Charleston is the largest and oldest city in South Carolina. You can find it on Charleston Harbor, which serves as an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean thanks to the confluence of three rivers: the Ashley, Wando, and Cooper. About 150,000 people live in the city, but the greater metro area that includes Berkeley and Dorchester counties is about 800,000 people.
The city was founded in 1670 as Charles Town in homage to King Charles II of England. It quickly became the fifth-largest city in the colonies, playing significant roles in the slave and pirate economies that formed in the area. Historians estimate that over 50% of the African-American population in the U.S. who had ancestors in bondage had their families come through the city.
Despite the overall size of the city, it remained unincorporated throughout the entire colonial period. You can still the rich history of the city, both the good and the bad, with its well-preserved architecture, excellent restaurants, and hospitable atmosphere. Since 2011, it has earned three awards for being the friendliest city in the United States. It also won the World’s Best City award from Travel and Leisure in 2016.
List of the Pros of Living in Charleston, SC
1. It is very easy to get around Charleston when you want to enjoy a day out.
Charleston is a fairly popular coastal city. There are almost 1 million people in the entire metro area. It would be ridiculous to say that there are no traffic issues, but the commuting experience is much more tolerable here than in communities of similar size along the eastern coast. The weather tends to be beautiful throughout the year as well, which means cycling and walking are options for some people. You’re surrounded by water as well, which means that going by boat is sometimes faster than driving.
When you add in the extra parking that you’ll find in the city, it is easy to see why living in Charleston is a popular choice for busy professionals.
2. You can raise a family in Charleston without much difficulty.
Because the city sits on a coastal location, you’ll find that the area offers many of the benefits of a wetlands environment. The soothing sound of the frogs at night will help to put you to sleep once you get used to the experience. The combination of marsh grasses and salty air gives you the feeling of a slower pace of life. When you add in the hospitality that you’ll find here across the board, this city becomes one of the best places in the United States when you’re raising a family.
Some neighborhoods are better than others, so look for spots in Summerville, Moncks Corner, and West Ashley.
3. It is almost impossible to run out of things to do in Charleston.
There is something for everyone in Charleston, which is why it is such a popular place to live. You’ll find a rich history and culture to explore when living here. There are always the coastal activities to enjoy since you’re right on the Atlantic Coast. The parks in the city are always beautiful, especially places like Cypress Gardens. You can find over 650 acres of paths and trails to enjoy at James Island County Park. You can always so surfing, sailing, fishing, and kayaking along the intracoastal waterway if you wish too.
4. Every block tells a story worth hearing when you live in Charleston.
The oldest city in South Carolina offers a number of historical stories that you won’t find in other parts of the United States. Whether you tour some of the old plantation houses in the region, take a ferry to Fort Sumter, or walk through an old church with a cobblestone foundation, the atmosphere here is quite remarkable. You can literally stand on the location where the American Civil War began when you start living here.
People even call Charleston the “Holy City” because this is where the idea of religious freedom came to the colonies almost four centuries ago.
5. There are lots of cultural and creative events to enjoy in the city.
One of the oldest community theater groups in the United States is located in Charleston. There are several other options to enjoy in this category as well, such as the Footlight Players or the Dock Street Theater. You’ll find a professional ballet company in the city, a symphony, and more the 30 art galleries or museums located in the French Quarter. Make sure that you take some time to visit the USS Yorktown during your time here. The Charleston Museum and the Gibbes Museum of Art are excellent examples of what to expect from a cultural standpoint as well.
6. Charleston proves that southern hospitality is a real thing.
Most of the people you will encounter in the city are friendly and welcoming in a genuine way. There are many cities in the southern part of the United States who embrace the idea of hospitality to keep up with tradition, but that’s not the way it is in Charleston. It doesn’t matter if you’re there for a couple of weeks or you are moving there on a full-time basis. There is a relaxed approach to life that you’ll really enjoy. Every day feels more like a holiday than a working day. That’s why the city consistently ranks as one of the best places to live in the United States. People don’t take themselves too seriously.
7. Your fuel costs are going to be lower when living in Charleston.
Transportation costs in Charleston tend to be lower than in most other cities in the east and south because the taxes on fuel are significantly lower. Even though South Carolina raised the fuel tax to over $0.20 per gallon, that is still one of the lowest rates that you’ll find in the United States. This increase was also the first time in nearly three decades that a change to the tax rate occurred. You’re going to pay over 10 cents more per gallon if you head to North Carolina because of the differences in tax rates.
Some households can qualify for a fuel tax credit in Charleston based on the income information from their annual tax return. If you don’t have any liabilities on your vehicle, you can claim a credit on your costs for up to two motorcycles or passenger vehicles.
8. There are a lot of outdoor activities for you to enjoy in Charleston.
When you start living in Charleston, then you will find that the number of outdoor activities you can enjoy will help your family have a lot of fun experiences. You’re right next to the beach when you live in this metro area. Swimming is a popular activity in the state’s lakes and along the shore. You’ll find a lot of people like to explore the local wetlands in a kayak, even if there are alligators present in some of the waters. If you head out to the islands across the intracoastal waterway, there is even a chance for you to see a pod of dolphins every now and again.
Water sports are a popular way of life when you call Charleston home. Shem Creek is the perfect place to take a boat. Fishing either deep in the Atlantic or in the intracoastal waterway is a common activity. Kiteboarding, surfing, and paragliding are available too. If you like to get outside then this advantage is definitely worth some consideration.
9. Your property taxes are comparatively low when living in Charleston.
The property tax rate that you’ll pay when living in Charleston is very competitive when compared to the rest of the United States. South Carolina charges the fifth-lowest rate in the country, which means the median is below 0.6% as of 2018 figures. When you own a property here, the average amount you’ll pay is less than $1,000. Although there are extra taxes on “sin” items like cigarettes or alcohol, then you’ll find that it can be fairly easy to save some money when you call this city home.
10. The crime rate in Charleston is impressively low for a metro area of its size.
The average crime rate in South Carolina is one of the lowest that you’ll find in the United States. When you start living in Charleston, you’ll discover why it is consistently rated as one of the best places to live in the country. The current crime rate is just 269.1 incidents per 10,000 residents. That means you don’t need to be afraid about taking a walk around your neighborhood or enjoying an afternoon in one of the city’s parks with your kids. Even when something does occur, the incident usually involves some form of opportunistic property crime.
11. Charleston has an unmatched culinary scene.
There are some incredible dining opportunities that you’ll find in the Charleston area. One of the best options is to head out toward Mount Pleasant, where the 738-acre estate was founded in 1681. It has made several movie appearance, grows its own produce, and then you can make your way over to Boone Hall Farms Market to enjoy the rewards. The Ordinary offers a fantastic seafood and oyster bar, one of several you can enjoy from the area. Then grab the fried green tomatoes from 82 Queen, along with their shrimp and grits, for a small sampling of what the area provides.
List of the Cons of Living in Charleston, SC
1. Flooding is a common issue in Charleston.
Even though you won’t have the same flooding issues that a city like Houston, TX faces each year, you’ll want to take extra precautions with this disadvantage when you start living here. If your house is located in a designated flood zone, then your insurance costs are going to be much higher than you might estimate. You’ll also want to consider obtaining flood insurance if you live outside of that area. Maintaining your drainage systems is another to-do list chore that you can’t ignore, especially when hurricane season is about to start.
2. Hurricanes can be a problem in Charleston.
You’ll enjoy the weather in Charleston throughout the year, but there is also a threat of hurricanes and tropical storms that you’ll want to consider. Keep an eye on the sky during the summer months to see if thunderheads start to build, and then take cover as needed to protect yourself. Hurricanes Matthew, Irma, and Floyd all caused significant problems for the city and the rest of the stand when they made landfall. Hurricane Hugo is the most infamous example of this disadvantage, causing over $7 billion in losses when it made landfall in 1989 as a Category 4 storm.
3. The tax situation in Charleston can be less than favorable for some families.
Clothing in Charleston and the rest of South Carolina is subject to a tax rate of 8.5%. If you want to enjoy a cocktail when you go out for dinner in the city, then expect to pay 15% on whatever alcohol-based drinks you enjoy. The city even taxes your purchases at a restaurant at a rate of 10.5%. The overall sales tax rate in the city is 9%, which is three percentage points above what it is for the state.
There are the state income tax issues to consider when living in Charleston, SC as well. There is no differentiation between filing statuses here. When you make at least $15,000 during the year, then you qualify for the 7% tax on whatever your earnings are after taking any qualified deductions.
4. Get ready for the bugs when you live in the city.
Charleston benefits from some coastal breezes that can keep the biting insects away, but it is only a temporary reprieve. Mosquitoes can be especially problematic at dusk during the summer months. You’ll want to have some bug spray or repellent available throughout the year, but it is especially needed when the humid months of summer come along. If you don’t protect yourself from this problem, then your skin is going to be covered in red welts throughout much of the year.
5. The wildlife around the city can sometimes be dangerous.
There are alligators that live in and around the Charleston area. South Carolina receives about 750 complaints about these animals each year. About half of the reports involve individuals that are less than five feet in length and weigh 22 pounds or less. Most of them dine on small snakes, turtles, and crawfish. It is the adult animals that are problematic, reaching lengths of 13 feet.
If you encounter an alligator when living in the city, then keep a safe distance from the animal. Do not feed them either – it makes them bolder. Pets and kids are targets for adults, so they’ll want to keep their distance as well. Then stay away from babies because the mother is likely close by.
6. Get used to construction being in your face when living in Charleston.
Because of the salty air, flooding issues, and lowland nature of the city, road construction is a constant way of life when living in Charleston. Some areas of the surrounding metro area are outgrowing their capacity because of how popular this region is right now, which means your quick commute can be surprisingly long sometimes. There are many homebuilding activities occurring throughout the region as well, along with other projects that can interrupt your daily routine. It will probably be another 10 years before the city catches up with demand levels, so this is a disadvantage you’ll need to manage on your own.
7. You’ll want to get used to the sweet tea in Charleston.
The idea of unsweetened iced tea is one that will bring you some dirty looks when you start living in this city. Sweet tea is more than a way of life here. It is a tradition that works with almost any meal. If you consume one full serving of this beverage, then you’ll receive your entire recommended daily allowance of added sugar. If you have sensitive teeth, then it can even make them ache because of the sweetness. When you combine the other sweet foods you can encounter here, the shift in culinary preference can be somewhat challenging to manage.
8. Two words come to mind when eating in South Carolina: hot sauce.
The food in Charleston can be incredible. It can also be doused in a healthy amount of hot sauce at some location. It is not unusual to put the spicy brew on about everything you eat, which means your ghost chili breath is going to require some adjustments over time. The world record for the hottest hot sauce is local too, and you’ll find numerous variations to try as you get used to the experience. If this option isn’t for you, then make sure you go into a restaurant prepared for what to expect.
The pros and cons of living in Charleston, SC are essential to consider because you’ll need to restructure your finances in some ways to maximize your benefits. There are positive gains from a taxation standpoint, but there also increases in healthcare and utilities that can offset some of those gains. If you like the idea of living near the coast and enjoy being out on the water, then you’ll love everything that this city can offer.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.