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An Expat's Guide to Living in Brooklyn

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Hey there! I’m Giulia, an Italian girl from Milan (well actually from a very small town not far from Milan: Rescaldina, a place where only 13,000 people live).

Two years ago, I packed my bags and moved to the bustling streets of New York City to work at the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce. I settled in Brooklyn in an amazing co-living community called Cohabs, where making new friends and real connections is a breeze (keep reading to find out more!).

As a Project Specialist, I get to dive into some fantastic Food & Beverage projects—a perfect way to keep my Italian roots alive.

While it's been quite the leap from small town Italy to the Big Apple, it's been a lot of fun, too. Thinking about following my footsteps and moving abroad not just to New York City but to Brooklyn in particular?

I got you covered!

Short on time? Here's the cheat sheet:

💭While there's a lot to love about all of New York City, if you're looking for the best place to call home, consider living in Brooklyn.

🛂Many expats living here are on Work Visa, Student Visa, Diversity Visa Program but personally, I'm on the J1 Visa for internships and traineeships.

🏠Within Brooklyn itself, you'll quickly find that all the neighborhoods have their own personality and offers something unique.

🛏️It can be tough finding a good long-term apartment. I opted to rent a room with Cohabs Co-Living to save the hassle and help make friends.

☂️The cost of living in New York City is super high but…

☀️For the adventure, the history, and a strong sense of community, consider making Brooklyn your next home abroad.

The Brooklyn Experience

The view from the rooftop of my co-living space

 When I landed the job, my first thought was: "Where am I going to live?" Going from a town with 13,000 people to a big city with 8,000,000 was no joke.

I'd visited New York back in 2019 and explored all the iconic spots. In my mind, New York was all about Manhattan and a couple of trendy neighborhoods in Brooklyn like Williamsburg and Dumbo. Little did I know I'd end up living in Crown Heights, a name I had never heard before.

Brooklyn is more than just a place to live; it’s a big community, and then, like a matrioska (I studied Russian at University 😉), it’s a community inside another community. The further you get from the touristy areas, the stronger that sense of community becomes.

Once you leave the chaos of Manhattan behind, life slows down, and people might even smile at you (a rarity for New Yorkers).

Brooklyn has a unique charm and complex history; certain areas have faced difficult and peculiar pasts. However, if you live here with respect for the community and its history, you will find yourself welcomed.

The borough has undergone significant gentrification, which has transformed its landscape and dynamics over the years, yet it retains a special character that makes it feel like home from day one. If you’re after that “European vibe,” Brooklyn’s your spot. Picture cute cafes with outdoor seating, thrift stores for Sunday adventures, and bike lanes connecting different neighborhoods.

Don't get me wrong—I love Manhattan’s towering skyscrapers and vibrant energy. But coming home to a more human-sized place is exactly what I needed.

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The Cost of Living in Brooklyn

This and hero photo courtesy of depositphotos.com

Brooklyn’s diversity is unmatched.

Each Brooklyn neighborhood offers something unique:

  • The cool vibes of Williamsburg and Greenpoint
  • Stunning views from Dumbo
  • Charming brownstones in Cobble Hill
  • & even the beachy feel of Coney Island and Brighton Beach

The cost of living, though, is a bit of a sore point.

While it’s cheaper than Manhattan, the hip areas along the East River can get pricey. The further you venture into Brooklyn, the lower the costs—but beware, your commute time will increase significantly.

To give you an idea, renting a room in Brooklyn ranges from $1,300 and up. Some lucky folks find deals for $1,000 or less, but these are rare and usually involve rent-stabilized apartments, which are hard to find if you’re new to the city.

Then there are other expenses. At the time of publication:

  • A monthly subway pass is $132
  • Groceries can run between $50 to $100 for two weeks
  • & dining out or grabbing a drink can quickly add up

Thankfully, Brooklyn has some cool, affordable bars—if you know where to look!

Navigating the Visa Maze

As an expat, getting here involves navigating the visa process.

I’m on a J1 Visa, which offers various options like internships and traineeships. For the J1 Traineeship (the visa I am on), which lasts up to 18 months, you need at least one year of work experience. An internship can instead last up to 12 months and needs to be started within one year from your graduation date.

For an internship or traineeship, you first need to find a host organization you’ll work for, and then a sponsor organization that will follow you through the application process and will act as a “guarantor” when you are in the USA. The Italy-America Chamber of Commerce, where I work, is one of these sponsors.

There are other visa options too, like the L visa for intra-company transfers and the H1B visa, but these can be harder and might take longer to obtain.

The Hunt for an Apartment

The first day in my new room

I remember the excitement of getting my visa, quickly followed by the stress of apartment hunting.

I joined all the Facebook groups—Sublets and Subleases in New York, Italians in New York, you name it. But finding a place through these groups was tough. Responses were slow, and trust issues loomed large. How can you trust a random person you find on the internet knowing for sure it won’t be a scam?

It’s already hard enough when you're in the country, let alone if you are abroad and you have no way to check and visit the place before signing anything.

I then tried to rent an apartment and sign a lease, but without a credit score or guarantor, it was a nightmare. Broker fees and complicated requirements added to the frustration.

My third option was to explore dormitories or large communal houses designed for international visitors. However, the stringent rules, such as curfews and other restrictive regulations, made them far less attractive as a living arrangement.

Cohabs Co-Living

Just when I was about to give up and book an Airbnb, I stumbled upon Cohabs while googling "Co-Living spaces in New York." Initially skeptical, I reached out and had a call with the community manager. It’s been almost two years since I joined!

Cohabs offers a seamless leasing process—no broker fees or crazy background checks. Plus, the flexibility to move out with just two months' notice is a bonus.

Living with 23 other people might sound crazy, but it’s actually great. You have your own room, share a bathroom with one or two others, and enjoy common spaces like a basement, gym, laundry room, and kitchen. The rooftop with a skyline view is the cherry on top, and summer parties are a must!

Tenants are young professionals from every part of the world who are in their 20s or 30s.  

In addition, Cohabs organizes events, making it super easy to make friends in a new big city. Most of their houses are in Brooklyn, where the sense of community is strong, though the commute to Manhattan can be a bit long—it takes me about 45 minutes.

Settling into Brooklyn Life

Partying in Brooklyn with rommates at Cohabs

The Pros

Living in Brooklyn has given me a unique perspective on New York City life. The borough’s cultural richness and neighborhood diversity make every day an adventure.

From discovering hidden gems in Prospect Park to enjoying artisanal coffee in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn constantly surprises me. Each neighborhood has its own story, its own personality, and its own way of making you feel at home.

One of my favorite things about Brooklyn is the abundance of local events and festivals. From the Brooklyn Book Festival to the West Indian Day Parade, there's always something happening. These events not only celebrate the community’s diversity but also offer a chance to meet new people and immerse yourself in the local culture.

Plus, Brooklyn’s food scene is incredible. Whether you’re craving authentic Italian pizza, trendy vegan fare, or delicious Caribbean cuisine, you’ll find it all here. And the best part? You don’t have to travel far to get a taste of the world.

The Cons

Commuting from Brooklyn to Manhattan can be a mixed bag.

On one hand, the subway system is extensive and can get you pretty much anywhere you need to go. On the other hand, it can be crowded, delayed, and sometimes downright frustrating.

My daily commute takes about 45 minutes, which isn’t terrible, but it does require some planning and patience.

Despite the occasional inconvenience, I’ve come to appreciate the rhythm of my commute. It’s a time to catch up on reading, listen to podcasts, or simply people-watch. The subway, in its own chaotic way, is a quintessential New York experience.

Embracing the Unexpected

Leaving for NYC, excited for the adventure

Moving to New York has been a journey filled with unexpected twists and turns. From navigating the complexities of visa applications to finding a place to call home, every challenge has taught me something new.

The key is to stay open-minded and adaptable. New York is a city of endless opportunities, but it’s also a city that demands resilience. Embracing the unexpected has allowed me to grow in ways I never imagined.

One thing I wish I had known before moving here is the importance of having a reliable financial setup. Sometimes, international credit cards have trouble working, so opening an American bank account right away is a smart move. It makes managing expenses and daily transactions much easier.

Will You Give Living in Brooklyn a Try?

Reflecting on my journey, I can confidently say that moving to Brooklyn was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s a place where history meets modernity, where community thrives amidst diversity, and where every street has a story to tell.

Whether you’re a newcomer or a long-time resident, Brooklyn offers a way of making you feel like you belong.

So, if you’re considering a move to New York City, don’t overlook Brooklyn. It might just surprise you in the best possible way. Embrace the adventure, respect the history, and dive into the community.

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