Things You Need to Know Before Moving to Chicago

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Quick Facts About Chicag

The city that gave us the skyscraper, the dishwasher and the humble zipper. The Ferris wheel, the cell phone and mail-order goods. The Windy City, the Second City, the City of the Big Shoulders, the City that Works. The city that gave the world so many things goes by many names, but if you move to Chicago, you’ll just call it the best city.   

As the third-largest city in the U.S. and the largest city in Illinois and the entire Midwest, Chicago has a booming economy, a bustling population and a bright, impassioned vibe. When it comes to their hometown, Chicago residents are a prideful lot, and who can blame them? With architectural treasures like the Hancock Building and Marina City, public greenspaces like Northerly Island Park, an outstanding food and arts scene, cool lofts and condominiums — and the even cooler shores of Lake Michigan — there is a lot to have pride about.  

Chicago is home to 2.7 million people, and the population is admirably diverse. You’ll find communities from every corner of the globe nestled into international neighborhoods in this Midwestern city. Chicago is also — proudly — not New York City. While you’ll find most of the amenities of that coastal cultural hotbed, you’ll find little of its attitude. Sure, Chicagoans can be a little rough around the edges, but you’ll find residents here to be far more approachable and down to earth than almost any other city of its size.  

Like its northeastern counterpart, Chicago is one of the country’s major financial hubs. The city is home to over 30 Fortune 500 companies, but its diverse economy also reflects the city’s enormous talent pool of musicians, actors, artists, designers and writers. If it weren’t for the Second City’s “Second City” comedy club, NYC’s Saturday Night Live might never have been made at all. 

If you’ve determined that Chicago is your next city, let United Van Lines help you get there. Get a quote today on moving to Chicago. 

What You Need to Know About Living in Chicago 

Chicago Cost of Living 

If you’re moving to the Windy City, expect to pay more for your basic needs and have less to pay for them with. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of housing, food and healthcare are all higher in Chicago than the national average. But unfortunately, the median household income in Chicago is only $65,781 — that’s three thousand less than the U.S. average.  

However, compared to New York City and Los Angeles, the cost of living in Chicago is comparatively affordable to living on the coasts. The median home value in Chicago is only $277,600, compared to New York’s $660,700 and L.A.’s $705,900, and rent averages just over $1,200 in the Second City, compared to $1,579 in the Big Apple and $1,641 in La-La Land. 

Another consideration: The state of Illinois imposes a state property tax of 2.05% — the highest in the country — which can add insult to injury when it comes to household expenses.  

If you own or intend to own a home in Chicago, you can learn more about property tax in Chicago from the city’s Department of Finance. We are not tax experts and are not offering tax advice, other than you should consider obtaining additional information and advice from your legal and/or financial advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances. 

Chicago Job Market and Wages

As an early transportation hub, Chicago earned Carl Sandburg’s moniker, “The City of the Big Shoulders,” because of its industrial grittiness. Fast-forward from these bygone days, and Chicago’s economy is now the third-largest in the U.S., totaling $833 in GDP and 4.7 million jobs in the civic labor force, where the average worker in Chicago earns an average of $65,781 a year.  

The global shipping lanes established long ago have sustained Chicago’s dominance in manufacturing, trade, distribution and logistics industries, and the city has built itself into a hub for other diverse industries, including business & financial services, life sciences, tech, healthcare & education and creative fields.  

The Second City is home to 35 Fortune 500 companies, though that number is dwindling. Thanks to recent Illinois legislation, combined with big incentives from business-first states, Texas was able to pull of the unthinkable: Lure Illinois ag giant Caterpillar to Dallas. Chicago’s number of Fortune 500s does still top the Lone Star State, though. And, with a diverse talent pool from top educational institutions like the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Loyola, DePaul, Columbia College, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago is likely to retain its business prominence far into the future.   

Public Transportation and Commute Time in Chicago

Chicago is infamous for many things, but topping the list has to be its traffic. Thanks to suburban sprawl and its tight city streets, the average travel time to work in Chicago is 34 minutes. Bloomberg reports that each driver in Chicago spent 155 hours stuck in traffic in 2022 — that’s nearly a full week stuck behind the wheel.  

This level of congestion and frustration — along with greater awareness about the health hazards — has driven many off the roads and onto the city’s well-developed public transportation system for their daily commute. The Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) network of buses and trains, including the “L,” provides a reliable and affordable means of commuting from major points within the city and to far-flung suburbs to the north, west and south on the Metra. One ride on the L is $2.50, and buses cost $2.25 per ride (student rate is $0.75 for each), or you can purchase a day pass for $5.00. Monthly rates are even lower. Metra day passes (for the trains that travel to the suburbs) cost from $6.00-10.00, and monthly passes cost $100.00.  

Biking has become an increasingly popular mode of transportation in Chicago. The city has invested heavily in making it safe to navigate the city on two wheels, with an expansive bike network and bike program. It’s not for everyone, certainly, and it’s not always practical when the weather is poor, but it is liberating to whiz past stalled cars on a pleasant spring or fall evening, knowing you’re beating everyone home.  

One way to avoid the weather and traffic altogether is to travel on foot through Chicago’s Pedway. These types of sheltered corridors are popular in the upper Midwest, where the weather is often something to sneeze at. Chicago’s partially subterranean network of pathways that take you beneath, above, and through buildings is well-known to locals but little known to tourists, so it’s a great way to beat the snow, the rain and the crowds.  

As a major hub for United Airlines and American Airlines, Chicago makes it easy to get to and from the city by air. O’Hare is one of the world’s largest and busiest airports. It’s located in the northwest suburbs. Most major carriers fly out of O’Hare, except for Southwest, which only flies out of Midway, located closer to the city on the southwest side. Both airports are easily connected to the city and suburbs by train.  

Weather in Chicago

The Windy City may be so named because of its historical politics, but it certainly suits its climatic temperament as well. Expect cold, snowy winters, warm summer days and mild weather in late spring and early fall.  

Thanks to the location of the polar jet stream’s position over Illinois, Chicago can be plagued by storms from late fall through spring. The city often suffers from persistently gray conditions, too.  

Lake Michigan also exerts an outsize influence on Chicago’s climate. As a result, the weather can vary dramatically from even the city shores to the near suburbs. The lake effect moderates temperatures in both summer and winter, but when cold air masses pass over the enormous (and warmer) inland sea, the damp air freezes, greatly increasing winter snowfall. On average, Chicago sees 38.4 inches of snow, but recent winters have been whiter of late (with the exception of the unusually dry 2022-23 season).  82 inches accumulated in the city during the 2013-14 season, and roughly 50 inches feel in the 2014-15 and 2018-19 seasons.  

Chicago also sees its share of extreme weather in the summer months. The average temperature is only 75 F, but the city invariably sees at least few scorching summer days when the mercury shoots well past 90 degrees. The urban environment also functions as a heat trap, keeping the air a couple degrees warmer than in neighborhoods outside the city. You can expect regular rain, storms and the occasional threat of tornadoes from May through August.  

Chicago Neighborhoods 

Chicago is known for its diverse array of neighborhoods, from international enclaves like Albany Park to districts like the Gold Coast, filled with upscale boutiques and restaurants. Wherever you venture in the Second City, you’ll be in for a visual treat — Chicago’s architecture is one of the most distinctive in the world. You’ll find early 20th-century brickwork, modernist masterpieces and supertall skyscrapers, like 400 Lake Shore, a 875 foot tower planned for the waterfront by Chicago-based firm SOM.  

A beacon for tourists but still a destination for locals, the Chicago Loop is home to the city’s most outstanding attractions: Millennium Park, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Willis Tower (née Sears). Festivals for music, film and food keep venues like the Pritzker Pavilion and Grant Park packed all summer long, while ice skating at Maggie Daley Park lures cold weather lovers out of their cozy condos during the city’s long winters. The Loop is also the home of the downtown Chicago’s financial district — really, the economic engine of the entire Midwest. A visit to the Chicago Federal Reserve’s Money Museum will have you mesmerized by the spinning a million-dollar cube of cash. The constant stream of art students, traveling between their SAIC dorms on Michigan Avenue and Blick Art Supplies, keeps this district on its toes.  

Just west of Grant Park, Printers Row is a historic loft district that offers easy access to the business district and the city’s most popular attractions. The former bookmaking hub still has amazing specialty bookstores like Sandmeyer’s and also hosts the Printers Row Lit Fest, which welcomes 100,000 visitors to the annual two-day gathering. This pocket-size neighborhood even has a charming green space of its own — Printers Row Park — along with some great restaurants, like the northern Italian favorite Sofi and the Printers Row Wine Bar.  

The West Loop — Chicago’s former meatpacking district — has turned into a top-drawer dining destination. Erstwhile warehouses have been converted into posh condos, apartments and restaurants, with all the exposed brick and Edison bulbs your vintage heart can handle. The 15,000-square-foot Time Out Market introduced an international food hall scene to the district in 2019, supplementing the excellent eats at longstanding stand-alones like the pan-Latin Tabu, the Michelin-starred Sepia and LÝRA, one of the brightest stars of Greektown, an area within the West Loop. Museums and galleries like the National Hellenic Culture, WNDR Museum and Kavi Gupta anchor the district’s highlife, while establishments like Publican Quality Meats harken back to the neighborhood’s bygone days.  

Note: If you’re thinking of moving to Chicago, it’s important to thoroughly research neighborhoods or areas in the city you might be interested in living. Before you decide where you are going to live, make sure you understand the area’s cost of living, commute time, tax rates, safety statistics and schooling information. 

Take Advantage of What Chicago Has to Offer

In addition to the Art Institute of Chicago — which has one of the finest art collections in the world — Chicago has dozens of venues dedicated to the visual arts, including the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA), the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, the Chinese American Museum of Chicago in Chinatown and the National Museum of Mexican Art in the Pilsen neighborhood. One of the city’s greatest treasures is the Chicago Cultural Center, which offers free admission to its incredible exhibitions of work made by prominent artists based in Chicago and the Midwest.  

If science is more on your wavelength, you have moved to the right town. There are natural history institutions like the Field Museum, which has almost 40 million specimens in its collection, and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park, which has live animal exhibits of butterflies, reptiles and more. The Adler Planetarium is an inspiring spot for young stargazers, and no one has ever left the Shedd Aquarium in a grumpy mood after visiting with the resident beluga whales, all of whom have resting happy faces. 

For those who want in on the action, the Chicago Sports Museum has interactive and virtual reality experiences that let you shoot and score like your favorite hometown heroes. The museum has all the memorabilia you can handle, including lots of Chicago Cubs’ 2016 World Series-winning gear, like Joe Maddon’s humorous “We did not suck” tee shirt. Fans have four seasons of sports to look forward to in Chicago, with Cubs and White Sox games at Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field, Bulls games at the United Center, Bears games at Soldier Field (for those who love football and an underdog), Blackhawks games (for those who enjoy professional rumbles on ice), and Chicago Fire games, which are currently held at Soldier Field but will soon be lighting up the pitch at their own performance and training center. 

If you need an escape from the concreate jungle, you won’t have to ever step a foot outside the city, thanks to Chicago’s numerous parks, trails and beaches. Millennium Park is a natural treasure trove, where pathways meander through fields of coneflowers, golden alexanders and other native plants. The 606 — a defunct train line that is now a 2.7-mile recreational trail — makes it easy to connect to picturesque Humboldt Park. Of course, there’s no better place to get your exercise than along the shores of Lake Michigan. The Chicago Lakefront Trail provides 18 miles of paved shoreline for bikers, rollerbladers and pedestrians to wash away the worries of the day. Signage makes it easy to use the pathway as part of your daily commute, and there are ped tunnels at regular intervals to make it safe to cross the heavily traveled Lake Shore Drive. Similarly, the Chicago Riverwalk, a 4-mile loop along the Chicago River, passes some of the best architectural landmarks in the city, including the DuSable Bridge, the Chicago Architecture Center and the Tribune Tower. If you prefer more extreme wheels, Logan Boulevard Skate Park has all the ramps, hips and flat rails the shredders and BMXers in your family could ever dream of, plus some killer public art by local sculptor Lucy Slivinski.  

If you just need a day at the beach, you be glad you moved to this “Third Coast” city. Locals try to avoid the tourist hotspots in Millennium Park, like North Avenue Beach, in favor of access points to the north and south, like Loyola Beach in Rogers Park, or South Shore Beach, which is part of the South Shore Cultural Center Park, a historic site with a nine-hole golf course and educational facilities for visual, culinary, and performing arts classes. 

Despite all these cultural treasures, Chicago is, of course, most famous for its deep-dish and tavern-style pizza, its hot dogs, and its Italian beef sandwiches. Locals will fiercely debate and defend their favorite spots for each, but here are ours. In the category of pizza, Pequod’s has the deepest dish in our book — their famous caramelized crust can withstand the casserole-like quantity of sauce and toppings. In the category of hot dogs, Wolfy’s will always have our hearts. From the red-and-white tile walls to the don’t-mess-with-perfection dogs, you won’t find a more satisfying classic than theirs. If you’re looking for the definitive Italian beef, Al’s is where it all originated. Way back in 1938, the Ferreri family made a sandwich and name for themselves when they opened a small food stand in Little Italy, and the rest is just mouth-watering history.  

Chicago cuisine isn’t limited to these carnivorous classics, though — this is a city with a world-class food scene with every imaginable atmosphere and vibe. There are homey, creative spots like Parachute, which prepares traditional Korean plates with 21st-century flair. There are gambling-inspired joints like the high-rolling restaurant The Whale, where the upholstery is sleek and tufted, the menu is new-traditional American, and even the burgers have swagger. There are mind-blowing Mexican restaurants like Mi Tocaya Antojería, where heritage ingredients give ancient flavors new life in dishes like the Heirloom Tetela, made with a baby lima and leek potaje, or the Single Origen Picada, prepared with mantequilla bean whip and smoked trout roe.  

Looking for other authentic Chicago flavors? Check out our recommendations for hidden gems in Chicago

Be Ready for the Big Move to Chicago

Using a professional, long-distance moving company like United Van Lines can make your cross-country move to Chicago a seamless experience. We provide full-service moving packages as well as customized moving packages to manage all your needs, including debris removal, packing and unpacking, storage, car shipping and more.  

Planning a local move? If you’re moving within Chicago or from another city in Illinois, United Van Lines’ interstate Illinois agents/movers can provide local moving services/local movers who will help you move within the state independently under their own businesses and brands. 

Hoping to move by yourself to Chicago? United Van Lines is still here to help. Check out our helpful moving resources, including packing tips, moving checklists and regional guides.   

Still deciding where to move to in the Prairie State? Check out the Ultimate Guide to Moving to Illinois to learn about other cities in the state. 

However you decide to move, the MyUnited Move Portal will help keep essential information about your move organized, trackable, and at the ready. 

Get a quote today on moving to Chicago. 

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