Expats moving to Washington DC are often surprised by how small the city – arguably the most powerful and influential in the USA and indeed the world – can be. The massive concentration of agencies, departments, businesses, consulates and young eager professionals makes Washington DC so dense with potential that expats seem to be magnetically drawn to it.
Yet despite its iconic image as the centre of American power, Washington DC is also difficult to define, with ambiguous borders and a contrasting image. The district, which is officially neither a state nor a city, has little more than half a million people, yet the huge DC metro area borrows from neighbouring state land to create a metropolis ten times that size. 'DC' usually refers not only to the District of Colombia but to parts of Maryland and Virginia that feed into the city.
Within the city centre, the clean columns of the capital buildings are in stark contrast to nearby ghettos that make up one of the country's worst levels of poverty. While expats are likely to live in better neighbourhoods, realities of living in a city with such large discrepancies of income, as well as high crime rates, are unavoidably noticeable.
The cost of living in Washington DC is generally quite high, especially as good quality accommodation is in high demand and therefore expensive. However, those living close to the city centre will find that public transportation is fairly reasonable and there's really no need for a car when it comes to getting out and about.
There are plenty of good schools in Washington. Expats are eligible to send their children to public schools which fall within certain residential boundaries at a negligible cost. There is also a good range of private and international schooling options, but fees are naturally much higher.
Washington DC, compared to other American cities, is particularly welcoming for expats. Most young professionals in DC have recently moved to the city to pursue careers before relocating again. There's a frantic energy of friendship-making fuelled by a large number of clubs, casual sports teams and nightlife. Newcomers are always welcome here.