(Last Updated On: September 13, 2019)
Philadelphia Independence Hall
Independence Hall in Philadelphia

Why Live in Philadelphia?

The cost of living in Philadelphia is favorable and a fantastic place to live in. It’s a remarkable city in the northeast corridor of the United States. It sits on Highway 95 between New York City and Washington DC. For that reason, it’s often overshadowed by the financial and political power of its neighbors.

That doesn’t bother Philadelphians at all though, because Philly packs personality. It’s more manageable than New York without the sticker shock. It’s much more fun and less uptight than Washington, DC. Best of all, Philadelphians love their city.

Trust me, I grew up in the suburbs and moved downtown once I was a working professional. We know how to have a good time and we’re unapologetically candid about our hometown. Street art is everywhere, it’s the most historical city in the United States and the food scene is unreal!

There is an unbelievable culture in Philadelphia and the natives are very “salt-of-the-earth” people. Anyone can fit in, you just have to show a little brotherly love for Philadelphia.

Is The Cost Of Living In Philadelphia Expensive?

Philadelphia City Hall
Philadelphia City Hall

Compared to other cities on the American coasts, the cost of living in Philadelphia is surprisingly cheap. This is even true of the downtown area, or “center city.” I’m amazed when I hear friends from Baltimore, Washington, DC, New York City or Boston tell me how much they pay for things. From a rented flat to groceries, Philly is a noticeably less-expensive city. You will still pay more than living in the suburbs or a small town in the countryside. But as an urban center, Philly is a budget-friendly town.

Best Places to Live in Philadelphia

Philadelphia saw massive growth during the early 1900s. During this period, European immigrants took to American cities seeking a better life. This created a patchwork of ethnic neighborhoods in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York. That legacy lives on, and Philadelphia is still a city of neighborhoods. While they’re integrated and diverse, each neighborhood has corner stores, local pubs and a distinct character. The legacies of the original neighborhoods live on with a vibrant modern flare.

Philadelphia Street Cafe
Philadelphia Street Cafe

One example is East Passyunk, the old Italian neighborhood and one of the most sought after addresses. This neighborhood is full of young professionals sharing a block with families who have lived in the neighborhood for generations. There you can also find family-run Italian bakeries and some of the city’s best modern gourmet fusion restaurants. From the people to the food – it’s a mix of old and new and a hip cultural blend.

Another fantastic neighborhood is Washington Square West. It is bordered by midtown (the gayborhood) and Philly’s Old City. This neighborhood is a quick walk to some of the best Philadelphia has to offer. Cute coffee shops, tree-lined streets, amazing nightlife and access to transportation make Washington Square West an ideal neighborhood.

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One final suggestion is just north of the city center and known as Fairmount. It’s a 10-minute walk to the financial district and close to cultural highlights like the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This neighborhood was once considered “up an coming” just 5 years ago – but it has arrived! It’s home to many trendy shops, cocktail bars, and cafes. It’s also home to Eastern State Penitentiary, a decommissioned prison with a fascinating history. It once housed mobster, Al Capone. The prison is said to be haunted and hosts scary Halloween tours every year during the Fall season.

Cost of a Flat in Philadelphia

Center City Philadelphia

Renting a flat (or apartment as they would call it in Philly) is rather simple. There is ample inventory and demand to meet it. Prices are the most expensive in the Rittenhouse Square District (near the financial district). Outside of Rittenhouse, an individual can expect to pay roughly $1,200-1,500 in monthly rent. That would apply to a studio or 1-bedroom unit in a desirable neighborhood.

Living farther away from Center City or sharing an apartment with a roommate would bring the cost of living in Philadelphia down. When I first moved into the city I shared a new and spacious, 4-story townhouse with a 2-car garage and roof deck. With two roommates, we paid $1,000 each in the Fairmount neighborhood. This was quite a good deal, but you can often find deals like this among your network or by doing online research.

Cost of Food in Philadelphia

There are plenty of grocery stores in center city Philadelphia. Stores like Giant and Acme are going to be lower prices for good quality food. If you’re looking for organic or specialty food items, you can find them at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. However, you can expect to pay a premium for those. There are also many smaller corner stores that sell staples like milk, bread, and eggs. At these stores, you can expect to pay a little more for your groceries there than you would in a chain supermarket. I typically spend between $100-150 per week on groceries in Philadelphia.

Utility Bills in Philadelphia

For an average 915-square foot apartment (85m²) you can expect to pay $145 per month. This includes electricity, heating, garbage, and water.
Cost of Internet and Cable in Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia, you can shop around for cable and internet. You should expect to pay $125 per month for a basic package. For additional fees, you can add premium channels or higher internet speed.

Cost of Banking in Philadelphia

Bank Image For The Cost of Living in Philadelphia
Philadelphia Bank

Banking in Philadelphia is convenient, but like anywhere in the United States, there are fees with banking. Most checking accounts have a monthly service fee that is waived if you keep a balance over a certain threshold (usually $100). There will be a fee of $1-$3 if you pull money out of an ATM from a competing bank. There you may even pay two fees (one from the other bank and one from your own). Sometimes you can avoid fees by joining a local credit union. Most businesses in Philadelphia accept debit cards and credit cards, so you can also avoid these transaction fees by using plastic.

Cost of Eating Out in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Skyline Image for Cost of Living Post

Philadelphia is an amazing food city. There are countless options for dining out and the price can vary just as much as the cuisine. A mid-range meal at a sit-down restaurant will usually cost you $15-20 for main dishes. There are also options for quick-serve meals at a bar or pub for $5-15. Philadelphia also has many high-end options where main dishes could cost up to $50-75. Besides your food prices, Philadelphia is in America, so a 15-20% tip is expected with your check.

One unique thing about Philadelphia dining is the BYO or “bring your own” (alcohol) restaurant. There you can bring your own bottle of wine, beer or other alcohol and enjoy it over dinner. This can save money and is a remnant of the state liquor laws. Only a certain number of licenses are available for serving alcohol, so some restaurants get around the high cost of a liquor license by allowing you to bring your own.

Philadelphia Restaurant Image for cost of Living in Philadelphia
Philadelphia Restaurant

Petrol Price Philadelphia

The cost of petrol in Philadelphia is generally a few cents higher per gallon compared to the suburbs or across the Delaware River in New Jersey. The average at this time is about $2.90 for regular, unleaded gasoline.

Philadelphia Health Care Cost

Just like the rest of the United States, there is no public health care system. Private healthcare costs are sometimes covered by employers and require a monthly contribution from employees. There are also ways to access discount healthcare like The Minute Clinic at CVS Pharmacy. They are located around the city and offer a visit to a nurse practitioner for $35. They can help you with typical health needs or a check-up at any time. You just walk into the pharmacy and wait to see someone, no appointment required.

Philadelphia Parks Image for The What Does It Cost Post
Philadelphia Park

Schools in Philadelphia

Philadelphia has a public school system and some of the local schools are better than others. In America, urban districts face many challenges, especially with funding. This causes many parents to look outside of the local school district and seek private schools. That tuition can vary, and many are religious schools. Quaker schools and Catholic schools are common in Philadelphia. Most of the religious private schools will cost you $8,000-10,000 per year in tuition and require a uniform.

Summing it All Up

Philadelphia is a fabulous city and is currently experiencing a renaissance. For the last 15 years, the city has been booming as millennials have flocked to affordable living in the downtown. You will love living there, and the cost of living in Philadelphia can provide you with a very happy life. Overall, the people, the attitude and the livability of Philadelphia are wonderful.

To live very comfortably, I would recommend a salary of at least $60,000 per year. This could be less if you have roommates, budget tightly or live in a low-cost neighborhood. For example, the Manayunk neighborhood northwest of Center City is popular for new graduates because housing is much lower. The houses there are commonly shared by 3-4 roommates who each pay only $400-800 per month.

Every city has unique problems, and Philadelphia could improve with schools, public transportation, and economic inequality. You will see homeless Philadelphians and underprivileged areas of the city. There are also issues with gentrification as the city grows and more people are moving into formerly downtrodden areas of the city. The growth there can displace poorer residents, and there is a lot of attention and care to make sure this doesn’t occur.

Philadelphia City Hall Skyline

Finding a Job in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is a city with a varied economy. Higher education, food processing, manufacturing and oil refining are the traditional economic sectors. The last decade has seen the rise of Philadelphia’s new economy which specializes in health care, biotechnology, and telecommunications. Some of the main employers are Comcast and Jefferson Health Network. Tourism is and always has been a staple of the economy in Philadelphia.

Finding a job can be challenging anywhere, but with highly-educated citizens, it can be tougher in Philadelphia. Searching online or applying through company websites is the tried and true method of finding a job. Of course, building a network and leaning into people you know is always the best way to find an open position.

Derek Hartman and His Partner Mike
Derek Hartman and His Partner Mike

About the Author: This post was written by Derek Hartman from Robe-Trotting. Derek is a native of Philadelphia but currently living in Copenhagen, Denmark. Derek runs Robe-Trotting with his partner, Mike. Together, they blog about the transition from America to Europe, life as an expat couple and their world travels. You can also find them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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