Great news! You’re moving to Los Angeles: the city of angels, the home of Hollywood. A travel destination full of movie stars and glamorous lifestyles, opportunities and challenges. As several friends told us when we planned to move to LA, “You’re brave.”
We didn’t feel brave. We felt unprepared. Don’t be like us!
After reading this article, you will know more than we did when we moved here, and hopefully you’ll have a slightly better plan when you make the leap!
There are lots of ways to make money in LA. Temp agencies work with a lot of entertainment studios here, and sites like EntertainmentJobs.com, the Mandy list and The Hollywood Temp Diaries are great resources for leads. Get ready to hustle, and gird your loins — it will probably take some time and networking to find traction (more about this in point #5).
Be personable, be enthusiastic, be willing to do anything to learn.
If you need the flexibility to go to auditions, avoid office jobs or 9-5 scenarios. Driving for Uber or Lyft, substitute teaching, or freelancing are popular and attainable ways to make a living while pursuing your art. But be warned: traditional flex jobs like serving and bartending are insanely competitive here. Actors beware — unless you already have a ton of experience in hospitality, this route may be a dead end for you.
If you don’t need schedule flexibility, you can also look for day jobs that will get you closer to your dream job. Studios, agencies, and production companies are always looking for assistants. These jobs aren’t glamorous, and they can be very competitive, but unlike many other industries, there is a real opportunity for advancement. Many current writers, agents, and execs started off answering phones and making coffee, accumulating the connections and training they needed to take the next step.
Is traffic really that bad? Yes, but you get used to it. The real thrills and surprise twists come from parking tickets. Incorrectly parking a car in LA can be a truly dollar-draining venture, between street cleaning days and permit-only neighborhoods — not to mention our famously confusing parking signs.
Do you even need a car? Public transportation is a beast to wrap your head around, but Google Maps does a fine job of pointing out the best route depending on time of day. You can ride for $1.75 cash (exact change only, the onboard system is not designed to give any money back!) or load up a pre-paid card at metro stations and online.
Public transport is actually not that bad. I survived a whole year without a car and actually the new train system — especially the Expo line — is pretty decent. Just remember not to go late at night.
If you plan to go without wheels, it’s best to supplement the bus and metro system with ride-sharing. Hiring an Uber once in a while is still cost-effective when compared with the expense of driving and maintaining a car. Exact numbers are tough to figure, as they vary with time of day and distance, but generally you can ride around ten miles for less than $20.
Scooters and electric bikes are another popular way to get around, typically $2 per ride. And then there’s plain old walking (or riding your own bike), which is free! You’ll find a plethora of pedestrians around here.
Look into the budgetary ramifications of all this when considering the cost of your move. Car insurance, taxes, and DMV registration are all price tags to anticipate, along with maintenance and the aforementioned parking tickets.
“Isn’t LA dangerous?” people ask. And we say, “No more so than any other city.” Even so, there are higher and lower risk neighborhoods, so it’s possible to find one in your budget range.
A studio apartment in Los Angeles, if you’re lucky, is $1,300. That’s if you’re lucky. A two-bedroom, on a good day, is $1,900. But in places like Burbank and in the Valley, which is near Studio City (where a lot of your auditions are happening anyway), you can find three bedrooms for $2,100. $700 a month to live in LA is extremely affordable. Have roommates, save money. —Daniel R. Hill, actor
LA county is a rambling territory surrounded by hills, with valleys on two sides — the San Fernando to the north (“the valley” in local vernacular) and the San Gabriel to the west (Pasadena, Covina, and outward). Your best deals on conveniently located apartments will most likely be in the valley — neighborhoods like North Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, and Van Nuys.
On the other side of “the hill” (that’s the Hollywood Hills… the complete opposite of affordable housing), you can still get pretty good deals on the east side of Hollywood, or Koreatown (K-Town) which is south of that. Certain parts of Downtown (DTLA) are also worth looking at, if you like a more urban feel.
The nice thing about living here is you’ll get a break on utilities! LA is temperate most of the year, and you will probably use less heat and electricity than in other parts of the country. Do pay attention to your water bill though. Most apartments include it in the rent, but if not it can pose a major expense.
Caution: Take traffic seriously when considering where you want to live. Depending on which area of town you will most frequently need to access (for work or socialization), a more expensive neighborhood might save you some serious stress on the road.
Los Angeles is home to some of the finest dining and entertainment options in the world. But don’t expect it to come cheap. You’ll have to pinch your pennies for good seats at the opera or dinner at Spago.
Fortunately there are several unique entertainment options available for the budget conscious. Bring a picnic to an outdoor screening at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery or hit up a taco truck outside a UCB comedy show. There are world-famous venues offering renowned music and theater for reasonable prices (the Hollywood Bowl, the Greek Theater, the Fonda Theater) as well as seven major league sports teams (more if you count soccer).
And the outdoors are always free! The weather is perfect for picnics, hiking, beaching, and even horseback riding. Stroll the Santa Monica Pier or Hollywood Boulevard, or hike in Griffith Park, home of the famous observatory and the more famous Hollywood sign. Meetup culture is strong here; lots of Facebook events, Eventbrite gatherings, and Meetup groups can help plan your social calendar as well.
You can walk here. For reals. And it’s worth it. I’d say the thing I miss most in LA is living in Echo Park — being able to walk to Sunset Boulevard for breakfast. Walking is the cheapest awesome thing to do in LA. You can walk in Griffith Park or at Runyon Canyon or the beach. Basically walking in LA is awesome.
5. Save, Save, Save
The more prep work you can do before the move, the better off you’ll be. We definitely recommend visiting before you actually relocate. If you have a friend with a couch to crash on, don’t be shy. Try to set up some job interviews while your here and give yourself plenty of time to see the various neighborhoods you’re considering moving to.
It’s expensive here. Don’t go crazy when you get here, make sure you budget. Groceries are expensive, gas is expensive, eating out is expensive, drinks are expensive… so if you don’t have the budget, just be smart!
As much as we advocate planning ahead, there is only so much you can do without jumping in and being here. So now that you’ve considered your ability to find work, get around, live somewhere, and have fun… how much do you think that will cost?
Even with leads and connections, it can take a few months to get established in LA. As you prepare for the big move, save every penny you can with a mind to have 3-6 months of expenses stocked up. Say you’ve estimated $2,000 a month in living costs (a lean, mean budget). That’s at least $6,000 you want to have saved for the move.
We’ll go into greater detail on life in LA in future articles. If any of these points have sparked questions for you, please comment below! We’ve learned some stuff, we’ve seen some things. We’re here to help.
When it comes down to it, we’ve all run out of money and had to scramble to figure it out. Plan, save, and educate yourself. But if you really want to be here, don’t let the information overload psych you out.
Be brave. Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world for a reason. It’s home to world-class creators and artists. If you can find your home in this big pond, you will learn to swim with the big fish.