I was born in Small Town, Texas, in the newly built hospital. I was raised in the same house my entire life, and when I picked a university, I only applied to the one in my hometown, which just happened to have 30,000+ students and amazing programs of interest to me. I lived in the dorms my first 2 years, as required (and funded) by my scholarship, and after that, I moved on to apartment-hopping (for 3.5 years), and then back to parents' houses for the last 1.5 years. I would have saved a lot of money if I had lived in my mom's house, but what I spent in money I gained in life experience, and I don't regret that decision.
This past summer, I finally moved from Small Town to New York City. Obviously, this is a big step, especially having never lived anywhere besides ST. I couldn't find too many resources on the internet about moving to New York (I didn't look all that hard), but most of them just talked about how stressful it is and made a big commotion of the whole ordeal. I'm here to say - it wasn't that different than moving <5 miles away from my mom's house, which is the furthest away I ever had a permanent residence, before my move to NYC. You have to go through a lot of the same steps.
1. Find a place to live.
For my first apartment in ST, my roommate Nick picked the place (in agreement with me, roommate Matt, and roommate Joel). I was fine with their choice and the place was great. For the second place with Mike, I picked the apartment. It was probably my favorite apartment I ever lived in, but that's probably a psychological thing, since I picked it. For the third apartment, roommate Donna picked it. Again, I was totally satisfied. And finally, in moving to NYC, roommate Henry picked the apartment.
For my NYC apartment hunt, I scoured the internet via CraigsList, WalkScore, and various other apartment hunting sites. I found brokers in the neighborhoods we were interested in, and I made phone calls and sent emails. Henry visited 4 or 5 apartments that we thought would work, and he ultimately made the final decision, since he was the only one that actually saw anything before I signed a lease. (If you don't want to sign a lease, subletting is also an option. Henry did that for 2-3 months earlier this year. Maybe he'll write a guest post on his adventures in subletting.)
Just as with any apartment, do your research on the neighborhood (we wanted northern Manhattan), know what amenities you're after (we were looking for a 600+ sq ft 2 bedroom, but ended up settling for 436), and be comfortable with the lease before you sign it. I read that thing cover to cover multiple times and had our broker make changes before we signed. I was able to get Henry and Ryan on the lease without having to do background checks on either of them (not that they wouldn't have checked out, but we would have had to pay another $100/person), which was great. And signing the lease was something I did 2 weeks before moving, all via email and FedEx. To this day, I've never met our brokers, but I've had tons of interaction with them online. It's possible to get an apartment in New York without even seeing the place first (not that I fully support that idea) and have it all set to go before you get here.
2. Get yourself and your stuff there.
This is the biggest difference between moving <5 miles and moving 2,100 miles. To move <5 miles, we'd load up my brother's truck 15 times and drive back and forth and back and forth. We'd spend an hour eating lunch and still be done by 3PM. To move to NYC, my husband and I took a scenic route, from Texas to Louisiana to Florida to Virginia to New Jersey to our new apartment, departing on Monday and arriving on Saturday (the places listed are the places we stopped to sleep along the way, in the homes of family and friends). It was a wonderful trip and I wouldn't trade it for the world, but I'll be the first to admit that driving across the country with all your worldly possessions on 10 wheels is a little unnerving.
Other friends that I have that have moved to New York have chosen different methods. One drove a smaller moving truck with his roommate, but took the direct route. Another flew up with his father and brought only the minimal number of things to survive, opting to live in a pre-furnished apartment and leave most of his belongings at his parent's house. All are viable options - just keep in mind that moving yourself and your things to New York is a HUGE expense. Well, unless you take roommate Henry's approach; he bought a one-way plane ticket and arrived with a suitcase full of clothes and all his musical instruments... and that was it. He sublet apartments until Ryan and I arrived here, and he's just been collecting things along the way. Most of his belongings are in storage at his parent's house in Texas. If you take that route, it's much less expensive, but most people would have a difficult time taking such a minimalist approach.
3. Set up utilities and update billing information.
This is a given no matter where you move. There are just some... unique aspects about it living in New York. (I say unique, but I really just mean different from ST. I suppose these things could actually be normal everywhere else and unique in ST, but this is just from my perspective.)
We had to set up our internet in New York. We called Verizon and ordered the modem, and waited. Then, it arrived and we went to plug it in. But... there was no phone jack. No phone jack. Anywhere. In the entire apartment. I didn't know that was still possible. Did the previous inhabitants not have a phone line or internet? Doesn't that seem just wild?? Anyway, we had to call Verizon again and have them come install a phone jack so that we could hook up our modem. Installing the phone jack was a sizable expense we had not budgeted for, but the cost of internet per month is comparable to ST.
The electric company was as easy as a phone call (the previous tenants had electricity, at least). Apparently, it had never been shut off, so it was just a matter of putting a start date on our billing cycle. Easy enough, and the cost is comparable to ST - we have a LOT of electronic equipment in our apartment, so I knew it wasn't going to be cheap.
No water bill. There's no water bill in New York - is this the case in other cities? In ST, they would sometimes make customers put down a $300 deposit to have water set up, but here, we don't even pay for it. I take longer showers just because I can.
We also had to update our address with our banks and cell phone bill. This was easy enough, but if you forget, you could find yourself without a functioning ATM card, under suspicion of theft.
4. Explore your neighborhood and become familiar with the places you will frequent.
This will happen on its own eventually, but it's nice to make a day of seeking these things. Our laundromat is directly across the street and open 24 hours, which is about as convenient as it gets. The grocery store, subway stop, dry cleaners, and nearest Chinese restaurant are 3.5 blocks south of us, which is also very convenient. I quickly discovered that a cold grocery store produce section is one of the best places to be on a hot August day. Starbucks, the supermarket, and a few more fast food places are 5.5 blocks south and 2 blocks east. This is a bit more of a hike (especially considering that coming home is all uphill), but I'm glad to know that they're there when I need them (like right now, since I'm out of shampoo).
Take some time to get to know where the things you need are located, and keep in mind it might be in a direction you hadn't considered. Even though we live in Harlem, which is in Manhattan, the nearest mall (including the nearest Target) is in the Bronx, one D train stop northeast of us. Knowing facts like this about your neighborhood could also affect where you choose to live (see item #1). The fact that the laundromat was right across from our front door and open 24 hours was a BIG plus to me. Also, living near an express stop vs. a local stop can make a big difference in New York. I've only lived in one apartment in my 1.5 months here, but express stops are amazing.
(I didn't have to explore in ST since I lived there my entire life, but living in different parts of the city did open my eyes to different amenities and places to visit.)
5. Set up a budget and find a job.
These are both major things that must be done, but I group them together because one will affect the other. Once I set up a budget for me and Ryan (estimating food costs since we didn't know what they'd be - more on that later), I knew that we needed to be making a combined income of at least $35,000/year (pre-taxes) just to pay our bills each month. This showed us where to set the bar as far as requesting salaries for "real" jobs, and knowing how minimal we could go on wages for "survival" jobs. Our monthly bills include: health insurance, internet, cell phones, electricity, transit, rent, food, a monthly medical bill I have from surgery last year, laundry, and credit cards (we're carrying a small, <$500 balance that we're chipping away on and not adding to). We will soon add renters insurance and student loans to the list.
Transit is a bill you may overlook when first arriving in New York, but it's one to keep in mind. A monthly, unlimited MetroCard is $104. We each have one of those. I also ride the PATH at least 16 times a month for school (16x$2=$32) and Ryan takes the train to National Guard drill one weekend each month ($22). All this combined (~$252) is obviously less expensive than car insurance, oil changes, maintenance, parking, gas, etc. that come with owning a car, but it must be accounted for nonetheless.
Laundry is a bit more expensive than I anticipated. We spend ~$60/month on laundry-related expenses, including restocking the soap and dryer sheets.
Food was an expense I did not expect to skyrocket the way it did, especially considering that we eat at home for nearly every meal - every breakfast, at least 6 lunches/week, and at least 5 dinners/week (which was quite the opposite in ST). When living in ST, we spent about $200 for food each per month, or $400 total. I estimated this in moving to New York and budgeted accordingly. As it turns about, based on our September numbers, we actually spend ~$800 a month on food... double the original estimate! This expense really jumped out at me, and if you're on a tight budget when you move, this is definitely an area to exercise frugality.
For job hunting in New York, I highly recommend CraigsList. It got me 1 temp job, 4 interviews, and 2 job offers. In the end, I got an interview through Henry for another job and we both, along with Ryan, earned positions with the company. Ryan also found restaurant employment through CraigList, and is working with a staffing agency to find more permanent/degree-related employment. Other ways to find work include: looking for "Help Wanted" signs in your neighborhood or neighborhoods you'd like to work in (this can be effective but very time-consuming) and telling friends you're looking for a job (Henry got his catering position through a friend and is happy there).
Mine and Ryan's experiences in the job market really helped our job hunt move quickly. I have ~4 years of retail experience at the mall in ST and 2 years food experience delivering pizzas for Dominos. Ryan worked in restaurants for summer jobs during college and in retail during his final year. It was only with this background that we were able to find employment within 15 days of arriving in New York. We have friends with more degrees than us in less competitive job markets that are struggling to find employment. So, if I can make one recommendation - work some menial jobs. The experience will help you later, especially if you can't find employment in your field, at your dream job, etc.
My intent was to show that moving to New York should not be too intimidating - it's not that different from moving anywhere else in the country, as near or far as it may be from where you currently reside. When you move, make sure to keep in touch with old friends to keep your sanity. Work and school are great places to make friends and meet people, but if you arrive in the city without a job and you're not in school, it can be an incredibly lonely place (actually, it can be lonely even when you have a job, school, a husband, and a roommate, but it's definitely not as bad as those who come alone). Make an effort to reach out to people you love - they will want to hear about your adventures in the big city and you will want that human connection, so just give them a call.