Living in Chicago, IL: 11 Pros & Cons (Videos & Prices)


The frozen Chicago River
The frozen Chicago River

Chicago is enormous, both in terms of size and history. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago is among the largest cities in the United States. The metropolitan is renowned for its bold architecture, colorful neighborhoods, and truly amazing food, but how does it compare to other cities as a place to live in?

Population Median Age Bachelor Degree or Higher
2,709,53434.639.50%
Data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Pro: Chicago has a reliable transport system

Chicago train in the sunset
(Source: @ksears via Twnety20)
Chicago train in the sunset

In addition to being a very walkable city, Chicago also has a great transport system with plenty of options for its residents:

  • Take the L: The CTA offers a reliable system of elevated trains and buses simply known as the “L”. Buses are typically $2.25 per ride, while trains are $2.50. To have an even more convenient experience, you’ll want to get a Ventra card. To travel with this card, all you have to do is tap it on the turnstile entrance and the fare is automatically deducted from your account. 
Chicago L train Guide
  • Opt to bike: Biking around Chicago offers plenty of flexibility. Biking is such a popular way to get around the city that a bike-sharing company, Divvy, launched several rental stations throughout the city.
  • Choose the pedway: The downtown pedestrian walkway, or the Pedway, as it is more popularly known, is a system of overhead bridges and underground tunnels that links more than 40 blocks in the Chicago Central Business District. It’s a quick and safe way to get around downtown and is used by commuters daily.
  • Take a cab: There’s always a cab around the corner in Chicago, and many of them accept debit and credit cards. An alternative to taking a cab is to book a Lyft or Uber ride from your smartphone.
  • Walk the lakefront: When the weather warms up, opt to walk the lakefront to get to spots on the East side of the metropolitan area. The Lakefront has multiple exit points, so you can easily make your way to our office in River North from your Gold Coast apartment on foot.

Con: High cost of living

Most big cities have a high cost of living, and Chicago is no different. Chicago is one of the few cities in the country where even the groceries are taxed (the rates are set at 2.25%). You’ll also have to contend with a 0.25% restaurant tax that you’re expected to pay if you buy something ready-made to eat. There is a combined 10.25%  sales tax when you consider the local and state tax collections on sales. The property taxes in Chicago are the second-highest in the country. It’s important to keep in mind all these tax implications before you make a move to Chicago.

Median Home PriceMedian Household incomeMedian Earnings for MaleMedian Earnings for Female
$296,603$58,247$54,688$50,477
Data sourced from Zillow Median Home Sale Prices and the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Food NamesAvg. Food Prices
Milk (regular), (1 gallon)3.13$
Loaf of Fresh White Bread (1 lb)2.62$
Rice (white), (1 lb)1.86$
Eggs (regular) (12)2.27$
Local Cheese (1 lb)5.02$
Chicken Fillets (1 lb)4.42$
Beef Round (1 lb) (or Equivalent Back Leg Red Meat)5.41$
Apples (1 lb)1.92$
Banana (1 lb)0.76$
Oranges (1 lb)1.37$
Tomato (1 lb)1.84$
Potato (1 lb)1.17$
Onion (1 lb)1.06$
Lettuce (1 head)1.75$
Water (1.5 liter bottle)1.89$
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range)12.00$
Domestic Beer (0.5 liter bottle)2.88$
Imported Beer (12 oz small bottle)2.94$
Cigarettes 20 Pack (Marlboro)15.00$
Service NamesAvg. Prices
Fitness Club, Monthly Fee for 1 Adult56.72$
Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend)22.38$
Cinema, International Release, 1 Seat14.00$
Meal/DrinkAvg. Prices
Meal, Inexpensive Restaurant17.00$
Meal for 2 People, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course75.00$
McMeal at McDonalds (or Equivalent Combo Meal)8.00$
Domestic Beer (1 pint draught)5.50$
Imported Beer (12 oz small bottle)7.00$
Cappuccino (regular)4.19$
Coke/Pepsi (12 oz small bottle)1.97$
Water (12 oz small bottle)1.64$
Utilities (Monthly)Prices
Basic (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage) for 915 sq ft Apartment 157.60$
Internet (60 Mbps or More, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)60.48$
Rent Per MonthAvg. Prices
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre1,839.40$
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre1,211.58$
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre3,611.59$
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre2,220.68$
Service NamesPrices
One-way Ticket (Local Transport)2.50$
Monthly Pass (Regular Price)105.00$
Taxi Start (Normal Tariff)3.25$
Taxi 1 mile (Normal Tariff)2.70$
Taxi 1hour Waiting (Normal Tariff)26.00$
Gasoline (1 gallon)3.09$

Data sourced from numbeo.com – Jul 2021

Pro: World-class sports culture

The Chicago Bulls play the Miami Heat in the United Center
(Source: @jrlars via Twenty20)
The Chicago Bulls play the Miami Heat in the United Center.

Chicago adores its sports teams. No matter which team you support, engaging in the vibrant sports culture is a fun and competitive way to spend time with family and friends. Some of the biggest teams with ties to the city include:

  • Chicago Blackhawks: This ice hockey team has dominated the Chicago sports scene for decades, winning three Stanley Cups in recent years.
  • Chicago Bears: Are you a fan of American football? Immerse yourself in the passionate fandom of this football team at Soldier Field, especially when rivals such as Green Bay Packers are in town.
  • Chicago Bulls: The golden era of NBA greats like Michael Jordan,  Dennis Rodman, and Scottie Pippen (who all played for the team) may be a thing of the past, but the Chicago Bulls is still a formidable team to watch.
  • Chicago Cubs vs. Chicago White Sox: You’ll quickly learn that Chicago residents are either south side Sox fans or north side Cubs fans, so pick your team wisely!

Con: The weather can be brutal

The frozen Chicago river 2
(Source: @RVj via Twnety20)
The frozen Chicago river 2

Chicago is known as the “Windy City” for a reason. The breeze is anything but pleasant. It can be downright brutal at times, depending on how the pressure systems move over the city, especially with the proximity of Lake Michigan. 

You will also have to adjust to the typical  Midwestern seasons when living in the city, which means the winters are cold and snowy, and the summers are hot and humid. It’s not uncommon to have the temperature fall below zero with windchill ratings in the negatives during December and January. 

You will need several layers of warm clothing and waterproof boots. Sidewalks and roads get icy and slick during the winters, so you’ll want to be extra careful. If you have a car, keep a snow brush, jumper cables, gloves, water, and other provisions on hand at all times during the winter.

When the summer comes, the temperature can reach highs of 100 Fahrenheit.

Chicago Temperature Table

Best months to visit Chicago: April, May, June, July, August, September, October.

MonthTemp. Low. Avg.Temp. High Avg.
Jan18℉32℉
Feb19℉36℉
Marc30℉45℉
Apr41℉61℉
May52℉72℉
Jun63℉81℉
Jul66℉84℉
Aug66℉82℉
Sep61℉79℉
Oct48℉64℉
Nov34℉50℉
Dec25℉37℉

Data sourced from numbeo.com – Jul 2021

Pro: The food is diverse

Chicago style pizza
Chicago style pizza
(Source: @kayp via Twenty20)

One of the first things you must try if you opt to make a move to Chicago is the city’s world-famous hot dog. With all the unique toppings and flavors with an all-beef frank, the Chicago hot dog is truly an unforgettable experience. Then there are all of the other Chicago-style food offerings that are just as mouth-watering, such as the famous deep-dish pizza, Jibarito, Italian beef, butter-crust pizza, gyros, Chicago-style popcorn, basic fried chicken. Other than the numerous food options, Chicago has long been on the culinary scene regarding its wealth of celebrity chefs, with notable individuals such as Rick Bayless, Stephanie Izard, Grant Achatz, Beverly Kim, and Paul Kahan ties to the city.

Con: Traffic and congestion in the city

Chicago Trails
Chicago Trails
(Source: @cmlinks17 via Twnety20)
Median Chicago Commuting Time Median U.S. Commuting Time
35.1 Minutes26.9 Minutes
Data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Means of Transportation to Work/SchoolPercentage %
Car58.21%
Bus4.48%
Train/Metro16.42%
Bike2.99%
Walking13.43%
Working from Home4.48%

Data sourced from numbeo.com – Jul 2021

The Chicago traffic is a nightmare for daily commuters with exhaustingly long rush hours (6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m). This could be attributed to the fact that the city only has seven mainline and four auxiliary highways running through it. Driving through the Kennedy or the Dan Ryan at rush hour can leave you stuck in standstill traffic for hours. It’s always smart to plan for an extra hour (or two) when going to a specific destination in the city because it can take quite a bit of time to navigate the side streets when the highways are packed. Studies have shown that drivers in Chicago lose around 138 hours of productive time because of congestion, which places the city third in the country in terms of heavy traffic.  

Pro: Renting and buying a home in the city is easier than you think

Whether you’re planning to buy a house or move into a temporary apartment, there’s something for you in Chicago. Compared to the West Coast and East Coast, the housing market in Chicago is one of the best bargains in North America. In 2018, the median home value in Chicago stood at $285,579. According to Zillow, the home values in Chicago have been steadily increasing. The current median home price is $330,350. 

When it comes to renting, the median price for an apartment listing is $1,635. While the rental rates have generally gone down throughout the U.S, the median rental cost stands at just $166 above the national average.

Con: Crime is a serious concern

With infamous criminals like John Dillinger, Al Capone, and Baby Face Nelson all hailing from the city, Chicago’s history has been marked by crime. You can even come across markers to these men in certain areas city. Although crime rates in Windy City have significantly decreased over the past couple of years, they are still higher than the national average.

According to the official reports released by the Chicago Police Department, more than 550 murders took place in 2018, and there are over 60 street gangs in the city with thousands of active members. 

Pro: Chicago has well-defined neighborhoods

Video of Top 10 things to do in Chicago

The city’s backbone is in its 77 well-defined neighborhoods distributed across nine districts – each offering its own unique mix of culture, attractions, personality, and history. If you don’t mind your neighborhood becoming part of your identity, Chicago is the place to be.

  • South: The South Side features an impressive array of cultural and social offerings. From the Museum Campus situated in South Loop to the monuments in Bronzeville to the authentic cuisine of Chinatown, diversity in this part of the city runs deep.
  • North: The Northern neighborhoods of Chicago are vibrant and full of life. You can go boutique shopping in Lincoln Park, catch a Cubs game in Wrigleyville, or enjoy jazz music in Uptown.
  • The Loop: This is a vibrant area featuring a wide variety of shops, eateries, theaters, and parks. The Loop is also home to attractions such as the Buckingham Fountain, The “Bean” at Millennium Park, and the Historic Theatre District, to mention a few.
Cloud Gate downtown Chicago at Millennium Park
Cloud Gate downtown Chicago at Millennium Park
(Source: @maginnis via Twnety20)
  • West: The West Side is the place to be for anyone looking for a more eclectic vibe. The West Loop area is considered to be Chicago’s top culinary destination thanks to the Fulton Market and Randolph Street. You can also explore the intriguing monuments, murals, and churches of Wicker Park.

Con: Parking in the city is a pain

Don’t honk the horn in Chicago
Don’t honk the horn in Chicago
(Source: @brockw20 via Twnety20)

Parking in Chicago is a nightmare, to say the least. If you happen to own a car and your home doesn’t have a designated parking spot, be prepared to contend with no parking signs, tow zones, and almost impossible parallel parking missions. Parking in the metropolitan area is expensive (it’s not uncommon to pay upwards of $30 per hour), plus you may find that a parking permit is necessary depending on where you live. During the winter, Chicago residents heavily depend on on-street parking in areas where driveway space is scarce. 

Pro: Plenty of recreational activities in chicago

Nominated Navy Pier
(Source: @maginnis via Twnety20)
Nominated Navy Pier

Chicago has so much to offer in terms of recreational activities, whether you’re exploring on your own, with family, or with friends. Here are just a few of the things to do as a resident in the city:

  • Visit the Navy Pier: This is a 3,300-foot long pier that offers a 150-foot long Ferris wheel, a 50-acre playground, and a stunning view of Chicago right on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. 
  • Check out Wicker Park: For a shopping trip, head out to Wicker Park where you’ll find multiple thrift stores and independent labels. Keep an eye out for Akira, one of the city’s trendiest and cheapest local brands. 
  • Try playing whirlyball: One of the fun things to try out while you’re in Chicago is a game of whirlyball. The game is best described as a combination of basketball and lacrosse with a twist (there are bumper cars involved!)  
  • Visit the Lincoln Park Zoo: This is one of the oldest zoos in the United States, and it is also one of the remaining free admission zoos.  

Final thoughts

Chicago is a unique city that manages the seemingly impossible feat of offering a small-town feel while still providing all the perks of living in a metropolitan area. The locals are loyal to their neighborhood and will welcome you with open arms as long as you’re willing to support and contribute to the city and its culture. That said, it’s also important to consider the downsides to help you decide if it’s the place for you.

Chicago compared to other cities (June 2021 rent price data from Zumper national rent report)

CitiesStudio1-BR Avg. Rent 2-BR Avg. Rent 3-BR Avg. RentMedian Home PricesMedian Household Income
Charlotte$1,282$1,277$1,477$1,762$296,603$62,817
Chicago$1,039$1,400$1,750$2,223$296,603$58,247
Columbus$677$901$1,091$1,525$208,768$53,745
Denver$1,203$1,446$1,935$2,583$543,544$68,592
Houston$1,265 $1,192$1,521$1,761 $222,540 $52,338
Indianapolis$864$921$993$1,399$187,628$45,670
Jacksonville$764$991$1,198$1,683$236,615$54,701
Philadelphia$1,070$1,341$1,693$1,882$221,996$45,927
Phoenix$962$1,103$1,392$2,046$350,077$57,459
San Antonio$893$950$1,184$1,572$221,886$52,455
San Diego$1,603$1,921$2,558$3,374$829,062$79,673
Seattle$1,195$1,594$2,056$2,923$863,058$92,263
Washington$1,663$2,129$3,033$3,499$692,178$86,420
Data sourced from Zumper national rent report and the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Melanie Asiba

Melanie is an author. She enjoys traveling, reading and trying out new things. In addition to writing for Apartment ABC. Connect with her at [email protected]

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