Moving to the USA from another country can be exciting and confusing in the same breath. The moment you make the decision to move, your life will become a series of dizzying, emotional and fast moving decisions and you will have a lot of questions. Finding a new home is one of the most important and crucial tasks facing you. Working with a broker who has experience with expats moving into and out of Boston will help a lot. Osnat Levy relocated to Boston in 1999 and has been helping families find their feet in the housing market for 9 years. She will be happy to meet you, to support you, and accompany you throughout the process.
While Boston is New England’s largest city, it is not really that big compared to other cities in the United States. Like most cities, Boston is surrounded by suburbs and each has its own character, services, advantages and disadvantages. For relocation, it’s important to find a neighborhood where you have community, where your family will feel comfortable and the schools, cost of living and other services match your needs.
There are many towns in the area and towns of note are Brookline (for its proximity to downtown Boston) or Newton and Lexington (for great services and school systems). Other popular neighborhoods include Cambridge, Needham, Framingham, and Arlington.
Here are some things to consider if you are planning to move to Boston.
Choosing where in Boston to live will depend on many factors, such as how much you want to spend on housing, whether you like urban or rural neighborhoods, whether you drive or use public transportation, and more. There are several choices for location:
- Rural communities – For those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city life and live in a more laid back setting, the outer suburbs of the North Shore, South Shore, and Metro West will feature homes more your style.
- Suburbs – Areas such as Brookline, Newton, Somerville, and Cambridge offer a bit of both worlds. A bit of a relaxed atmosphere and public transport for quick access to the city is available here.
- City life – Living within the city of Boston can be expensive, but prices do range in different areas. City life is a good choice for those who like to be where the action is.
Cost of Living
Moving from abroad to Boston will make your cost of living lower in some areas and higher in others. For example, consumer prices are lower in Boston than they are in Europe. Rent, however, can be higher in Boston, and groceries can cost more in Boston. It may be cheaper to eat out, since restaurants are, on average, cheaper in Boston.
Jobs, Income, and Taxes
Of course, most people who are considering a move to Boston will already have a job lined up. The main areas of expertise in the city are financial services, education, health care and hi-tech. Boston boasts of over sixty colleges and universities, and many hospitals and medical centers. Cost of living is higher than many cities, check to make sure the conditions you are being offered are matched to the lifestyle you expect to hold. Personal Income tax is 5.1% for Massachusetts (on top of Federal Taxes), and capital gains (unearned income) is taxed at a rate of twelve percent (also on top of Federal Taxes). There is a 6.25% state sales tax. That does not apply to food or clothes, but it is payable on all tangible personal property and services – like houses, cars and household items.
Buying vs. Renting
In order to rent a property, you need to have four months’ rent available when signing a contract (the monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in areas like Cambridge, Brookline and Newton is $2000-3000).
To purchase a house, unless you have cash, obtaining a loan will be your first priority. Typically, when you arrive in the USA and still do not have a credit history, you’ll have to have an initial sum of at least 50% of their property price as a down payment and proof of a job. If you have lived in the US before and have a credit record, buying is easier and cheaper – 20% would be sufficient initial capital and the interest rate on the loan will be lower.
All analysis shows that while the annual interest is below 5%, it is more worthwhile buying an apartment than renting over time (assuming you plan to stay in the apartment for at least 3 years).
When buying a property, interest and municipal taxes are recognized deductions for tax purposes, while rent expenses do not have any tax benefits.
You should take into account that the Boston real estate market is centered around the academic year, September to September. Summer is when people move, buy, sell and rent so this is when there is availability and the competition is fierce. Short term rental apartments are rare and expensive commodity. The best deals will be in the “Off Season” from November to May, but the supply is limited.
Searching for an apartment or house through an intermediary is an accepted option. Social media, Craigslist and Web sites can help, but the high demand for housing in certain neighborhoods can make the independent search, frustrating and futile.
For students – because of the thousands of students moving each year, pre-planning is essential, especially in the transition of early September.
For families – the dilemma is similar, but spread out through all the neighborhoods where school zoning, access to public transport, private school proximity and many other factors need to be considered.
For those looking to buy a house or apartment – having professional help will guide you through the types of houses (brownstones, colonials, ranch, Victorian, contemporary, etc.), the locations, and the pitfalls that those not from the area may not know about (wetlands, setbacks, conservation land, historic sites and more)
Those looking to rent, consider that most homeowners will ask for the rent for the first month, the last month and a deposit (usually at a monthly rental) to secure an agreement. If you used a service (realtor or agency), you have to pay a fee usually of the monthly rent. Given the cold winter months, it is important to find out whether the heating and hot water (utilities) are included in the rent. In addition, if you are planning to have a car, parking in many urban areas is a challenge, and renting a parking space is usually a few hundred dollars of extra expenditure.
Boston has an extensive network of subways (called the T), buses and commuter trains (Commuter Rail). The company that runs them, the MBTA has a selection of monthly tickets will save you time and money. Public transport is great when you have to travel to the city in the morning and return in the evening. Transportation outside Boston becomes less accessible so plan where you are going to live carefully if you want to use Public Transportation.
If you work outside the city, you will need a car. In the state of Massachusetts, you have to get a local driver’s license within a year of arriving in the country – this involves a theoretical and practical driving test.
Arrival by plane or train is very easy.
Logan Airport (which is a 15-minute drive from the city center) serves most major airlines. Amtrak has three stops in Boston, and trains between Boston and New York on a regular schedule (the journey takes about four hours). The T, buses, taxis and private transportation companies serve the airport and train stations.
Alternate airports include TF Green in Providence Rhode Island and Manchester New Hampshire Airport. These are only useful if you live outside the city and the commute to these airports is more convenient.
Public schools are available from kindergarten to 12th grade in all towns and cities and in most cases they are obliged by law to accept students. Pre-school is typically private.
- Toddlers – Pre-schools are difficult to find and early sign-up may be required. When you sign up to for pre-school or Day Care, you should have a letter from a doctor who examined the child recently. It is also recommended to setup an introductory meeting with a local pediatrician on arrival.
- Kindergarten – The Kindergarten is part of the elementary school system. There are cities where there is a choice between full-day or half-day. Public kindergarten is free, but full-day format may involve an additional fee and registration in advance because places fill up fast. When registering you will need to provide a record of immunizations, proof of residency and a birth certificate (or passport).
- School – schools operate five days a week, six hours per day (from eight to two or three). Some schools also have the option of a long day program. All schools offer tours and meetings with the teachers before school starts.
- Private Schools – many religious, ethnic and generic private school options are available in Boston. The accessibility to these schools may be limited and you may need to apply and go through interviews before being accepted and the cost varies.
- College – well that’s a whole world in itself so we will suffice to say it’s complex!
Shipping your Household Items
Well before moving, decide whether to send your household items by sea (container), send a few boxes of personal items by mail or air freight or if you will just travel with some luggage and buy the most of your equipment in the US. You should make a comprehensive study in advance of each of the options comparing costs, delivery times and convenience.
Transportation prices will vary depending on the move – local moves are charged by time and labor required, but for international moves, the cost is based on volume and weight. You also need to take into account the time to ship by sea and potential import fees and tariffs.
Find a reputable mover for international moves and make sure the quotation includes all services on both ends of the shipment (door-to-door). The mover should take care of all the details like customs clearance, parking permit, and in apartment buildings – pre-reserving the elevator and coordinating with the building manager.
If the planned move with animals, check in advance what the necessary flight arrangements and whether your pet needs special vaccinations before moving.
Documents and Translation
If you come from a country where English is not the native language, it is recommended to have important documents translated and notarized before you arrive in the USA. Have copies of birth certificates, wedding certificates, visas and other documents ready in case you are asked for them. Many organizations are very inflexible when it comes to having the right paperwork.
Guide to Boston Slang
One of the first things that you may notice about the city of Boston once you have arrived there is that the natives seem to speak their very own language. Don’t feel too badly if you don’t understand them at first, many people in other parts of the United States do not even understand Boston slang. Although many people from all over the country may poke fun at the accent which Boston natives have, there are actually many different accents throughout the city, depending on location. There are a few slang words which seem to be city-wide, however, such as calling clams “steamers,” calling sub sandwiches “grinders,” and calling water fountains “bubblers.” Most things good in Boston are called “wicked.” (wicked awesome house!)
Bostonians swallow the ‘r’ and so the famous expression everyone quotes to explain the Boston accent is how to “Paahk your cah” (park your car) – you’ll get used to it…
- http://www.improperbostonian.com – look for their “Newcomers Issue” every September
If you have any questions about relocating to Boston, give Realtor Osnat Levy a call today at 617-833-1055