Your Ultimate Guide to Moving to Washington

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Quick Facts About Washington State

With active volcanoes, ice-age waterfalls and 28,000 miles of shoreline, the state of Washington is one of the most dazzling environments in the country to live. Washington has eleven distinct geographic regions, from the moody northwestern islands of San Juan to the glacial peaks of Mount Rainier and the ponderosa forests surrounding Spokane. National parks, ski resorts, alpine lakes and whitewater rivers are just some of the outdoor draws of the Evergreen State. 

But this coastal mountain charmer of the Pacific Northwest is beautiful outside and in. Cities across Washington state have some of the best cultural attractions in the world — museums, performance spaces, restaurants and shops — and somehow the residents manage to keep everything trendy but friendly. In fact, it’s the laidback but upbeat vibe of big cities like Seattle that sets this state apart.  

Washington’s ever-increasing popularity is reflected in its rising population. Despite the state’s relatively high cost of living, Washington has added over a million new residents since 2010, some lured by the lifestyle and others by how they earn a living. Career paths are numerous in a state with such a diverse and booming economic base, anchored by global giants like Amazon, REI and Starbucks and filled in by thousands of small businesses and independent artists and designers.  

If you’re looking for a place that prizes creativity, ingenuity and sustainability, the state of Washington may be the place for you.  

Cost of Living in Washington State 

With an index of 114.2, the cost of living in Washington is higher than the national average but lower than its West Coast neighbors, according to MERIC. The statewide median home value in late 2022 was a whopping $567,000 — higher than Oregon but lower than California.  Prices thankfully seem to be on a downward trend now.  

Utilities are the real outlier here: Washington’s energy costs are 18 points below Oregon’s and 36 points lower than California’s. In fact, the energy costs in the Evergreen State are some of the lowest in the entire nation — residential energy rates are nearly 20% less than the U.S. average, while commercial rates are 17% lower and industrial rates are 38% below the national average. 

Residents have the state’s sophisticated hydroelectric system to thank for their low energy costs. Almost 75% of Washington’s power comes from the state’s rivers. By 2045, all energy in the state will be derived from clean energy sources, as mandated by law. 

The cost of living in Washington varies drastically from one area to another, so keep that in mind when you’re deciding which city in Washington state to move to. Seattle and Spokane, located on opposite sides of the state, are night and day when it comes to living costs. Forbes estimates it would cost you over 30% more to live in the Emerald City than in the Lilac City. (See below for more information on Washington’s largest cities).  

One benefit of living in Washington is that there is no state income tax. But beware — the combined state and local sales tax can be as high as 10.6%. You’ll likely have earned more dollars to spend in the state, too. Washington’s per capita income has exceeded the U.S. average virtually every year since 1980. In 2021, Washingtonians had the 7th-highest per capita income in the U.S., earning $71,889 annually compared to the nationwide average of $63,444.  

Diverse State Economy and Job Market  

Nearly one million people have moved to the Evergreen State in the past 13 years — a 7.4% increase. Washington’s diverse economy may be one reason for the expansion. Almost half of the state’s population (3.5M) participates in the labor force. Washington was named the #1 Best State Economy by WalletHub and it was declared one of the top states for business by both CNBC and Forbes.  

Owing to its diverse and vast terrain, Washington has an impressive eight primary economic sectors: Aerospace, agriculture/food manufacturing, clean energy, creative, forest products, information/communication technology, life sciences/global health, maritime, and military/defense. If you’re curious about job opportunities in Washington, the state Employment Security Department has helpful employment projections and growth outlooks for specific industries and careers.   

Washington is the birthplace some of the world’s most dominant corporations, including Amazon, Boeing, Costco, Microsoft, Starbucks and UPS. Thanks to relatively high education rates, the state can also supply a skilled workforce to the diverse companies in the state. Today, 91% of Washingtonians are high school graduates and 37% of residents have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. More than 20 private colleges and universities and six public institutions operate in the state — including the University of Washington and Washington State University — all contributing to economic and cultural wealth. 

Weather… Beyond the Rainy Days

While Seattle certainly lives up to its rainy Hollywood image, the state of Washington is not a wholly cloudy, mist-covered terrain. As a matter of fact, Seattle isn’t even the rainiest city in Washington. The state is ruggedly divided by the Cascade mountains east and west. Cities west of these peaks can expect anywhere from 30-100 inches of annual rainfall. West of the ridge, the climate is demonstrably drier — only 5-30 inches of rain will fall each year from Spokane to the center of the state. The higher you climb in the mountains in the west, the more significant the soaking will be. Some areas on the Olympic range will receive upwards of 200 inches of rain or snow each year. Unlike much of the rest of the country, winter is the wet season for western Washington, while late summer is the driest. Temperatures in the west are mild throughout the year, rarely rising above 80 F or falling below 20 F. 

Eastern Washington is an agricultural haven, and the warm summers and rich soil support hundreds of different crops. Summertime highs can creep into the 90s and wintertime lows bottom out above zero. With the fertile earth and semi-arid climate, it’s as though the state of Washington has its own mini-Midwest. Even luckier is that Washington’s breadbasket isn’t plagued by terrifying thunderstorms, blizzards or tornadoes.  

If you’re moving to Washington state, the best times of the year are usually between late spring and early fall, when you’re unlikely to be drenched in rain or buried in snow.  

Largest Cities in Washington by Population 

The state of Washington is growing rapidly. With a population of 7,785,786 residents, it has grown by 45,000 people (0.5%) in the last year alone — and by well over a million people since 2010. Much of the state’s population is concentrated in the western half, within King, Pierce and Snohomish counties — those encompassing the area from Seattle to Olympia. Learn more about some of the biggest and best places to live in the Evergreen State below.  

Seattle-Bellevue-Tacoma Metro Area 

Known for its iconic Space Needle and Pike Place Market, Seattle is Washington’s largest — and maybe its most creative — city. Its population has risen to 733,919 people, but over four million now call the metro Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area home, an increase of roughly a million since the beginning of the century. The city proper has added nearly 130,000 residents in the last 12 years, with new residents attracted by the job opportunities, laid-back, cosmopolitan lifestyle and unbeatable landscape. Unemployment in the Snohomish and King County region is the lowest in the state at roughly 2.5%.  

The cost of living in this outrageously cool city is, well, outrageous. Housing in Seattle is some of the most expensive in the country. The median home value is $767,500 — over three times the national average! And the median gross rent is a gouging $1,801. Incomes here are also significantly higher, though. The median household income is $105,391, and educational rates are off the charts. Nearly everyone in the city has graduated from high school and roughly 66% have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.  

But equally outrageous is the cultural bounty you’ll find in this coastal urban enclave. With deep Native American roots and global influences as far flung as Scandinavia, China, Latin America and Africa, Seattle residents and visitors have some of the most important and diverse resources of anywhere in the country. You’ll feel the vibrancy and influence of these wide-ranging cultures in the food, museums and architecture. Native-owned restaurant Off the Rez, which opened in 2019 at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, serves up incredible fry bread tacos and salads within the popular institution. Meanwhile, Shiro’s Sushi brings Tokyo to the Pacific Northwest, focusing on local fish and produce in its exceptional dishes. And boutique patisseries like Crumble & Flake will satisfy your need for exceptional French sweets, like its black sesame kouign amann and pain au chocolat. Of course, you’ll also be able to take in some of the world’s best art, music and dance, including performances at the Pacific Northwest Ballet and exhibitions at the Seattle Art Museum. 

If you’re moving to Seattle, you’ll have over 20 unique neighborhoods to choose from, including the vivacious, artsy Fremont & Wallingford area and quietly beautiful Beacon Hill, where the views of the city are stellar and the Rainier Cherry soft serve at Milk Drunk will make you set down your bags and call it home. Those needing to commute will rejoice in Seattle’s public transportation system, which is the envy of other cities of its size. It includes a streetcar network, buses, light rail, a World’s Fair-era monorail, commuter trails and a bike/scooter share.   

Seattle is the rare city that has launched an astonishing number of global business empires that are also household names. Many Americans would find it difficult to make it through the week without sipping a salted caramel cold brew while restocking their pantries and linen closets on Prime.  

But even if Starbucks and Amazon aren’t your go-tos, Seattle is also home to REI, Microsoft, Nordstrom and Boeing. In addition to these retail, IT and aerospace giants, Seattle is also a major hub for clean tech, design, media and music. And, it’s the home of University of Washington — one of the nation’s top public school’s — along with Seattle University and several other academic institutions. Seattle is a city that engenders the development of highly creative companies and the talent that fuels them. 


In between Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish is Bellevue, an independent city that functions as one of Seattle’s neighborhoods. This gorgeous land between the lakes is home to 149,440 people, a gain of 26,000 since 2010. The cost of living in Bellevue almost makes Seattle look affordable … but not quite. It will cost you nearly a million dollars, on average, to own a home here, while rent averages $2,220 a month. Think of it as the Newport Beach of the Pacific Northwest. The median household income is $140,252 and the poverty rate is 6.9%.  

The city capitalizes on all its outdoor wonders, with a stunning botanical garden, lakeside parks and beaches, and a zipline tour. Bellevue has a prominent Asian community, as well as a rich and diverse heritage. Thanks to this, there are numerous cultural institutions to visit, like the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center and The Northwest African American Museum (NAAM). There are also fun and enlightening events for residents to enjoy throughout the year, including the Japan Fair, public celebrations of Diwali and Holi and the NorthWest Ukrainian International Festival. 

Information technology is Bellevue’s largest and fastest-growing industry, but business services is a close second, followed by retail and tourism. Residents and visitors alike enjoy some of the best food and drink in the region, here, along with great shopping. Bellevue may be neighbors with Amazon, but brick-and-mortar charm is alive and well here.  


Midway between Seattle and Olympia — with an epic view of Mount Rainier — Tacoma is a vibrant, artsy city of 219,205 on the shores of Puget Sound. The downtown museum district has offerings for every interest, from the Chihuly Garden at the world-renowned Museum of Glass to the Washington State History Museum and the Children’s Museum of Tacoma. If you need a little retail therapy, this official Etsy maker city will not disappoint. Get your vintage fix on Antique Row, where multi-story treasure troves will satisfy nostalgia junkies and sharp-eyed bargainers alike.  

Like the rest of the metro Seattle area, food and drink in Tacoma is exceptional. You’ll find airy, industrial taphouses like Incline Cider and Dystopian State and casual elegant restaurants like Wooden City, where wood-fired bone marrow and beet ravioli are a delight for all the senses. A free light rail system makes it easy to get to all your favorite spots.    

Tacoma has grown steadily over the past 12 years, gaining 20,000 new residents since 2010. The city’s population is also diverse: 57% are white, 12.2% are Hispanic/Latinx, 8.8% are Asian, 10.8% are Black, 1.9% are American Indian/Alaskan Native, 1% are Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and 11.7% identify as two or more races. Housing is far more reasonable in this waterside gem. The median home value in Tacoma is $347,100 and rent averages $1,343 per month. Incomes in the region are far below its tony neighbors to the north but on par with U.S. averages. The median household income here is just under $70,000.  

Other Large Cities in Washington State 

Located just north of the Oregon border on the banks of the Columbia River, Vancouver, Washington, has gained over 30,000 new residents over the last decade, making this city of 192,169 the state’s fourth-largest. The cost of living in this bi-state area is similar to Tacoma. The median home value in Vancouver is $343,900, rents average $1,396 per month, while the average household income is $67,462.   

Vancouver and Clark County are considered part of the Portland metro area. Accordingly, a considerable part of the city’s labor force works in Portland. A much smaller percentage of Portlanders work in Vancouver. This may be, in part, a reflection of the different tax policies in the states. Washington has no income tax, while Oregon has no sales tax. Solid transportation infrastructure ensures a reliable commute for residents of both states.  

The industries in this region differ dramatically from the Seattle area’s retail and tech-driven empires, centering around healthcare, education, financial services and gaming/hospitality. PeaceHealth is headquartered here. Additionally, major development of the waterfront brought in new hotel, retail and office space, and the Ilani Casino.  

Non-farm employment has grown exponentially in Vancouver since the turn of the century. Although the county took a serious employment hit during the pandemic, it has recovered quickly. Unemployment now stands at 6.2%. Another auspicious sign is the fact that the construction industry has grown 9% annually since 2011.   

No matter the season, Vancouver is a place to get outdoors. Take advantage of in-city favorites like the seven-acre Waterfront Park. Or plan a day trip to picturesque Moulton Falls or Mount Saint Helens, where you can hike and climb in the warmer months and ski, snowshoe or snowmobile during the winter. Learn about the region’s history at sites like the Cathlapotle Plankhouse — a cultural center managed by the Chinook Indian Nation — or at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.  

Washington’s eastern edge is anchored by Spokane, a riverside locale where city and nature are simpatico. The downtown Riverfront Park was thoughtfully built around the Spokane Falls, where hiking trails and gondola rides get you (frightfully) close to the hydraulic action.   

The South Perry District has been brilliantly revitalized with quirky charm and excellent eats. North of downtown, the Garland District — named for its historic Art Deco theater — has artsy funk without the cool kids’ cold shoulder. Just outside the city, you can hike through Riverside State Park’s lush evergreen forest or bike the 40-mile paved path all the way to Idaho. Alternately, you can turn up the volume on your outdoor adventure and hit the rapids on the Clark Fork River.  

Spokane is home to 229,071 people — an increase of over 20,000 since 2010. With industries ranging from professional services to trade, medical/healthcare/education and entertainment, Spokane serves as an economic base for much of the interior Northwest. But the importance of the area’s 30 million acres of forests cannot be understated — 25% of the world’s white pines are here.  

The cost of living in Spokane is affordable, particularly by Washington state standards. The median home value is $236,300 and rent averages $956 per month. But at $56,977, incomes are nearly $30,000 below the state average. The poverty level (15.6%) is several points higher than both the national and state averages.  

Fun and Unique Things to Do in Washington State

Washington state is all about the outdoor lifestyle — no matter where you live here, you can expect great adventures in nature, whether you want to hike, bike, climb, kayak, ski or swim. But the Evergreen State is certainly no slouch when it comes to city fun, either. Museums, music venues, historic sites and professional sports are all popular in this culture-rich state. Dive in below and learn about some of the best attractions in Washington, indoors and out.  

Outdoor Adventures

 Olympic National Park is a coastal treasure just west of the Seattle area. With glacial mountains, rain forests and Pacific beaches, this park offers a vast array of climates and geologies to experience all in one place. Just 100 miles northeast of Seattle along the Canadian border, North Cascades National Park is an alpine wonderland.

The most iconic of all of Washington State’s national parks is Mount Rainier, the active, volcanic peak southeast of Tacoma. It’s also one of the busiest places to visit.

If you really want to get away from it all, a trip to San Juan Island National Historic Park will be as restorative as it is adventure-filled. Lucky visitors will see the endangered island marble butterfly, elephant seals, orcas and even bioluminescent algae that sometimes makes the bay at English Camp glow after dark. Tidepools, teeming with sea stars, limpets and mussels, are a favorite place to swim and less prone to the choppy, unpredictable surf elsewhere.  

Learn more about these exceptional wilderness areas in our National Parks on the West Coast guide. 

Washington state’s wilderness isn’t just restricted to its western side. In Spokane County in the northeast, the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge provides habitat for over 100 species of animals, including western bluebirds, rubber boas and Rocky Mountain elk. This protected area within the Channeled Scablands habitat also helps ensure that native flora can thrive here, from wild iris to ponderosa pines.  

In the southeastern corridor you’ll find Washington’s official state waterfall in Palouse Falls State Park. This water feature is no quaint trickle in the rainforest — it is a tumultuous, 200-foot cascade into a basalt canyon. Picnicking and hiking are popular activities in this ice-age attraction, and paddling is popular along the Palouse and Snake Rivers nearby.  

If you’re looking for a fun, low-key outdoor adventure with the family, head to the southwestern tip of the state for a day of biking on the Long Beach Discovery Trail. This mostly paved, 8.5-mile coastal loop that marks the terminus of Lewis & Clark’s journey offers views of the North Head Lighthouse as well as the surrounding wetlands, forests and dunes.   

In the wintertime, your family can enjoy skiing and snowboarding and tubing in Washington’s many mountain resorts. Just south of the Canadian border, the Mount Baker Ski Area is a popular destination for downhill activities, receiving a gobsmacking average of 663 inches of snow a year. In the north-central region, the Loup Loup Ski Bowl has alpine and Nordic ski trails, as well as irresistible tubing hills, but the real attraction here is luge sledding. Unlike the Olympic version of the sport, luge sledding is done with more rudimentary sleds on outdoor trails — it’s an exciting ride, to be sure, but you do not need  to be an elite athlete to attempt it.  

Metro Life

The cities of Washington state have some of the chillest vibes and the world’s most renowned cultural attractions. Art-lovers will find it hard to take in all the museums in the Evergreen State, from the Seattle Asian Art Museum to the Bellevue Arts Museum to the Museum of Northwest Art (MoNA) in La Conner.  

Don’t worry, sports fans — it’s not artsy in Seattle all the time. You can ditch the museum crowds and head to a Mariners, Seahawks or Sounders FC game. But don’t forget about Seattle’s love affair with ultimate frisbee — the Seattle Cascades (AUDL) and the Seattle Tempest (WUL) are the state’s pro teams.  

Even newcomers to Washington state need no introduction to Seattle’s most famous landmark, the Space Needle. This rotating monument and lounge built for the 1962 World’s Fair offers two stories of panoramic views 500 feet above the Pacific Northwest’s biggest metro area.  

Below the clouds, Pike Place Market has made a name for itself around the world for its fish market, which offers premium local and sustainable catches, from Dungeness crab to Copper River salmon. But this nine-acre, 115-year-old heart of the city hosts hundreds of local vendors of all varieties, from farmstands to childrenswear makers to ceramics. 

Aspiring pilots and astronauts will want to guide their wings toward Seattle’s Museum of Flight, which has an incredible collection of aircraft, including the primitive Aeronca C-2 — so rudimentary it was once known as the “flying bathtub” — to the Apollo 17 Lunar Module Ascent Stage Mock-up. The museum also offers exciting VR experiences and flight simulators.  

On the opposite side of the state, Spokane’s Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture — better known as the MAC, welcomes more than 100,000 visitors each year to see art and artifacts of the Inland Northwest people as well as from cultures around the globe. Visitors might see an exhibition of beadwork from South Africa in one space and an installation by a local sculptor in another. The institution maintains the largest collect of Plateau Indian art and artifacts in the world. 

Other spots not to miss include the mind-expanding James Turrell Skyspace at the University of Washington; the Port Angeles Underground Heritage Tour, where you wind through a network of tunnels and long-buried storefronts; and the Goldendale Observatory State Park, where the public is invited to use the powerful Cassegrain telescope and learn more about our place in the universe.  

Foods and Drinks

The relationship between cherry trees and Washington may be apocryphal when it comes to the nation’s first president, but it’s the genuine article when it comes to Washington state. Washington harvests sweeter cherries than any other state. The popular (and often pricier) Rainier variety was developed in Washington and named after the famed volcanic peak.  

But where the Evergreen State really stands out is with apples. Washington supplies 90% of the organic apples in the U.S., and it’s the leading supplier of pears, blueberries and hops as well. You can pick your own at orchards across the state, like Root Orchards in Mosier, which grows over 14 different varieties of sweet cherries. You can also go apple-picking at Swan’s Trail Farms in Snohomish, which also hosts a baby animal festival in the summertime.  

Looking for the fruit of the vine? Washington’s Columbia Valley is a haven for wine grapes, particularly Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the varietal that started the wine craze in the region in the 1990s. The region is packed with wineries like Col Solare, situated in the Valley’s Red Mountain sub-appellation. Noted for its incredible, full-bodied Cab, it offers fun and elegant tasting experiences.   

The Seattle area’s food scene is second-to-none in the state. You’ll have your choice of upscale — but never uptight — restaurants. Musts include The Walrus and the Carpenter — our top pick for local oysters — and The Peasant at the Beast & Cleaver (also a butchery), serving humanely raised meat in highly original preparations, like duck confit with Yorkshire pudding waffles and albacore with fig and fermented shitake mushrooms.  

Starbucks may be the hometown brand of Washington, but it’s got plenty of competition for the best brew in town. Coffee roasters like Dorothea, Broadcast Coffee and The Stamp Act don’t have cafes of their own (yet), but you can find the beans in local grocers, as well as at bakeries and restaurants like Temple Pastries or Union Coffee and Wine. 

Prepare for Your Move to Washington

Ready to move to Washington State? Get a moving quote from United Van Lines. 

With a trusted and experienced moving company like United Van Lines, your upcoming move to Washington will be as stress-free as possible. Our professional movers can help you move to the Evergreen State from anywhere in the country. The MyUnited Move Portal will keep all the details of your move organized and trackable, whether you’re making a long-distance move or a local move. 

If you’re moving cross country to Washington, United Van Lines’ long-distance movers can help you move across the region or across the country. We offer full-service and customized moving packages. United Van Lines can manage  all your moving needs, from packing and unpacking to storage needs, car shipping, debris pickup and more. 

Making a local move within Washington? United Van Lines’ interstate Washington agents can provide local moving services/help you move within Washington independently under their own businesses and brands. 

Making a DIY move to Washington? If you’re handling your move yourself, United Van Lines can still help. Check out our helpful moving and packing tips, checklists, regional guides and other moving resources. Get a quote today on moving to Washington State.

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