurora is filled with restaurants and shops and anchored by RiverEdge Park, a popular concert venue. One of the biggest draws to the city is the architecture — many of the buildings here were designed by noted architect Grant Elmslie.

Aurora’s population has shrunk considerably over the last 10 years, losing nearly 20,000 residents. Home values in Aurora modest — the median here is $208,500 — but rent is far higher, fetching nearly $1,400 a month. The city’s economy is driven by logistics and transportation, warehousing, technical services and, most importantly, by gambling. Hollywood Casino is one of Aurora’s single largest employers. The city is also known as shopping mecca — the Chicago Premium Outlets regularly draw urbanites out to the burbs for the latest looks.


Nearby Joliet is a popular, southwestern suburb of 150,372. It’s also the state’s third-largest city. The Des Plaines River provides a vital basis for the local economy, supporting tourism, casino gambling, shipping/transportation and manufacturing. Joliet produces, processes and transports a significant amount of steel, paper, chemical and petroleum products. Amazon and Harrah’s are two of the city’s largest companies.

Home values in Joliet are comparable to Aurora’s — well below that of other suburbs, as well as the national average. The median home value here is $205,000 and rent averages $1,104 per month. The city is best known for its 1926 Rialto Theatre, an architectural wonder that began as a vaudeville movie palace with interiors modeled after Versailles itself. The site is still in use but has now been reimagined as a live performance venue for top music acts.

There are many wonderful parks in the area, too, like the Bird Haven Greenhouse & Conservatory, a 660-acre garden with an Italian Renaissance revival greenhouse built in the early 20th century.

Fun Things to Do in Illinois

Chicago residents have an embarrassment of cultural riches, from wildly popular sites like Millennium Park and the Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier, to the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. But there are plenty of spots to check out away from the crowd, like the Smart Museum and Oriental Institute Museum on University of Chicago’s campus; the Tiffany Favrile glass dome at the Chicago Cultural Center; and the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool in Lincoln Park.

The DuSable Black History Museum is another not to be missed. The oldest institution of its kind in the country, the museum curates phenomenal exhibitions of art and archival materials that bring often overlooked and silenced stories to life, like “Troubled Waters: Chicago 1919 Race Riot” and “South Side Stories: The Art and Influence of Dr. Margaret T. Burroughs,” about the museum’s pioneering founder.

Just outside the city in the suburb of Glenview, the Kohl’s Children’s Museum is a fun place for the whole family. Other kids’ favorites in the city include the Adler Planetarium, the Museum of Illusions and — no surprise — the Museum of Ice Cream.

Check out some of our other recommendations for hidden gems in Chicago.

For those looking for a little more action, Illinois has numerous sports teams to entertain fans. Everyone can unite around the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Bulls. But baseballers have to choose sides — those in the north side of the city generally root for the Cubs, while those on the south side are staunch White Sox fans.

MLS has been in the state since the late ’90s and —, you’ll be encouraged to cheer for the Chicago Fire. Ice Hockey is incredibly popular in the Midwest. If you’re moving from an NHL desert, be prepared to meet Chicago Blackhawks fans. They are fierce.

If you’re looking to get outdoors, start with the obvious: Lake Michigan. Illinoisans have 63 miles of spectacular coastline in and around Chicago to enjoy, whether from a rooftop bar or on a beach towel on the sand. The waters remain chilly even during the summer months, but a few daredevils will jump in all year round — as long as they can get through the ice. Try Illinois Beach State Park in Zion for a day of family fun.

Illinois may be the second-flattest state in the country, but there’s plenty of great hiking to be had at Illinois state parks. Starved Rock State Park is located in a quaint little town on the Illinois River, so there’s more to see here beyond the waterfalls and trails.

In the southern portion of the state, Shawnee National Forest draws over a million visitors each year, from leaf-peepers in the fall to elite hikers who tackle the 160-mile River-to-River Trail. Brave backpackers and day hikers alike will enjoy viewing Cedar Lake from the surrounding bluffs and spotting exciting wildlife, like bald eagles, bobcats and red foxes.

Want to delve deeper into the area’s natural wonders? Check out our National Parks of the Midwest guide.

With landmark houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, urban treasures — like the Willis Tower and the Merchandise Mart — and ancient areas like the Cahokia Mounds, history buffs will not be disappointed with the offerings of Illinois.

In Springfield, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum brings the 16th president’s history to life through immersive exhibits and activities.

In the river town of Alton, you can learn about important sites on the Underground Railroad through special guided tours through the city. Alton was one of the cities that hosted the seven historic Lincoln-Douglas debates, in which the two presidential candidates openly argued the issue of slavery and human rights in America.

Eat Illinoisans’ Favorites

With cold winters and large communities of German, Polish and Slavic descent, it’s not surprising that some of the best food you’ll find in the Prairie State is hearty and soul-soothing — venison chili, pork chops, savory pierogis and apple dumplings, fresh from Illinois’ many orchards.

Chicago’s food scene, unsurprisingly, towers over the rest of the state. While the Windy City has long been known for its humble, indulgent pleasures — the Italian beef sandwich, the defiantly decadent deep-dish pizza and the classic Chicago hotdog — there is so much more to eat in the state than Vienna Beef. So, don’t overlook the artisanal delights of Illinois’ culinary capital and in other towns across the Land of Lincoln.

If you’ve spent the day downtown enjoying the many delights of Chicago’s Millennium Park, treat yourself to a trip to Cindy’s. This airy, rooftop perch is designed to lift the spirts with inspired cocktails, eats and panoramic views.

If you’ve been checking out the galleries and shops in the trendy West Loop area, the Girl & the Goat — now in its second decade — is a perfect place to recharge. The restaurant definitely lives up to its name, though — there is an entire section devoted to goat — you’ll find cloven-hoofed accoutrements from the starters to dessert.

The suburbs of Chicago’s north shore are one place in America where time has stood surprisingly still. From Des Plaines to Deerfield, you’ll find dining establishments the rest of the world would verily consider old-timey — wood-paneled taverns and supper clubs packed to the gills like Lake Michigan smelt and ravenous families tuck into retro standards like fettucine Alfredo, charbroiled steaks and chicken à la king. But the really surprising thing? It’s so good. The land that restaurant time forgot is free of artificial emulsifiers and enhanced butter flavoring — that’s real cream on those noodles. Like, an entire delicious cup of warm, heavy cream.

Another favorite local haunt is Hackney’s, which is famous for its burgers, French dip sandwiches and loaf-like “bricks” of onion rings.

Meanwhile, Johnny’s Kitchen and Tap in Glenview is tucked into a tiny strip mall behind a Baskin’ Robbins — it is the last place you’d think you’d find a delicious prime rib, but you will.

Of course, EJ’s Place is still the place to get linguini with clam sauce (red or white) and a 32-oz porterhouse with a side of creamed spinach.

In the state capital, it’s an unwritten law that you must order a horseshoe at Obed and Isaac’s, a dish invented at the historic Leland Hotel. Occupying the space where sandwiches, casseroles and savory puddings collide, a horseshoe tops thick slices of toast with salty ham, covers that in French fries and pours rarebit sauce over it all.

Prepare for Your Move to Illinois

Ready to make your move to Illinois? United Van Lines is ready to help you. Get a moving quote.

United Van Lines offers full-service moving packages to make your move to Illinois hassle-free. Our expert team of long-distance movers will handle all the details so you can focus on your family and your new home.

Moving cross country? United Van Lines long distance movers can help you move to Illinois from anywhere in the U.S. We can manage packing, unpacking, storage, car shipping — even debris pick up and more.

Moving locally? Our Illinois movers provide services for local moves within Illinois independently under their own businesses and brands.

Whether you want to move yourself or would like us to handle everything for you, United Van Lines has all the tools, services and resources you need.

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