What are the most expensive cities in the U.S.?
Life in a big city doesn’t come cheap, with high taxes, soaring house prices and rents, and daily cost of living expenses prohibiting residency for many Americans.
This guide will break down the ten most expensive cities in the U.S., examining a range of factors, including median home price, household incomes, and average salaries, so you know what to expect if you’re considering moving. Here’s our list of the 10 most expensive cities in the U.S.:
10. Miami, Florida
Best for Affluent Retirees
Affectionately known as the “Sunshine State,” Florida has long been renowned as one of America’s most popular retirement locations.
The glorious weather and coastal breeze are a big lure for those wishing to move to Miami, nestled between the Everglades and Biscayne Bay. The Miami metropolitan area is home to over 6 million residents, with an average median household income of $51,347, according to data from the United States Census Bureau.
It’s a bustling city with a rich culture, part American, part Cuban influence, an eclectic music scene, art galleries and museums, and a diverse selection of cuisine.
There’s also a vibrant port that acts as a launching point for hundreds of cruise ships, where you might also spot some of the most expensive yachts owned by the city’s wealthiest residents.
As well as being a Mecca for American tourists and a major centre of commerce, Miami is home to dozens of large corporations. If you’re working in any of these job sectors, you should be able to afford the estimated $3,851 monthly cost of living for a family of four.
9. Los Angeles, California
Best for Movie Lovers
Los Angeles, California, also known as the City of Angels, is home to some of the richest actors in the world, most famously in the Hollywood neighbourhood in L.A.’s central region.
As you’d expect with so many stars in residence, the cost of living isn’t the lowest in America, but move away from the glitz and glamour of the film industry, and you can find more affordable housing. The average cost of living in the ninth-most expensive city in America is comparable to Miami, with an estimated budget of $3,832 per month, enough for a family of four to get by comfortably.
Housing costs vary depending on where you are in L.A., with a median home value of $1,150,000 in the Downtown L.A. metro area contrasting with the county’s overall average median home price of $795,000. This is a stark contrast to Beverly Hills, where the median home price is more than $4 million.
These variable costs reflect the diverse neighbourhoods of a big city like Los Angeles, where living costs and median income can fluctuate wildly as you move from an affluent area to a neighbourhood notorious for gangs.
As such, L.A. is a place of great contrast, and the neighbourhoods of Hollywood’s elite help mask the impact of poverty and crime and make this one of the most expensive cities in the state.
8. San Diego, California
Best for Sports Fans
Like Los Angeles, San Diego is another expensive American city located in Southern California, extending from the southern borders of Orange County to the Mexican border.
The second-most populous city in the state, San Diego has deep-rooted ties to the military and, in recent years, has become a centre for healthcare and biotechnology. With an annual median household income of $83,985 as of 2019, residents pay a relatively high cost of living compared to other cities in the U.S.
A family of four can be expected to pay around $3,592 to cover transportation costs, health care, and other cost of living expenses. The high cost of living in San Diego is partly due to the city’s higher-than-average housing costs, with home prices dramatically increasing in recent years.
Median home prices in San Diego finished at $743,000 in 2021, while the median monthly rent for a standard apartment runs at $2,610. San Diego has a thriving sports scene that draws new residents to the area and is the home of Gary Sheffield, one of the richest baseball players in the world.
7. San Jose, California
Best for Silicon Valley Employees
With an average city population of just over 1 million people, San Jose is notable for its warm climate and for playing host to some of the country’s leading tech and biotech employers.
The presence of Silicon Valley is perhaps the most significant determinant of San Jose’s high cost of living, making it a huge draw for young professionals looking for work with leading tech companies. The city’s median household income of over $100,000 reflects the high-profile status of these Silicon Valley industries, but the cost of living is also 68.1% higher than the national average.
Public transportation is one of the leading contributors to this high cost of living, although San Jose’s high-quality health care provisions and moderate utility bills offset this.
Accommodation accounts for a large portion of the cost of living in San Jose, with median home prices of $1.1 million, well above the national average, requiring an average down payment of $49,000. While you don’t need Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth to settle here, this expensive city still requires a degree of affluence if you want to live comfortably.
6. Oakland, California
Best for Affordable Access to the Bay Area
If you’re looking to move to California, the cost of living needs to be number one on your list of priorities, and Oakland is no exception.
Oakland is a more affordable option for those who require access to San Francisco and other Bay Area hot spots but don’t want to pay the higher price tag. Once home to one of the richest NFL teams in America, Oakland is the largest city in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, with a relatively low population of 440,646, compared to some of the other expensive cities.
While the median household income in Oakland is roughly 23% higher than the national average, the median home value sits at $953,536, considerably higher than the national average of $389,400. Due to high transportation costs and the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland being over $2,000, the cost of living there is also higher than the national average.
5. Washington, D.C.
Best for Diverse Employment Opportunities
The nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., is a magnet for Federal Government employees, with numerous agencies, lobbying firms, and think tanks providing jobs for 700,000 residents.
As you’d expect from a city with considerable political clout, the private sector is well represented, with defence contractors, law firms, and industry trade groups contributing to the local economy. According to economic research from the Census Bureau, the median household income for Washington, D.C., stands at $86,420, higher than the national average of $67,521.
While daily cost of living expenses such as transportation, utility bills, and health care costs compare favourably to the national average, the housing market is very competitive, with the average price reaching $452,400 in 2020, according to Washington Data and Research.
This high cost is compounded by an overall cost of living, which, by some estimates, is as high as $143,000 annually, which is expected for a metro area with so many national institutes. As the centre of political and financial power through the Federal Reserve Bank, it’s no surprise that Washington, D.C., is home to some of the most influential people in America.
4. Boston, Massachusetts
Best for Access to High-Quality Colleges
According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the average annual wage for residents in Boston is $69,240, although some jobs in the city’s information and technology sectors can easily earn more than $100,000. These high salaries are necessary to cover Boston’s high cost of living, which is largely due to the city’s expensive housing market.
Boston’s median home value places them in second place, with a median home value of $719,537 and monthly rent costing around $3,500, compared to the national average of just $1,164 in 2019. In the capital of Massachusetts, the cost of living in Boston for groceries, restaurants, and other daily expenses is higher than the national average, with the minimum recommended amount to feed one person coming in at $408.17.
A key factor driving up the cost of living in Boston is the ongoing process of gentrification, which makes neighbourhoods more desirable and drives up purchase prices across the board. With major universities including MIT, Harvard, and Tufts all within a short distance of Boston, the city’s cost of living will likely continue to soar above the national average.
3. Honolulu, Hawaii
Best for Beach Lifestyle
Hawaii is prized for its gorgeous sandy beaches lined with palm trees, perfect weather, and some of the most expensive coffees in the world.
As you’d expect from living in a paradise like Hawaii, the cost of living rises well above the national average across a range of metrics, despite the fact that its capital city is the most isolated large city on earth. This isolation is part of the reason prices here are so high since much of the food and other necessities of daily life have to be imported into the island.
The median home prices in Honolulu are over $1 million, while you can expect to pay upwards of $2,941 for median monthly rent. Several factors contribute to these high prices, with housing scarcity enhanced by a lack of new construction and lower than average mortgage rates.
That said, Honolulu residents who can afford to live here benefit from stunning weather, excellent cuisine, and a coastline that is paradise for surfers.
2. San Francisco, California
Best for Culture Vultures
Another state in California noted for its booming tech scene is San Francisco, famous for the Golden Gate Bridge and an eclectic cultural scene.
The high-paid tech workers who make significantly more than the national average are a contributing factor in San Francisco’s high cost of living, as they are in many other of California’s most expensive cities.
Tourism and a dominant financial services job sector bring in additional employment, with the latter contributing further to the high median household income of San Francisco.
According to the Living Wage Calculation for San Francisco, two working adults with two children would require a median household income of $152,026 to cover their living expenses. This is commensurate with the high home prices in San Francisco, which can typically cost around $1,500,000 and continue to rise each year.
For fans of culture, it’s a price worth paying; the city gave birth to the Beat Generation in the 1950s, the hippie movement during the following decade, and remains a centre for progressive culture to this day.
1. New York City, New York
Best for Top Earners
The most expensive city in the U.S. will come as a surprise to no one; pretty much everything costs more in the Big Apple, from accommodation and utilities to eating out and commuting. New York City is a magnet for many of the nation’s top achievers and features some of the most expensive colleges in America.
As well as world-class universities, there is a mix of media companies, Wall Street financial institutions, and emerging biotech and tech companies located along Silicon Alley. The average salary for New Yorkers sits around $81,000 a year, but with the cost of living at 129% higher than the national average, a high wage doesn’t necessarily translate to an affluent lifestyle.
Of New York’s five boroughs, Manhattan is the most expensive place to live, with Manhattan rents averaging $4,140 and home prices over $1 million a common occurrence.
Those who can afford it are rewarded with one of the world’s leading cultural hubs, with some describing it as the cultural capital of the world. This includes over 500 art galleries, Times Square and Broadway, the Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts, and Carnegie Hall.