The pros and cons of expat life in NYC

16 February 2018

So good they named it twice. And blogged about it a million times. New York City is, without a doubt, one of the most loved, most documented and most celebrated cities on earth. It receives over 60 million tourists every year.

But what is it like for an expat? Does NYC make a good home from home for the global assignee? We assess the good and the bad of this complex and colorful city.

Pros: be part of something bigger

New York has many things going for it in terms of infrastructure, business and culture, but one of the main reasons people desperately want to go there to work is the idea of becoming part of the sheer hustle and bustle of the place. You probably won’t be able to put your finger on it, but even the most ordinary aspects of your life elsewhere, even just going to the supermarket, is likely to feel a bit more extraordinary when living in New York.

Cons: expensive

Whether you’re buying lunch or renting an apartment, life in New York is expensive. Very expensive.

As a rough guide, expect to pay $5 for a cappuccino, $7 for a beer and a huge $2,800 a month for a typical 85m2 furnished flat. Renting costs will, of course, depend on where you want to live (Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens?), and whether you want a doorman or not.

If you’re using an overseas account, you can add the banking charges, the commissions required by realty agents, and the ubiquitous practice of tipping. It’s good to know that the bartender is getting a few dollars for their time, but the net result is that your money doesn’t go far in this city.

Pros: location, and transport infrastructure

As you’d expect, New York is very well connected, with direct flights from virtually anywhere in the world. An interesting historical footnote is that much of the city’s original wealth and status came from the opening of the Erie canal in 1825, which made New York the principal trading center for goods emanating from the American Midwest.

NYC’s highly efficient, high-volume transport connections make the city not only an easy place to get to, but also a great base from which to explore the rest of the country. And, as a major bonus, as you won’t need a car in the city you will be saving quite a few dollars on transportation costs.

The subway system is also efficient and – essential during the summer months – well air-conditioned. Taxis (and Ubers) are everywhere, but beware of the city’s notorious traffic jams. It is often easier, faster and frankly nicer to walk.

Cons: a hard edge

There is not much of a soft side to New York. It is a bustling, brazen business hub and its commercial hard edge is apparent everywhere. New Yorkers are famously brusque and direct, and this has led many expats to talk of alienation during their assignment. However, the entrepreneurial streak that runs through the city also brings benefits...

Pros: opportunity

There are many opportunities in New York, and nowhere is the combination of hard work and commercial acumen more admired. The days of immigrants fleeing from persecution in Europe, and stepping off a boat in the Lower East Side before seeking opportunity in this strange new metropolis are long gone, but there are countless modern-day equivalents.

Immigrants now arrive from all corners of the world, and there are hundreds of thousands of expats working in the New York offices of the global organizations based there. More than half of Manhattan residents were born outside New York state.

Cons: crime and firearms

On a global scale, New York is not a dangerous city. But European expats in particular often say they are surprised at the ubiquity of firearms and the level of violent crime reported in such a civilized city.

As with all cities, there are districts to avoid. Walking around Manhattan is perfectly safe during daylight hours. According to NYPD data, Sutton Place, Manhattan is the neighborhood with the least violent crime. Judging by the same data, however, it is probably best to avoid Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn at night.

Pros: variety

Given its cosmopolitan population, it should be no surprise that New York is a collection of many highly distinctive districts and  little neighborhoods. You will find a lot of people doing what they need to do and moving fast, but in your own neighborhood you are also likely to get to know your local shopkeepers.

Whether you want (or can afford) the gentrified surroundings of the Upper East Side or would prefer the hipster-cool of Williamsburg, there is a lot to choose from, and moving just a few blocks makes a huge difference.

One expat family deliberately chose to try out eight different neighborhoods in just 6 months: their experience reveals just how varied New York can be.

Cons: extremes of weather

New York’s position on the Eastern seaboard of the US may make it very conveniently located, but it also means that it sees extremes of weather.

This may, of course, be seen as a blessing rather than a curse, but expats used to milder climes may be surprised that the summer months can be stiflingly hot, while in the winter there may be snow on the ground for weeks. Make sure you pack accordingly…

Summary

There is a bit of everything for everyone in New York, but be ready for a city that is a no-nonsense business center rather than a place to chill out for a few years. If you can live with the cost of living, it is a great place to work, a fun place to live, and a memory that will stay with you for years to come.

Picture by Saketh Garuda, Wells Baum, Rick Tap and Robert Katzki
 

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