18 February 2021

Expats Guide to Living in Chicago

Expats Guide to Living in Chicago

What comes to mind when you think of Chicago? Deep-dish pizza? Jazz music and 1920s gangsters? For many, this may be true, but there’s much more to Chicago than that.

Chicago is a hub for foreign expats following work and study opportunities. In fact, there are 1.7 million expats living in Chicago, making up 18% of the population. So, if you’re looking to move to the windy city, you’ll be in good company!

This guide will take you through the information you need when deciding whether Chicago is the right destination for your expat adventures:



Chicago, Illinois is in the Midwest Region of the US. It’s on the banks of Lake Michigan, which is part of the Great Lakes of North America. The city is at the center of a large metropolitan area with lots of suburban towns, which are collectively known as “Chicagoland.”

Chicago is split into 77 different community areas. Depending on what you’re looking for, this guide can help decide which neighborhood may be right for you. For example, the northern part of the city is a more densely populated hive of activity, while the south is spacious, with a more laidback way of life.

Although Chicago is a bustling city, it also has lots of parks in the city’s center to give residents some much-needed green space. Plus, a little further out from the city, you can discover plenty of wilderness in places such as the Cranberry Slough Nature Reserve and the Camp Pine Woods.


Transportation in Chicago

Making your way across this grand city, Chicago is home to the second largest public transportation system in the US. It houses eight train lines and 129 bus routes. The train lines connect the city via above-ground, street-level, and subway trains, and serve 145 rail stations all over town.

Chicago is also served by two international airports - O'Hare International Airport (the principal airport) and Midway International Airport.


Working in Chicago

Chicago is home to many multinational companies across many industries including finance, aerospace and tech. Chicago’s industries are extremely diverse, with no single industry employing more than 14% of the workforce. In this city, you’ll find the headquarters of companies such as Boeing, Grubhub and Braintree.

To work in Chicago, you’ll need a visa, and there are three types that you may qualify for:

  1. H1-B Visa (Skilled Worker): for professionally qualified people, lasting for three years but can be extended to six
  2. H2-B Visa (Skilled and Unskilled Workers): for people going to the US for seasonal work or to fill a temporary labor shortage, lasting between one and three years
  3. L-1 Visa (Intra-Company Transferee): for people moving to the US within the same company, lasting between five and seven years


Renting in Chicago

Finding a place to live in Chicago can be tricky, as the housing market can move at a fast speed. Therefore, you may need to act quickly if you find a place that you like, because other people are likely looking to snatch it up as well!

To rent a house or apartment in Chicago you’ll need the following documents:

  • Completed application form – you can request this from a real estate agent or landlord before visiting a property
  • Proof of employment from your company
  • Copies of your last two pay slips
  • A form of ID - passport or driver’s license
  • Letter of reference (not essential but good to have!)

Once you find a place, the landlord may perform a credit check before you’re able to move in. This can be difficult if you’ve just moved to the US. However, you may be able to sort this out by simply showing the landlord past bank statements.

Pro-tip: make sure you go and visit an apartment before you take the plunge and rent it, because sometimes the photos you see might not be an accurate representation of what the place is really like!


US Healthcare

American healthcare can be tricky to understand if you’re new to the country. If you aren’t careful, you could end up paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars for fairly simple emergency procedures that would be free or very cheap in your home country.

If you're being relocated for work by your employer and will be on an employer-sponsored visa, your employer will typically provide some sort of healthcare plan for you and your family. If you're moving for a different reason and won’t be covered, you may want to consider finding healthcare insurance on your own.


Education in Chicago

The education system is top-notch in the US, with many of the world’s highest-ranked universities, as well as an excellent school system for children.

Schooling in the US follows this structure:

  • Preschool: For children 2-5 years of age (non-compulsory)
  • Elementary School: for children age 6-12
  • Middle School (also called Junior High): for children aged 12-14
  • High School: for ages 14-18, although it’s only compulsory until 16

In terms of higher education, there are plenty of universities and colleges in Chicago, including:

  • The University of Illinois
  • The University of Chicago
  • Loyola University
  • DePaul University
  • Harry S. Truman College


Banking & Finance

What’s the best way to manage your finances if you’re living in Chicago as an expat? If you choose to stay with your bank from your home country, there may be high fees for using your card or withdrawing cash from a US ATM. However, there are plenty of US banks to choose from in Chicago, including, BMO Harris Bank, Chase Bank and Ally Bank.

Alternatively, you could save yourself a lot of money by opening an international money account. This will make it easy and affordable to manage your money in Chicago.


Support loved ones by transferring money internationally

Lots of people move to the US in order to financially support their loved ones back in their home country. If you’re an expat living in Chicago looking for a cheap, fast and easy way to send money internationally, Paysend is the perfect solution.

It costs just $2 to send money to over 70 countries from Chicago using the Paysend app or website. Our money transfers also arrive in close to real-time to your recipient.

To get started, download the Paysend app from the App Store or Google Play, or visit our homepage.