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Moving to Chicago

Tucked between the American heartland and Lake Michigan, Chicago offers a vibrant, multicultural and business-oriented experience in northeastern Illinois. Chicago is America's third-largest city and keeps investing in itself, continuously improving infrastructure and education, and – as expats will notice – courting the world's largest companies to relocate their headquarters to within its windy borders.

Living in Chicago as an expat

New arrivals looking for employment in Chicago will discover a wide range of industries that cater for a variety of specialised fields in the city. With such a diverse job market, newcomers with skills in finance, manufacturing, IT, health services, and transport and distribution shouldn't experience much difficulty when looking for work. 

A wide range of accommodation options is available in Chicago, and new arrivals to the city are sure to find something that suits their needs and lifestyle. Fortunately, housing prices in Chicago are also on the lower side compared to other major US cities. There's a wide range of areas and suburbs to choose from, each with its own unique atmosphere. Living outside of the city centre is also not a problem, as all areas are well serviced by Chicago's efficient public transport network

While health insurance is one of the more significant expenses expats will need to account for when moving anywhere in the USA, those relocating to Chicago can rest assured that they will have access to good quality medical services. The city is home to some of the best hospitals in the USA, primarily due to the presence of many medical schools. 

Cost of living in Chicago

While the cost of living in Chicago is considerably higher than the national average, it is lower than many other large American cities such as New York City and San Francisco. The high cost of living is also offset by the fact that salaries in Chicago are also higher than the national average. 

Families and children in Chicago

Those moving to Chicago with children will be pleased to find that the city offers a solid range of private and international schooling options. Not only that, but the city is incredibly family-friendly and offers plenty of attractions to keep kids busy on the weekends. 

Outdoor spaces abound in Chicago, from the shoreline of Lake Michigan to Lincoln Park. There are also numerous waterparks, theme parks and an interactive children's museum where they can spend an afternoon of educational fun. 

Climate in Chicago

Weather in Chicago is informed by a humid continental climate with distinct seasonal variations. Summers are warm to hot, often accompanied by high humidity, with average high temperatures peaking in the mid-80s°F (around 30°C). Winters can be harsh, characterised by cold temperatures, snow and the infamous 'lake-effect' snowstorms driven by the nearby Lake Michigan. The city often sees temperatures fall below freezing, with averages in the 20s and 30s°F (-6 to 1°C). Expats from milder climates may require some time to adjust to the city's brisk winter temperatures, but many find the summer's heat and the beauty of the city's four distinct seasons to be worth the winter chill.

For those contemplating a move to Chicago, the city presents an engaging blend of opportunities and lifestyle options. From its diverse job market, wide range of accommodations, high-quality medical services and well-established education system to its family-friendly attractions and unique climate, Chicago indeed has much to offer.

Although it's dubbed the 'Windy City', its charm extends beyond the fresh winds, offering a vibrant living experience that uniquely marries the hustle and bustle of a big city with the warmth and hospitality of the American Midwest. With continuous infrastructure improvements and strategic economic advancements, it's a city that never stops evolving, making it an exciting and dynamic place for newcomers to call home.

Weather in Chicago

Typical weather in Chicago varies widely depending on time of year. There are four distinct seasons, each characterised by specific conditions.

September brings mild, crisp days as autumn approaches. Winter, from late November to early March, is marked by heavy snowfall, including blizzards. It's not uncommon for the temperature to hover at 32°F (0°C) for days on end. During extremely cold periods, the temperature can drop to -4°F (-20°C) or lower.

Chicago's spring is from mid-March to May, gradually shifting from cold to warm conditions throughout the season. June heralds the start of summer, which is typically hot, sunny, humid and prone to evening thunderstorms. Summer temperatures range between 73 and 82°F (23 and 28°C).


Pros and Cons of Moving to Chicago

Moving to any city has ups and downs, and Chicago is no exception. When deciding whether to take the plunge and relocate, it's best to be realistic about what day-to-day life in the city will be like. Here are some of the pros and cons of moving to Chicago.

Accommodation in Chicago

+ PRO: Range of options

From two-flats and bungalows to high-rise apartments and freestanding family homes, there are plenty of choices to suit any lifestyle when it comes to accommodation in Chicago.

+ PRO: Renting and buying are relatively cheap 

Although Chicago has quite a high cost of living on a global scale, accommodation prices are on the lower end. Expats will be able to find a home to suit their budget, although it may come with a commute into the city for work. With such excellent transport options, however, this shouldn't be a problem. 

Getting around in Chicago

+ PRO: Major air travel hub

O'Hare International Airport is only 45 minutes from downtown Chicago, making it easy to fly nationally and internationally at the drop of a hat. Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami and other major cities are only a couple of hours from Chicago by plane.

+ PRO: Good public transport system

Those living in Chicago won't have much need for a car as the city has an affordable, reliable and extensive public transport network consisting of trains and buses, some of which run 24 hours a day. This integrated system is made even more accessible with the use of a Ventra Card, on which credit can be loaded. 

- CON: Traffic is an issue

Another reason not to drive in Chicago, other than the excellent transport network in the city, is horrendous traffic. Newcomers should be aware of this and avoid driving or taking a taxi during rush hours, especially if in a hurry. Parking is also limited and hard to find, yet another reason to leave the car at home. 

Cost of living in Chicago

- CON: High cost of living

Chicago is one of the most expensive cities in America. Those moving there will need to ensure that they are able to shoulder the high cost of living the city incurs. Luckily, salaries are correspondingly high.

Lifestyle in Chicago

+ PRO: Chicago is a multicultural city

Chicago's ethnically diverse roots make it a fantastic destination for expats, who should have no problem finding others who can commiserate with the highs and lows of the relocation process. Making friends should therefore not be too much of a struggle for new additions to Chicago's population. 

+ PRO: Lots of green spaces

The lifestyle in Chicago is fantastic. Those who enjoy the outdoors will have plenty of ways to spend their leisure time, from the famous Lincoln Park to the sprawling vistas of Lake Michigan.

+ PRO: The city has great food

Known for its restaurant and nightlife scene, new arrivals in Chicago should not struggle to find something that tickles their tastebuds. With a range of excellent restaurants, food markets and bars available, newcomers will be spoilt for choice when picking a dining spot on any night of the week. 

- CON: The crime rates are high

Sadly, Chicago is notorious for its crime rates, making safety somewhat of an issue for its population. Fortunately, being vigilant of their surroundings and staying away from the more precarious areas should be enough to keep newcomers from having to experience any of the crime portrayed in movies and TV shows about this city. 

Education in Chicago

+ PRO: Great educational opportunities

Chicago boasts some of the country's best institutions. From a vast array of quality primary and secondary schools, public, private and international, to world-class universities such as the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, the city offers excellent education opportunities. 

- CON: Educational inequality

The quality of education can vary significantly between neighbourhoods. The best schools tend to be in more affluent areas, creating a degree of inequality in educational opportunities. Newcomers with children should consider this when deciding on where to live.

Healthcare in Chicago

+ PRO: Excellent healthcare facilities

Chicago offers top-notch healthcare facilities. The city is home to some of the country's best hospitals, such as the University of Chicago Medical Center and Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

- CON: Healthcare can be expensive

Despite the high quality of healthcare, the cost can be a hurdle. Even with insurance, expenses can be significant, especially for complex treatments or procedures. Expats should ensure they have comprehensive health insurance coverage before moving to the city.

Weather in Chicago

- CON: A long and cold winter

Be prepared: Chicago's winter is freezing with snowstorms and blizzards. Heavy snow tends to pile up overnight, making it necessary to remove snow from doorways, driveways and cars before leaving the house.

Working in Chicago

Newcomers looking to work in Chicago are often drawn to its engaging and fast-paced business environment. Due to its central location in the country, the city enjoys a pivotal role in both national and international trade. This has led to a history of economic strength and contributes heavily to the steady growth of Chicago's job market, particularly in the services sector. Salaries in Chicago are also higher than the national average.

Job market in Chicago

The diversity of Chicago's business climate remains its biggest strength and security. Those looking for employment in Chicago shouldn't experience much difficulty, as its wide range of industries caters for a variety of specialised fields. 

The city is famous for its financial sector, which is one of the most prolific in the country and is home to an impressive number of Fortune 500 companies. Other notable industries in Chicago include manufacturing, IT and health services. Transportation and distribution are also key business sectors, primarily due to the city's ideal location at the crossroads of domestic and international trade routes. 

Finding a job in Chicago

The job search in Chicago is best started online. Most companies and employment agencies advertise vacancies on their own websites as well as on various job portals. Networking is also an essential element of finding a job in Chicago, and new arrivals should focus on expanding their contacts and building relationships within the corporate environment.

Expats wanting to work in Chicago are required to have a work permit for the USA.

Useful Links

Work culture in Chicago

Being such an international hub, the working environment in Chicago is incredibly diverse, and the city is a prime location for international business activity. Newcomers can therefore expect to work with people from all over the world, immersed in an assortment of business cultures.

Generally speaking, business culture in the US is also incredibly individualistic. The working world rewards 'go-getters' while those who lack independence, initiative and self-reliance lag behind. Status and age are mostly obsolete; instead, merit, experience and past achievement are the vehicles for advancement. Expats coming from societies where seniority is a consequence of social class, length of service or maturity may find acclimating to this idea especially challenging.

Cost of Living in Chicago

While the cost of living in Chicago may not be as high as in other US cities such as New York and San Francisco, it's by no means a cheap place to live. In the 2023 Mercer Cost of Living survey, Chicago is ranked the world's 24th most expensive city out of the 227 cities surveyed.

With Chicago's growth as a major financial and business destination in the USA, there has been a general increase in development and cost of living. New arrivals should therefore ensure that their earnings will be enough to cover their living expenses in Chicago.

Cost of accommodation in Chicago

Accommodation is likely to be the most significant expense for anyone living in Chicago. Ultimately, how much a person spends on rent will depend on the area or suburb they choose to live in, as well as whether they opt for an apartment or a freestanding house. Areas close to the city centre are pricier than outlying suburbs.

Cost of transport in Chicago

Those moving to Chicago will be glad to know they won't necessarily need to invest in a car. The city has a comprehensive, efficient and largely affordable public transport network consisting mainly of buses and subway lines. To save money, it's a good idea for regular commuters to invest in a monthly pass.

Cost of groceries in Chicago

While the cost of groceries in Chicago is more than the national average, how much one spends greatly depends on their eating habits and choice of grocery store. Chain supermarkets like Jewel-Osco and Mariano's are found throughout the city and offer a wide variety of items at reasonable prices.

For those looking for organic or speciality items, stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are available but may be slightly more expensive. Shopping at local farmers' markets can be a good way to save money, support local businesses and access fresh produce.

Cost of entertainment and eating out in Chicago

Entertainment and leisure pursuits in Chicago are generally more reasonably priced than in many other US cities. There are also plenty of activities in Chicago costing little or nothing. For example, most museums have one day a week when there are no entrance fees. There are also lots of free music and arts festivals that take place in Chicago throughout the year and plenty of public parks to enjoy at no cost.

Chicago boasts a diverse culinary scene with a variety of dining options, from food trucks and casual diners to high-end restaurants. The cost of eating out varies depending on the type of establishment and its location. Fast-food chains and local eateries in less expensive neighbourhoods can offer meals at affordable prices.

In contrast, dining at upscale restaurants in downtown or popular areas such as the Magnificent Mile or River North will be costlier. On the whole, Chicago's food scene is known for its value for money, offering world-class dining experiences at prices often less than equivalent venues in other major cities.

Cost of education in Chicago

There are many exceptional public schools in Chicago that can be attended free of charge. Expats who choose to send their children to a private or international school should check whether their employment relocation package includes an allowance for their children's school fees, as these can be high.

Cost of healthcare in Chicago

Healthcare in Chicago, like in the rest of the United States, can be pretty expensive. Costs can vary widely based on whether an individual has health insurance and the quality of that coverage. Those with comprehensive health insurance can expect most healthcare costs to be covered, but copays and deductibles can still add up.

The costs can be very high for those without insurance or with limited coverage, even for routine care and prescription medicines. New arrivals are strongly recommended to secure adequate health insurance, either privately or through their employer, before moving to the city.

Cost of living in Chicago chart

Prices may vary depending on the area and service provider. The chart below shows average prices for August 2023.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre

USD 4,100

Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

USD 2,900

One-bedroom apartment in the city centre

USD 2,090

One-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

USD 1,480

Food and drink

Dozen eggs

USD 4.58

Milk (1 litre)

USD 1.14

Rice (1kg)

USD 5.02

Loaf of white bread

USD 3.67

Chicken breasts (1kg)

USD 5.27

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

USD 16

Eating out

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

USD 80

Big Mac meal


Coca-Cola (330ml)

USD 2.67


USD 5.29

Bottle of beer (local)

USD 4.56


Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

USD 0.52

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

USD 60

Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)

USD 260


Taxi rate/km

USD 2.11

City-centre public transport fare

USD 2.50

Gasoline (per litre)

USD 1.26

Accommodation in Chicago

Finding accommodation in Chicago is relatively easy, but the rental market is competitive, so it's best to start the property search as soon as possible. There are some unique and interesting housing options to suit every budget and lifestyle in Chicago. New residents are likely to find something ideal for their situation.

Areas and suburbs in Chicago

Chicago boasts an array of neighbourhoods that cater for various lifestyles and preferences. The Loop, for instance, serves as the city's bustling commercial heart with a blend of historic landmarks and skyscrapers. For those looking for a vibrant arts scene and eclectic vibe, Wicker Park and Logan Square offer trendy cafés, boutiques and a younger crowd. Lincoln Park and Lakeview, on the other hand, are perfect for families with their serene parks, top schools and proximity to the lakefront. Those after a touch of luxury might gravitate towards Gold Coast, a district renowned for its upscale residences and sophisticated charm.

On the South Side, neighbourhoods like Hyde Park, home to the prestigious University of Chicago, present a blend of academia and rich history. Meanwhile, the North Side offers areas like Andersonville, celebrated for its Swedish heritage and community-driven events.

Check out Areas and Suburbs in Chicago to learn more about the Windy City's neighbourhoods.

Types of accommodation in Chicago

Chicago is home to a wide variety of housing types. There's no one particular architectural style that is typical of the city.

Two-flats are two-storey residential buildings that contain identical residences on each floor. There is usually a shared entrance to the building for both apartments. While some were built explicitly as two separate residences, many started as single-family double-storey homes that have been converted.

Bungalows are popular housing options in Chicago. Most of these sturdy brick homes were built between 1910 and 1940 and were often built in clusters of two or more homes along the same street. The bulk of these homes housed Chicago's working classes back in the day, but today the occupants are from all walks of life.

Chicago has many types of apartment buildings, from older and smaller six-unit blocks to modern high-rise buildings. These can be found in several neighbourhoods, extending from the suburbs to the inner-city areas.

Condominiums (condos) are also popular in Chicago. These can consist of mid- or high-rise properties, with some old mansions in Chicago even being converted into condominiums. These properties usually offer amenities such as swimming pools and tennis courts for all residents to enjoy.

Finding accommodation in Chicago

Finding accommodation in Chicago is relatively easy. Online property portals and local classifieds are filled with real estate listings. These are excellent ways to gain an understanding of the property market and common prices. It's also possible to enlist the help of a real estate agent or apartment locator. 

Companies in Chicago offer short-term corporate housing, and most newcomers to Chicago will want to agree to short-term rentals or subletting before moving to more permanent accommodation. Good deals can sometimes also be found in larger, shared accommodation.

Renting accommodation in Chicago

Making an application

When applying to rent accommodation in Chicago, prospective tenants typically need to provide proof of income, such as recent payslips or an employment letter. A credit check is also standard procedure, with landlords wanting to ensure the applicant's creditworthiness. Some landlords might request references from previous landlords or employers to vouch for the tenant's reliability and character.

Application forms might also require personal details, including rental history and past evictions. It's essential to be honest, as discrepancies can result in the application being declined. Moreover, it's common for applicants to pay a non-refundable application fee, which covers the cost of the credit and background checks.

Leases, costs and fees

In Chicago, the length of a lease can vary, but most leases last 12 months. Before signing, it's crucial to thoroughly read and understand the lease agreement, clarifying any ambiguities with the landlord or letting agent. This document will outline the rent amount, payment due dates, security deposit and additional fees or costs.

Security deposits are generally equivalent to one month's rent, refundable at the end of the lease if the property is in the same condition as when rented, barring general wear and tear. Lastly, some buildings or housing associations may charge move-in fees, particularly in high-rise apartments.

It's also worth noting that while some rentals might include utilities in the monthly rent, others will require tenants to set up and pay these separately.

See Accommodation in the USA for more on rental processes in the country.

Utilities in Chicago

Utilities are an essential aspect of living in any city, and Chicago is no different. New residents will quickly find that the cost of utilities can vary depending on the location, property size and consumption habits.

Moreover, with its hot summers and cold winters, Chicago's climate can influence utility bills. It's not uncommon for heating bills to spike in the winter and cooling costs to rise in the summer, making energy-efficient practices a worthwhile consideration.

Electricity and gas

Electricity and gas services in Chicago are primarily provided by ComEd and Peoples Gas. While setting up these utilities is straightforward, initiating the process a few weeks before moving in is recommended to ensure timely activation.

For those looking to adopt green energy, several providers in Chicago offer renewable energy options, often at competitive rates.


The City of Chicago manages water services. Most residents will find that their water bill includes sewage and sanitation fees. For renters, it's common for the landlord or property management company to handle water billing, with costs either included in the rent or billed separately.

Chicago's tap water, sourced from Lake Michigan, is of high quality and undergoes rigorous testing to ensure its safety for consumption.

Waste management and recycling

Chicago's Department of Streets and Sanitation oversees waste disposal and recycling. The city offers a blue cart recycling programme, collecting recyclables from designated blue bins.

Regular waste is collected once a week, with specific collection days varying by neighbourhood. Residents are encouraged to be mindful of disposal guidelines, ensuring that waste is appropriately separated and placed out for collection on the right day.

Residents can request special pick-ups for oversized items or bulk waste, though there may be associated fees.


Chicago boasts a well-connected internet infrastructure, with numerous providers offering a range of packages to cater to different needs. Whether seeking basic broadband for browsing or high-speed fibre-optic connections for heavy streaming and gaming, Chicago has options aplenty. Comcast Xfinity, AT&T and RCN are among the city's leading internet service providers.

Useful links

Areas and suburbs in Chicago

The best places to live in Chicago

Chicago is a multicultural city that boasts a variety of neighbourhoods to suit a diverse range of new residents. While many expats are drawn to the northern neighbourhoods and suburbs, the city as a whole offers a myriad of residential options.

Neighbourhoods in Chicago

Neighbourhoods in Chicago


Just north of central Chicago, Lakeview is a popular neighbourhood and is home to several different communities, including families and young professionals.

Those who enjoy sports will be pleased to know that Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, is located here. It's also a buzzing nightlife destination with tons of restaurants and bars as well as live music venues and theatres.

Close to the banks of Lake Michigan, Lakeview also offers outdoor activities such as golfing, running and biking paths, and direct access to Lincoln Park. A tree-lined neighbourhood dotted with coffee shops and parks, Lakeview is a beautiful place to live.

Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park is a lively area located close to Downtown Chicago. Families with children of all ages live in this neighbourhood. It is popular with newcomers because of the good public and private schools located nearby.

The Lincoln Park neighbourhood feels like a big garden in the middle of urban civilisation and boasts zoos, beaches on the shore of Lake Michigan, as well as running and biking trails and plenty of playgrounds. Those interested in exploring the area's nightlife can look forward to discovering everything from sophisticated cocktail lounges to laid-back dive bars.


Although technically its own city, Evanston is favoured by many who work in Chicago. It is located to the north of Chicago and is home to Northwestern University. The area attracts not only students but also families with children of all ages. It's a family-friendly residential area populated by large, beautiful houses with gardens. Evanston also offers a charming downtown area with a variety of dining and shopping options.

Logan Square

Logan Square is located northwest of Downtown and is a short drive away from the O'Hare International Airport. The population here is mostly composed of working-class people. There are diverse international communities, and the area is also popular with students and artists.

Much of the population in this neighbourhood is attracted by the low rent. Accommodation options consist mainly of apartments.

Healthcare in Chicago

Healthcare in Chicago is first-rate but extremely expensive. All new arrivals should arrange health insurance for themselves and their family, as medical expenses will often need to be paid upfront or be guaranteed by an insurer.

Most newcomers hired by a large company will have insurance through their employer, which usually also covers family members. There are various levels of coverage, including different deductibles and dental and optical coverage, that should be discussed with the employer.

To learn more about health insurance and medical treatment, see our page on Healthcare in the USA.

Below is a list of the most prominent hospitals in Chicago.

Hospitals in Chicago

Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center

Address: 836 W. Wellington Avenue, Chicago

Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Address: 251 E. Huron Street, Chicago

Rush University Medical Center
Address: 1620 W. Harrison Street, Chicago

University of Chicago Medical Center
Address: 5841 S. Maryland Avenue, Chicago

Education and Schools in Chicago

Chicago is home to one of the largest school districts in the USA. The standard of education and schools in Chicago is variable, with some schools being excellent while others fall well below average. Nevertheless, parents can choose from a wide range of options when it comes to educating their children in the Windy City. 

There are public, private and international schools in Chicago. Each family's choice of school will depend on many factors, including budget, proximity to a particular school or neighbourhood, and the specific educational needs of the child.

Public schools in Chicago

Public schools are attended mainly based on school zones, decided by address. Parents should visit the schools and talk to the school board to explore their options before their children attend. The better public schools tend to be in the city's more affluent areas, and choosing the right neighbourhood in relation to good public schools is a crucial aspect of a move to Chicago.

Parents can also send their children to a charter or magnet school in Chicago. These schools have more flexibility in terms of their academic programmes and curricula. They also have their own admission requirements, which may differ from mainstream public schools. In most cases, they are also not subject to the same attendance boundaries, so enrolment is open to children from all over the city.

Private schools in Chicago

Many expats send their children to private schools in Chicago, which often offer a better education than their public counterparts. There are many private schools to choose from, and parents aren't restricted to their neighbourhood when choosing a private school in Chicago.

Private schools are sometimes religiously affiliated, while others use alternative educational philosophies such as Montessori or Waldorf. A private school may have a specific focus area, such as the arts or science, or may cater to children with special needs.

Unlike public schools, which are free, private schools charge fees, which can be high. In some cases, financial aid or scholarships may be an option – parents should ask prospective schools about this to find out what's available.

International schools in Chicago

International schools are a popular option for expat parents in Chicago. These schools generally follow a non-US curriculum. Examples of curricula offered by various international schools within Chicago include the British, French or German education systems. The International Baccalaureate is also a popular offering.

As with private schools, fees at international schools can be high. That said, they offer a good option for those living in Chicago for the short term who want their children to continue their home curriculum.

Top-rated international schools are highly competitive, and securing a spot for enrolment can be challenging. Applications should be made as early as possible.

See International Schools in Chicago for more detail.

Special-needs education in Chicago

The city's education system is well-equipped to provide for students with learning and developmental disabilities. There are multiple federal laws in place in the US to ensure that children with disabilities have fair access to quality education at no cost, regardless of state.

Both public and private schools usually have programmes in place to support students with learning difficulties. In cases where a child's disability is too severe for them to benefit from mainstream education, there are special education facilities that are able to offer students a special-needs programme tailored to meet their specific requirements.

Tutors in Chicago

Whether a child has fallen behind in math class or needs additional support to excel in their college entrance exams, there are plenty of private tutors available to assist children with their learning in Chicago.

It's wise to start by asking the child's school or other parents in the area for a recommendation. Alternatively, one could utilise the services of established tutoring companies. These companies offer an array of packages, from subject-specific intensive programmes to one-on-one home tuition and small group sessions. 

Enlisting the services of a private tutor is an excellent opportunity for students to address any gaps in their knowledge, excel at a particular subject, or simply build confidence in their new environment.

International Schools in Chicago

Steeped in a strong history of immigration, Chicago has a large foreign-born population that continues to flourish today. As a result, many international schools have opened in the Chicago area. Expat families, especially those who don't plan on living in Chicago permanently, often prefer sending their children to international schools rather than local ones. These schools teach curricula from around the world, often in the home language of their sponsoring country.

International schools are also ideal for meeting other expat families with similar backgrounds. Although they can be expensive, they usually offer a correspondingly high quality of education.

Below are some of Chicago's most prominent international schools.

International schools in Chicago

Beacon Academy

Beacon Academy is an innovative high school based in Evanston that combines Montessori principles with the challenging International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, empowering students through independent, creative and interdisciplinary studies.

The academy prioritises experiential learning and entrepreneurial thinking, fostering an environment that celebrates intellectual, cultural and socioeconomic diversity whilst ensuring students feel valued and respected. With a distinctive blend of academic achievement and social-emotional learning, the institution seeks to inspire self-motivation and personal challenge.

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: Montessori and International Baccalaureate (Grades 11 & 12)
Ages: 14 to 18

British International School of Chicago, South Loop

The British International School of Chicago, South Loop, provides a globally-minded education, shaping successful, creative, and resilient global citizens in an inclusive community. Offering a personalised international curriculum to students aged 3 to 18, the school seamlessly integrates the best of global and local education, reflecting both the city's rich heritage and a broad international perspective.

From humble beginnings in 2001, the school has evolved into one of Chicago's most diverse school communities, boasting impressive academic results and a commitment to nurturing students to become ambitious, empowered, and successful leaders.

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: British (English National Curriculum and Cambridge IGCSE), International Primary Curriculum and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 18

GEMS World Academy Chicago

GEMS World Academy Chicago offers a unique independent school experience, cultivating open-minded, conscientious global citizens ready to lead a prosperous and connected world. The academy forms part of a worldwide educational community offering unmatched opportunities for collaboration and global thinking. It follows the International Baccalaureate curriculum with a strong emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion, not only in its mission but also in its teaching practices, fostering an environment of critical thinking, risk-taking and social responsibility.

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 18

German International School of Chicago

German International School Chicago (GISC) offers a rigorous German-English bilingual education for students from Preschool to 8th Grade, preparing them to become well-rounded, creative and responsible global citizens. With a curriculum combining elements of the International Baccalaureate, US Common Core, and the German curriculum framework of Baden-Württemberg, GISC fosters a deep understanding of the world, equipping students with the linguistic and cultural fluency to thrive globally. Emphasising a strong community ethos and individualised learning, GISC prides itself on a low student-teacher ratio and a teaching philosophy that encourages student agency, fostering intrinsically motivated learners ready for a globalised world.

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 14

Lycée Français de Chicago

Lycée Français de Chicago (LFC) offers a distinctive academic journey for students from Pre-K through Grade 12, emphasising academic excellence, language immersion and personalised learning experiences. With a core focus on respect, responsibility and the joy of learning, LFC prepares students for global opportunities, offering French Baccalaureate and International Baccalaureate tracks, and language options that include English, French, German, Latin, Mandarin and Spanish.

Not requiring prior proficiency in French or English for most grades, LFC celebrates a pluricultural community and equips students with the critical thinking skills, cultural understanding and multilingual expertise to thrive confidently as active global citizens.

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: French and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 18

Lifestyle in Chicago

Chicago is a vibrant city brimming with wonderful attractions and activities for newcomers to enjoy. The city's lifestyle is a major draw, but be prepared to splash out, as Chicago can be expensive.

While Chicago is renowned for its shopping, nightlife and restaurants, it also features excellent entertainment venues, world-class sports facilities and luxurious spas.

Shopping in Chicago

A fashionable city, Chicago is a dream destination for those who love to shop. Head straight for Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue, where hundreds of store windows all vie for attention. Oak Street is also a good bet for fashion and designer stores. 

Maxwell Street Market, meanwhile, is a prime place to browse and haggle among the many stalls. The market takes place on Sunday mornings from March to December.

Eating out in Chicago

From fine dining to hot-dog stands and fast-food outlets, Chicago offers a variety of dining options to suit every taste and budget. The trendy Lincoln Park, exotic Chinatown, Little Italy and the Mexican neighbourhood of Pilsen are just a few of the best areas to discover the city's culinary delights. Chicago deep-dish pizza is a must-try – the original can still be found at Pizzeria Uno in River North, which originated this beloved speciality pizza back in 1943.

Entertainment and nightlife in Chicago

With a long list of hip and happening hotspots to keep the party going until the early morning hours, Chicago is a fabulous place to hit the town.

Wells Street in Old Town has some fantastic restaurants and bars, while the Lincoln Park, Wicker Park and Lakeview areas are the places to go for music clubs playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and hard rock.

Chicago also has a thriving theatre scene, with touring productions from Broadway regularly shown in the city's large theatres and plenty of other smaller productions shown at more intimate venues.

Outdoor and sporting activities in Chicago

Chicago is family-friendly, with hundreds of neighbourhood parks and playgrounds to explore. Lincoln Park is Chicago's largest public recreation area and offers many outdoor attractions for the whole family. There are plenty of annual food and music festivals to enjoy in the summer, while during the winter months, many of the city's parks offer open-air ice-skating rinks.

The beaches along Lake Michigan also provide outstanding recreational opportunities. In the summer, the shores teem with people walking, jogging, playing volleyball, and picnicking. The lake itself is another recreational gem, with sailing and swimming being popular pastimes among Chicagoans.

See and do in Chicago

New arrivals who relocate to Chicago will love the city's high energy, attractions and activities. There's plenty to keep any new residents busy while they explore their new home and familiarise themselves with the ins and outs of the city. Here are a few of the best things to see and do in Chicago.

The Field Museum of Natural History

One of the largest natural history museums in the world, the Field Museum offers a wide range of exhibits to explore, from Ancient Egypt to working DNA laboratories and more. Don't forget to visit Sue – the largest and most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

The historic home of America's most renowned architect, the late Frank Lloyd Wright, is a must for all culture vultures. The house was initially built in 1889 but was extensively remodelled by Wright in 1895. Those interested in learning more about this American icon will be glad to know that the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust leads tours of the home.

Art Institute of Chicago

Home to one of the most significant collections in the world, art lovers are sure to enjoy visiting the Art Institute of Chicago to marvel at the beautiful works inside. Some of history's most renowned artworks can be viewed in the museum, including Grant Wood's American Gothic and Vincent van Gogh's famous self-portrait.

What's on in Chicago

From huge music festivals to celebrations paying homage to food and the arts, there are many exciting annual events in Chicago that have put the city on the map. Here are our top picks of must-attend events for new arrivals.

St Patrick's Day Parade (March)

Chicago hosts one of the largest St Patrick's Day celebrations in the US, with nearly half a million people gathering to watch the festivities. The Chicago River is even dyed green for the occasion (with an eco-friendly dye).

Chicago Blues Festival (June)

As the world's largest free blues festival, this event is a must for all blues enthusiasts living in Chicago. Dozens of local and international artists of the highest calibre perform throughout this three-day festival.

Taste of Chicago (July)

By some measures the world's largest food festival, this gastronomic multi-day marathon celebrates Chicago-style food and entertainment. Apart from the array of food stalls and pop-up restaurants, live music performances are another highlight.

Lollapalooza (August) 

Lollapalooza is a world-famous annual music festival taking place in Chicago. Lasting four days, Lollapalooza offers performances from all sorts of musicians across its eight stages. The festival hosts an impressive line-up of local and international bands.

Chicago Gourmet (September)

Foodies who are ready for yet another culinary adventure following Taste of Chicago can enjoy the fantastic weekend celebration of food and wine at Chicago Gourmet. Highlights include tastings, seminars and live demonstrations by celebrity chefs.

Weekend Breaks in Chicago

Chicago is an exciting, dynamic place, and while there's plenty to explore within the city itself, there's also much to experience beyond its borders. Here are a few recommended spots for the perfect weekend getaway from Chicago.

Weekend breaks in Illinois

Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park is just a two-hour drive away from Chicago. Visitors can explore the area's canyons and waterfalls, keeping an eye out for the area's wildlife, which includes deer, otters and eagles. Depending on the season, different kinds of activities are available, including cross-country skiing, horseback riding, and canoeing.


Galena is three hours west of Chicago. Located in the countryside of Illinois, this quaint town is popular with residents of Chicago looking for a weekend escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. There are plenty of interesting historical sites to explore, or visitors can simply enjoy some time in the outdoors.


Springfield is the capital of Illinois and is three and a half hours away from Chicago by road. Notably, Springfield is the birthplace of one of the most famous US citizens, Abraham Lincoln. The main attractions are the historical and government sites such as Lincoln's home and tomb, the Illinois State Capitol and the Dana-Thomas House.

Weekend breaks in Wisconsin


Milwaukee is just a one- to two-hour drive north of Chicago. The Old World European style has strongly influenced it, and one can still feel it in the city atmosphere. Milwaukee is mainly known for its breweries but has a lot of other attractive attributes, such as parks, lakes, fantastic restaurants, and the Milwaukee County Zoo.

Wisconsin Dells

Wisconsin Dells is roughly three hours away from Chicago and an ideal family getaway. Newcomers can experience plenty of fun and sun at the city's 20 water parks. It's the perfect place to enjoy the Labor Day weekend, just before kids go back to school in September.

Kids and Family in Chicago

New arrivals relocating to Chicago with their kids in tow will be pleased to know that the city is family-friendly. There are plenty of attractions and activities for the little ones to enjoy.

Kid-friendly attractions in Chicago

Chicago Children's Museum

Parents looking for a fun but educational day out should head to the Chicago Children's Museum. It's the perfect place for curious young minds. The museum has three floors of interactive exhibits, including a tinkering lab, play space, water and climbing exhibits and an art studio.

Lincoln Park Zoo 

Children will love a trip to Lincoln Park to meet the gorillas, polar bears and much else at the Lincoln Park Zoo. With one of the country's most extensive zoo-based conservation and science programmes, Lincoln Park Zoo is also dedicated to using science to conserve wildlife and provide better care. Families can learn about a vast range of animals while viewing them up close in safe and protected spaces.

Shedd Aquarium

First opened in 1930, the Shedd Aquarium has a rich history dating back close to a century. The aquarium is committed to conservation, and protecting the aquatic animal world is a core part of its mission. It comes highly recommended and is an excellent activity for the whole family. Visitors can walk among exhibits and learn about the 32,000 marine animals housed there and how to take action to protect them.

Six Flags Great America

Six Flags Great America amusement park makes for a great day out for the family. Although the park opened in 1976, it's been owned and operated by Six Flags, the world's biggest regional theme park company, since 1984. Newcomers are guaranteed endless hours of entertainment, enjoying the thrilling rides throughout the park. 

Beaches of Michigan Lake

Michigan Lake's beaches offer plenty of outdoor activities for the entire family. Whether it's building sandcastles, swimming or having a lakeside picnic, there is plenty of fun in the sun to be had along the riverside.

Chicago Children's Theatre

Catch a show at the Chicago Children's Theatre for a dose of arts and culture. The theatre aims to inspire children to lead lives of adventure, courage and curiosity. Parents can also sign their little ones up for the theatre's acting classes and themed drama camps. 

The Field Museum

The Field Museum is a fantastic place to entertain and educate children. With exhibits ranging from dinosaur fossils to ancient Egyptian artefacts, the museum offers a variety of interactive displays that engage young minds.

Adler Planetarium

A visit to the Adler Planetarium can be an educational and entertaining experience for children and adults alike. It offers interactive exhibits and shows in its three full-size theatres and hosts various events and programs to engage young astronomers throughout the year.

Child-friendly dining in Chicago

Chicago offers a wide range of dining options that will please even the pickiest of eaters. From deep-dish pizza to hot dogs and even sophisticated dining options, newcomers will surely find something their child will enjoy.

The SafeHouse

Consider visiting spots like The SafeHouse, an espionage-themed restaurant where the whole family can enjoy a spy adventure along with their meal.

American Girl Place Café

The American Girl Place Café is another excellent choice, where kids can enjoy a meal with their favourite doll.

Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop

After a long day exploring the city, stop by Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop for a sweet treat. From indulgent ice cream sundaes to a variety of chocolates, this place is a sure hit with kids.

Frequently Asked Questions about Chicago

Newcomers to the Windy City are sure to have queries about their soon-to-be-home. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about Chicago.

I don’t want to send my child to a bad school, but I want to live in the city centre. I’m afraid private school will cost too much. What should I do?

Many schools in Chicago are great; parents just need to do some research to find the best ones and try to enrol their child in one of these. There are also programmes and public schools for gifted students, many of which are among the best schools in Chicago. Also, some private schools offer financial aid or scholarships, so it's well worth researching.

Chicago is called the 'Windy City', but is it really that windy? Is it going to be cold?

Winter gets downright freezing, but to make up for it summer can be scorching hot. People tend to prefer the spring and autumn for milder climates. For all its reputation as a windy city, the Chicago winds aren't too bad. It does stay breezy next to Lake Michigan though.

What is the cost of living in Chicago?

Chicago can be more affordable than other major US cities like New York or San Francisco, but that doesn't mean it's cheap. Housing tends to be the most significant expense, with prices varying depending on the neighbourhood. Central areas are typically more expensive, while outlying districts can be more affordable. Dining out, entertainment and groceries can also add up, but cost can vary significantly depending on personal preferences and lifestyle. Utilities, including internet, gas and electricity, are fairly consistent.

Am I going to need a car?

Owning a car is certainly not necessary for getting around in Chicago. There are efficient commuter rails from the suburbs to the city centre, a good subway line in town and buses run frequently throughout the city. Traffic is also horrendous during rush hours and parking is minimal. That said, many people drive to the commuter trains if not living near a stop, and those with children or who work outside of the city centre could find a car useful. Newcomers to the city should assess the amenities nearby their home and their work commute before deciding whether to purchase a car.

Is there free public healthcare available to expats in Chicago?

Unfortunately there is no free public healthcare system in the USA. While there are some assistance programmes for children and those who cannot afford private insurance, expats do not qualify for this. It's highly recommended that newcomers take out a private health insurance plan or try to negotiate one into their employment contract. That said, those with health insurance will have access to some of the best medical care in the world in the USA.

How safe is Chicago? I've heard reports about crime there.

Like any large city, Chicago does have its share of safety issues. It's important to note that crime is not evenly distributed throughout the city. Certain neighbourhoods are known for being safer than others. Areas like Lincoln Park, Hyde Park and the Gold Coast tend to have lower crime rates. Unfortunately, there are also areas with higher crime rates, usually in the city's South and West Sides.

As with any large city, basic safety precautions should be taken but hypervigilance isn't necessary.

What attractions and activities can I look forward to in Chicago?

Chicago is known for its vibrant culture, and there's no shortage of things to see and do. Art and history buffs will enjoy the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum. There's Millennium Park, the Navy Pier, and the beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline for those who enjoy outdoor activities. Sports fans will be in their element with the city's iconic sports teams like the Chicago Bulls, Cubs and Bears.

Foodies will love the city's famous deep-dish pizza, hot dogs, and a plethora of international cuisines. Music lovers will relish the city's jazz and blues scene. For shopping, you have the Magnificent Mile, a premier commercial district, among other options. There really is something for everyone in the Windy City!

Getting Around in Chicago

Chicago has a comprehensive and efficient network of public transportation. The city is home to the second-largest public transport system in the USA, consisting of an extensive network of buses and trains, some of which run 24 hours a day.

The availability of good public transport reduces the need to drive, especially in terms of commuting in and out of the city centre. That said, new arrivals with children or who plan on travelling to other parts of the USA may still find having a car worthwhile.

Public transport in Chicago

Chicago's well-integrated public transport network is operated by several entities, all of which fall under the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) umbrella. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is responsible for most of the city's buses and trains, with additional services provided by Pace Suburban Bus and Metra Commuter Rail.


Those who plan on travelling regularly should get themselves a Ventra Card. This smartcard system allows commuters to simply tap in and out when boarding or disembarking from a bus and to buy mobile tickets for the train. Travel passes or credit can be loaded onto the card online or at a machine. Ventra can be used on all forms of CTA, Metra and Pace transport.

Learn more about Ventra Cards on the official site.


Buses are the most commonly used mode of transport in Chicago and are run by both the CTA and Pace. They serve local communities and help commuters move across the city. There are also a number of express services available. The frequency of buses varies depending on the particular route and the time of day.

Find schedules and routes for the CTA and Pace.


Known as 'the L' (for 'elevated'), Chicago's rapid transit system is extensive. Managed by the CTA, the L is made up of eight lines, each of which is associated with a particular colour. The Red and Blue Lines offer 24-hour service.

Metra operates a commuter rail service comprising 11 lines, covering outlying suburbs. Metra trains are generally fast and reliable, although trains arrive less frequently outside peak hours and during weekends.

Find CTA rail schedules and routes and Metra schedules and maps.

Taxis in Chicago

Taxis provide a convenient way to get around Chicago. In the city centre, taxis can easily be hailed from the side of the road. That said, those living further away from the city centre should consider pre-booking a cab ahead of time. Ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft are often the easiest and most efficient way to do so.

Useful links

  • Get an Uber in Chicago
  • Find out about Lyft services in Chicago

Driving in Chicago

It's generally best to avoid driving in the city centre of Chicago, at least during peak hours. Even locals with cars don't typically use them to commute into the city, preferring to use public transport, cycle or walk.

Traffic can be awful and parking expensive. Even outside Chicago's city centre, parking is not readily available. Furthermore, many parking restrictions are in place; for instance, many neighbourhoods reserve street parking for those with matching residential permits. These rules are constantly enforced in the form of parking fines and towing.

Local drivers are also known for driving aggressively, especially on Chicago's expressways. Drivers will be pleased to know that Chicago's road conditions and signage are of a good standard.

For expats and drivers from other states, Chicago allows for a smooth exchange of out-of-state and foreign driving licences. Non-US visitors over 18 years old with valid foreign licenses can drive in Illinois for up to one year from arrival, provided they carry both their home country's licence and, if not in English, an International Driving Permit (IDP).

For those moving from another state or establishing residency (getting a job, enrolling in school or buying/renting property), exchanging their existing licence within 90 days is essential. While Illinois does not have a direct exchange programme with any country, foreign licence holders do not typically start as first-time drivers; they can be issued an Illinois licence after passing necessary tests.

Useful links

Cycling in Chicago

Chicago has a national reputation as one of the best large cities in the USA for cycling. Chicago has more than 200 miles (322 km) of cycle paths. There are also bike racks and sheltered, high-capacity bicycle parking areas at many rail stations. This allows one to cycle for part of their journey and then hop onto a bus or train for the remainder.

Divvy is Chicago's bike-share program, providing residents and visitors with convenient, affordable and eco-friendly transportation. With numerous docking stations spread throughout the city and surrounding suburbs, Divvy bikes are readily accessible for short trips or daily commutes. Riders can pick up a bike from any station, ride to their destination and dock it at the nearest station.

Useful links

Walking in Chicago

Chicago is a highly walkable city, with its compact downtown area, lakefront, parks and diverse neighbourhoods offering an array of sights and experiences. Sidewalks are generally well maintained and pedestrian friendly, and the city's grid layout makes navigation straightforward. The city also boasts several pedestrian-specific areas, like the Lakefront Trail and the Riverwalk, offering unique, leisurely experiences to pedestrians and promoting a healthy and active lifestyle.