Why Living in NYC Is Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

by on June 26, 2012 · 9 comments

The Manhattan Skyline: beautiful, if you know how to appreciate it. Photo by Rafe Baron

Brigid Delaney’s article in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald National Times did a great job describing why living in New York City can be more beneficial (and cost effective) than the big cities in Australia. According to the article, some 1500 Australians now arrive in New York each day to escape the economic barriers of Sydney for relative cheapness and easier living in New York. It sounds good in theory, but if you’re going to make it here – or outstay your visa waiver – there are some important things you’ll need to know.

While it’s true that New York City can be comparatively affordable to the increasingly expensive Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, those who are seeking a life in The States, temporary or permanent, need to be prepared for some of the roadblocks they might face that accompany the economic advantages. The relative inexpense of living here needs to also be weighed against quality of life – something Ustralian readers have noted whenever we’ve outlined the cost comparison between living in Australia and living in the USA. On the job front, there are workplace advantages and great opportunities for creatives, or those looking to lead a more exciting lifestyle, but as Sydney becomes a huge player in the worldwide arena, it’s important to remember that the sacrifices of living in the United States might outweigh the advantages.

So here’s my list of 6 points I’d like to raise for anyone looking to move to New York (or Los Angeles, or San Francisco, or anywhere in the USA). Keep in mind that I continue to live in (and love) New York City despite all of these facts, so these are not a complaint – merely points to be aware of.

1. Food and drink is cheaper, but not better.
Yes, food and drink is cheaper. But the quality of that cheap food and drink is not generally as good. It’s easy to subsist on $3.50 bagels and $5 sandwiches from the myriad of delis in New York City, but not be healthy or satisfied. If you want a salad for lunch, for instance, that will run you anywhere from $10-$15. And there’s a really delicious upmarket sub shop near my apartment which runs about $9 a sandwich – and it’s worth it, because it’s really good. And with plenty of innovative and fancy dining options (as well as delicious cocktails) in this city, it’s sometimes difficult to resist spending upwards of $100 on a dinner for two. Compare my last trip back to Sydney: I found that food was fresh and delicious everywhere, even a plain-old healthy $8 salad sandwich, or a $2.50 sushi roll. Yes, a subway sandwich was more expensive, but that even tasted better and fresher than it does in New York, and the service was better to boot.

2. The value of the US dollar is comparatively low.
This one was different a few years ago. You could come to the USA to work and travel, and even with a bit of a pay cut you’d be better off on the global stage. Not so anymore. As the US dollar remains fairly weak (somewhere around parity of the Aussie dollar), our trips everywhere – including back home to Australia – are getting more expensive.

3. Rents are not cheap. Apartments are not massive.
The author of the article notes that she pays $400 a week for a massive apartment. She’s really lucky. There are deals out there like that (especially if you’re sharing a space with one or two other people), but overall in New York City rent sizes are huge and apartments are small. A recent article in the New York Times noted that rents in Manhattan are at their highest ever – an average of $3,418 a month. Often the competition is huge and for a new worker with little in the way of credit history, you’ll often be asked to pay a large upfront fee to prove that you’re financially stable enough. Brooklyn isn’t that much better – with a massive influx in Brooklyn living over the past 10 years, prices are getting much higher very quickly, sometimes exceeding Manhattan prices in the more favourable neighbourhoods.

And forget about views, balconies or amenities, unless you’re willing to pay more. Just a spot of outdoor space – or rooftop access – in New York City is a luxury, and landlords know that.

4. Visas aren’t easy to get.
The article cites one worker on a skilled worker (E3) visa who freelances for Australian companies and another on an artist (O1) visa. The intricacies of these visas both require a lot more explanation. For instance, when you’re on an E3 – a skilled employment-based visa only for Australians – you’re forbidden to work for a company other than the one your visa sponsorship is tied to. Which would technically rule out freelancing at all. It also puts you in a very tight position regarding the work you can accept and whether or not you can switch easily. Same for the O1 visa. If you’re looking to support your art with shifts at a bar or cafe, forget about it – that’s not allowed on your visa at all. Which brings me to the next point.

5. Jobs are hard to find.
The US is still recovering from financial crisis, which means jobs in the country are still relatively scarce. Many Aussies in the USA report job success despite this fact, and if your skills are in demand and you’re diligent about both the job search and your performance, you should do quite well, especially given that the job pool here is much bigger. But the idea that you can saunter over here and find a job easily is just not true. Visa constraints and cost of travel just to find a job will put a hole in your pocket and possibly make it more difficult than an equally qualified citizen or permanent resident.

6. Healthcare. Bloody Healthcare.
The big point that’s important to know about is one which plagues each and every person in this city and country: you cannot have healthcare without a full-time job. So for artists on O1 visas, getting the proper medical care, especially in case of an emergency, is a huge concern. Travelers insurance will usually do the trick in the beginning, but once that runs out, you’d better find a job that provides insurance or look at expensive monthly premiums if you want to pay your own way. Otherwise, if you have an accident, you could be in serious financial trouble.

As with every decision about where to live, there are positives and negatives to living in New York City. For all of the negatives, there are massive positives, especially if you’re looking to live in New York for its ample offerings in music, nightlife, creative culture, history, people and more. But if you’re prepared for an easy road just because you’re an Aussie who’s heard it’s cheaper, remember that you’ll need to think long and hard about how easy it might be to make your way in NYC.

Having said that, we are here to help make your passage an easy one. If you’ve recently moved or are planning on moving, you can always ask us questions that we’ll endeavour to answer in our regular advice section. Or visit our Facebook page, where other Aussies are always on-hand to answer any questions you may have. In the meantime, if you have a point to add, feel free to join the discussion in the comments below.

  • Ellav2003

    Maybe this is just an example of “the grass always being greener” elsewhere, but honestly, as a life long New Yorker, and someone who has lived in Australia (partner is Australian) I would honestly not recommend moving to NYC now. Although I totally understand that with the Australian dollar being at such an advantage over the American dollar (at least as compared to how its fared over the last 15 years), America may now seem affordable, but now with our economy in the crapper, its not the time to relocated HERE. I guess if you’re coming with a job that awaits and a place to stay where you are sharing an apartment (and therefore don’t have to pay insane and manditory real estate fees that require american credit checks and american jobs), then that’s one thing, but otherwise, if you are coming here to escape what seems like tougher waters in Sydney.. think again. Personally I LOVE your country, and I would perhaps look at other aussie cities to move to before coming to NYC. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=576415153 Tova Raykin

      Thanks for that insight, Ella!

  • Missomy64

    I agree- with every single point. I’m currently living in San Francisco – and am beginning my transition home to Australia. People in my work field are asking me what comes next for me- hands down, it’s moving home to oz. I feel the living conditions in oz way surpass my 4 year experience in the states. Yes- the work experience has been invaluable, and I’ve made amazing contacts- but it’s not a forever place for me. I’d also like to add to the food quality point- the way America farms is completely different to oz. I feel it’s resulted in a bunch of medical conditions during my stay here. Yes it’s easy to get cheap food- but when it comes down to eating a steak from a corn fed, feed lot cow- give me Aussie beef any day.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=576415153 Tova Raykin

      Good luck with your move, @e0403c32a1a100e58f6ffffb3bdb645b:disqus. The farming point is a really great one. Aussie beef is really second to none. So is the milk!

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BIQH4YBKPJO3GAHLFSHSVPSLLE Mi

      I feel exactly the same way. It’s been fun to get some overseas experience and get an awesome deal on a condo but quality food is not cheap, only the crap is, and healthcare is nothing less than a luxury item. My husband and I are enjoying it here for the moment but really look forward to the stability and prosperity of Australia.

  • Michelle

    I read her article and thought that it was a little misleading for people who haven’t lived & worked here.She makes it sound so easy. It’s somewhat harder if you come here having never been to the States, without a job and without knowing anyone! (Hard but worth it in the end if you succeed!).We could add #7. The rats, dirt & garbage we try to ignore every day ;)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=576415153 Tova Raykin

      And mice. ew. mice. I thought the cockroaches in Sydney were bad, but mice are MUCH worse.

  • Adams

    The dollar is week?
    Hmm. Methinks the Aussie spelling is weak.

    • http://www.ustralian.com/ Tova Raykin

      Good find, and one that got passed over in editing. That’s now been fixed :)