The complete guide to moving to Los Angeles

Updated: Jun 20, 2018

From the Hollywood sign to the Walk of Fame, LA is perhaps best known as the place to be if you want to see your name in lights. However, the City of Angels is more than just cinematic icons, it’s a real multicultural hub of creativity and culture. It’s no wonder the citizens are so happy – with the enviable climate and the city being book-ended by stunning mountain scenery and sandy swathes of beach. If laid-back LA life sound like something you want to be involved in and you’re planning on moving from Australia to Los Angeles or Southern California then read this handy guide in conjunction with our USA guide.

Setting up home

When you think of LA, we bet the first thing that comes to mind is Hollywood, right? And of course, living in one of those mansions set back from the leafy boulevards in Beverly Hills. However, unless you’re a multi-millionaire or a movie star, it’s unlikely these places are where you’ll live. That’s okay though, as Los Angeles has plenty of diverse neighbourhoods that will suit your budget – and lifestyle. Australian accents are actually not all that uncommon in California and there are plenty of young professionals who have moved to LA from Australia in search of fame or fortune courtesy of the E3 visa programme.

LA has been voted the second most expensive city to live in the United States, so be prepared to spend more than you thought on finding the right home. As with any major city, neighbourhoods closer to the centre are more expensive, some probably over-priced, while those further out in the suburbs will be more finance-friendly. 

If you’re used to Australian beach-side living, the thought of living away from the coast might not appeal to you, and thankfully LA has plenty of options when it comes to communities by the sea. In fact, there are over 100 kilometres of beachfront in LA, benefiting from beautiful weather conditions thanks to a little sea breeze and less smog than the downtown areas. As you can imagine, this makes for quite a desirable place to live. Malibu, Santa Monica and Venice Beach are all world-famous and rightly so. Malibu has an enviable position, shouldered by beach one side and hills the other. It’s where you’ll find some of the most expensive properties in the whole of LA. Santa Monica has a more laid-back, arty feel, with plenty of independent shops, and of course, the Santa Monica pier. As for Venice Beach, it might be famous for beach body-building and roller-blading along the front, but this place is also home to quirky canals and bridges like its famous Italian namesayer.

If you can afford to rub shoulders with Hollywood’s elite, look no further than Beverly Hills, and the Westside. This is where you’ll find Bel Air, Brentwood and West Hollywood. These neighbourhoods are home to some of the most expensive shops, exclusive nightspots and restaurants where you’ll need to make a reservation weeks in advance.

Los Angeles is quite different to many other cities, as it doesn’t have a city centre. The ‘Downtown’ area is where you’ll find most of the business district, with office blocks aplenty. Living here is quite costly, though fashionable for young professionals with their airy lofts and industrial chic.

If you’re bringing your family with you, then you might want to think of ‘The Valley’, which is a collection of smaller areas, almost like self-contained cities themselves. With a mix of residential and commercial properties, plus leisure facilities, they’re ideal for families.

To rent or buy

Buying a house is a big commitment, and it’s very rare for you to just turn up in a new country and find your dream home straight away. Most expats will rent, with many renting for the entire time they live in the USA. Plus, if you’re living in central LA, it’s unlikely you’ll have a two-storey home with big garden, unless you’re up in the hills or out in the suburbs. As we’ve already established, rent is going to be your biggest expense, with a monthly average of $2,200 USD ($2,950 AUD).

If you’re coming to LA with a job contract already in place, your office may have either arranged accommodation for you, even if it’s short-term while you house hunt, or they can help with the search. Estate agents in the USA tend to deal with selling and buying rather than letting, but don’t let that put you off – there are plenty who will work in the letting field and might be worth investigating, especially if you don’t really know what to look for or expect in terms of rental agreement.

While the rental market isn’t quite as competitive as in Australia (no open viewings), but you will often have application forms to fill in.

Check your rental agreement – they’re not standardised so some will come with nothing included but the basic monthly payment; while others may have bills or communal area charges depending on where you live. It’s also a good idea to confirm with the landlord exactly how you will pay your rent – cheques are still a popular option in the USA and a large proportion of landlords will still only accept payment this way.

TIP: Before you leave Australia, it’s a good idea to get a copy of your credit report and get some character references that will help in your house hunt. Make a few copies of each, so you’re prepared when you start the process.



The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will handle your water. Your property should already be connected, but it’s likely you will need to request a new account to be set-up. This can be done online:

You will also be able to monitor your usage and pay your bill online.

Gas and Electricity

Southern California Edison is the company that will supply your electricity in LA. Depending on the size of your property and whether you have air-con – or even a swimming pool – your bills could be quite expensive. Thankfully SCE have several money-saving options and ways to help curb your usage. Of course, you might need to check with your landlord if you’re renting. Again, you can set up your account online and pay directly. SoCalGas, as the name implies, will service your gas appliances. For all utilities, if you’re renting, check with the landlord, building manager or agent to find out if any of the utilities are included in your rental payment. When setting up your accounts, it’s likely you’ll need to provide formal documentation. If you’re already enrolled with Social Security, then that number will often be sufficient, plus two forms of photographic ID. It’s worth knowing, for many official contracts, photocopies are not acceptable (though they may copy your documents for filing).

TV and Internet:

Surprisingly, there isn’t a huge market for competition in Los Angeles for internet, TV or phone services. As is common now, most providers will offer all services, so it does pay to shop around to find the best deal to suit your needs. The main providers are:

AT&T -

DirecTV -

Dish Network -

Frontier -

Spectrum -

Verizon -

Many of the suppliers offer new customer discounts, with 3 months free for the most popular – and famous channels like HBO and SHOWTIME.

Cell phone providers offer a mix of contracts and pre-paid options, depending on your budget. Some will include a new handset and the option to up-grade or trade-in your handset at regular intervals. As the USA is such a multinational country, providers have special international tariffs for calls/texts back home. However, with internet solutions like FaceTime and Skype, you might find that they are not worth the extra dollars and would be better investing in good Wi-Fi at home.

Getting around

Public Transport


LA’s metro system is the third most comprehensive in the United States. Yet its design is not always practical for people living away from train stations, and buses can be slow. In fact, only around 5% of the metropolitan population regularly use public transport. That said, the two main to get around if you’re not in your car are trains and buses.

Metro Rail

The Metro Rail has six lines, consisting of two subways and four light rail lines. It stretches north to south from San Fernando Valley to Long Beach, and east to west from Santa Monica to Eastside – with most lines converging in downtown LA. This said, it is mostly useful for suburban commuters rather than for traversing the city, and with only 93 stations (compared to New York City’s 472, for comparison), it is by no means comprehensive.

Standard fares start from $1.75, with a range of options if you use the TAP card, which is the system’s smartcard:

For routes, timetables and travel planners, visit

Metrolink, which is not operated by the City, covers southern California, with all seven lines converging at Union Station. Routes, timetables and travel planners available at

Metro Bus

LA has three main bus systems. Metro Local is the most extensive, covering major routes with a frequent service. Metro Rapid has fewer stops but is faster travel times. And Metro Express mixes local routes with freeways. You can also use the DASH service to traverse downtown, with buses going across the city every 15 minutes from 5.50am to 6pm.

As with Metro Rail, fares start from $1.75, with a range of options if you use the TAP card.

However, what buses make up for in expansiveness, they lose in speed. After all, they are as subject as any other vehicle to the LA traffic.


Not the cheapest option by any means, but no relying on predetermined stops or hours of operation. You can’t really hail cabs in downtown LA, so you need to book them. Popular apps are RideYellow (, Curb (, Flywheel (, and of course Uber.

You should always look for the official City of Los Angeles Taxicab Seal before boarding.

TIP: To avoid getting in trouble for trying to hail a cab on the street, download one of the private taxi apps to your mobile phone.

School Options

School is a legal requirement for all children over six years old, and they’ll remain in education until they are 18. Public schooling is free, and there are plenty of them in the LA area, though you would be wise to check out the options in the neighbourhood where you’re thinking of setting up home. The Los Angeles Unified School District has a school directory that you can search:

The main benefit of local, public schools, is that your little – or not-so-little one will be in the middle of their new community, helping them settle in to their new life and new neighbourhood. Obviously, this is an easier task for younger children, who aren’t working towards Australian qualifications. In this case, schools will often do what’s call a ‘credential evaluation’ which will assess where your children are up to in terms of their education and where they fit in terms of classes at their new school It’s a good idea to have academic transcripts, or reports to give to your prospective school, to help this process.

If you can afford it, private schooling is another option. They are in no way funded by the government, and as such fees can be quite high. You’ll also need to pay for books, uniform (if applicable) and any extra costs. Staff in private schools are used to expat children, whether international or migrating from other states in the USA. The education system is similar to Australia, and so your children shouldn’t have any problems settling in. That being said, with a private education, you will have the choice of a variety of qualifications, including the International Baccalaureate.

For older children, LA is home to some of the most renowned universities, including UCLA which is ranked in the top 40 universities in the world.


Your company should confirm with you whether you’re classed as a resident or non-resident, as this will impact your tax payments. As a resident, you’ll be required to file annual tax returns. The complication here can arise if you confuse your visa status with your tax status: while your visa might technically be a non-resident, you could still be eligible to pay your taxes. Do check with your company’s HR or legal department. The basic rule of thumb is the number of days you’ve been in the USA over the previous three years. The IRS has a section of their website dedicated to international tax payers, which could be worth having a read before you move, just to get ahead of the game:

To make matters a little more complex, you’ll have a state-level of tax to pay, as well as the general income tax. This can be as much as 12% on taxable income, depending on your earnings.


Bringing your pet half way around the world, is a big commitment, but we understand how much they are part of the family. Getting their documents and health checks in order before they leave Australia is as important as what you’ll need to do when they arrive.

All dogs over four months old must be licensed and neutered. The current fee is $20 USD a year, though you can pay for three years for a discounted $55 USD. You’ll need to prove your pooch has been neutered or spayed, with a letter from your veterinarian stating they are rabies-free. Get copies of these documents to send to LA Animal Services, as they will accept copies and will not return originals. Dogs must also wear a collar and a tag with their license number on whenever they are outside of your home. Cats aren’t required to be licensed.

TIP: Allow a specialist removal company like King & Wilson to arrange all your documentation and transportation for your pets.

Everyday Life

Recreational activities

As you might expect from a large, sprawling city, pollution can be a bit of a problem, so residents tend to like activities that get them out in the open air. In the Hollywood Hills, you’ll find plenty of hiking trails, some of which provide fantastic viewing spots to the city below. Many residents also take to the coast, enjoying surfing and water sports, or simply relaxing on the beach with a picnic.

LA home to the famous Griffith Observatory, surrounded by cinematic views. As a truly multicultural city, and you’ll not be short of fantastic places to eat, galleries to visit or parks to enjoy. Of course you have the famous tourist sites like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Universal Studios and Disneyland, which is sure to keep kids – and big kids – entertained.


LA is known as the creative capital of the US – and quite probably the world. One in seven people in Los Angeles work in the creative industry in some way. This also extends to engineers, builders and tech-savvy workers who bring Hollywood to life. It goes without saying, that while Hollywood and the entertainment industry is a big employer, it is a very competitive industry.

Los Angeles is very diverse in terms of employment – aerospace and defence, IT and technology are all heavily represented in LA. Do keep in mind that you are probably going to have to get used to a commute – there is no central business hub and so offices and workspaces are spread across the greater Los Angeles area.