Saunders 1865 | Moving to Washington D.C.

Moving to Washington D.C.

Are you moving to Washington D.C.? The capital city of the United States borders the states of Virginia and Maryland, and is situated on the northern shore of the Potomac River. Potomac is an Algonquian word which translates to ‘trading place.’ The city and the District of Columbia coexist and are one and the same, with the capital often referred to as D.C. or the district. A compact city, it contains the historic federal city, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, and the White House. It was the world’s first planned capitol. Views will never be impeded by skyscrapers as the city is protected by a law limiting the heights of buildings to no more than 160 feet. The Washington Monument is an exception.

Our free, in-depth Moving to Washington D.C. report includes info on:

• The best areas to live
• The good schools
• The average monthly rental prices
• The excellent public transport system in the city

Putting Washington D.C. on the Map

Originally, Virginia and Maryland granted land to the federal government on each side of the Potomac, making up a ten-mile square.  In 1846, Virginia’s lands were returned but the Pentagon, Ronald Reagan Airport and Arlington Cemetery, along with others, are located in the Virginia County of Arlington and remain part of the metropolitan area of the sprawling District of Columbia.

As the capital, DC has a solid transport network including various bus and train services.  Many places within the city centre are close to each other, making walking a more viable and speedier option than driving or taking public transport.  This city has an active population and many commuters tend to cycle or walk to work if they live close to downtown.  There are 86 metro stations in the DC area, enabling ease of travel within this busy city.  And the autumn views from the trains are sublime.  The transport network operates on an integrated ticketing system, SmarTrip, covering the Metro, the Metrobus, the DC Circulator and bus services in the suburbs.

A confusing system, fare prices differ according to the time of day, the day of the week and the distance of the trip.  A flat-rate pass can be loaded onto the SmarTrip card, enabling unlimited trips within a certain time period.  The cards can be bought and topped up either online, at the Metro stations, and at selected shops in the city.

  • The Metro is the heart of the network. It is operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMAT), which is made up of six colour-coded lines, mainly underground within the district and over ground to the suburbs. However, delays are frequently due, in part, to periodic breakdowns and maintenance.
  • The DC Circulator is the bus system covering areas not reachable by the Metro. These shuttle buses operate to a schedule on a fixed route, connecting the main areas in the city to popular suburbs such as Adams Morgan, Dupont, Georgetown and Woodley Park.  The routes run every 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Hundreds of routes are covered by the Metrobus, servicing areas not reachable by the Circulator or the Metro. Kids under four travel free with a fee-paying adult.
  • Cabs, or taxis, generally need to be paid in cash, although they have facilities for credit cards – which many of them refuse to use. Printed receipts can be requested.
  • Washington DC, with its Capital Bikeshare network, consists of more than 3,000 bikes which can be collected and dropped off at any of the 300 docking stations. DC was the first city in the country to have a bike-sharing system.  Steps are being taken to safeguard the cyclist by increasing dedicated cycle lanes and bike storage centres.
  • Driving in the city is an expensive business. Two hours street parking is the maximum permitted, with hefty fines for those who overrun the time, and many busy streets restrict parking during rush hours.  Parking is available in garages or parking lots, but at quite a price.  The capital is beleaguered by congestion at one of the highest rates in the country.
  • Ronald Reagan International airport is three-miles south of downtown DC, accessible on the Blue and Yellow lines to its own Metro station.
  • Dulles Airport, 26 miles from DC in the Virginia suburbs, has a dedicated access road, improving efficiency via airport shuttle, taxi or private car. The airport is exclusively serviced by Washington Flyer cabs, at taxi ranks outside Doors 2 and 6 in the main terminal.
  • Slightly further out in Baltimore, BWI Airport often offers better flight deals. The Amtrak train route from DC’s Union Station will get you there and back.
The Areas

This compact city has plenty of accommodation options, with the central city areas being the most expensive.  Capitol Hill includes the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court and the Eastern Market, so is ideal for interns and staff on Capitol Hill.  The suburbs rental options are cheaper, but the commute is longer and you should bear in mind that DC has one of the longest commuting times in the US, so try to find accommodation close to your place of work or study that is well serviced by public transport.  The city has a large student population, with graduates from around the country flocking here to start their careers.  There are lots of areas that cater for this demographic.


This is an exclusive, expensive and historic area, with its cobbled streets, old houses and trolley tracks all adding to its charm.  Its proximity to the Potomac, with picturesque canal paths, encourages the population to be outside cycling, walking and jogging.  Georgetown University, with a large student contingent, keeps the area young, with an abundance of entertainment and sporting events.  Keeping the rentals costly, the foreign embassies here include Sweden, Italy, Germany, UK, Finland and France.  Rents are higher than other areas.


With an easy commute into the city, this cosmopolitan area was popular with communities originating from North Africa, Central America and the Caribbean.  However, gentrification has resulted in construction of highly priced housing complexes, resulting in the less-affluent communities leaving the area.  It still is multicultural, which is reflected in the range of international restaurants and shops evident in the streets, along with top nightclubs and bars.  The Metro stations and DC Circulator route enable a quick trip into work.


A traffic circle at the heart of the suburb with a fountain and a park, this family-friendly, historic neighbourhood offers everything from large family homes and condominiums to apartment complexes.  Its strong community spirit sees residents out walking their dogs, with their kids in the park, or playing chess on the circle.  Connecticut Avenue, which converges on the circle along with Massachusetts and New Hampshire Avenues, has a vast array of renowned restaurants and exciting and eclectic shops.  Public transport is a cinch, with Metro, Metrobus and DC Circulator routes running through it, transporting people from all over the city to visit the array of coffee shops, restaurants, art galleries and bookstores.  This popular area has high rental prices.  Dupont Circle is easily walkable to downtown.


Previously known as Uniontown, this area was once populated by the Navy Yard employees, and it is one of DC’s earliest neighbourhoods. Named Anacostia after the river that it lies upon, the close proximity to some of the city’s best schools makes this popular with families, who prefer to leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind and pay lower rentals than other suburbs, still with regular Metro services.  Hikers, bikers and walkers enjoy the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, the playhouse has regular performances and the art gallery, inside the Anacostia Arts Centre, is sublime.  A landmark and a 1950s relic from the long-gone Curtis Brothers Furniture Company is the Big Chair, towering at 19.5 feet.

Accommodation is available in rowhouses, Victorian townhouses, apartments and free-standing family homes.


Located in Virginia, this independent city is six miles south of DC’s downtown area.  The neighbourhood, first settled in 1695, feels miles away from the fast-paced capital city, as its retained its colonial spirit with historic buildings and cobbled streets in the Old Town.  King Street measures a mile dedicated to strolling past old architecture and visiting in excess of 200 independent boutiques, shops and restaurants.  With a number of good schools, relatively low rental properties, including new apartment complexes and single-family homes, Metrorail and bus routes connecting to the capital, this is a great area for families.


Both suburbs have diverse populations, with accommodation ranging from modern family homes to high-rise apartments, and good transport links.  Close to some of the best schools, the spacious, albeit expensive, properties attract a number of expats.  The National Institute of Health, the National Naval Medical Centre and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency are amongst the local employers, and there is a saturation of ethnic restaurants, art galleries and fashion shops.

Who Lives And Works In Washington D.C.?

The US government is the largest employer here, with around one-sixth of the working population employed by either the federal government or closely-related industries, including lobbying, defence contracting, publishing and non-profits.  Finance, healthcare, education and scientific research are competing with government in terms of top employers.

While expats are unlikely to be employed in government, there are opportunities in its agencies, overseas companies or in the diplomatic field.  Nearly every country in the world has some form of representation in the city.  Indeed, a diverse expat community.

Tourism plays a huge role in the local economy – there is just so much to do and see in this exciting city.

The cost of living in DC is one of the highest in the USA.  The population stands at around 602,000, with 305,000 being black, 231,500 white and the balance mainly Asian and Hispanic.

The Best Bits

With a surfeit of culture, great salaries and accommodation, and good transport links this is one of the most exciting cities in the world to live in.

  • The oldest part of the city, Georgetown, dates back to 1751, a full 40 years before DC was founded.
  • Washington averages 39 inches of annual rainfall – that’s even more than Seattle.
  • Imagine walking along S St W to 22nd St and voila, there is a gorgeous stone staircase. The Spanish steps were modelled on the Piazza di Spagna in Rome, and you can get a great view of Embassy Row from the top.
  • There are 69 museums and numerous art galleries to fascinate even the most voracious culture-seekers.
  • The Kennedy Centre in Foggy Bottom is home to seven theatres and is a living memorial to JFK, playing tribute to the arts.
  • Bang in the centre of the Mansion on O Street is a full-size, double storey log cabin with a plasma and a big screen TV, a full kitchen, an aquarium and a timber bed. And you can stay there.  At a price.
  • National Museum of Health and Medicine. View the macabre exhibits at this museum run by the Department of Defence.  The highlight is the bullet that killed Abraham Lincoln, encased in bits of his skull.
  • The White House. Surely the most iconic presidential residence in the world, even though George Washington never actually lived in DC. John Adams, the second US president was the first to live here.  It has 35 bathrooms.  During World War 1, the then president, Woodrow Wilson, brought in a flock of sheep to graze the White House lawn, saving on manpower and selling the wool to raise money for the Red Cross.
  • The Drug Enforcement Agency Museum has recently undergone a total refurbishment. A fascinating variety of exhibits, which includes bundles of marijuana that fell from a plane travelling from Mexico to San Diego, and lectures dedicated to Pablo Escobar and the cartels, and the history of jazz and heroin, will keep you enthralled.
Bringing The Kids

Washington DC is well-known for some of the best education facilities in the US.  It has a variety of schooling options, public, charter, private and international schools.  If you choose to enrol your kids in a public school it’s best to remember that the schooling system is similar to the UK, in that it runs on the catchment system.  These schools vary from exceptional to dismal, are free from fees, and are run by the government.

Charter schools are publicly funded and function separately and independently of government regulations.  They offer more flexible curricula and academic programmes than the traditional public schools, but many have been closed for failing to maintain sufficient standards.

Private schools have complete control over their curricula, so parents would need to do their research before enrolling their children.  There are 84 accredited private schools in the area, so plenty to choose from, but they charge quite large fees.  This, however, guarantees top-quality teachers and smaller classes.

International schools in Washington are dominated by two as primary choices in DC, the British School of Washington and the Washington International School, both offering the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.  Whilst they are more expensive than any other options, they are ideal for those coming to DC from an international school in another country, offering continuity with their previous curriculum.  The large expat community, especially in the diplomatic sector, explains the high demand for these schools, so early application is essential.

There are 20 universities in DC, including the famous Georgetown University.  The only public university is the University of the District of Columbia.  However, DC residents are eligible for a grant towards the difference been in- and out-of-state tuition at public four-year universities and colleges across the US.

Relocating to Washington D.C.

The high standard of living, excellent educational opportunities, great accommodation, a highly-educated workforce and a thriving economy make Washington DC a location of choice for expats.  As always, there will be pitfalls, not least the catchment school system.  Make sure that you live in the right location, in the attendance area of your school of choice, with the best transport links to ensure a happy family.  Employing an experienced relocation agent will be invaluable in many respects.  From switching on essential services, enrolling in schools and form-filling to spousal assistance, avoid all the stresses and strains and enjoy your move.


Good Schools
Great Transport
Museums & Galleries
Young Professionals
Average Monthly Rent - Washington D.C.
Apartment (1 bedroom) in city centre $2,095
Apartment (1 bedroom) outside of centre $1,654
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in city centre $3,915
Apartment (3 bedrooms) outside of centre $2,705
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