Moving to New York City Alone
I moved to New York all the way from India when I was offered a job over a social conversation in 1999. The idea of moving to NYC alone was an intimidating one as I had never lived or studied in the US and had no friends here, but I decided to take a chance on experiencing the City for myself. Looking back, moving to NYC alone is by far the best decision I have ever made. The City is a melting pot that welcomes everyone and offers endless opportunities for personal and professional growth, and I am in favor of anyone that decides to take that chance to make it here, especially alone.
New York is full of single people, so you will be the norm rather than the exception here. That being said, New York – especially Manhattan, which is where I have lived all these years – can be a tough place to break into. Building a support network when you’re starting from scratch is never easy, especially since everyone is busy with everything New Yorkers tend to do. Although there were so many things to do and see and explore when I moved here, making friends took me a little longer than I expected, which was unsettling given I was here alone. Today, I am happy to be on the other side of that reality with friends that are truly like family, and Manhattan is home for me now.
I was fortunate to have a job when I first moved here, and in most ways that was a game changer for me. I started working the day after I arrived, and that helped support the decisions I made on where to live and in getting to know my new home. New York can be as expensive as it can be intimidating, so it is very important to have a plan around a job to support you, your budget which will impact your housing options, and the kinds of choices you can make to make the most of everything NYC has to offer.
I hope the moving to NYC alone tips that I am sharing below can help to make the process a much easier one for you.
- Finding a Place to Live
- Navigating Public Transportation
- Making New Friends
- Exploring New York City Alone
- Be Prepared for the Cost of Living
- Safety is Key
Finding a Place to Live
A few months before I moved to New York, I was fortunate to meet someone who was born and brought up in the Greater New York City area, and she told me that the location of the first apartment I choose will determine if I live on the east side or west side for most of my time here. I did not think much about this at the time, but it has proven to be so true for me. My first apartment was on the west side of Manhattan, and I have lived on the west side since. In case you’re wondering, Fifth Avenue is the dividing line between east and west sides of Manhattan. Today given so many neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens have become options for living in lieu of Manhattan, this logic easily extends to the first neighborhood influencing your location preferences for a long time.
Some of the factors that you need to keep in mind while renting an apartment in NYC are –
NYC offers a ton of neighborhoods, and it helps to do your research and decide which one you would be comfortable living in. This can be a function of budget, or preferring a certain ethnic dynamic, or close to a park, or certain activities such as Broadway theaters, or cool factor which plays into a lot of decisions! It is best to explore the neighborhood you are leaning towards by day and by night before you rent to make sure you are comfortable with both.
Landlords typically look for tenants to have an income of at least 40x of their rent, along with good credit. If your income is not 40x of the rent, so say $80k income for an apartment with a rent of $2K, landlords require a guarantor that has 80x of the rent amount, which would be $160K for a rent of $2K, to co-sign the lease with you. I keep seeing people recommending that you plan for 4-6 months of expenses while you are looking for a job when you move to New York, and I find that advice puzzling as you can’t rent an apartment without showing proof of income. Good credit is a must as well.
Brokers are a given in NYC real estate, and typically charge anything ranging from 1 month of rent to 15% of annual rent to help you find an apartment. Broker fees can add a huge amount to the cost of moving to New York and must be factored into your calculations. If this is an issue, limit your search to no fee apartments, which essentially means there is no broker fee for renting directly from the landlord. In some instances, the landlord pays the broker fee, which happens when an apartment is not getting rented as quickly as a landlord would like it to, or if there are too many apartments available for rent.
I had success with walking around the neighborhood I wanted to move into, and checking with the front desk for a number that I could call to rent an apartment in it without needing to use a broker.
NYC is an expensive place to rent an apartment, and unless you have a budget where cost is not a concern, in my experience you often have to choose between location and apartment as getting both can be cost prohibitive. I love the apartment I live in, but my dream neighborhood is one I aspire to move to still! My first apartment was a smaller one in the Lincoln Center area, which was a block away from Central Park, and I really enjoyed living there while I got comfortable with the different areas in Manhattan. Ever since, I have chosen apartment over location, which has worked very well for me, but it is a very personal choice that everyone needs to make for themselves.
Type of building and its amenities
When selecting a building, you will need to choose between options that will include various amenities and factors, all of which will have an impact on the rent.
- Type of building. High rise, prewar, postwar, new construction, walk up, loft, brownstone or townhouse are all terms that you will hear to describe a building. High rises are essentially skyscrapers that tend to offer better amenities, older buildings can be charming but may require you to get ACs and usually have central heat that make an apartment so hot in the winter that you may need to keep your windows open which I have experienced first hand. Brownstone and townhouses are usually smaller walk up buildings that are divided into multiple apartments. You can see various kinds of buildings in the picture below, most of which will have a residential component in them.
- Walk up, Elevator or Full Service. Walk ups tend to be smaller buildings that only offer stairs, and the rent decreases the higher the floor. Elevator buildings may or may not have a doorman, while a full service building usually has an elevator or doorman. When considering a walk up, keep in mind that you will need to carry every single thing up to your apartment, including groceries, so choose wisely.
- Doorman building, which refers to buildings that have an attended lobby, and essentially have gatekeepers looking out for the residents. Some buildings have part time doormen for nights and weekends. I have lived in a non doorman building once, and I really missed the convenience of having them accept packages, announce visitors etc so I have always chosen to pay more for a doorman building since.
- Building amenities. No two buildings offer the same amenities, and you should check to see if the building has laundry, gym, common space, rooftop etc. Some buildings charge for a gym, while others include it without a charge.
- Laundry. Having laundry in the apartment is a luxury, and can increase its price. A number of buildings offer laundry within the building, and some do not have it at all and will require you to send your laundry out or take it to a Laundromat. I have always had laundry in my building, which is a convenience I will never go without.
- Outdoor space. Some apartments have private outdoor space such as a balcony, garden or rooftop, all of which are considered luxuries. Some offer it as shared space for all the tenants. You must check about this, I once found out that a building that I lived in for a year actually had a rooftop space for the tenants that I did not know about.
- Distance from public transportation. Subways are a very good form of transportation, and rent is influenced by the distance from a subway station, or a bus stop. Rents tend to decrease for apartments that are further away from public transportation. It is very important to consider the distance from public transportation as you will need to navigate this every day, including in the rain and snow.
- Subletting is an option. If there is someone that already has a lease that they cannot get out of, it is common to sublet the apartment to someone for the remainder of the lease term. This can be an option to consider if you want to try a neighborhood out before committing to a lease.
One of my favorite websites to research apartments in NYC is Streeteasy. They make it very easy with multiple built in filters ranging from size, location, budget and amenities, and you can even look just for no fee apartments. I have heard both good and bad experiences with resources such as Craigslist, and more recently I have been hearing about more and more people using Facebook Marketplace to find apartments.
When you find an apartment you are interested in, you should make an offer as soon as possible as NYC can be competitive depending on time of year. You must schedule a viewing, and take note of its features such as natural light, or lack thereof, noise (newer buildings tend to have soundproof windows), proximity to a bar or club as noise travels at night etc.
You should be prepared to visit multiple apartments before settling on one, as you will be committed to your apartment for the lease term. The same dynamics apply even if you are planning to rent just a room with a roommate, except in this case you should be sure you are comfortable with this person that you will be sharing the apartment with.
Navigating Public Transportation
Public transportation is the norm in NYC as parking is very expensive, and taxis and ride share services can add up to be expensive as well. I personally love the subway system, although it can be confusing and overwhelming to navigate initially. Buses are a great alternative as well in some instances. Google Maps has been a game changer in many ways based on the details they provide to navigate from one place to another.
The New York subway system is the largest in the US with 493 stations on 25 routes, spread along 693 miles of track. The subway operates 24/7, though the frequency is slower on nights and weekends. I know there are isolated incidents that sometimes occur that are highlighted in the news, but for me you need to be as careful and alert underground in the subway as you are in the City. I personally am comfortable with taking the subway even at night, though I had stopped for a while during the pandemic. If you are taking the subway at night, always get in a subway car with people in it.
Here are some tips to help you navigate the subway system:
Paying for a subway ride
A single subway entry costs $2.75 regardless of distance, unless you use a weekly or monthly pass. You can pay for this by getting a MetroCard, or paying for it using an electronic wallet or even a credit card at the subway turnstiles. The subway MetroCard itself costs $1, though these are being phased out. If you use the same credit card or device for 12 rides in a week using the OMNY readers at the turnstiles, it automatically defaults to a weekly pass and the rest of your rides that week are free. You can buy a MetroCard at any subway station. You can see what the OMNY sections on a subway turnstile look like in the picture below, with fabulous art of Alex Katz in the background at the 57th Street and 6th Avenue subway station.
Understanding the subway map
The subway map can be overwhelming at first, but it’s color coded by route, and essential to understand to help you get around. While it is easy to just follow what Google Maps recommends, I sometimes make different decisions just because I am familiar with the subway lines and options, just like you would if you are driving in a neighborhood you know well.
Know your direction
Trains are often labeled with the direction they are heading. Make sure you know whether you need to take a train uptown or downtown. This was confusing for me at first, and it is important to understand that uptown or downtown is relative to where you are at and where you want to go. So you could be downtown and need to take a downtown train if the station you are heading to is South of where you are at.
Transfers between trains are free, as long as you don’t exit the subway system. If you need to transfer to a bus, make sure you use the same payment method so it is treated as a free transfer so you don’t need to pay for another ride.
Be aware of service changes
The subway system is constantly undergoing maintenance and repairs. Make sure to check for service changes before you head out to avoid any delays or confusion, especially over weekends. There are some subway lines that are prone to service changes on nights and weekends.
When you navigate subways stations, keep an eye out for the art in them. I have discovered subway station only in the last 5-7 years, and New York subway stations are full of art of renowned artists ranging from Alex Katz to Sol LeWitt and Roy Lichtenstein, and some stations are practically museums with all the art they to offer.
Making New Friends
One of the biggest challenges of moving to a city like New York alone is making new friends. The city that never sleeps has New Yorkers that never stop, and it is common for my schedule to be packed for weeks at a time.
Given I had never lived, studied or worked in the US, I did not know anyone when I moved here. I requested friends from back home in India to introduce me to friends they had living in New York, which is how I started to make friends here. This was back in the day in 1999 when the introductions were made by email, today it is so much easier to connect people with social media and apps such as Facetime and Whatsapp being the norm for international communication. I am still making friends with friends of friends, it is a great way to connect with likeminded people that I sometimes even become better friends with than the friends I met than through!
Some of the other ways that I made friends was by joining a club or a group based on your interests. If you like sports, go to a sports bar that is aligned with the sport or team you support as an example.
It is also easy to find events online. For instance, Meetup groups are a great way to meet likeminded people. I am part of a neighborhood Facebook group where people often make plans to get together to watch events like the Superbowl.
Even your work can be a great way to make friends. Happy Hours after work are a busy time at bars in NYC, where you can plan to go with coworkers. Networking events are a great way to expand your professional network.
New York bars are often a great place to go as a single person, where it is entirely acceptable to grab a drink and meal, and strike up a conversation with the people you are sitting next to. This has worked particularly well for me after a Broadway show when I put the Playbill on the bar, and someone or the other always strikes up a conversation about the show.
It took me a long time – couple of years – and a lot of effort to make a circle of friends. You really have to put yourself out there, and New York will reward you by giving you an amazing set of friends for a lifetime. I know it has for me, and my circle of friends continues to grow even today, after all these years of living here.
Exploring New York City Alone
The sheer multitude of options that are available in New York City that can be intimidating to navigate, especially when you are alone. You should rest assured that New Yorkers often do things alone, I know I do because my friends can’t keep up with all that I like to fit into my day, and getting out there and doing things is one of the best ways to find the version of New York that you like. There are options for each budget, and the sheer number of free options means that you can often do this for the price of a subway ticket to get there.
- New York has a ton of websites, magazines, newsletters, social media accounts etc that track and publish events that are happening around the City. Some of these include The Infatuation, Thrillist, Time Out, Secret NYC and others. Sign up for these and you will be in the know about the events that are happening all year round. The summer is especially great with a ton of free events in Central Park and Lincoln Center, which may or may not be ticketed even though they are free.
- Visit museums and galleries. New York City has some of the best museums and galleries in the world. If you are on a budget, most have a free evening to visit, and the Met actually has a pay what you wish for New Yorkers if you can give them proof you live here. There is also a Museum Mile festival in the summer which is very fun.
- Go to a show. Whether you’re into theater, music, or comedy, there’s always something happening in New York City. New York offers a ton of free music by leading artists in the summer. One of my favorites is the Global Citizen festival in Central Park where I have seen some of the best artists. The Today Show has a Friday concert series in the summer, as does Good Morning America in Central Park, both of which are ticketed but free.
- Walk the City. New Yorkers love walking, and there are a ton of memes and jokes about us making visitors walk to a place that is next door, and 20 minutes later the visitor politely wants to know when they will actually get there! You should plan to explore different neighborhoods, each of which has its own unique character such as Little Italy, Chinatown, Williamsburg etc.
- Take the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty for free. This is an exhilarating experience for the first time, and I am happy to do it anytime someone visits.
- Take a hop on hop off bus tour. I actually did this the first time my parents visited, and this really helped me to understand the layout of the land so to speak, and helped me wrap my head around the various neighborhoods and their geographical layout.
Discovering the City and making new friends helped me transition from somewhat of an introvert to a definite extrovert, and I am always grateful for the opportunity New York gave me to come into my own here.
Be Prepared for the Cost of Living
High rents is not the only expensive thing about NYC, you should be prepared for a higher that usual cost of living as well. I always get surprised at the cost of things when I travel or even visit anyone in the suburbs! It is a cost you need to pay for living in the crossroads of the world, so plan and budget accordingly. I love theater and music, so I have found a way to make the most of free events and memberships that let me indulge in my passions without breaking the bank. There are apps such as Too Good To Go which are working to solve the problem of food waste, but giving a lot of value to their users with great food that gets saved. Meal Pass is a great option for office lunches as an example.
Safety is Key
New York is a safe city for the most part, but you need to keep certain things in mind when you move here alone. Most of it is common sense, but here are some things I tend to do –
- I choose to walk on streets that have people on them, and tend to avoid ones that are empty or deserted. I find it best to stick to well lit and well populated streets, especially at night.
- I double lock my doors from the inside at night and put the safety chain on, even though I live in a doorman building.
- I have a motion activated camera at home that I turn on when I am away, especially when I have requested any repair work to be done in my apartment when I am at work.
- If you have a fire escape that has a window into your apartment, you should keep the windows closed so no one can enter your apartment. I lived in an apartment with a fire escape, and my neighbor locked themselves out and managed to use the window in my apartment to get to their apartment through the fire escape. This made me realize how easy it can be to get in through a window.
Moving to New York City alone can feel like a daunting idea, but I have found it to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Speaking from experience, moving to NYC in 1999 is definitely one of the best decisions I ever made being surrounded by the energy, diversity, and opportunity here has truly made me come into my own.
I hope the tips for moving to NYC alone I have shared from my personal experience are helpful. I sincerely believe that you need to want to make the move, be prepared for the high cost of living, and the need to put yourself out there to make new friends and connections to make it here.
You definitely need to understand the various aspects to consider while renting an apartment, the importance of researching online resources, and the potential challenges of forming both friendships and long-term romantic relationships in a city that is constantly in motion. New York City is a city of opportunity, with potential for bigger career opportunities and the chance to fulfill your American Dream.
Remember, moving to New York City alone is not for everyone, but if you are up for the challenge, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience that will shape your future in ways that you cannot even imagine.