Well known for classical jazz, Chicago style pizza and infamous 1920s gangsters, Chicago has a diverse range of landmarks which attract millions of visitors each year. With many successful businesses run from the windy city, countless people live and work in Chicago, or commute in from surrounding areas.
Living in Chicago offers a well-rounded lifestyle that many would envy. If you’re relocating to Chicago, you’ll want to read our comprehensive guide that tells you everything you need to know, from preparing for your move to how to make the best of your life in the city.
Chicago sits on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan in northern Illinois. It covers over 520 square kilometres, with suburbs sprawling to the north, west, and south. Chicago is a flat city, however many of the suburban areas have vast, rolling hills. Around 9.6 million people reside in the metropolitan area of Chicago, which is known for its humble and friendly residents. Newcomers in Chicago are always warmly welcomed.
Notable landmarks include the Merchandise Mart, McCormick Place and the Magnificent Mile, to name a few. Not only a centre of finance and industry, Chicago is also home to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary art.
The time zone in Chicago is Central Standard Time (CST), which is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) minus 6 hours, or Eastern Standard Time (EST) minus one hour. Daylight Savings Time (DST) is observed in Chicago from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November.
Chicago experiences four seasons, two of which can be fairly extreme. Winters can be snowy and cold, whereas summers can be very warm and humid. The winds off Lake Michigan are responsible for some of the weather in these periods.
Chicago is the city that feels like home, so ensuring all areas are accessible to residents is important. There are many ways of getting around Chicago, with three authorities controlling all public transportation. This includes the following:
- The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) – Operates buses, subways and elevated trains (known as Ls) are colour-coded by route, click here to view the map and routes.
- Metra – Operates commuter trains which run between Chicago and the suburbs
- Pace – A bus system that also serves between the city and the suburbs.
Chicago has two main airports, including O’Hare International Airport and Midway Airport. O’Hare is one of the country’s busiest international airports, handling over 70 million passengers every year. There are also over 60 international destinations you can fly to from O’Hare airport.
Driving in Chicago
Whilst Chicagoans are not generally fond of walking, neither is driving necessary. With such a strong public transport system, trains and buses are widely used. There is also a scarcity of residential parking, and the costs of insurance are constantly on the rise, making driving a fairly unpopular option. If you do however decide to drive in Chicago, there are a number of factors you should be aware of. Foreign visitors may drive in Illinois with a foreign license for a maximum of 90 days. However, if you are on a short stay and do not plan on becoming a resident, you can drive with your home license for the duration of your stay.
New Illinois residents should visit their nearest Secretary of State (SOS) office within 30 days to register a vehicle, bringing:
- Application for Vehicle Transaction
- Proof of residence
- Proof of insurance
- Current title and registration, or lienholder title copy
- Vehicle description, including make, model, year, VIN, purchase date, and use or new status
- Form showing tax paid
Chicago is a car-friendly city that is relatively easy to navigate. Unfortunately, there is a fair amount of traffic congestion, with a lack of parking in the downtown area. Therefore, it’s always best to avoid peak times and travel using public transport if you can.
The Expatriate Community
Chicago is a melting pot of cultures, with its neighbourhoods representing a variety of ethnicities. Expats do not tend to settle in a particular area based on ethnicity, and instead choose a residence based on proximity to work, school or other criteria.
Local residents in Chicago are welcoming, and new residents commonly receive invitations to socialise with the community. For those who wish to seek others of similar backgrounds, there are a number of clubs in Chicago that serve the diverse and ever-growing population.
Understanding the people of Chicago
People of Chicago are known for embracing a variety of political and religious habits, and are much more internationally mindful than earlier generations. While some areas in the city are associated with different races, city administrators are currently focusing on the matter to produce a more equal society. Residents in Chicago are open, friendly and interested. People from reserved cultures may find this behaviour suspect, however, the warmth is noticeable.
Moving to a new city can be a real change, so have a look at some online expat forums such as InterNations to connect with other like-minded people.
Housing in Chicago
Many people looking to live in Chicago find housing with the help of a real estate agent. The area agents in the city utilise Midwest Real Estate Data (MRED), which is a multiple listing service that rings property listings together.
If you’re looking for short-term housing options, this is widely available in the metropolitan area of Chicago. From furnished apartments to corporate housing facilities, there are a wide range of places for you to stay. What’s more, hotels can offer long-term stays for those that are in the process of house hunting. Short-term housing properties generally consist of studios or one-to-two bedroom apartments.
Schools in Chicago
If you’re planning on relocating to Chicago with your family, you may be interested in which schooling options are available for your child/ren. Both the quality and cost of schools can vary greatly depending on a number of factors, so it’s always best to consider the needs of your child. It is also important to speak to the principal of schools in the area, asking for a tour and classroom visit.
There are several factors that determine which of Chicago’s 500 schools your child will attend. Chicago and its suburbs are divided into school districts, and if no plans are made, your child will be expected to attend the designated public school for your area.
In addition to public schools, parents can also choose from parochial schools, magnet schools and private schools:
- Parochial schools – Parochial schools have a better rate of academics than public schools and are religiously affiliated.
- Magnet schools – Magnet schools are part of the public school system, however, students are accepted by application only. These schools are multicultural, as children are drawn from all of Chicago’s richly diverse communities.
- Private schools – Private schools are self-funded and can offer a better rate of academics.
Chicago offers a wealth of international school choices for students, including a number of private schools. Many international students opt for a school with boarding facilities, so this is something to consider. These schools tend to offer assistance with English as a second language.
If you’re relocating to Chicago with a younger member of the family, you may be wondering about the pre-schooling options available to you. Preschools are plentiful in the city, although in some of the highly populated areas there are waiting lists. Many preschools are incorporated into schools with elementary and secondary curricula, so bear this in mind when searching for your child. Selecting the right school for your child can be difficult, especially when in their early years. Here is a selection of the top preschools in Chicago to help:
- Bubbles Academy
- Chicago Preschool Academy
- Children’s Creative Center
Moving to Chicago Checklist
If you are thinking about making a move to Chicago then there are some things you should consider first. If you are moving to Chicago from outside of the USA then you will need to make sure you have your visa sorted but there are some other key elements to the move as well. We have put together a moving to Chicago checklist to make sure you have everything you need;
- Visa Application – one of the first things you should do when thinking about moving to anywhere in the USA is to ensure your visa application has been approved. You can apply for work visas here.
- Think About Healthcare – the US doesn’t have public healthcare like many other European nations so you will have to make sure your employer provides healthcare or source this yourself before moving.
- Choose Your Neighbourhood – like every city, there are good and bad parts so you should make sure to check out the area and crime rates before moving. Some of the recommended areas of Chicago are Archer Heights, Bridgeport and Dunning.
- International Removals – make sure you have sourced an international removals company that is capable of helping you relocate to a new country. Gerson Relocation can help you with the move.
- Sort Utilities – you should also make sure you have your utilities in place before moving to ensure that you can move straight into your new home. Commonwealth Edison or ComEd for short is the only electrical supplier in the Chicago area.
Do you have any further questions about find out more about how to move to the USA from the UK. or wish to get a quote? Make sure to get in touch with a member of the team to get a free quote using our online form system.
Interested in information on another country? Take a look at our other International Relocation guides.
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