Moving to North Carolina

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North Carolina at a Glance

If you have been dreaming of a place where the sun rises out of the sea and settles down on the Blue Ridge mountains. Where bear cubs scamper out of the forests and trout leap out of riverbeds. Where you might hear a banjo twanging from a dusty screened porch, or a performance of Mozart after a long day at the office. If you are looking for a place to find yourself or lose yourself in completely, that place you’ve been looking for is North Carolina.  

The birthplace of the Wright Brothers, Pepsi-Cola and Krispy Kreme, the state that was long the king of tobacco has grown into a global banking empire and a cultural haven. The Tar Heel State may have earned its official moniker from the native pines that lent the state its rich stores of resin, pitch and tar, but much more has wound its way out of the winding roads of the Smokies.  

You’ll find world-class art museums, paradisical golf resorts, and enchanting concert halls and theatres. There are bustling farmers markets and boisterous arenas. Homespun shops and trendy galleries. But the biggest thing you’ll find in North Carolina is a lot of hometown spirit. From the hippie hills of Asheville to the wild shores of Wilmington, North Carolina has so much to offer new residents.  

And, with its modest cost of living and a strong job market, many people are making the move to North Carolina. If you think the Tarheel State might be the place for you, learn about everything North Carolina has to offer below. 

Living in North Carolina

Excellent Job Market

North Carolina prides itself on having a business-friendly economy, and its low corporate income tax rate of 2.5% and flat individual income tax rate of 4.75% certainly give it some advantages. But the state has numerous other advantages beyond its tax incentives.  

The area of the state known as the Research Triangle forms a powerful brain trust between corporate and non-profit entities and the state’s tier-one research institutions: Duke University, UNC and NC State. The cities of Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh circumscribe the business hub known as Research Triangle Park — the largest entity of its kind in the U.S — where Fortune 100 companies like Bayer, IBM, BASF, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Cisco are based. More than 3,000 patents have been awarded for work developed in the Triangle.  

North Carolina also represents the second-largest banking center in the U.S. The city got its start during the Gold Rush days of the 19th century, but the rise of megabanks like Bank of America and Truist have made the city a 21st-century empire. 

Thanks to these institutions in the interior of the state, along with countless others in the mountain and coastal areas, North Carolina’s job market is strong. Nearly five million residents now form the state’s civilian labor force, where the non-farm industries are dominated by Trade, Transportation, & Utilities, Professional & Business Services (930,400), Education & Health Services (679,000), the Government (723,700) and Leisure & Hospitality (723,700). Unemployment has held steady below 3.5% since April 2023 and dropped to 3.3% in June. This robust market is supported by 13 Fortune 500 companies and 28 Fortune 1000 companies who have made their headquarters across the state, including Lowe’s and Honeywell (in Charlotte); Advanced Auto Parts (in Raleigh); medical giant LabCorp (in Burlington); and apparel manufacturer HanesBrands (in Winston-Salem).  

Affordable Cost of Living

In addition to the strong job market, North Carolinians enjoy a relatively modest cost of living, ranking 25th in the nation according to MERIC. By most metrics of expense, costs in North Carolina fall below national averages, including the cost of housing, utilities and transportation. But the state does come in 9.5 points above the national average for healthcare costs, and a smaller percentage of North Carolinians have health insurance than their national counterparts.  

The median household income in the state also falls below the national average — North Carolina households bring home an average of $60,516 compared to the U.S. median of $69,021. But, the median home value in the state is nearly $50,000 below the national average value, helping to offset some economic burdens. Rent is similarly more affordable, averaging just under $1,000 per month. But, be warned. As in many areas of the country, the housing market has proven to be a beast, and home prices have been on the rise across the Tarheel State. According to Forbes, the median home price has topped $300,000 in 2023, an increase of more than 4% over the previous year.   

Pleasant Climate

Because North Carolina comprises such distinct regions, from the mountains to the piedmont to the sea, the state’s climate varies dramatically from west to east. Every region will experience four seasons, with winters that are generally mild and summers that are hot and humid. The average annual temperature in the mountains is only 55 F while the coast averages 66 F.  

North Carolina receives a lot of rainfall, and no matter which region you live in, you can expect at least 40” a year. On the coast, that amount can rise to 54”, but the mountains can see up to 80” in the upper reaches, a good deal of which will fall as snow. If you’re hoping for snow, you can reliably count on it across the inland portions of the state each winter. You might only see 5” in the central corridor, but as much as 100” can accumulate in the highest elevations of the Appalachians.  

Summers are the opposite. Tropical storms, hurricanes and tornadoes are an ever-increasing threat, thanks to climate change, which has caused land and sea temperatures to rise markedly. One of the greatest damages isn’t from wind but from flooding caused by rainfall. North Carolina was battered by Hurricanes Dennis, Floyd, Frances, Ivan and Matthew, but none were worse than Florence, which drowned the eastern reaches of the state in three feet of water in 2018. 

Early spring and fall are gorgeous in North Carolina, when colorful flowers and foliage put on a show. Mid-fall is one of the best times to move, when temperatures are cool and mountain roads are still free of ice.  

Major Cities in North Carolina

Over the past 12 years, North Carolina has grown by leaps and bounds. While so many states were experiencing population flight during the pandemic, North Carolina was expanding, gaining nearly 260,000 new residents since 2020 and more than a million since 2010, bringing this Southern state’s population to 10,698,973. The Tarheel State’s diverse attractions and industries lend it the versatility to be a nimble economic player, and its natural beauty keeps residents and visitors coming back for more.

Central Region  

Between the financial headquarters of Charlotte, the Research Triangle of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, and the manufacturing hub of Greensboro and Winston-Salem, the center of the Tarheel State is its economic engine. All the state’s Fortune 500 companies are in these cities, along with the biggest colleges and universities in North Carolina.  

PGA fans will know that central North Carolina is also one of the golfing capitals of the U.S. Nestled in a remote, evergreen grove of the Sandhills region are the links of the revered Pinehurst Resort. This storied site of the U.S. Open has been ruining good walks since 1895, and professional and amateur golfers alike are welcome to test their skills and luck on its nine beautiful courses. Just a short drive from Pinehurst is Arnold Palmer’s Mid South Club at Talamore. Further away in Greensboro, you’ll find The Cardinal by Pete Dye —the hardest par-70 you’ll ever love. 

Charlotte

Just north of the South Carolina border, is Charlotte — better known as the Queen City — the financial monarch of the state. This rapidly growing metropolis is the headquarters of Bank of America and numerous other Fortune 1000s, and it also serves as a major transportation hub for the state. The population of Charlotte now stands at just under 900,000, but the city has gained more than 160,000 new residents since 2010. The population here is diverse, with 40.2% identifying as white, 35.2% as Black/African American, 14.9% as Hispanic/Latino and 6.5% as Asian/Asian American. 17.3% of Charlotte residents are immigrants, and more than 200 languages are spoken in the city. Charlotte is relatively affordable: the median home value is $258,000 and the median gross rent is $1,260.  

When you’re not busy ruling the North American financial markets, there’s a lot to do in the Queen City. Charlotte is the home base for the Carolina Panthers, who play at the Bank of America Stadium, and there are also the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and the MLS’ Charlotte FC for basketball and soccer fans. Historic sites and museums abound in Charlotte, from the Levine Museum of the New South to the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.  

Those looking for a high-octane cultural experience will find a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame thrilling, and those looking for visual immersion will want to visit the Mint Museum or the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.  

To immerse yourself in Charlotte’s food scene, head to Leah & Louise, where you’ll be treated to classic and non-traditional Southern hospitality. Think crispy chicken skin chips, smoked rabbit country captain and milk tea-brined pheasant. For farther-flung fare, make sure you try Abugida Ethiopian Cafe & Restaurant, where aromatic stews and savory pastries will awaken your palate. Make sure to order extra injera — a crepe-like flatbread made with teff — to sop up every delicious bite.   

Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill

Like metropolitan Wonder Triplets, Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill come together to form North Carolina’s Research Triangle. But make no mistake — each of these cities has its own unique identity. With a population of 476,487, Raleigh is the largest, and Chapel Hill is the smallest with 62,098, and the rivalry between these cities is sharply divided between loyalists to UNC and NC State. Durham (pop. 291,928), better known as the Bull City, is home to Duke University, and is thus equally reviled by UNC and NC State fans.  

Within the Triangle, housing in Chapel Hill is, by far, the most expensive: the median home value here is $454,300, trailed by Raleigh ($285,400) and Durham ($264,100). The median rent in all three cities runs between $1,100-1,300.  

Educational levels are high across these three college towns — more than 90% of residents have graduated from high school, and over half of the population has earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. In Chapel Hill, the number of college degree recipients jumps to 78.5% — more than twice the national average. Household incomes in the Triangle hover around the national average of $69,021, with Durham falling a couple thousand below and Chapel Hill coming in a few thousand above.  

The Triangle is a self-propelling career machine — more than 300 corporations and non-profits have bases here, and the universities supply a constant feed of well-educated workers to the region. The businesses here are highly diversified, too — biotech, agriculture, IT, advanced materials, and service corporations are located here along with The Army Research Laboratory (ARL).  

The friendly residents, amazing parks, and exceptional restaurants and festivals in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area have made it a popular place to be, and it was recently voted the #3 Best Place to Live by U.S. News & World Report.  

If you are into the outdoors, as many North Carolinians are, Falls Lake, Jordan Lake and Umstead State Park are popular spots for paddling, mountain biking and escaping urban life in the Triangle. Raleigh is also one of the stops on the famed MST — the 1,200-mile Mountains-to-Sea trail that crosses North Carolina from the Smokies to the Atlantic Ocean. When it comes to learning about nature indoors, no city in the Southeast rivals the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. With a superb collection of fossils and living animal exhibits, children can meet creatures that roamed the earth during prehistoric times and those that might be crawling around inside your bathtub right now. If human history is more your beat, this area is a rich place to explore, from Black Wall Street in Durham to the Orange County Historical Museum in Hillsborough to the State Capitol building in Raleigh. 

But nothing is richer in the Research Triangle than the food. After you’ve taken in some of the best live music in the state at the beloved Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill, hit up one of the city’s all-night joints like Time Out to preempt your coming hangover with some classic Southern sop —country ham biscuits, fried chicken and sweet potato pie. Finer fare can be found at Bluebird, Chapel Hill’s impeccably appointed French bistro, where the Steak Frites and the Truite Amandine are très bon. In the Bull City, you’ll have no beef with Bullock’s, a legendary barbecue joint and cafeteria established in 1952, where they have no less than 20 vegetable sides and homemade chicken & dumplings. In Raleigh, comfort classics get a serious rebrand at Poole’s — mac & cheese goes bouffant in their macaroni au gratin, where the noodles emerge puffed and golden from the oven, the pimento cheese is accompanied by fried saltines and the fried okra is cornmeal-crisped and served with Tabasco aioli.   

Winston-Salem and Greensboro

If you travel west from the Triangle, you’ll find Winston-Salem and Greensboro, two historic cities that have each undergone a serious 21st-century transformation. Just 30 miles apart from each other, Winston-Salem was once a booming tobacco town and Greensboro a textile and pottery powerhouse, but changes in laws, manufacturing practices and consumer demand have redirected these cities’ trajectory for the future. 

Manufacturing is still a prominent force in Greensboro, where over 31,000 residents work in the industry, but Trade, Transportation & Utilities is the dominant economic sector in town, followed by Education & Health Services. Aviation leaders like HAECO and HondaJet have locations here, as do Procter & Gamble, Publix and Volvo.  

Winston-Salem, home of Wake Forest University, follows a similar pattern, but its industry distribution is more evenly spread. The area’s biggest employers still include Big Tobacco’s Reynolds American, but that has been displaced by hospital systems like Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and Novant Health, and banks like Truist and Wells Fargo. HanesBrands is still headquartered in Winston-Salem, but it only employs 2,400 people in the region — a fraction of its global rosters that now exceed 51,000 in 32 countries. 

Both cities are located inside a Foreign Trade Zone, giving them tax incentives to lure and keep large businesses. In June 2023, unemployment in Winston-Salem was at 3.6% — close to the national average — while Greensboro’s was slightly above at 4.1%.  

With 301,115 residents, Greensboro is the third-largest city in North Carolina. 43.1% of the population identifies as Black/African American, 39.5% as white, 8.4% as Hispanic/Latino, 5.3% as Asian, 4.4% as two or more races, and .4% as American Indian/Alaska Native. In Winston-Salem, whose population is still sizeable at 251,350, 45.0% residents identify as white, 33.5% as Black/African American, 16.2% as Hispanic/Latino, 6.5% as two or more races, 2.6% as Asian, and .5% as American Indian/Alaska Native.  

With big city attractions but a small town vibe, both Winston-Salem and Greensboro have seen steady growth over the last twelve years, gaining more than 20,000 residents a piece. But housing prices have stayed remarkably affordable. The median home value in this region is under $170,000, and rent averages below $1,000/mo. At around $50,000, the average household income in the area is also below the national average, though, and poverty rates are high, reaching 19% in some areas.  

To get to know the area, start at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro. This institution has preserved the historic Woolworth’s lunch counter where a group of brave college students known as the A&T Four protested the whites-only service and helped change the course of history.  

If you have little ones in your crew, the Brenner Children’s Museum provides hands-on fun for kids of all ages. The whole family will enjoy a trip to the Elsewhere Museum, which takes visitors on a vintage romp through time, space and human ephemera with quirky art installations and performances.  

When it’s time to eat, the merits of Undercurrents cannot be overstated — the cornmeal-dusted Carolina trout is the essence of the region, and the peach cobbler tarts things up in the best way possible with Cointreau ice cream and candied almonds. If you need your sugar fix earlier in the day, head to the Black Magnolia Southern Patisserie to celebrate Cinnamon Roll Saturday or seasonal delights any other day of the week.  

In Winston-Salem, the Old Salem Museums & Gardens manages a host of historic sites — from the Potter’s Workshop at T. Bagge to the St. Philips African Moravian Church — and gives a fresh perspective on the past and a deep dive into regional culture. But the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA), which established in 1956, has long anchored the contemporary creative scene in central North Carolina.  

After a day of seeing these sights, treat yourself to dinner at Rooster, where local ingredients rule the roost. You’ll find many Southern favorites on this spread — succotash, Anson Mills grits and butter beans, but there’s a southern Italian influence, too — the halibut served with farro, the pork chop spiced with peperonata. A cross-continental delight in casually elegant digs. If you’re looking for quirk in your craft cocktails, head to Fair Witness, where the Spools of String which ties together disparate flavors of quinine, chai, strawberry and lemon, and the Power Animal roars with tequila, guava and a crown of Cappelletti foam.   

The Mountains

The West may have the Rocky Mountains, but the East Coast has the Appalachians. This magnificent range runs from Alabama all the way to Newfoundland, meandering up North Carolina’s western edge and reaching its highest peak in the Blue Ridge at Mount Mitchell (elev. 6,684 ft.) just outside of Asheville. Intrepid hikers can tackle the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail on foot from Georgia to Maine, but there are thousands of miles of trails throughout the state to explore from the Nantahala National Forest to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In addition to hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing and white-water rafting are popular activities in these ranges. For a thrill, take a ride down the Sliding Rock in Pisgah National Forest — a 60-foot slippery slope that ends in a chilly, natural pool. Only nature could concoct such a perfect waterslide. Wherever you roam, be on the lookout for black bears, which are quite common in the park and can weigh up to 600 pounds. The urge to approach and hug these giant, living teddies may be overwhelming, but save those bear hugs for your favorite humans.  

As everyone knows, the real reason to go on a long hike is so that you can eat like a bear afterward, and Asheville is one of the best cities in America to eat your way through. This locavore’s Valhalla can give you a deep dive into Southern classics, like the pimento cheese grits and fried green tomatoes at Biscuit Head, where most of the ingredients are local. But you’ll also find international flavors that have the whole country talking, like Meherwan Irani’s Chai Pani, which sources chickens for its pakora and other dishes from Joyce farms in Winston Salem. 

Asheville — sometimes referred to as Beer City — is famous for its local suds, from the city’s original craft outfit, Highland Brewery, which gave us the happiest, hoppy-est Daycation IPA, to newcomers like Archetype, with its cheeky Mt. Crushmore kellerbier and its Harrison Fjord pale ale. One sip of that brew and rolling boulder or a pit full of asps will be no match for you in a game of Escape the Tomb. 

Thanks to its honey-loving api-curians, Asheville is also known as Bee City USA, and residents can follow their sweet tooth to shops along the city’s Urban Honey Trail. At the Bee Charmer, you can get buzzed on Hooch Honey (barrel-infused with NC whiskey) or spice things up with their smokin’ hot honey (infused with applewood smoked chipotles). 

No longer a well-kept secret of the South, the walkability of the downtown scene, the hike-ability of the surrounding mountains and the likeability of cultural attractions like the Biltmore House have made tiny Asheville a wildly popular destination for tourists and an increasingly unaffordable place to live for longtime residents. The city’s population has grown by nearly 12% in the last 12 years, bringing the number of current residents to 93,776. At $58,193, the median household income in Asheville is $11,000 below the national average, but housing is far more expensive. The median home value in Asheville is $319,400 — $74,500 above than the U.S. average, and the median gross rent is $1,152. Only 50% of residents own their own homes in this mountain enclave.  

The Coast

The mountains may be magical and the piedmont alluring, but there’s just no place like the Carolina coast. The remote barrier Islands that form the state’s Outer Banks are Edenic destinations that draw visitors from all over the world. Wilmington sits on this emerald edge just west of the Crystal Coast, where the clear waters meet canopies of live oaks, honey locusts and golden rain trees.  

This port city of 120,324 people is less diverse than its central North Carolina neighbors and has a higher cost of living than Greensboro or Winston-Salem. The median household income in Wilmington is only $54,066 but the median home value is $279,900, which is low for a coastal area, but hard to afford on that income. 

Roughly 15,000 people have moved to Wilmington since 2010, where residents find a supportive community driven by small businesses and bolstered by excellent resources for healthcare and education. Unemployment held steady below 3.4% from January-June 2023, and nearly all major business sectors have experienced growth over the past year. Trade, Transportation & Utilities is the largest industry sector in the area, followed by Education & Health Services, Leisure & Hospitality and Professional & Business Services.   

For those who love nothing better than a sunny day on the sea, Wilmington is surrounded by pleasant beaches from Shell Island to the tip of Cape Fear. (Just make sure Robert De Niro is not suspended from the undercarriage of your car when you set out for the day!)  

Parasailing and kitesurfing will satisfy the thrill-seekers in your crew, while kayaking, paddling and fishing can occupy the rest of the fam. Those interested in military history will want to visit the Battleship North Carolina, which earned 15 battle stars during WWII.  

Seafood dominates the menu in this coastal town, and the catch at Bluewater Waterfront Grill will tempt you to come out of your shell. The Calabash Platter comes with all the NC favorites — fried flounder, shrimp and oysters — but try the scampi if you want to really savor the sweetness of the local shrimp. In town, Indochine shines for its unbelievable atmosphere and deep assortment of Far Eastern delights. Nearly a dozen curries dazzle on this Thai and Vietnamese menu, but don’t pass up the smaller dishes like the summer rolls and the banana blossom salad, where shrimp and duck are adorned with banana flowers and daikon radish, and further brightened by crisp mint and basil. 

Moving to North Carolina Soon? Let Mayflower Get You There

Ready to move to the Tarheel State? Get a quote on moving to North Carolina.  

When you select a reputable, national moving company like Mayflower, your know your move will be handled by professionals. Mayflower will be here to guide you Every Step of the Way®, whether you’re moving locally to North Carolina or cross-country.  

Planning a long-distance move to North Carolina? Mayflower’s long-distance movers can help your family move to the Tarheel State from anywhere in the country. We provide custom, full-service moving services, which can include assistance with storage, car shipping, packing and unpacking, debris removal and more. Mayflower’s personal moving coordinators will handle all the details, so you can concentrate on settling into your new home.  

Planning a local move in North Carolina? Mayflower’s interstate agents perform local moving services independently under their brands and businesses and can help you move within the Tarheel State. 

Planning a DIY move to North Carolina? Use Mayflower’s moving tips and checklists to help you plan your journey, from packing to moving day. 

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