How to move to New York City with zero connections, no job and $1500

Growing up, I was always obsessed with the idea of living in New York City. My suburban upbringing came along with day dreams of living in the big city and all of the exciting things I would do there.

By 2013, I was ready to take the plunge. My contract volunteer position in Ghana was ending, and I had no idea where my life would or should go next. Why not NYC?

I had no idea how to find an apartment in New York, and didn’t know where the good areas to live were. I applied to a few jobs here and there, but knew in my heart I wouldn’t have a real shot until I arrived in the city. So, I booked a room in an East Village AirBnB. It was $1300/month (which in retrospect is insane for just a bedroom), and I figured I could use it as a home base as I figured out where to live and how to get a job.

The problem was I only had $1500 in my account; just enough to survive for one month. As soon as I landed in the city, I hustled and spent days in coffee shops applying for every single position I could find. On day four, I ended up at the candy counter in a Dean & Deluca working for slightly more than minimum wage (I felt like Felicity).

My first job in NYC! I was so excited to make $11/hour. How times change.

It was October, and I gave myself until the end of the year to find a “real” position in my field. I made enough money to stay in the AirBnB month to month, and ended up staying there until that magical “real” job began…in late December, right before my self-imposed deadline for “making” it in the city (#fate).

I started at a consulting company with a three-month contract position, then passed up their offer of a full-time position in favor of a part-time position in the non-profit field (where my heart was). The firm was nice enough to allow me to stay on part-time for a while, and I would come in on the days I wasn’t working at the non-profit. It was essentially two part-time jobs that equaled a full-time position, and that lasted almost two years. Eventually, the set up got old and I started searching for a true full-time position.

The cute little 4-bed apartment next to Central Park I lived in from 2014-2016 with a rotating cast of (great) girls – thanks Craigslist! $500 bedroom for the win (bye AirBnB)

By January 2016, I was hired at the organization I still work at today, and it felt like a total coup. It was an organization I had always dreamed of working at, and I applied on a whim thinking I didn’t have a chance with a degree from a Canadian University and a strange work history. How wrong I was! New York magic at its finest.

When I saw the my new office building, my jaw dropped. I love art deco!

That’s how you move to New York City with no more than a dream and $1500, kids. Did luck play a part in my journey? Absolutely, but in my experience, good things happen when you give yourself no other option than to try.

My current apartment, where I live with my future husband(!)

Here’s some tips for those young people out there who are like I was, wanting to move to NYC but totally clueless about how to do so. I say go for it!

  • While AirBnBs are expensive, they’re a good first stop to give you time to search for a real apartment. Those famous stories of people who came to the city without a cent in their pocket but made it are reserved for people who know someone in the city (or those who are willing to sleep on the street, I guess). Coming from Canada, I didn’t know anyone here because, well, nobody else I knew could legally live here.
  • If you have a vague idea of what neighborhoods you want to target already, Craigslist is a great way to find a room. Yes, it’s a little freaky, but thanks to Craigslist I ended up in a lovely apartment next to Central Park with three other great roommates for $500/month. Oh, and I met my future husband through one of those roommates. You never know! Another option for finding a place is the Gypsy Housing group on Facebook. For young people, I’d say neighborhoods like the East Village, parts of Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint are all good options.
  • As soon as you land, make job applications your full time job. Make a coffee shop your office and apply apply apply. It’s a total numbers game in big cities like New York, and coffee shops have the added bonus of being a potential networking opportunity.

Let me know in the comments if you have any other questions about making the big move!

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