Expat city guide Portland, USA

07th January 2019
Expat city guide Portland, USA

If you are looking to move to Portland, Oregon in the USA, then you will be moving to enjoy one of the greenest cities of the United States, with lots of outdoor activities, delightful cafes and bars, and a wonderfully creative environment. In this guide we have researched all you need to know about this vibrant city, its climate, schools, accommodation, and culture.

Portland is the largest city in the U.S. state of Oregon. Sitting near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers, the city is well known for being green, liberal and creative. It houses big businesses and offers and outdoor life for residents among its parks and forests.

In 2014, Portland was ranked as the 23rd city in the world in terms of quality of living. This was concluded by reviewing political stability, personal freedom, crime, housing, the environment, recreation, banking, consumerism, education, and public services such as sanitation and transport. The assessment was undertaken specifically to help major organisations and governments when placing employees on international assignments, so expats moving to Portland can rest assured that this city ranks well in all the aforementioned areas. On top of this accolade, CBS MoneyWatch named Portland as being among the ten best places in the United States to retire to.

About the City

Portland lies towards the north of Oregon’s most populated region, the Willamette Valley. Downtown straddles the banks of the Willamette River, which separates the east and west of the city and joins the Columbia River about 10 miles northwest of downtown. The Columbia River actually separates the states of Oregon and Washington, with the populous suburb of Vancouver found across state lines.

To the west of the city are the Tualatin Mountains and to the east is the actively volcanic Cascade Range including Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens. Portland actually lies on top of the extinct Boring Lava Field, the centre of which is in southeast Portland.

Neighbourhoods and Accommodation

Portland is divided into five sections: Northwest, North, Northeast, Southwest and Southeast. The Willamette River divides the east and west, and Burnside Street divides the north from the south. The population growth in the Portland metropolitan area continues to outpace the national average and, with such an attractive culture, this is expected to continue.

There are a number of distinct neighbourhoods to consider when looking for a place to live in Portland. The Pearl District is a transformed industrial area which offers restaurants and brewpubs along its cobbled streets, as well as plenty of shopping, including the famous ‘Powell’s City of Books’, a bookstore covering an entire block.

Northwest Portland, also known as Nob Hill, has a Victorian feel to it and boasts Pittock Mansion and Forest Park, which has over 70 miles of trails. For any expatriate looking to live in the suburbs, the Lloyd District is easily accessible via light rail and streetcar and is a mecca for people attending sports and music events. Belmont has a more indie vibe, with street food, vintage boutiques, and coffee houses that attract tourists and Portlanders alike.

Dominating the southeast Portland area is Sellwood-Moreland and anyone who thrives in the outdoors will be comfortable here. With natural areas ranging from riverfront woodlands to forests, with nature retreats and wildlife parks thrown in, this is a perfect spot for any expat seeking tranquility. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Central Eastside district. Popular with young, creative types, this area is alive with eateries, late-night bars, breweries, galleries, and boutiques, making it a bit of a fashion hub.

The Climate in Portland

Portland’s climate is a temperate oceanic one and the city experiences warm, dry summers and wet, cool winters. The weather is perfect for growing roses, hence why the city is named the ‘City of Roses’. The climate also lends itself well to outdoor life, meaning Portlanders tend to spend time skating, running, cycling, or hiking, and enjoying other al fresco pursuits, such as festivals and sporting events.

Education in Portland

Expatriates moving to Portland with children will find a large choice when it comes to schools in the community. There are six public school districts, the largest of which consists of around 100 schools covering kindergarten through to 12th grade, as well as special education, in varying combinations. There are also many private schools, including Catholic, Montessori, International, and Jewish schools.

When it comes to higher education, the public Portland State University is the largest public university in Oregon and is among the top fifteen percentiles of American universities, according to The Princeton Review. Other options include the Oregon Health and Science University and Portland Community College. There are private universities also, including the National College of Natural Medicine which specializes in qualifications in naturopathic medicine, Chinese medicine, and research.

Transportation in Portland

As one might expect from a major city, there are multiple options for people living in Portland to get around. Due to its environmentally conscious approach to land-use planning, however, Portland has been rated as the most pedestrian and transit-friendly city in the whole of the United States by Travel + Leisure magazine, and also the 12th most walkable city by Walk Score.

There are four MAX light rail lines servicing more than 80 stations connecting the city, airport, and the wider region. The Portland Streetcar has two lines; the NS line runs from Portland State University to downtown, via the Nob Hill neighbourhood and Pearl District. The more recent Central Loop or CL line has added an extra 3.3 miles and 28 stops, taking in the Lloyd District, Rose Quarter and Central Eastside neighbourhood. Buses are operated by TriMet and cover the city and suburbs with full wheelchair accessibility.

A popular way to get around Portland is by bicycle. With hundreds of miles of cycle paths and the nation’s highest percentage of bike commuters (7%), Portland has earned itself the moniker of ‘Bike City U.S.A.’. Expats wishing to explore the city on two wheels can rent bikes, take tours, join in events, and even ride nude in the famous Portland World Naked Bike Ride. Most buses carry bike racks, making this a well-encouraged and environmentally friendly way to get around.

If biking isn’t of interest, most Portlanders make the daily commute by car. The Interstate Highway 5 which runs from Canada to Mexico runs through the city, and the Interstate 405 encircles downtown and the Pearl District. As you might expect from such a green-minded city, there are a number of car-sharing options, too, which is a great way for expatriates moving to the city to get to know people.

For traveling further afield, Portland is serviced by the Portland International Airport, about 20 minutes northeast of downtown by car. There are also long-haul train routes to Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, and Vancouver from Union Station, and any train buff expats will be delighted by the steam locomotives that can be seen pulling a special excursion train a few times a year.

Culture and Leisure

Portland is often ranked as the ‘Greenest City in America’ and even mentioned as one of the greenest cities in the world. For that reason, much of a Portlander’s life is spent outdoors. Known as the ‘City of Roses’, there is an annual Portland Rose Festival and there are many rose gardens to explore, including the International Rose Test Garden, as well as the Hoyt Arboretum, Tom McCall Waterfront Park, and the hugely popular Washington Park. Expats can even get their winter sport fix with skiing and snowboarding on Mount Hood.

If the outdoors doesn’t appeal, however, expatriates with a penchant for food and drink will also find plenty to enjoy with a plethora of street food carts, microbreweries, and coffee houses. The Oregon Brewers Festival is held annually in Portland during the last weekend of July and is known to be the largest outdoor beer festival in North America. The city is home to over 60 breweries – more than any other city globally – so you will always be able to find somewhere to relax with a beer after a hard day’s work.

For expatriates looking for more highbrow culture, Portland has a mass of performance arts institutions to choose from. The Oregon Ballet Theatre, Oregon Symphony, and Portland Opera are all based in the city giving regular performances throughout the year. The Portland Art Museum houses the city’s largest art collection and also presents touring exhibitions.

Portlandia, the sketch comedy that has found international acclaim and is named after the statue on the side of the Portland building, shoots on location and satirizes the city’s liberal views and green lifestyle. The Portlandia statue is also worth a visit, seeing as it is the second largest hammered copper statue in the United States; only the Statue of Liberty is bigger.

Local Economy

Portland’s location and infrastructure make it an attractive place for industry. With international air terminals, marine shipping facilities, intercontinental railway systems and both north – south and east – west interstate highways, the city is a highly accessible.

The city’s industrial history is one of steel. In the 1950s, the steel industry in Portland was the number one employer, and several large steel companies still thrive in the area, including Oregon Steel Mills and Schnitzer Steel Industries. Another large industry for Portland is wheat, with the city being the largest shipper of wheat in the United States. Between steel and wheat, the marine terminals handle over 13 million tons of cargo a year.

Outside of traditional industry, many Portlanders are employed by the numerous large corporations who have made Portland their home over the years. Adidas, Nike, Merrel, Daimler Trucks, Keen, and Airbnb all have their global or North American headquarters in the city.

Portland is reasonably well known for housing a number of animation studios including Laika, which created the movies Coraline and ParaNorman. Continuing within the creative vein, Wieden+Kennedy, the famous advertising agency, also have a home in Portland, perhaps attracted by the unofficial slogan of the city; “Keep Portland weird”.

The largest employer in the Portland area is Intel, the computer components manufacturer, which employs over 15,000 people across several campuses. There is a trend toward technology companies and start-ups, earning Portland the nickname of Silicon Forest.

For those considering a move to the USA, read our in-depth guide to help plan your shipping and logistics.

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