Moving to Boston: 10 things to do as you get settled

Moving vans loading up on Commonwealth Ave. on move out day. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Moving vans loading up on Commonwealth Ave. on move out day. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Moving to Boston can be a complicated and stressful affair. So much so that without the right guidance, your movements through the city's streets can land you on the news.

While you may need to entice family and friends with free pizza and beer to lug your furniture and boxes into your new place, we can help you unpack your moving priorities so you feel settled sooner.

Check out our moving-to-Boston checklist below, so you can stay on track and get to the fun stuff, like exploring your new home and finding your people.

1. How to find a place before coming here. Ideally, you can visit your new apartment before agreeing to a lease. But we know that’s not always possible, and there are big advantages to having your place move-in ready when you land in Boston. But if you plan to rent a unit sight unseen, run the address through the city’s RentSmart database, which will at least reveal whether you’re looking at a property with documented problems.

  • Know your rights as a renter. Before coughing up $9,000 for first, last and security deposit (not to mention potential brokers’ fees), get acquainted with the tenets of tenant law in Massachusetts. (Spoiler: We don't have rent control, but landlords often complain there are too many protections for tenants, while tenants often say there are too few.)
  • Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace can make apartment hunting easy, but they can be risky if you can’t check a place out before agreeing to rent it. (If a deal seems too good to be true, there’s a good chance it is.)
  • When talking to landlords or rental agents, ask not only for pictures but also a virtual tour — maybe get them to video chat with you from inside the apartment.
  • Start looking for apartments ASAP, as in February or March, for a September move-in date. (Seven in 10 Boston leases turn over September 1.) But know that many places don’t come on the market until 60-90 days before move-in, so it's typical for your search to feel a little chaotic.
  • Using a moving truck? Don't ignore the many signs urging drivers to avoid getting "storrowed" by keeping box trucks away from Storrow Drive and its low overhead bridges.
  • You also may want to get a permit to park that U-Haul. It’s not required, but reserving a parking spot may make your move a lot easier, especially if your new home is on a busy street. There is one catch: you or someone you know will need to post your permit signs on the street at least 48 hours before your reservation.
  • Want to pack more sustainably? Your belongings can double as packing materials. Wrap breakable items like plates, bowls or vases in your towels, sheets or t-shirts. Even socks can make for nice padding around glass items. In the months before your move, keep a stash of bubble wrap and packing paper from packages you order. For boxes, call your local grocery or liquor store and ask them to save sturdy boxes for you for a few days.

2. Deal with parking. If you will be driving here, you may live in a neighborhood with “resident permit parking,” so register with the city to get your parking pass. (Learn from our mistakes; parking tickets or dealing with tows is not fun.) Also be aware of the street cleaning schedule around Boston and park accordingly.

3. Get your CharlieCard: If you don't own a car or want to avoid driving, public transportation is a good option. While the T is trying to upgrade its fare collection system, your best option for now is to load your fare onto ​​what’s called a CharlieCard or paper CharlieTicket. It’s easy to get one, too. The T has finished installing new fare vending machines that dispense CharlieCards at all subway and Silver Line stations. (That doesn’t include all Green Line stops.) 

4. Know the trash and recycling rules. Some communities charge you for every garbage barrel or bag you put out on the curb. Boston doesn’t, but there are a number of rules to consider for trash day. One easy way to get the full rules is to download the Boston Trash and Recycling app on Google Play or the Apple Store.

  • Check out reporter Barbara Moran on The Common covering recent changes to the city’s trash collection rules and how they play into state climate goals.
  • And speaking of trash matters, check out our coverage of rat complaints and learn how city leaders monitor the issue like hawks.

5. Get health insurance. Massachusetts set the groundwork for many of the health care strategies enacted nationwide as part of the Affordable Care Act. The Mass Health Connector is a “marketplace” where you can shop for health insurance plans, if you're new to the state and don’t get coverage through your employer.

6. License and registration, please. The law says you must transfer your title and registration as soon as you become a resident of Massachusetts — no grace period. Here’s how to get started on making that transfer. (Pro-tip: You must make an appointment at an RMV branch for license and permit transactions.)

7. Register to vote. If you complete either of the two steps above, you'll likely be automatically registered to vote. The RMV provides basic information from all license transactions to the secretary of state’s office for voter registration purposes — and the same is true when you apply for health insurance through state portals. If neither of these scenarios apply to you, here’s how you can register to vote online.

8. Celebrate a new holiday, Allston Christmas. If you, like most of Boston, have a Sept. 1 move-in date, then a few perks are the furniture, art and other discarded items lining the streets of Boston's neighborhoods. You can often find some treasures and save a few bucks. But, use caution: the city warns used items can contain bedbugs or cockroaches.

9. Get a Boston Public Library card. The Boston Public Library’s 25 branches offer so much more than books. Michael Colford, director of library services for the city's library system, joined The Common to discuss how they can help you out with social services ranging from housing support and new business guidance to immigration resources and Excel workshops. 

  • You can also check out the "services" tab on the BPL website for more info on available programming.

10. Explore the city. One of the best ways to get to know a new area is to go for a walk. Lucky for us, there are plenty of great urban walking trails across Boston. So much, in fact, that WBUR contributor Miles Howard put together this guide to hiking through 25 miles of green space in Boston. (PSA: You can also download the “trail” on Google Maps.)

Sign up for The Field Guide newsletter


Simón Rios Reporter
Simón Rios is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.


Meagan McGinnes Assistant Managing Editor, Newsletters
Meagan is the assistant managing editor of newsletters.



More from WBUR

Listen Live