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23 Things to Know Before Moving to Seattle


Seattle is a city unlike any other. Nestled between the Cascade and Olympic Mountain ranges, and sitting along the shores of the Puget Sound and Lake Washington, its natural beauty causes many who visit to wish they could stay forever. And there are many other reasons you might want to call Seattle home, including the coffee and the accepting attitudes of the citizenry. Before taking the plunge of moving to the area, make sure your finances are in order by working with a financial advisor

Moving to Seattle

Moving to Seattle can be quite a culture shock, depending on where you’re moving from. Many newcomers struggle to adapt to Seattle’s gloomy winters and “chilly” approach to neighborliness but it can be a beautiful and fun place to live. Before buying a house or committing to a rental agreement in order to move to the area there are several things you should take into consideration.

Buying a home in Seattle? Compare mortgages to get the lowest rate available.

1. There Is No Income Tax

The state of Washington has no state income tax whatsoever, which can save you a significant amount of money each year that would otherwise go to the state. That doesn’t mean you won’t be paying any local taxes, however. Seattle’s sales tax rate is quite high, actually, so it’s important to make sure you understand the local taxes so you can avoid paying the amount you would normally pay in income taxes somewhere else.

Read our full breakdown of taxes in Washington State.

2. Seattle Summers Are Absolutely Beautiful

You’ve probably heard about the rain, and we’ll get to that next, but here’s something you may not know: Seattle has the country’s best summers. They’re warm and dry, with low humidity and lots of sunshine. It’s the perfect time of year to enjoy the many natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest, like the Olympic National Park or the San Juan islands. The only downside? Seattle summers can be horribly short. They always seem to start too late and end too early, but you’ll probably enjoy the full length of time no matter how long it lasts.

3. Seattle Winters Might be the Gloomiest

23 Things to Know Before Moving to Seattle

About that rain: it isn’t such a big deal. Usually, when it rains in Seattle it comes down as a mist that is more of an annoyance than a prohibitory of your day-to-day life. Seattleites don’t even bother flipping the hood on the raincoat they probably purchased at REI. The real problem is the gloom. Seattle has more cloudy days than almost any other U.S. city, and its far-northern location means winter days are especially short. This doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker but it is something you should be aware of before moving to town.

4. It’s Expensive But Not as Expensive as San Francisco

The cost of living in Seattle isn’t as high as it is in that other West Coast tech hub, but it isn’t exactly low either. What’s more, as a result of rapid population growth in recent years (see below), living costs have been rising quickly. If you’re in the market for buying a home, be prepared to face a lot of competition.

Read SmartAsset’s analysis of the cost of living in Seattle.

5. You Aren’t the Only Person Moving to Seattle

In 2000, the population of Seattle was about 560,000. in 2015, the population had grown to more than 660,000 and today it sits at over 730,000. That’s just the amount of people living within the Seattle city limits and doesn’t take into account some of the commuter areas further away from the city. The growth shows no signs of slowing down, with tech companies planning on increasing their hiring in the city.

That has downsides, like the competitive rental market and the gridlocked streets, but it also has upsides. For example, as a new arrival, you shouldn’t have any problem meeting people who are also getting acquainted with the city.

6. Dick’s Drive-In Is Better Than In-N-Out

Dick’s is Seattle’s favorite burger joint. It has great burgers, good fries and amazing milkshakes. It only accepts cash, and there are long lines after midnight on weekends. Any Seattleite will tell you Dick’s is better than that California impersonation, but you might have to try it to see for yourself. The upside is that you won’t be without a great burger place to enjoy.

7. Don’t Count on Living in a House Boat

23 Things to Know Before Moving to Seattle

Thanks to Tom Hanks, much of America has the impression that Seattle is a city of houseboats. It does have houseboats, but they are something of a rarity. Plus, they’re small and even more expensive than the rest of the city. Instead of living in a houseboat yourself, consider befriending someone who does so you can hang out by the water whenever you like without having to pay the huge costs yourself.

8. The Seattle Chill Is… Meh

Seattle has a reputation for chilliness from the locals, which is more or less the opposite of neighborliness. Arrivals from Midwestern or Southern locales known for their hospitality might find the average Seattleite to be somewhat reserved. But, in general, if you put in the time to get to know neighbors, colleagues and anyone else you meet in Seattle, you’ll find that Seattleites can be as friendly and welcoming as anyone around the country. You just have to find the right crowd where you feel at home.

9. Seahawks, Sounders and Mariners (in That Order)

Seattleites love their sports teams, especially the one that got away. The Seahawks and Sounders both have wildly passionate followings. The Mariners are always a disappointment, but T-Mobile Park is worth the price of admission. Seattle is a pretty active city and they support their sports teams, even being labeled as the “12th Man” for the Seahawks that helped them to a Super Bowl (and almost two) nearly a decade ago.

10. Liquor Is Very Expensive

Thanks in part to high taxes on liquor, Washington State residents pay the highest total price per liter of alcohol of any state in the country. If you drink a lot then this might be a dealbreaker for you as you’ll end up spending quite a bit more than you would in other states. You may not notice the extra costs if you’re just ordering the occasional drink out at dinner or at a local bar.

11. Pot Is Legal

You can legally purchase and smoke marijuana in Seattle, and Washington state was one of the very first to adopt a recreational approval. Though it’s illegal to smoke in public, don’t be surprised to catch a whiff as you’re walking down the street, especially during Hempfest or one of Seattle’s other music festivals. It’s a popular recreational activity that has brought in a significant amount of money for the state.

12. There Are More Guys Than Girls

Thanks to the growth of Seattle’s tech workforce, which is predominately male, the city’s population is heavily skewed if you’re single. There are about 130 single men in Seattle for every 100 single women. That might not seem that bad but it can be quite different than other major cities like New York City if you’re moving from another bit city and expecting more of the same.

13. Traffic Is Horrendous

Planning on driving somewhere between the hours of 4pm and 7pm on a weekday? Add an extra 30 to 60 minutes to your travel time, pretty much no matter where you’re going. Rush hour in Seattle is bumper-to-bumper, especially on I-5, the main north-south artery through town. This might not be much of a change if you’re used to living in a major city but it can be a shock to people from smaller towns around the country.

14. Public Transportation Is OK (and Getting Better)

23 Things to Know Before Moving to Seattle

If you don’t have a car or don’t want to drive, Seattle’s public transportation system should get you where you need to go. Buses run fairly regularly during the day, though they are sporadic at night. While some main thoroughfares have bus lanes, most streets do not, which means the buses are often subject to the city’s regular gridlock.

The city is improving its network of light rail and street cars, however. A light rail line running from downtown to the U District was recently completed and more expansions are planned.

15. The Burke-Gilman Trail Is a Highway for Bikes

Despite the hills and often unpleasant weather, Seattle has a large, loyal contingent of cyclists. The city has a fairly good network of bike lanes and trails, most notably the Burke-Gilman, which runs nearly 20 miles from the far north tip of Lake Washington all the way to Puget Sound.

16. Seattle Is a City of Neighborhoods

Capitol Hill, Ballard, the U District, Rainier Beach, Greenwood, Fremont, Beacon Hill, Georgetown, Green Lake, Columbia City, First Hill, Queen Anne, Lake City. Seattle’s neighborhoods are distinct and microcosmic, each with its own personality, culture and independent coffee shop. If you can, do some exploring before you settle on a place to live. You’re sure to find an area you love, similar to New York City’s Burroughs on the east coast.

17. West Seattle Can be Its Own City

One of those neighborhoods, West Seattle, really stands alone. It is separated from the rest of the city by the Duwamish River and at times it can seem like an entirely different city. Upsides: it has the city’s best beach (Alki). Downsides: getting anywhere not in West Seattle can take a long time.

18. Seattleites Are Serious About Their Coffee

23 Things to Know Before Moving to Seattle

Everyone in Seattle is a coffee maniac, in part because caffeine is almost a requirement to survive the dreary winters. There are fantastic coffee shops on seemingly every block of the city. Seattle’s most famous coffee shop (Starbucks) does have locations on seemingly every corner, but many Seattleites prefer smaller operations like Ballard Coffee Works, Espresso Vivace, Herkimer Coffee and All City Coffee. There will never be a lack of options throughout the city.

19. Seattle Is a Great Beer City

Seattle is one of the country’s best beer cities. It has more than 50 microbreweries, with more popping up every year. If you enjoy this type of local mix then you’ll find Seattle to be a terrific destination.

Related Article: The Economics of Craft Beer

20. Seattle Is Very Hilly

If you plan on walking around downtown Seattle, prepare to break a sweat. It is built along an extremely steep hill, which means almost wherever you go you’re likely to do some serious climbing. This is another reason to visit before committing to a house or even a neighborhood in the city. Some parts aren’t that walkable if you’re not in tip-top shape.

21. Feeling Chilly? Have a Bowl of Pho

To the uninitiated: pho is a Vietnamese soup filled with rice noodles, meat, vegetables and herbs. It’s the perfect thing to warm you up on a cold day and a segment of Seattle has made the dish very popular with the entire population. It’s one of the local flavors that make Seattle a good food city.

22. Discovery Park Is Perfect for a Hike

If you live in Seattle, you don’t have to take the hour drive to the Cascade Mountains to go for a hike. Discovery Park is a 534-acre patch of wilderness located along the shores of the Puget Sound just a few miles from downtown Seattle. It is frequented by a large number of people every day but is big enough not to feel overcrowded most of the time.

23. Is the Mountain Out?


Many newcomers are awed by the sheer size of Mount Rainier, which Seattleites simply refer to as “the mountain.” At 14,417 it is by far the tallest mountain in the region. You’ll get used to catching glimpses of the snow-capped volcano when you least expect it, but you’ll never get used to how beautiful the mountain is. The same could be said about Seattle itself.

The Bottom Line

If you’re thinking about moving to Seattle then you should consider the many great things about the city and weigh them against things that might not be the best fit for you. It’s important to know what you’re getting into before you commit to moving to the city as it can be expensive and time-consuming to reverse the decision.

Tips on Moving

  • It’s also a good idea to understand how moving to a new city will impact your budget. A financial advisor can help you navigate big life changes like a move, or offer assistance with identifying and meeting your financial goals in general. If you don’t have a financial advisor then finding one doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • If you’ve decided to move to Seattle, one tip you may consider is funding your move with a 0% APR credit card. This will allow you to defer the cost of your move for 12, 15 or even up to 21 months.  (Just be sure to budget to pay off the expenses before the offer is over to avoid additional fees and interest.) You can check out the best 0% APR cards here.

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