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Moving to Detroit

Located in the north of the United States on the border of Canada, Detroit is well positioned on the Detroit River, making it a major port on one of the four major straits that connect the Great Lakes system to the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

It is the most populous city in the state of Michigan, and has earned a reputation as being an American cultural hub, producing iconic contributions to the country’s automotive, music, art and design scenes.

Detroit used to be a major economic player in the US thanks to its booming auto industry, and was even nicknamed the Motor City. But due to industrial restructuring, the loss of jobs in the auto industry and a few other factors, the city went into sharp decline resulting in the loss of a considerable portion of its population. This drain resulted in Detroit becoming the largest US city ever to file for bankruptcy a few years ago, but the city regained control of its finances and is pulling itself up by its proverbial bootstraps, once again attracting investment and people. In fact, the city's residents now proudly refer to it as the 'Comeback City'.

Detroit is still the cornerstone of the US automobile industry and home to the headquarters of manufacturing giants such as General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. Aside from this, other large sectors include general manufacturing, technology, finance and healthcare.

The city's cost of living is still exceedingly reasonable, and accommodation in particular is some of the most affordable in the US. Many newcomers choose to buy given the low property prices and the revitalisation of the city.

For students, the city has two large universities – the University of Detroit Mercy and Wayne State University – while there are many smaller colleges and higher-learning institutions dotted throughout the city.

Parents moving to Detroit will be happy to find a great selection of reputable schools available, including private and international institutions. Faith-based institutions are also present, as well as those that focus on Montessori and Waldorf teachings.

There's also no shortage of things to see and do. Known as a bastion of musical and cultural history, musos and culture buffs will certainly enjoy the lifestyle in Detroit – it is the birthplace of both Motown and techno, after all. The city boasts a host of great live music spots, and big artists never miss a chance to visit. Plus, the city's calendar is overloaded with fun festivals and other annual events that newcomers shouldn't miss out on.

Many museums in Detroit are found in the Cultural Centre Historic District, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Motown Historical Museum, the Henry Ford Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Perhaps the most poignant may be the stunning Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

Detroit is slowly shaking off the shackles of a reputation of urban decay that has plagued it for years, and is now once again a buzzing metro with lively bars and eateries, plenty to see and do and a lively atmosphere of rebirth. It's no wonder the city is once again attracting new residents in their droves; it seems everyone wants to be part of Project Comeback.

Weather in Detroit

Detroit has a humid continental climate with warm, humid summers and notoriously cold winters with one of the highest snowfalls of any major city in the US. Mid-summer average temperatures can rise as high as 83°F (28°C), while in the coldest month, January, the mercury usually stays well below freezing point. Rainfall is spread fairly evenly over the year with a few inches being recorded each month. Snow usually falls between November and April.

 

Cost of Living in Detroit

As with any city, the cost of living in Detroit will vary depending on the lifestyle and taste of individuals. That said, the Motor City is quite affordable overall, as evidenced in its ranking of 80th most expensive out of 209 cities surveyed on the Mercer Cost of Living Survey for 2020, placing it well below other large cities in the US. 


Cost of accommodation in Detroit

The cost of accommodation in Detroit varies. Owing to the constant redevelopment of the city, there are many opportunities to buy or rent properties on the cheap, but this will often entail extensive maintenance and renovations. New arrivals looking to avoid these extra costs would do better to seek out accommodation that is slightly more expensive but requires less renovating.

That said, housing overall remains relatively cheap. Rent is usually affordable, even within the upmarket suburbs near the city centre. Utilities are not usually included in the advertised monthly rental price and will need to be paid for separately. 


Cost of education in Detroit

Those who send their children to local public schools will have few expenses as fees are free of charge. Attendance at international schools, on the other hand, isn't free. For from it in fact; they tend to be rather exorbitant.  


Cost of transportation in Detroit

People in Detroit usually own a car, although motor insurance is notoriously expensive. New arrivals should also budget for gas (petrol), as Detroit is a large city and they may find themselves driving a lot.

While public transport in Detroit isn’t as extensive as the systems found in other US cities such as New York or Boston, there are reasonably priced bus services such as Greyhound, Megabus and SMART that travel through both the suburbs and city centre.


Cost of living in Detroit chart

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Detroit in November 2020.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

USD 2,360

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

USD 1,480

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

USD 1,380

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

USD 1,000

Shopping

Eggs (dozen)

USD 1.77

Milk (1 litre)

USD 0.66

Rice (1kg)

USD 3.55

Loaf of white bread

USD 2.30

Chicken breasts (1kg)

USD 7.70

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

USD 7.50

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

USD 7

Coca-Cola (330ml)

USD 1.80

Cappuccino

USD 4.25

Bottle of local beer

USD 5

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

USD 47.50

Utilities

Mobile-to-mobile call rate (per minute)

USD 0.16

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

USD 60

Basic utilities (per month for small apartment)

USD 153

Transportation

Taxi rate (per kilometre)

USD 1.17

Bus/train fare in the city centre

USD 2

Petrol/gasoline (per litre)

USD 0.63

Accommodation in Detroit

There is something for everybody when it comes to accommodation in Detroit. The city is home to not just characterful urban neighbourhoods, but also lovely green spaces and sprawling houses in the suburbs.

Most people tend to rent in Detroit when first arriving, but they may be encouraged by the affordable property market to eventually buy a home in Detroit.


Types of accommodation in Detroit

Thanks to the recent regeneration of the city, Detroit has experienced much investment in recent years which has in turn increased property values. Although prices are rising, the city remains affordable in comparison to other major US cities.

Expats will find a variety of accommodation options in Detroit. A mixture of high-rise residential blocks and low-rise townhouses dominate the downtown areas, while larger family homes with gardens can be found further out in the surrounding suburbs.

Apartments

As with any big city, there are myriad options available when choosing an apartment in Detroit. While it may not have an iconic skyline like New York City or Seattle, there is still plenty of decent high-rise accommodation in the Detroit’s central districts. Along with this, there are also smaller condos and low-rise residential blocks, especially in the suburbs.

Houses

There is a huge variety of houses available in Detroit’s middle- and upper-class neighbourhoods. In contrast to the stereotypical image of Detroit as an urban jungle, there are loads of safe suburbs perfect for raising families. A huge range of housing styles can be seen in Detroit from gorgeous Gilded Age properties to Gothic Revival, Federal and Victorian-style homes. 


Finding accommodation in Detroit

Online listings are the primary way of exploring housing options in Detroit and a good way for new arrivals to familiarise themselves with the city’s property market prior to relocation. Alternatively, real-estate agents are also an option, though they will charge a fee for their services.

When looking for a home in Detroit, families should consider areas close to schools and colleges, and working professionals should also factor in their work commute, which can become tedious as there is a degree of traffic congestion in the city.


Renting accommodation in Pittsburgh

Once new arrivals have decided on suitable accommodation, they will have to approach the landlord as soon as possible to negotiate a suitable lease agreement.

Making an application

The first step in the rental process after finding the desired accommodation is to file an application. Prospective tenants can either do this directly with the landlord or via an estate agent, depending on the situation. The landlord or agency will perform various checks, after which a lease is signed between landlord and tenant. Foreign nationals will benefit from having a US bank account and social security number set up as this will speed up the process. 

Leases

A standard rental contract in Detroit is usually valid for a year with the option to renew at the end of the initial term. Sometimes tenants are able to negotiate shorter leases, but this is up to individual landlords.

Deposits

Tenants will have to pay a deposit, usually equivalent to one month’s rent, in addition to the first month’s rent upfront to secure the rental agreement. This deposit belongs to the tenant and must be paid back at the end of the lease, unless the landlord deems it necessary to make use of some or all of the deposit for breakages, outstanding rent or other expenses the tenant may be liable for as agreed to in the contract.

Utilities

Renters need to carefully check the terms of their lease to determine which utilities are included and what additional expenses they’d be liable to pay for. In Detroit, utilities such as gas, water, electricity and internet usually aren't covered by the landlord, but this varies from property to property.

Areas and Suburbs in Detroit

The best places to live in Detroit

Contrary to popular belief, Detroit isn’t all factories and vast motorways. There is a great mixture of areas and suburbs in the 'Motor City' that cater to people from all backgrounds and incomes.

Below are some recommended neighbourhoods in Detroit.


Young and trendy suburbs in Detroit

Downtown Detroit

Corktown

Trendy Corktown is a residential area popular with young professionals and couples. One of the oldest surviving neighbourhoods in the city, it was named after the County Cork when the first Irish immigrants settled in the area back in the 1850s. Federal, Gothic and Victorian houses line the streets, while buzzing Michigan Avenue is filled with restaurants, coffee shops and bars. There is a strong emphasis on cultural identity here, with its Catholic roots still evident.

Midtown

The area of Midtown is mixed use, with residential areas, architectural landmarks and a business district. There’s a decent amount of quality schools around the area. It’s extremely safe and it is easy to get around the area on foot. The community feel is complemented by an array of museums, universities and galleries, as well as grocery stores, general amenities and public transportation options.


Family-friendly suburbs in Detroit

Woodbridge

Woodbridge

Within walking distance of places such as Downtown, Midtown and the trendy Corktown, Woodbridge is a historic neighbourhood with a number of significant turn-of-the-century homes. The area is family friendly and has a largely community-based feel, with a healthy mix of people from all walks of life.

Northville

The relatively small suburb of Northville lies some 29 miles (47km) northwest of the Detroit city centre. Replete with municipal parks and good quality public schools, it serves as a great choice for young families. One of its main drawcards is the Northville Art House, which features exhibitions and cultural shows at its galleries.

Grosse Pointe

Grosse Pointe is a beautiful and affluent collection of coastal suburbs, consisting of five main communities filled with Tudor- and Victorian-style homes. About 6 miles (10km) northeast of historic Downtown, its ideal location near the shores of Lake St Clair allows for outdoor activities such as fishing, boating and swimming, as well as picnics and golf. The area also has a number of retail districts which provide ample shopping opportunities. With a range of excellent schooling options, Grosse Pointe is a great option for those moving to Detroit with children.

Birmingham

Popular with young couples and families alike, Birmingham is an ideal spot to settle down and is found on the north side of the Detroit Metro. There are numerous excellent schools, and Japanese expats will be delighted to know the Japanese School of Detroit is also located here. Birmingham is popular with foodies, and there are many great eateries and boutique stores in the downtown area. Additionally, the area’s many parks provide a welcome break from the urban rush, as does a visit to the Baldwin Public Library.

Education and schools in Detroit

The public school district of Detroit is the biggest in the state of Michigan, serving some 50,000 students. There are also many private and international schools. All of these have varying standards of education and facilities, ranging from excellent to substandard. Budget and proximity will dictate choice of school, as well as the specific needs of the student, so it’s worth doing some research before moving to Detroit.

For those who are looking for curricula in line with religious teachings, there are many institutions affiliated with different faiths, such as Catholicism, Islam and the Lutheran Church, among others. Additionally, there are Waldorf and Montessori schools in Detroit.


Public schools in Detroit

Unfortunately, Detroit is extremely polarised when it comes to income, and this directly affects schools. The city generally follows the usual rule of thumb when it comes to school excellence and performance, with institutions in the wealthier areas faring better than those in more impoverished neighbourhoods, such as those in parts of the inner city. Children attend a public school according to their residential area, but there are instances where schools may accept students from other catchment areas.

Charter schools

Charter schools are government-funded institutions that operate independently, with more flexible curricula. These schools are extremely popular in Detroit, having the highest enrolment rates in the United States behind only Philadelphia. Indeed, there are now more learners attending charter schools than public schools, with results and performance favouring the former.


International schools in Detroit

A popular choice for expat parents moving to Detroit is to send their children to an international school. There are numerous institutions that follow a foreign curriculum, as well as some schools that offer the International Baccalaureate in Detroit.


Special-needs education in Detroit

Children with special needs are well catered for in Detroit when it comes to inclusive and specialised education. Disabled or differently-abled children are granted learning support, emotional support, autistic support, life-skills support or multiple-disabilities support.

Outside of the public school system, the city also has specialised schools that cater to specific disabilities such as schools for the deaf, the blind, and students with other special education needs.


Tutoring in Detroit

Parents in Detroit have the option of additional tutoring. This is helpful in cases where children need assistance in specific subject areas such as English, maths or science, or when studying for important entrance exams such as the SATs. It could also be beneficial to children new to the city to help build confidence in their new learning environment. Some of the top tutoring companies in Detroit include The Tutoring Center and Tailor Made Learning. Parents who don't want to work through a tutoring service will find that there are also a number of private tutors in the city ranging from retired teachers to university students.

International Schools in Detroit

While there aren’t many international schools in Detroit, there are a handful that all provide an excellent standard of education. Some cover the French and German curricula, while others offer the International Baccalaureate and Waldorf systems.

Below is a list of reputable international schools in Detroit.


International schools in Detroit

Deutsche Sprachschule Bloomfield

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: German
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.deutschesprachschulebloomfield.org

French School of Detroit

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: French
Ages: 1 to 18
Website: www.frenchschoolofdetroit.org

Washtenaw International High School and Middle Academy

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 11 to 18
Website: www.wihi.org

International Academy

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 11 to 18
Website: www.iatoday.org

Lifestyle in Detroit

It’s certainly not hard to keep busy in Detroit, and residents are able to enjoy a wide range of activities when it comes to shopping, dining and entertainment. From its burgeoning retail scene to its buzzing nightlife, there is plenty to do in this iconic cultural capital.


Shopping in Detroit

The shopping scene in Detroit has really begun to grow in the past few years, with boutique retail outlets popping up all over the city. Popular shopping neighbourhoods in the metro include the culturally rich Midtown and old Corktown, while Birmingham is seen as the retail flagship in the suburbs. Those looking for an all-in-one experience should head out to nearby Dearborn to browse its Walmart supercentre.

Perhaps most exciting is Eastern Market near downtown, a historic commercial district covering a massive 43 acres of land and boasting over 150 businesses. There is a charming bohemian quality to its many studios and art galleries, while there are numerous eateries and sellers of fresh and organic produce.


Eating out and groceries in Detroit

Detroit is a multicultural melting pot, reflected in its myriad restaurants and food offerings. Whether you’re craving a shwarma from Greektown, Polish cuisine from Hamtramck, or a spicy burrito from – you guessed it – Mexicantown, there are spots to suit all tastes. Residents can enjoy small hole-in-the-wall diners and coffee shops, or splurge on fine dining and upmarket delis. The city is famous for its local take on the Coney hot dog, serving it with fresh onions, mustard and chilli sauce.

Grocery shopping in Detroit is a pretty straightforward affair, with supermarkets inhabiting most of the suburbs and city areas. Popular outlets include the Whole Foods Market in Midtown and other chains such as Aldi and Meijer.


Nightlife in Detroit

As the birthplace of Motown, it’s no surprise that the nightlife in Detroit is stylish and lively. The future of the entertainment sector looks bright, with all manner of establishments accompanying the city’s general revitalisation. Along with a host of clubs and bars, Detroit also has an assortment of craft breweries and trendy cocktail bars. There’s no one area that is considered the entertainment hub, with exciting places and events scattered throughout the city.

See and do in Detroit

Newcomers to Detroit will never be bored. Fondly known as the Motor City and birthplace of Henry Ford, Detroit is predictably home to plenty of attractions for car aficionados, but the city doesn't only cater for petrol heads. It boasts a number of galleries, museums and wonderful green spaces, not to mention the many landmarks that pay homage to the city's musical Motown past.


Recommended attractions in Detroit

Detroit Institute of Arts

The Detroit Institute of Arts is home to an impressive 65,000 works of art displayed in more than 100 galleries. The permanent collection includes works from America, Indigenous Americas, Africa, Oceania, Asia and medieval Europe. It even includes some masters such as Picasso, Van Gogh and Matisse. The museum also houses a performance art section.

Motown Museum

A must for newcomers to the city, the Motown Museum chronicles Detroit’s rise to fame as the birthplace of many music legends. Occupied from 1957 to 1972 by the studio where the ‘Motown Sound’ was produced, the museum allows visitors a look at the recording studio where Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5 and others produced hits, and also the apartment where Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. lived. 

The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant

A National Historic Landmark, the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant is where Henry Ford birthed the famous Ford Model T that shaped the future of personal automotive transportation. Visitors can walk through the plant and see it exactly how it was when it was functional, including machinery, tools, drafting tables and beautifully maintained early model vehicles.

Belle Isle

One for the outdoorsy types, Belle Isle is a large, wonderfully green island in the Detroit River with lush parks, gorgeous hiking trails and even lakes. It’s a welcome getaway from the city’s buzz. The island boasts a zoo, an aquarium, a beautiful conservatory opened in 1904 that contains all sorts of interesting flora, and a museum on the history of shipping on the Great Lakes. There are also a number of sport facilities, including a driving range, bicycle and boat rentals and several swimming spots.

GM Renaissance Center

Newcomers to the Motor City need to put this at the top of their sightseeing list. The Renaissance Center dominates the Detroit skyline, and the seven-tower complex houses a slew of hotels, offices, restaurants and an observation deck on the 72nd floor, all connected by a colossal network of escalators and walkways. Of course, the centre’s most popular sight is GM’s enormous showroom, which includes a range of the company’s earliest cars all the way to its latest models.

What's on in Detroit

New residents of Detroit will be delighted to discover that the city's calendar is brimming with fun events for every taste and creed. Festivals and other annual events are also a great way for newcomers to meet new people and make local friends.

Below we've listed some of our favourite Motor City events.


Motown Winter Blast (January)

Newcomers to Detroit will love getting involved in this lively annual festival that never fails to kick the year off in style. The first Motown Winter Blast was held in 2005 as a countdown party for Super Bowl XL, but the festival has since morphed into a huge annual tradition with live music acts, a massive snow slide, food trucks, and more.

Cupid's Undie Run (February)

One for the ‘thrill-anthropists’, the Undie Run sees thousands of Detroiters don their best undies and take to the streets in aid of sufferers of neurofibromatosis. It’s the only time running around in underwear won’t get you arrested, and newcomers to the city are encouraged to join in the whacky fun. 

Hamtramck Music Festival (March)

Who doesn’t love a good music festival? This happens to be Michigan’s biggest local music event, and it attracts a host of Detroit bands, DJs and solo artists who take over Hamtramck’s pubs and nightclubs for three days of revelry.

Motor City Pride (June)

New arrivals in Detroit wouldn’t want to miss one of the biggest parties of the year when more than 40,000 participants let their pride flags fly in honour of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Detroit International Jazz Festival (August)

One to look forward to, Detroit’s International Jazz Festival sees the city come alive. The festival spans a number of city blocks in Downtown Detroit, with a lineup that seems to grow in stature each year, fireworks, parties and more.

Detroit's Thanksgiving Day Parade (November)

Detroit’s spectacular Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of the USA’s largest parades and attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators who crowd along Woodward Avenue to take in the festivities, incredible floats, bands and electric atmosphere. 

Motor City New Year's Eve Drop (December)

Residents ring in the new year in style when the giant ‘D’ drops in Downtown Detroit, after which revellers party well into the wee hours.

Getting Around in Detroit

Seen as the spiritual home of the American automobile industry, most residents of Detroit own cars. Given the considerable size of Detroit and the fact that the city's public transport isn't quite as extensive as other major cities in the US, newcomers will do well to invest in their own set of wheels, particularly as it allows them to explore a bit further afield.


Public transport in Detroit

Public transport in Detroit isn’t all that comprehensive, especially compared to other US cities such as New York or Boston. Most residents use cars, buses and taxis to get around, and new arrivals should plan to either purchase or hire a vehicle when settling down in Detroit.

Trains

When travelling around the central business district of Detroit it might be a good idea to make use of the Detroit People Mover, an elevated rail system covering 13 stations.

Trams

A tram called the QLine traverses from both downtown and uptown Detroit.

Buses

There are bus services that connect the suburbs and city, with Greyhound, Megabus and SMART all operating in Detroit.


Taxis in Detroit

Taxis can be hailed off the street, found at taxi ranks or booked in advance in Detroit. They're a good way to get around in a pinch, but as a daily means of commuting can become expensive pretty quickly. Ride-hailing services such as Uber, Zipcar and Lyft also operate in the city.


Cycling in Detroit

Sometimes it’s far easier to cycle than drive or take a taxi in Detroit, with bicycles available to rent from Wheelhouse Detroit. There is also a bike-sharing company called MoGo operating in the city, with more than 40 stations dotted throughout the main city area. There are also large bicycle communities and events such as the Hub of Detroit, Slow Roll and Detroit Critical Mass that take advantage of this generally cycle-friendly city.


Driving in Detroit

Most people in Detroit drive as there are limited options for public transport, aside from bus and taxi services. Unfortunately, the Motor City has some of the most expensive car insurance rates in the country. Because of the freeze and thaw cycle of winter, road repairs are seemingly always ongoing. Just like any other big city, rush hour brings traffic jams, while there is a predictable disparity between the standard and safety of roads in poorer and richer areas. It’s also good to get to grips with the grid and hub-and-spoke system in order to navigate the city.