Washington, D.C., is the place to be if you want to live in a vibrant city that's the center point for American politics. But you don't need to work in Congress to live and work in D.C. Many national non-profit organizations are headquartered here. You'll also find many top companies in the area, including Lockheed Martin, CapitalOne, Hilton, Northrup Grumman and more.
With two major airports and close proximity to Philadelphia and New York City via Amtrak, Washington, D.C., is a major hub that draws diverse people. The weather is relatively mild, with warm summers and winters that sometimes offer snow. But typically nothing like the blizzards you might see in the Northeast.
Washington, D.C., isn't the cheapest city in America, with a cost of living that's 53.3 percent higher than the national average. That's primarily due to housing costs, especially the average rent in Washington, D.C. Housing in D.C. is a whopping 153.4 percent higher than the national average, but you'll also find more affordable options in many neighborhoods, as well as in nearby Arlington, VA.
Fortunately, other costs in Washington, D.C., such as transportation and utilities, aren't that much higher than the national average. You'll also save on healthcare. We'll break down the various costs for you, so you'll know what to plan for with your move to Washington, D.C.:
- Housing costs in Washington, D.C.
- Food costs in Washington, D.C.
- Utility costs in Washington, D.C.
- Transportation costs in Washington, D.C.
- Healthcare costs in Washington, D.C.
- Goods and services costs in Washington, D.C.
- Taxes in Washington, D.C.
- How much do you need to earn in Washington, D.C.?
Housing costs in Washington, D.C.
The big cost to bear in Washington, D.C., is housing. The average rent is $2,960. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Washington, D.C., is $3,158, a 6.2 percent from the same time last year.
Rent prices vary greatly in the D.C. area, with the cheapest being the neighborhood of Washington Highlands, with a two-bedroom going for $1,097. This area has a lot of low-income and public housing available.
If you're looking for a brand-new luxury condo, the West End has been revitalized from humble roots to an upscale area with fine dining, luxury hotels and posh condominiums. The average rent here for a two-bedroom apartment is $4,867 per month, sharing the title for the most expensive renters' neighborhood with next-door Foggy Bottom.
Some of the most popular neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., include Cleveland Park ($2,930 for a two-bedroom), Woodley Park ($4,211 for a two-bedroom), Kalorama ($2,974 for a two-bedroom) and Adams Morgan ($3,605 for a two-bedroom, which has actually decreased 24.09 percent).
Average rent prices in cities near Washington, D.C.
With $3,158 as the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Washington, D.C., you might want to also look for a home in nearby cities and suburbs. In some cases, like Arlington and Bethesda, you can expect to pay more. Nearby Silver Spring is almost $1,000 per month less. If the average rent in Washington, D.C., is too much, and you don't mind a commute, you might try Baltimore, Annapolis or the many beautiful suburbs to the east that grace the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore has express trains that run to Washington, making it an easy commute.
- Arlington, VA: $3,478
- Bethesda, MD: $3,920
- Silver Spring, MD: $2,229
- Baltimore, MD: $1,662
- Annapolis, MD: $2,160
Home prices in Washington, D.C.
According to Redfin, the average home price in Washington, D.C., went up 1.5 percent compared to the previous year as of August 2021, for a median sale price of $660,000. It takes approximately 31 days for a house to sell in D.C.
Food costs in Washington, D.C.
With diplomats, ambassadors and foreign dignitaries regularly visiting the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., is blessed with a number of top-rated fine restaurants, as well as casual eateries for the abundant tourists visiting each year. Whether you want to grab a hot dog from a street vendor near the National Mall or enjoy a nice sit-down meal, D.C. has it all.
While you can certainly spend a lot on a fine restaurant in D.C., you can also find some great places to eat in D.C. on a budget.
The average cost of groceries is about 16 percent above the national average, with orange juice costing around $3.26, cereal at $4.24 and peaches at $1.99 per pound.
Utility costs in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., undergoes regular seasons, but they're not as severe as what you might experience either to the north or south. You should be prepared to crank up the A/C on some hot summer days, and while winters don't usually get too cold, be prepared for the occasional blizzard.
Despite the milder weather, Washington, D.C.'s utility costs run around 16.4 percent above the national average, with energy costs running around $186.75 per month.
Transportation costs in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.'s traffic can be a nightmare, not just with the insanity of the Capital Beltway surrounding D.C., but its confusing street grid. In fact, some speculate that the city was laid out in such a way as to confuse invaders (this is apparently a myth).
On the positive, D.C. is highly walkable, with a Walk Score of 83. It's also bike-friendly, with a Bike Score of 74. Most people have a commute of approximately 15 to 40 minutes.
With a transit score of 69, D.C. is relatively easy to get around via the Metro, which has rail and bus service. Metrorail costs vary, with peak fares ranging from $2.25 to $6.00 and off-peak fares from $2.00 to $3.85. A weekend one-way fare is just $2.00. Regular routes on the Metrobus are $2.00 and express routes are $4.25.
Healthcare costs in Washington, D.C.
Healthcare is so important these days, and with costs rising, it's good to know that Washington, D.C.'s healthcare spending averages 7 percent less than the national average. With its close proximity to Baltimore and one of the most prestigious medical schools on the planet, Johns Hopkins University, you'll have access to some of the country's best doctors here. With so many important political leaders living in the area, Washington, D.C., has its share of renowned doctors and surgeons.
Some of the top-ranked hospitals in D.C. include MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Johns Hopkins also has a facility in nearby Bethesda, MD, the Johns Hopkins Medicine-Suburban Hospital.
Because everyone's individual health concerns differ, hard-and-fast rules on what medicine costs in Washington, D.C., aren't realistic. However, we can tell you that the average cost of a doctor's visit is $109.41 and prescription drugs average $402.41 without insurance. If you need ibuprofen, it costs around $10.59 at your local D.C. drug store.
Goods and services costs in Washington, D.C.
The cost of goods and services in Washington, D.C., can fluctuate. While you'll find many costs on par with the national average, such as gasoline prices (which are definitely less than West Coast pump prices at an average of $2.894), haircuts are crazy expensive in D.C. Politicians need to look their best for the cameras, right? This is perhaps why an average haircut in the nation's capital will run you about $48.33, and a full treatment at a beauty salon is almost double at $83.
Unlike cities such as Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., is more of a “let's go to the Ambassador's Ball" kind of place and not a movie town. But you can still catch a flick here on a date night out. Just be prepared to dish out $13.68 each for a ticket for yourself and your squeeze.
While it may seem old-fashioned to read the newspaper, you can still pick up your favorite news rag for $8.33. Yoga here is a bit pricy at $21.63 per class, but many yoga studios offer class passes and bulk discounts that will bring that cost down.
Taxes in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., is not part of a state but a unique district with its own sales and income taxes. The Washington, D.C., sales tax rate is 5.75 percent, which works out to $57.50 per $1,000 spent. Certain goods and services may be taxed more, such as alcohol at 10 percent and 18 percent for commercial parking.
Income taxes are assessed in five brackets, with the top bracket of 8.95 percent levied taxable income of $350,001 and above. If you rent, you won't need to worry about property tax, but wannabe D.C. homeowners need to consider the potential tax assessment of any property they buy.
How much do you need to earn to live in Washington, D.C.?
To keep your rent at the recommended 30 percent of your gross income, you need to earn a minimum of $126,000 to afford an average two-bedroom apartment in Washington, D.C.
However, since you may not need a car to get around in D.C., you might be able to pay a little more than 30 percent. Washington, D.C., is simply one of those cities where many end up paying more for rent because that's just the price you pay to live in a world-class city.
Not sure of what you can afford in D.C.? Use our free online rent calculator to figure out what it might take to live in our nation's capital.
Understanding the cost of living in Washington, D.C.
With renowned culture, fabulous amenities, nice weather and plenty of charity balls to attend, Washington, D.C., is a great place to live and work. With diverse neighborhoods that offer lots of rental options, you should be able to find a great place to live in no time.