Are you moving to Washington, DC? There’s a lot to know about living in the greater DC area. From special jargon to the sky-high cost of living, you’ll want to be well informed before making this move.
DC Vocabulary You Need to Know Before Moving to Washington, DC
Washington DC Acronyms
As you will quickly learn when moving to Washington, DC, everyday life here is loaded with acronyms! The vast majority will refer to federal agencies and people’s jobs. Here’s a cheat sheet:
DOD – Department of Defense
DOJ – Department of Justice
DHS – Department of Homeland Security
DOE – Department of Energy
USDA – US Department of Agriculture
VA – Veterans Affairs
EPA – Environmental Protection Agency
HHS – Health & Human Services
HUD – Housing & Urban Development
GSA – General Services Administration
OPM – Office of Personnel Management
The Departments of the Interior, Treasury, Commerce, Education, Interior are most often referred to as just one word – “Commerce” for example.
COS: Chief of Staff
LA: Legislative Assistant
PAO: Public Affairs Officer
JAG: Judge Advocate General
TS: Top Secret (Clearance)
What You Should Know about Locations in the DC Metro Area
Inside/Outside the Beltway
“The Beltway” refers to Interstate 495, a 64-mile highway loop around the nation’s capital. It includes parts of both Virginia and Maryland, passing through Prince George’s County and Montgomery County in Maryland, and Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria in Virginia. It does not go through any parts of Washington, DC proper. It is one of the busiest in the nation and is known for its often troublesome traffic. Traffic reporters will refer to the inner and outer loops of the Beltway. The Beltway is designated as the “Inner Loop” when Traveling clockwise and the “Outer Loop” when traveling counter-clockwise.
The Beltway is often used to describe where real estate is located (“I must live inside the Beltway!”) and when referring to issues dealing with American government and politics (“Inside the Beltway, experts say….”).
NOVA refers to Northern Virginia, which is certainly considered a region, but one without defined boundaries. Typically, “NOVA” refers to Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties as well as the independent cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park.
NOVA can also refer to Northern Virginia Community College, which has campuses throughout the area.
The National Capital Region
The Department of Defense Dictionary qualifies National Capital Region as the region encompassing the District of Columbia and eleven neighboring jurisdictions in the State of Maryland and the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Maryland jurisdictions are Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, and the municipalities of Bowie, College Park, Gaithersburg, Greenbelt, Rockville, and Takoma Park. The Virginia jurisdictions are Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties are included, as are the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park.
Not to be confused with the Department of Motor Vehicles, in our area this typically stands for “DC, Maryland, and Virginia.” On a related note, you may hear the term Delmarva, which refers to Delaware, Maryland and Virginia region.
K Street, NW is more than just a main street in the District. The term typically refers to the lobbying industry as K Street is home to countless law and lobbying firms plus many think tanks and advocacy groups.
PG County refers to Prince Georges County in Maryland. While there is also a Prince William County in Virginia, no one ever calls it PW County!
The Hill simply refers to Capitol Hill. Many people will say they work “on the Hill” which can mean anything from lobbying to working for a member of Congress.
Our DC Sports Teams
DC sports fans are crazy for their teams! To sound like a local, however, never refer to the teams as the “Redskins,” “Capitals,” or “Nationals. They are simply the “Skins,” “Caps,” and “Nats.” And it’s not Nationals Park – just Nats Park. While the Caps and Wizards officially play in the Capital One Arena, most people will refer to it as the Verizon Center, as the name just changed in 2017.
Commuting in the Washington, DC Area
When moving to Washington, DC, get ready to deal with traffic. The DC area is notorious for its terrible traffic. Become familiar with (and use!) the plentiful public transportation options in the area. Many people in the DC area regularly bike to work. The region has a vast network of trails connecting the suburbs to the District, The Pentagon, and Old Town. For more on the best bike commutes in the DC area, read our related article.
HOV & Hot Lanes
Most people know HOV means High Occupancy Vehicles. Only vehicles with the required occupancy, are allowed to access HOV lanes. On most local roads, the HOV requirement is either 2+ (i-66) or 3+ (I-95/395 & the Beltway) people per car. People may be less familiar with HOT or High Occupancy/Toll. lanes. These are HOV lanes that also allow lower occupancy vehicles to gain access to the lanes by paying a toll. Generally speaking, HOVs can use HOT lanes at a discount or free of charge.
VRE refers to the Virginia Railway Express, which provides commuter rail service from the Northern Virginia suburbs to Alexandria, Crystal City and downtown Washington, DC, along the I-66 and I-95 corridors. VRE operates 30 trains from 18 stations and serves 20,000 passengers on a daily basis.
Perhaps the most mind-boggling DC practice, slugging is essentially carpooling with a rotation of other commuters (ones you don’t know) to gain access to the HOV lanes. Slugging is unique to the DC area and many people have used it as their regular means of commuting for more than 30 years. Slugging primarily take place along the I-95/395 route to and from Springfield, Woodbridge, Stafford, and Fredericksburg, but there is a route along I-66 from Manassas/Centreville as well. You can read more on slugging in our article on commuting from Alexandria to DC.
Airports in DC
The DC area is fortunate to have three major airports within striking distance: Washington Dulles International, Baltimore-Washington International, and Reagan National Airport. Most people refer to these as Dulles, BWI and depending on how long you’ve lived in DC either DCA (its airport code), National or Reagan, respectively. Fun fact: National was renamed Reagan National in 1988 in honor of our 40th president. Most locals prefer to use Reagan (the only one inside the Beltway) due to its proximity to DC, Alexandria, and general metro accessibility.
The Details on Cost of Living
Generally speaking, when looking across the District, Northern Virginia, and the Maryland suburbs of DC, housing becomes increasingly affordable as you get further away from the center of the District. The highest housing prices are concentrated in a few areas like Georgetown, Dupont & Logan Circles, Kalorama, Arlington, Alexandria, McLean, Great Falls, Bethesda, and Chevy Chase.
COLA (Cost of Living Allowance)
COLA is not Coke, but the acronym for Cost of Living Allowance, a supplemental allowance designed to help offset higher prices in the highest cost locations in the US that exceed the costs in an average location by more than 8 percent.
Locally, average property tax rates are as follows: Maryland is 1.1% which is #22 nationally, Virginia is .78% which ranks #37 nationally and DC is .57% bringing up the rear at #46 nationally. While the District has the lowest property taxes of the three states, housing prices are higher in the city. In the end, tax difference between the three jurisdictions is usually evened out by other tax implications.
How to Find Your Dream Location When Moving to Washington, DC
LOVE THESE? TRY THESE AREAS:
A Historic home Old Town Alexandria, Georgetown, Foggy Bottom
Walkability Old Town Alexandria, Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Logan Circle
Land Potomac, Great Falls, Poolesville, or anywhere west of the District
Of course, before you begin moving to Washington, DC, be sure to reach out to an expert! We are happy to help match you with a neighborhood and a home you will love!
Here are some other articles you may find helpful for moving to Washington, DC & the DC Metro area.
If you would like help with your move to the area, please reach out! We are always happy to help.