Moving From California To Chicago: A Comprehensive Guide

Making the decision to relocate from sunny California to the windy city of Chicago can be daunting. If you’re considering this big move, you probably have a lot of questions and concerns about what awaits you in the Midwest.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Moving from California to Chicago means packing up your belongings, finding a new home, adjusting to very different weather conditions, experiencing new cultural norms, and building a new community. With proper planning and an open mind, the transition can be smooth.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through everything you need to know before, during, and after your move from California to Chicago. We’ll cover topics like the cost of living difference, Chicago’s climate and geography, navigating Chicago’s public transportation, picking the right Chicago neighborhood for your needs, adjusting to midwestern culture and norms, making new friends and building community, registering your car in Illinois, transferring your California driver’s license, understanding Illinois taxes, finding a job, and more.

By the end of this guide, you’ll feel equipped with the knowledge and resources you need to make the most of your cross-country move. Let’s dive in!

Comparing the Cost of Living

When considering a move from California to Chicago, it is important to compare the cost of living in both cities. While California is known for its high cost of living, Chicago offers a more affordable lifestyle. Let’s delve into the different aspects of cost of living to get a better understanding.

Housing Costs

One of the biggest differences in cost of living between California and Chicago is the housing costs. In California, the median home price is significantly higher compared to Chicago. According to Zillow, the median home price in California is around $600,000, while in Chicago it is around $250,000.

This means that you can find more affordable housing options in Chicago, whether you are looking to rent or buy a home.

Food, Utilities and Transportation

When it comes to food, utilities, and transportation, Chicago also offers more affordable options compared to California. Groceries, dining out, and other daily expenses tend to be cheaper in Chicago. Additionally, utility costs such as electricity, water, and internet are generally lower in Chicago.

As for transportation, Chicago has an extensive public transportation system, which can save you money on commuting compared to owning a car in California.


Healthcare costs can vary depending on where you live, and this is no different when comparing California and Chicago. While both states have high-quality healthcare facilities, Chicago tends to have lower healthcare costs overall.

According to a study by Kaiser Family Foundation, the average annual healthcare spending per person in California is higher compared to Illinois. This means that you may be able to save on healthcare expenses by moving to Chicago.

Chicago’s Climate and Geography

When it comes to moving from California to Chicago, one of the first things you’ll notice is the change in climate and geography. Chicago is located in the Midwest region of the United States, and its climate is often described as “continental.”

This means that the city experiences distinct seasons throughout the year, with hot summers and cold winters.

Lake Effect Weather

One of the unique aspects of Chicago’s climate is the phenomenon known as “lake effect.” The city sits on the shores of Lake Michigan, which can have a significant impact on the weather. During the winter months, cold air masses passing over the relatively warm lake waters can result in heavy snowfall and frigid temperatures.

This can lead to beautiful winter landscapes but also requires residents to be prepared for snowy conditions.

Winter in Chicago

Winter in Chicago can be quite harsh, with temperatures often dropping below freezing. Snowstorms are not uncommon, and it’s essential to be prepared with appropriate winter clothing and equipment. The city does a commendable job of keeping the streets clear and sidewalks safe, but it’s always a good idea to have a sturdy pair of snow boots and a reliable snow shovel on hand.

Despite the cold temperatures, winter in Chicago can also be a time of fun and excitement. The city offers various winter activities, such as ice skating in Millennium Park or attending one of the many winter festivals.

So, don’t forget to embrace the winter wonderland and make the most of the season!

Chicago’s Summers

On the other end of the spectrum, Chicago summers are known for their warmth and humidity. The city experiences hot temperatures, with average highs in the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit (30s Celsius). It’s essential to stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun during the summer months.

Fortunately, Chicago has numerous parks and beaches where you can relax and enjoy the sunshine.

Living Downtown vs the Suburbs

When it comes to deciding where to live in Chicago, you have the option of living downtown or in the suburbs. Living downtown offers a vibrant city atmosphere, with easy access to restaurants, shops, and cultural attractions. However, it can also be more expensive and crowded compared to the suburbs.

On the other hand, the suburbs provide a quieter and more family-friendly environment, with larger homes and green spaces.

Ultimately, the choice between living downtown or in the suburbs will depend on your preferences and lifestyle. It’s worth considering factors such as commute times, proximity to amenities, and the overall atmosphere you desire.

Exploring different neighborhoods and talking to locals can help you gain a better understanding of what each area has to offer.

For more information on Chicago’s climate and geography, you can visit the Weather Channel website. They provide up-to-date weather forecasts and climate data for the city.

Getting Around: Public Transportation

When it comes to getting around in Chicago, residents and visitors have a wide range of public transportation options to choose from. Whether you’re commuting to work or exploring the city’s many attractions, you’ll find that Chicago’s robust public transportation system makes it easy and convenient to get where you need to go.

Chicago’s Train System

One of the most popular and efficient modes of public transportation in Chicago is the train system, commonly referred to as the “L.” With its iconic elevated platforms and distinctive train cars, the L offers a fast and reliable way to travel throughout the city.

The system consists of multiple lines that connect various neighborhoods and downtown Chicago. Whether you need to travel north, south, east, or west, you can count on the L to get you there.

The train system is not only convenient but also affordable. With the use of a reloadable Ventra card, you can easily pay for your fare and enjoy unlimited transfers within a two-hour period. This makes it convenient to explore different parts of the city without having to purchase multiple tickets.


In addition to the train system, Chicago also has an extensive bus network that covers the entire city. Buses are a great option for those who prefer a more flexible mode of transportation or need to reach destinations that are not easily accessible by train.

With over 100 different bus routes, you can easily find a bus that will take you where you need to go.

The bus system in Chicago is known for its efficiency and reliability. Buses run frequently, especially during peak hours, ensuring that you won’t have to wait long for your ride. Additionally, the introduction of bus rapid transit (BRT) routes has further improved the speed and efficiency of bus travel in the city.

Taxis and Rideshares

If you prefer the convenience of a taxi or rideshare service, Chicago has plenty of options to choose from. Whether you hail a traditional taxi on the street or use a rideshare app like Uber or Lyft, you can easily get a ride to your destination.

Taxis are readily available in busy areas such as downtown and major tourist attractions, while rideshares offer the convenience of booking a ride from your smartphone.

Using a taxi or rideshare service can be a great option for those who prefer a more direct and personalized mode of transportation. It’s also a convenient choice if you have a lot of luggage or are traveling with a group of people.

Biking Around the City

For those who enjoy cycling, Chicago offers a robust bike sharing program and a network of bike-friendly infrastructure. Divvy Bikes, the city’s bike-sharing system, allows you to rent a bike for a short period of time and explore the city at your own pace.

With hundreds of docking stations located throughout the city, you can easily find a bike and start your journey.

Chicago’s commitment to biking is evident in its extensive network of bike lanes and designated bike routes. Whether you’re commuting to work or simply enjoying a leisurely ride along the lakefront, you’ll find that biking in Chicago is a safe and enjoyable experience.

Picking the Right Chicago Neighborhood

When moving from California to Chicago, one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make is choosing the right neighborhood to call home. With its diverse range of neighborhoods, each with its unique character and amenities, Chicago offers something for everyone.

Here are some key neighborhoods to consider:

Downtown and Near North Side

If you’re looking for a vibrant urban experience, downtown and the Near North Side are great options. This area is home to iconic landmarks like the Magnificent Mile, Navy Pier, and Millennium Park. It boasts a bustling nightlife scene, world-class dining options, and easy access to shopping and entertainment.

However, it’s important to note that living in this area can be more expensive compared to other neighborhoods.

North Side Neighborhoods

The North Side of Chicago is known for its diverse range of neighborhoods, each with its unique charm. Areas like Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and Wicker Park offer a mix of residential and commercial spaces, with plenty of parks, restaurants, and cultural attractions.

These neighborhoods are popular among young professionals and families due to their proximity to downtown and excellent schools.

West Side Neighborhoods

The West Side of Chicago is a great option for those seeking a more affordable cost of living. Neighborhoods like Logan Square, Humboldt Park, and Ukrainian Village offer a diverse mix of cultures and a vibrant arts scene.

These areas are known for their beautiful parks, trendy coffee shops, and indie boutiques. While the West Side may not have the same level of amenities as downtown or the North Side, it provides a unique and authentic Chicago experience.

South Side Neighborhoods

The South Side of Chicago is a vast area with a rich history and diverse neighborhoods. Hyde Park, home to the University of Chicago, is known for its intellectual atmosphere and beautiful parks. Beverly, on the other hand, offers a suburban feel with tree-lined streets and historic homes.

While the South Side has faced some challenges in recent years, it’s important to note that not all neighborhoods are affected in the same way. It’s recommended to do thorough research and visit the area before making a decision.

When choosing a Chicago neighborhood, it’s important to consider factors such as safety, affordability, proximity to amenities, and commute to work or school. Each neighborhood has its own unique character, so take the time to explore and find the one that best suits your needs and preferences.

Adjusting to Midwest Culture

One of the first things you’ll notice when moving from California to Chicago is the friendlier Midwest mentality. Midwesterners are known for their warmth, hospitality, and down-to-earth attitude. They will greet you with a smile, hold the door open for you, and strike up conversations with strangers.

Don’t be surprised if someone waves at you while driving or offers to help you carry groceries. Embrace this friendliness and you’ll quickly feel at home in the Midwest.

Chicago Sports Obsession

Chicago is a city that loves its sports. From the beloved Chicago Cubs to the iconic Chicago Bulls, the city is passionate about its teams. Attending a game at Wrigley Field or the United Center is an experience like no other. Get ready to join in the excitement and cheer on your favorite team.

Don’t worry if you’re not a sports fan, as Chicago offers a wide range of cultural and artistic events to enjoy as well.

Experiencing the Seasons

One of the biggest adjustments you’ll have to make when moving from California to Chicago is experiencing the seasons. While California is known for its mild climate, Chicago has distinct seasons. You’ll get to experience the beauty of colorful fall foliage, the magic of a snowy winter, the blooming flowers of spring, and the warmth of a Midwest summer.

Invest in appropriate clothing and embrace the unique charm that each season brings.

Midwestern Cuisine

Midwestern cuisine is all about comfort food and hearty meals. From deep-dish pizza to Chicago-style hot dogs, you’ll find plenty of delicious options to indulge in. Don’t forget to try other Midwest favorites such as fried cheese curds, bratwurst, and the famous butter burger.

Exploring the local food scene is a great way to immerse yourself in the Midwest culture and taste the flavors that make the region unique.

Building Community and Making Friends

One of the most important aspects of moving to a new city is building a community and making friends. It can be daunting to start over in a new place, but there are several ways to connect with others and establish a support network.

Here are some tips to help you build community and make friends when moving from California to Chicago.

Getting Involved Locally

One of the best ways to meet new people and become part of a community is by getting involved locally. Chicago offers a wide range of community organizations, clubs, and volunteer opportunities that cater to various interests.

Whether you’re passionate about the arts, sports, or social causes, there is likely a local group that aligns with your interests. By joining these organizations, not only will you have the opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals, but you’ll also be giving back to the community.

Midwest Transplants Groups

When moving to a new city, it can be comforting to connect with others who have gone through a similar experience. In Chicago, there are several Midwest transplants groups that cater specifically to individuals who have relocated from other states, including California.

These groups often organize events, social gatherings, and networking opportunities to help newcomers settle into their new city. Joining one of these groups can provide a sense of familiarity and support as you navigate your new life in Chicago.

Dating and Nightlife Scene

Another way to make friends and build a community in Chicago is by exploring the city’s dating and nightlife scene. Chicago is known for its vibrant social scene, with countless bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues to choose from.

Whether you’re looking for a casual meetup or a more formal dating experience, there are plenty of options to meet new people. Additionally, attending social events and joining activity-based groups can also be a great way to expand your social circle and make new friends.

When it comes to building community and making friends in a new city, it’s important to be proactive and open-minded. Embrace the opportunities that Chicago has to offer, and don’t hesitate to step out of your comfort zone.

By getting involved locally, connecting with Midwest transplants groups, and exploring the dating and nightlife scene, you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by a supportive community of friends in your new home.

Bringing Your Car to Illinois

When moving from California to Chicago, one of the important considerations is bringing your car to Illinois. Here are a few key things to keep in mind:

Registering Your Vehicle

Once you establish residency in Illinois, you will need to register your vehicle with the Illinois Secretary of State’s office. You can find all the necessary forms and detailed instructions on their official website.

It’s important to note that there is a deadline for registering your vehicle, so make sure to do it within the required time frame.

Pro tip: If you are unsure about the registration process or have any questions, it’s always a good idea to contact the Illinois Secretary of State’s office directly. They will be able to provide you with the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Getting an Illinois Driver’s License

In addition to registering your vehicle, you will also need to obtain an Illinois driver’s license. The process of getting a driver’s license in Illinois involves several steps, including passing a written test, a vision test, and a driving skills test.

You can find detailed information about the requirements and procedures on the Illinois Secretary of State’s website.

Pro tip: If you have a valid driver’s license from California, you may be eligible for a waiver of the written test and the driving skills test. However, it’s important to check the specific requirements and eligibility criteria on the official website or contact the Illinois Secretary of State’s office for more information.

Understanding Insurance Requirements

When you bring your car to Illinois, it is essential to understand the insurance requirements in the state. Illinois law mandates that all drivers carry a minimum amount of liability insurance coverage. This coverage helps protect you financially in case of an accident.

It’s a good idea to contact your insurance provider and inform them about your move to ensure that you meet the required coverage limits.

Pro tip: Comparing insurance rates and policies from different providers can help you find the best coverage at the most affordable price. Websites like Illinois Department of Insurance can provide valuable information and resources to help you make an informed decision.

Understanding Illinois Taxes

When moving from California to Chicago, it’s important to understand the tax implications of your new location. Illinois has its own set of tax laws and regulations that may differ from what you’re used to in California. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you navigate Illinois taxes.

State Income Tax

Illinois imposes a flat income tax rate of 4.95% on all residents. This means that regardless of your income level, everyone pays the same rate. Unlike California, which has a progressive income tax system, Illinois’ flat tax rate can be seen as an advantage for high-income earners as they won’t face higher tax rates as their income increases.

However, it’s important to note that deductions and exemptions may still apply, so consult with a tax professional to fully understand your tax obligations.

Sales Tax

Illinois has a state sales tax rate of 6.25%. However, it’s important to note that local municipalities in Illinois can impose additional sales taxes, which can vary from one jurisdiction to another. In Chicago, for example, the combined sales tax rate can be as high as 10.25%.

It’s always a good idea to check the specific sales tax rates in your area to ensure accurate budgeting and financial planning.

Property Tax

Illinois has one of the highest property tax rates in the country. The average property tax rate in Illinois is around 2.31%, which is significantly higher than the national average. Property taxes in Illinois are assessed at the local level, and rates can vary depending on the specific county and municipality.

It’s important to consider property taxes when budgeting for housing expenses in Illinois, as they can have a significant impact on your overall cost of living.

For more detailed information on Illinois taxes, you can visit the official website of the Illinois Department of Revenue at

Understanding the tax landscape in Illinois is essential when planning a move from California to Chicago. By familiarizing yourself with the state’s income tax, sales tax, and property tax regulations, you can make informed financial decisions and ensure a smooth transition to your new home.

Finding a Job in Chicago

One of the most important aspects to consider when moving from California to Chicago is finding a job. Thankfully, Chicago offers a diverse range of industries and job opportunities for both experienced professionals and newcomers.

Chicago’s Top Industries

Chicago is known for its thriving industries, which include finance, technology, healthcare, manufacturing, and transportation. The city is home to some of the largest financial institutions and trading exchanges in the world, making it an ideal place for finance professionals.

The technology sector is also rapidly growing, with numerous startups and established companies calling Chicago their home. Additionally, the healthcare industry in Chicago provides ample opportunities for professionals in various healthcare fields.

Networking Opportunities

Networking is key when it comes to finding a job in any city, and Chicago is no exception. The city offers a vibrant networking scene, with numerous events, conferences, and professional organizations that can help you expand your professional connections.

Attending industry-specific events and joining professional groups can provide valuable opportunities to meet potential employers and learn about job openings in your field.

Job Search Resources

When searching for a job in Chicago, it is essential to utilize various job search resources available. Online job boards such as Indeed, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor are great places to start your job search. Additionally, consider reaching out to local staffing agencies that specialize in your industry.

They often have access to exclusive job opportunities and can help match your skills with the right employers.

It is also worth mentioning that the City of Chicago’s official website provides a comprehensive listing of job openings in various government departments. This can be a valuable resource for those interested in working in the public sector.

Furthermore, make sure to leverage your professional network and let others know about your job search. Networking with individuals who are already established in Chicago can provide valuable insights and referrals.


Moving halfway across the country can be intimidating, but with the right information and attitude, you can make the most of starting a new life in Chicago. The Windy City has a lot to offer, from a thriving job market to unparalleled public transit and vibrant neighborhoods with their own unique personalities. Embrace the seasons, try the local foods, and put yourself out there to meet fellow transplants and lifelong Chicagoans alike. Before long, you’ll be calling Chicago home sweet home.

We hope this guide gave you a comprehensive overview of everything you need to know to prepare for your move from California to Chicago. With the practical information here, you can tackle this transition with confidence. The fun of discovering your new midwestern home awaits!

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