Moving to Boston
Massachusetts is a commonwealth and not technically a state—though the distinction primarily means Bostonians think they’re a little different from the rest of the country.
Another Boston distinction is the use of language. One of the first things a newcomer moving to Boston should realize is that there isn’t actually one single Boston accent, despite the classic “pahk the cah in Hahvad Yahd.”
A seasoned local can tell which neighborhood another Bostonian grew up within a few sentences. Specific Boston vocabulary includes calling water fountains “bubblers,” submarine sandwiches “grinders,” clams “steamers,” and describing something exemplary or very good as “wicked” or even “wicked pissa.”
When moving to Boston, keep in mind that the real estate market is based around September-to-September school calendars.
Landlords know college students are their bread and butter (or their New England clam chowder), and many professionals work at Boston’s colleges.
Because of this, housing fluctuates on the school-year schedule, with the lowest prices during the off season of March to May. The best apartment deals are usually found in July or August, getting a jump on leases starting September 1.
Month-by-month rentals are uncommon except for pricey, furnished apartments catering to corporate professionals. Off-season apartment deals, for example in March, can appear when vacancies prove hard to fill—but waiting is riskier; the nicest spots are usually gobbled up in late August.
If you’re looking for the best deals for moving to Boston, real estate agents are a common option. Word of mouth, footwork, community newspapers and websites can help—but the expense of moving to Boston and the desirability of specific neighborhoods often makes experience invaluable. Because of the quarter-of-a-million students, booking moving companies and planning in advance are crucial, especially during Labor Day weekend. Moving to Boston in the dead of winter isn’t desirable because of the potential for sudden snowstorms. Street Occupancy Permits are handy for moving to Boston because you can reserve specific spaces near your new home for unloading your belongings. Ask your moving company about these parking permits; some movers take care of everything for you, while others require you to obtain and post the street permit prior to your move day.
For home buyers, Victorians, brownstones, colonials and capes are common. Boston’s commitment to historical preservation means houses retain personal touches. For renters, first month’s rent, last month’s and a security deposit (often equal to one month’s rent) are usually required up front, though explaining that you’re a desirable tenant can sometimes spread the payment over the first few months. Given the cold winters, it’s important to know if heat and hot water are included. If you’ll be driving a car, parking is a challenge and renting spots can add hundreds to monthly expenses.
Remember to change your address with the US Postal Service so that your mail reaches your new home on time.
Check out our downloadable planners and checklists.
Boston has 21 different neighborhoods and is sometimes called “The City of Neighborhoods.” Because the city was founded in the 1600s, Boston is a cultural bastion with many unique communities well-suited for raising children, feasting on culture and art, and prowling the nightlife. Boston’s various textures offer sophisticated modern schools, diverse social events and fine dining. A popular source for local eateries is Phantom Gourmet.
When moving to Boston, it’s hard to learn the neighborhoods, let alone the boundaries. Locals debate where one neighborhood begins or another ends. The best starting point is to remember that Boston is one of the oldest US cities and has developed over centuries. The state’s community profiles help with insights into school systems, health data and property taxes.
If you’re moving to Boston, you’ll want to have a comprehensive list of the most important local news sources. Here’s a quick overview of some of the most indispensable publications in Beantown.
The Boston Globe
Known far and wide as the newspaper to subscribe to if you’re living in the Boston area, The Boston Globe isn’t only the biggest newspaper in the city, but in the entire New England region. It offers everything from local to international news, sports, finance, business, and information to help you find cultural and community events.
Considered a liberal-leaning newspaper, The Globe has won eight Pulitzer Prizes since its inception in 1872. Its circulation is around 225,000 during the week and on Saturdays, and nearly 370,000 on Sundays.
The main rival to the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald has been in business a full quarter century longer, with an establishment date of 1846. Serving over 100,000 readers during the week and close to 85,000 on weekends, the Herald has won six Pulitzer Prizes and is considered a right-leaning news publication (in contrast to the Globe). Published daily, you can expect to find local, state, national and international news coverage along with sports, job listings and community events calendars.
The Improper Bostonian
One of the perks of living inside Boston is free access to The Improper Bostonian, a magazine-format publication that’s a pure lifestyle guide with reviews of restaurants and clubs, tips on local cultural events, and interviews with local celebrities. Outside of Boston, the bi-weekly publication costs a mere $1.20 per issue.
Catered to Boston’s LGBT community, Bay Windows is an environmentally aware publication distributed on Thursdays and Fridays. It acts as a local and national news and events calendar, and also features editorials appealing to an equal range of political affiliations.
Local TV News Channels
Local and national news can be found on a variety of Boston TV stations, including:
- WBZ TV 4 (CBS affiliate)
- WCBV TV 5 (ABC affiliate)
- WFXT TV 25 (Fox affiliate)
- WUNI TV 27 (Univision Spanish language)
- WGBG TV 2 (PBS affiliate)
On the street and on the roads, a newcomer moving to Boston will notice:
- Pedestrians always have the right of way
- Rotaries go round and round
- The fast-paced streets were originally made for horses and buggies
- The largest public works project in history
- A vast number of one-way streets
If a pedestrian decides to cross, cars stop regardless of a “Do Not Walk” sign and, unlike New York City, it’s inappropriate to honk at the pedestrian. Rotaries are uncommon in many parts of the country but are constant in Boston. The best strategy is to know how many right turns you’ll pass before turning and then to approach the outside just before your turn. Massachusetts has had roads since well before cars were invented, which means city streets are curved and narrow. In Boston traffic, the cars don’t drive the roads, the roads drive the cars. If you’re a newcomer, it’s best to gain experience on stop-and-go thoroughfares like Route 9.
At somewhere north of $15 billion, the Central Artery/Tunnel Project called “The Big Dig” was the largest public works project in history and was intended to improve traffic congestion—though some argue that increased popularity led to limited improvements. One-way streets are self-explanatory: be careful, there are lots of them.
Another thing to look out for is that Boston dislikes street signs. It’s important to have a map, directions, a GPS, or a Bostonian in your car with you.
Because of issues with driving and parking, a popular option is the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s public transportation. The “T” (subway train) and bus system has four main lines covering the city: Red (once ending at Harvard; the school’s color is crimson), Blue (following the ocean), Green (going to tree-lined suburbs) and Orange (once travelling above the former Orange Street). The T doesn’t always go to the farther suburbs late at night, so parking at stops closer to the city is the common solution for commuters. Another key aspect of Boston transportation is Logan Airport in East Boston. Logan’s the largest airport in New England, has been open since 1923, and services many national and international destinations.
Boston’s climate is mitigated by the Atlantic’s Gulf Stream, but the weather has a mind of its own. July is the warmest month, usually averaging in the 70s and reaching the 90s. January is the coolest, tending to average temperatures below freezing. Summers are rainy and humid. Winters are a time for wearing layers and bundling up. Some say there are four seasons, though others say there are only three, with just a muddy week tucked between winter and summer. Boston’s finest season might be fall because of the foliage. It’s best to be prepared for anything, because the April Fool’s Day Blizzard of 1997 created a state of emergency and was Boston’s third largest snowfall of all time at 25.4 inches.
While known for elite colleges, Greater Boston takes all education seriously. Public education first began in Boston; the city’s commitment to learning extends to all Boston schools. There are 134 Boston Public Schools, attended by 57,050 students. 17,840 students attend other institutions such as parochial schools, private schools, suburban schools and public charter schools. Home schooling is rarer than in much of the country, partially due to additional regulation. 98.8 percent of Boston Public School teachers are licensed for their specific teaching assignment.
Parents moving to Boston can find addition education information by calling the following resources:
- The School Hot Line [assigning students, transfers and waiting lists]: (617) 635-9046
- Boston Public Schools [general information]: (617) 635-9000.
- While known for elite colleges, Greater Boston takes all education seriously. Public education first began in Boston; the city’s commitment to learning extends to all Boston schools. There are 134 Boston Public Schools, attended by 57,050 students. 17,840 students attend other institutions such as parochial schools, private schools, suburban schools and public charter schools. Home schooling is rarer than in much of the country, partially due to additional regulation. 98.8 percent of Boston Public School teachers are licensed for their specific teaching assignment. Boston magazine ranks the best schools for 2016 and has charts ranking both classroom statistics and achievement scores. Massachusetts also provides overviews of local school systems. Boston Public Schools has a complete list of public schools and a map. In the family-oriented suburbs, Greater Boston has many highly regarded elementary schools and high schools. Parents moving to Boston can find addition education information by calling the following resources:
- The School Hot Line [assigning students, transfers and waiting lists]: (617) 635-9046
- Boston Public Schools [general information]: (617) 635-9000
Politics are big in Boston. Whether talking about the Kennedys or grassroots environmentalism, everyone has a point of view. The first step to joining the ongoing conversation is registering to vote. You can do so at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the City Clerk’s office, or by requesting a Massachusetts voter registration form by mail. The Registry of Motor Vehicles website even lets you search the current wait time at nearby branches.
Other considerations for moving to Boston include the state sales tax of 6.25 percent, with no local sales taxes except for hotels and restaurants. Food and clothing under $175 and prescription medications are exempt. Neighboring New Hampshire doesn’t charge sales tax and is popular for shopping trips. Massachusetts’ income tax was cut to 5.25 percent in January of 2012; renters can deduct half of their rent, up to $2,500 per year. Property taxes vary substantially by town. Boston’s 2012 rate is 1.3 percent. Automobiles are taxed at 2.5 percent of the assessed value. Additional tax information is available on the City of Boston’s Taxes page.
Street Occupancy Permits are great for your Boston moving day. Buying a permit allows you to reserve spaces for unloading belongings. The City of Boston also provides additional parking information, including plans for snow emergencies. A local custom is that Bostonians shovel out parking spaces and then save their space with objects like traffic cones or lawn chairs. If you move one out of the way, you’re stealing someone’s hard-earned spot and they’ll probably be displeased.
Here are numbers for other governmental and community resources:
- Boston Water Department: (617) 989-7000
- Department of Public Works: (617) 635-4900
- To check for power lines before digging: (888) 344-7233 [(800) DIG-SAFE]
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