Friday, February 15, 2008

How to move to New York: a tutorial

I got an email from a reader with a question that’s seemed to come up rather frequently in my life: How on EARTH do you just pick up and move to New York City?

This is from a reader who I’ll call Florida Gal:

Are you recently relocated to NYC? I am planning on moving there June 1. I am originally from Rochester but moved to Florida about 3 years ago to find a job. I have already ‘balls out’ moved before without anything lined up (Florida) and I faired quite well with $300 in my back pocket… but I don’t know if I just got lucky. I feel like I have more to lose now with planning on doing this again, mainly my job. The main reasons for NYC are

1. I absolutely love the place and it has never left my mind,
2. my family is 3.5 hours away,
3. my long term boyfriend was offered a position there (he is a chef).

So, with all that said, I am planning on taking the plunge and moving with him with about $6k saved up this time to run off for 2-3 months. He will have about the same saved. I do have some expenses, mainly my school loans from my undergrad, and I do have a car lease, but I am keeping the car at my parents in Rochester because I know it is dumb to have it there, and I am hoping my dad would eventually just put the lease in his name and keep the car for himself. I graduated from college in 03, and have been in the working world since then, how difficult do you think it would be for me to secure a job, and do you know at all what I can expect salary wise? (I have a BS in Business Administration, International Relations). We are going to have to sublet in the time being, because I think he is only going to be starting at around 50k and I won’t have anything, but I told him I would prefer to live in Brooklyn for the time being, not Manhattan.

Well, FG, here’s my two cents on your situation.

It depends on who you ask as to whether I’m recently relocated to New York. I moved here on New Year’s Day 2004, so I’ve been here just over four years. But I really feel like it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve come into my own in the city, and I know I still have a long way to go before I feel (or sound!) like a native.

Moving “balls out” with nothing lined up is a terrifying, exhilarating, and (I think) worthwhile experience for everyone. While I had a temporary internship as the reason I moved, I knew that that internship would cover only my rent, would only last for six months, and, realistically, could have ended at any time. I didn’t expect that it would work out for me to stay longer, but I hoped that it would and I did everything I could to make that happen.

My reason to move to New York was fairly simple: I wanted to. I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn at least once a year since childhood, and I wanted to live in the city the author described. I came to New York for the first time when I was 20, on a college sociology trip. I fell in love with the way the city looks, feels, and smells when it rains (this is so weird, but it’s true). I didn’t sleep for the entire week I was here, and I didn’t want to go home. There is a part of me that feels called by the pavement and the buildings and the people. So, so corny—and so true. I can’t help it. So your reason number one, I totally understand.

Reason two is nice. I live at least a three hour flight away from anybody I’m related to, and that can be a little depressing. If you’re a family person, it’s really nice to have family close by. I’ve made a surrogate family of friends and keep in touch with my relatives via email and phone. It would be nice to live closer to them, but they’re not going to move up here and I’m not ready to move back!

Reason three—well, I can’t judge this one. I’m recently out of a long term relationship that I really thought was Headed Somewhere, so right now I’m the first to say that there are no guarantees in relationships. Only you and your beloved can answer whether your relationship can handle this level of commitment. (A friend of mine moved to New York with her long term boyfriend, and they broke up two months later. It was rough.) Make sure you talk through EVERYTHING and when you get here, try to branch out and meet new people—don’t be each other’s only social outlet.

As for your questions:

Money and Work
I think $12,000 to move up here with for two people is more than enough. You can probably find temp work quickly, and don’t be above working at Starbucks or some place similar just to bring some money in. There’s no shame in hard work, whatever the job. The job market here, for me at least, has very much been Right Place, Right Time. I found both of my professional jobs on sites like HotJobs and, and it’s possible I actually answered a Craigslist ad for my first job (they posted it on both HotJobs and Craigslist). The standard job search advice applies: write extremely targeted cover letters, make your resume as appealing as possible, research the companies, be prepared for the interview.

If at all possible, GET OUT OF YOUR CAR LEASE. Seriously. If you’re not going to be driving the car, why throw money away on the payments and insurance? Cars don’t do well sitting in driveways not being driven, especially in the summer (I’m not making this up, I ended up having to junk the car I left behind when I moved up here). If you can’t get out of the lease, consider bringing the car with you. It’s a bit of a pain to have a car in New York, but it’s not a nightmare (and it might enable you to live farther out in the cheaper areas of Brooklyn). One of my roommates in Manhattan had a car, and my roommate now has a car. It will need to be moved regularly for street cleaning, but you’ll be able to head to Rochester on your schedule and not Amtrak/Metro North (not sure which one heads up there), take big loads of laundry to a 24-hour mat with lots of machines and tables, pick up furniture off Craigslist without hiring a Man With a Van, do bulk grocery shopping, and more. I will never have a car in the city, but I sure like my friends who do!

I’d recommend not getting on a lease at first regardless of your income situation, because you won’t know which neighborhood you really want to live in, or which ones are convenient for work, nightlife, etc. Sometimes you can find shares that will accept couples (a share is when you move into an apartment that already has someone on the lease living there with you—as weird as it sounds, it’s quite common to live with strangers here). Don’t start looking for apartments until about six weeks before you get here—and I’m dead serious about that. The real estate market in New York is extremely last minute: it’s stressful to not know where you’ll be living until you’re under the wire, but that’s just how it works. Find a furnished sublet or share and be prepared to be transient for a few months until you find the right place. Even without you working, though, you and your boyfriend should be able to find a place on his salary. I make less than he does and qualified for my own 1BR apartment in Queens. You should definitely be able to afford something in Brooklyn. I lived in Manhattan for the first three years I was here, then I moved to Queens. Manhattan was cheaper, actually. (I lived in Morningside Heights and then Harlem/Washington Heights).

This got fairly lengthy, so I’ll sum it up like this:

If you want to move to New York, or any large city, or do a complete career change in your mid-twenties, or whatever your situation is: GO DO IT. Do not live your life in a way that you’ll always wonder “what if”. Change is scary and intimidating, but ultimately I think it’s worth it, and almost always the sooner the better. Planning is good, but don’t get stuck in planning mode. Make enough of a plan to have a framework, and then go follow your dreams.

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