Guide to accommodation for expats in Washington DC – rent or buy?

If you are relocating to the USA’s capital for work, it’s important to get your accommodation sorted. The relatively small size of Washington DC, as well as many expatriates, means the most-desirable homes are snapped up fast.

Where to live

Washington DC itself has a population of just under 700,000 people. However, the Washington metropolitan area, of which Washington DC is the principal city, is home to over six million people. It’s not unusual for expatriates to live outside of the city centre and in one of the many surrounding suburbs. Choice of which neighbourhood comes down to your individual lifestyle preferences and requirements.
If you are moving to the USA with children, DuPont Circle is a popular expat location. This neighbourhood has a variety of property choices, including large family homes, but is still within the city limits. This makes it easy to commute, with excellent public transport links. It has lots of green space and plenty of family-friendly amenities.
Anacostia is another area that is in favour with expatriates. This is partly due to its proximity to some of the best local schools in the area. Georgetown is popular with students, given that it’s home to Georgetown University. However, it is also where many foreign embassies are based, so there is a large expat community of those working in the diplomatic sector.
The Palisades is a popular area for those who want to live away from the hustle and bustle of city life. It has a small-town feel and mainly attracts families. It is known for having some of the top-ranked schools in Washington DC and plenty of spacious, detached family homes. It also has farmers’ markets and holiday events, which gives it a nice community feel.

The rental market

Renting in Washington DC is a popular option among new British expatriates. It gives you the opportunity to find a location that suits the needs of you and your family, without the commitment of purchasing a property. As with all global capital cities, rental prices are higher than average for the country. The monthly cost of a three-bedroom apartment in Washington DC city centre is around $4,000 USD (figure correct as of May 2018, via Expat Arrivals).
The most common type of properties in the city centre are apartments and condominiums. The most desirable homes are condos based within large complexes with modern facilities and communal amenities, such as door staff, a gym and security. The city also has some Victorian townhouses, also called rowhouses, which have a lot of character and offer more living space. These properties are rented out by management companies.
Outside of the main city, fully detached homes are available, which are usually rented out by private owners. Many of these will have a garage or off-road parking, which makes it feasible to commute by car for work. These family homes are often located near to popular schools and, as such, are very desirable.
Renting in the USA is straightforward for expatriates, though be sure to read the lease carefully. There may be restrictions, fees or covenants, and you may need to be approved by the building’s residents’ board.

Choosing to buy

When looking to buy in Washington DC, one thing to bear in mind is that you may need to engage the services of several real-estate agents. If you are looking at living in the suburbs, rather than the city centre itself, you may find the location you desire is in a different state.
The Washington metropolitan area covers areas of Maryland and Virginia. Realtors have to have a licence to work in a particular state. You will need to check a realtor’s credentials to see which states they are licensed to practice in and therefore which properties they have access to. If you want a broad view of the market across the whole of the Washington metropolitan area, you may have to work with more than one realtor.
Buying is more common in the USA than renting for the local population, so you’re likely to get a better choice of property on the sales market. If you can, look for a realtor with experience of selling to foreign purchasers and who can help you navigate the red tape. The National Association of Realtors ( offers a Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) qualification. Realtors with this accreditation may be better placed to help you buy as an expatriate.
If you are moving to Washington DC, find out how Cadogan Tate’s international removals services can help you with the logistics, management and practicalities of a long-distance relocation.