William Penn received a royal deed from King Charles II of England in 1681, which began the modern history of the state of Pennsylvania. The original intent of this colony was to provide a refuge for Quakers who are encountering issues with persecution in Europe. Swedish and Dutch settlers beat the English to the region, but the British took over control in 1667. It would eventually become a place of religious tolerance as Philadelphia became the first planned city.
German, Scottish, and Irish settlers would make their way to the new colony because of this environment. Philadelphia would even serve as the capital of the United States for a short time. The state would also play a critical role in the Union’s victory during the Civil War, become an industry stronghold, and now is transitioning to become a leader in healthcare and technology.
Like most states in the U.S., the Democratic strongholds tend to be in the cities, while the rural areas are dominated by Republican support. It is a divide which creates polarization, fear, and areas of like-mindedness where rifts can begin to form between those who have differing opinions.
There are several pros and cons of living in Pennsylvania that are worth evaluating if you are thinking about finding a home in this historic state.
List of the Pros of Living in Pennsylvania
1. The state sales tax doesn’t apply to every purchase.
The 6% sales tax that is in Pennsylvania is about average for what you can find throughout the United States. What is a little unusual about this Commonwealth is the fact that there are several exceptions to this cost. You don’t pay any sales taxes on amusement parks, parking lots, garages, recreational industries, food, clothing, piercing services, and tattoos. There is an additional 2% sales tax in Philadelphia that you’ll need to pay, while the Pittsburgh area pays an additional 1%.
2. If you love to go hunting, then Pennsylvania is the perfect place to live.
The hunting culture in Pennsylvania is so strong that many of the school districts don’t even bother to schedule classes on the first day of the season. Many families pull their kids out of classes anyway, so the districts decided to join them instead of fighting them on this subject. It is a day that many households treat as a holiday, even if it is not an official one as of yet.
It’s also relatively easy to purchase a firearm so that you can go hunting once you start living in Pennsylvania. There are over 2,500 federally-licensed dealers in the Commonwealth, and private sales and purchases at gun shows are permitted in the state as well.
3. If you love snow, then you are going to love living in Pennsylvania.
If you decide to start living in Pennsylvania, then be prepared to see a lot of snow during the winter. Some areas of the state can receive over 30 inches of the fluffy white stuff each year. If State College is where you are going to be living, then expect to have over 45 inches of snow on the average year. Even Pittsburgh sees more than 40 inches.
Every community in the Commonwealth has its own laws regarding snow removal. If you live in Lancaster, then there is an expectation to clear your sidewalks no longer than five hours after it stops snowing. If you live in Pittsburgh, then you get 24 hours to get the work done.
4. You can stop at a convenience store to get a legitimate meal.
When you are on a road trip in almost any other state or commonwealth in the United States, then you can expect fast food options, prepackaged snacks, and a lot of preservatives for the foods that you eat while driving. Pennsylvania offers a very different experience. Gas stations are a popular place to have dinner when you start living here, even if you are not in a hurry to get somewhere else.
You can find handmade burgers, fried appetizers, and customized sandwiches all available at convenience stores like Wawa and Sheetz. There are even beer pairing suggestions for you to try if you go for this experience. It really is good food.
5. You haven’t had pizza until you’ve lived in Pennsylvania.
If you ask the average person what food item they associate with Pennsylvania, then there is an excellent chance that you will hear a reference to a cheesesteak. The reality of living in this common wealth is that you can have some of the best pizza in the world every night of the week. According to USA Today, Old Forge is the pizza capital in the United States that everyone needs to visit at. Some point in their life. You’ll find New Haven-style pizza, classic Italian versions, and even Grandma-style options at some pizzerias.
6. There are still a wide variety of cultures that you can encounter in Pennsylvania.
Although the Commonwealth is moving toward a state of polarization, you will still see an emphasis on religious tolerance throughout the countryside of Pennsylvania if you look for it. There are plenty of horse-drawn buggies on the roads because the Amish regularly sell produce at the local farmer’s markets. Some people in that community still speak the local Dutch dialect.
A group of Anabaptists moved from Switzerland to the Commonwealth in the middle of the 18th century, and there are Mennonites that provide diversity to the culture here as well. You will also have plenty of opportunities to pursue the major religions of the world in your way here as well.
7. You haven’t had a buffet until you experience a Pennsylvania smorgasbord.
There are still a few of the Pennsylvania Dutch smorgasbords operating in the Commonwealth today. You have not experienced a true buffet until you have a meal at one of these locations. You can find over 100 food items available, including regional and cultural offerings that you can’t find anywhere else. There’s one in Blue Ball called the Shady Maple Smorgasbord that even serves Amish food for you to try.
8. There are plenty of historic landmarks for you to visit.
The National Parks Service recognizes 169 official landmarks in the Commonwealth. There are a variety of activities that you will find in these locations as well, ranging from Revolutionary battlefields to rollercoasters. When you start living here, you may want to visit Gettysburg National Military Park, Valley Forge, and the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster.
Then take advantage of the outdoor activities that are prevalent throughout the Commonwealth. There are 18 state forests to visit, offering over 800 miles of trails to enjoy. You can connect with the Appalachian Trail if you want. There is also the annual snow geese migration that brings over 100,000 birds to the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area.
9. Pennsylvania provides you with a central location to the rest of the East Coast.
When you start living in Pennsylvania, then you will have access to many of the cities along the eastern seaboard of the United States. It is about an hour from Philadelphia to Atlantic City when the traffic cooperates. You are about two hours away from New York City, which is about the same distance it is to reach Baltimore. You can reach Washington DC in about three hours, while it is about six hours to get to Boston.
Pittsburgh provides a centralized location for some other unique destinations in the United States. You’re about four hours from Niagara Falls, which is approximately the same time it takes to reach DC or Baltimore. Add another hour and you can make your way up to Toronto if you want.
10. This Commonwealth and chocolate are the perfect combination.
In the early days of the American industrial revolution, companies built towns for their workers as a way to motivate them to take a job. Although many of those cities have turned into ghost towns or disappeared entirely, Hershey is a notable exception. If you love chocolate, then you need to make your way here at least once. There is a theme park for you to enjoy, and tours of the factory are possible if you plan your trip in advance.
11. There are plenty of excellent educational opportunities to pursue in Pennsylvania.
If you want to attend one of the top colleges or universities in the United States, then living in Pennsylvania can’t help that goal to become a reality. Penn State tends to be the most popular destination, serving 1 out of every 8 people who pursue an advanced education. You can also attend the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon, or Temple University.
Many of the school districts are above average in their scores and learning opportunities throughout the Commonwealth as well. You will find some challenges in the more rural areas in the mountains, but you can give your family the head start it needs when you decide to live here.
12. Look up to see some of the best night skies in the world.
There are plenty of tiny towns dotting the landscape of Pennsylvania that can help you to see the night sky like never before. Cherry Springs State Park boasts one of the best environments in the United States, earning acclaim more than a decade ago as a Gold International Dark Sky Park. If you want to see a meteor shower, then this is the place to go. It’s also a great place to go camping or explore the outdoors for a little while.
You will also find natural wonders beneath your feet, such as the Pine Creek Gorge. Some call this wonder the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. It stretches out for up to 50 miles in some areas, with depths of up to 1,000 feet. You can even go snowmobiling in the winter there if you want.
List of the Cons of Living in Pennsylvania
1. There are additional tax responsibilities that you will need to consider.
When you start living in Pennsylvania, then you will need to pay local wage and service taxes as part of your overall income profile. That amount is in addition to the federal and state taxes which are your responsibility. Most employers will deduct this amount directly from your paycheck. Every school district and municipality have different rates that can impact how much you need to pay, so you’ll need to look up the political subdivision code where your home happens to be to know what you’ll need to budget.
2. You will find a wide range of dialects and jargon in Pennsylvania.
There were five significant cultures that came to settle in the Pennsylvania area during the 17th century. Because of these ethnic influences, you will find a wide range of dialects still spoken throughout the Commonwealth. English settlers had some of their verbiage mix with the Swedish and Dutch languages to create a midland dialect. Pittsburgh, Appalachia, and the northern parts of the state have their variations as well. You’ll need to learn the local jargon and pronunciation because it can sound very different than it looks.
Take Lancaster for example of this. Most people would use a short “a” vowel sound to pronounce the name, but it is closer to a long vowel instead. There is also more emphasis on the first syllable than the middle, which would be standard for the English language. If you mispronounce a name, then expect to be corrected until you get it right.
P.S. – It’s “LANG-kiss-ter.”
3. Getting to know the on-ramps to the highways and interstate is a full-time job.
Driving in Pennsylvania can be a fun challenge, especially if you find yourself on the Turnpike most of the time. Some of the on-ramps are very long, turning into a temporary lane that everyone uses as a long zipper-style merge. Then there are the ones that are short and dump drivers directly into high-speed traffic. If you travel on I-376, you’ll find some of them even have a Stop sign at the end of them.
That’s just the start of the headache. People tend to drive to the very end of the on-ramp before they begin to merge, even if you make some room for them. If a solid line is in place, the other car is staying there – usually. It can be a very unpredictable experience.
4. Get used to paying tolls, one way or another.
When you need to travel on the Turnpike, then you will need to pay tolls for that privilege. Since the highway extends from the Delaware River Bridge in Philadelphia to the Ohio border, you might have an extensive fee to pay. It’s based on mileage traveled, so driving the complete route without an EZ Pass will cost you more than $50. You can pay with a credit card, cash, or a qualifying electronic transponder.
You have no choice to take the Turnpike unless you feel like driving up to the northern interstate that runs you closer to the Great Lakes. Since that can extend your travel time by 4-6 hours, you need to decide which option has the most value.
5. The directions on the street signs don’t always match where you start going.
If you are driving on I-81 South in the central part of the Commonwealth, then you are actually traveling toward the west. When you take a road trip from State College to the capital, then Route 322 says you’re going east, but you’re actually going south. That can make it challenging to navigate certain sections of highway.
Then there is the issue of what people call the “Pittsburgh Left.” This driving practice is a courtesy among drivers in the city. You can allow a vehicle in the opposing lane of traffic to turn left before proceeding through the intersection. There are no rules that govern this activity, so you might find yourself slamming on the brakes if someone allows a turn unexpectedly.
6. You might not celebrate Halloween on October 31 in some communities.
Pennsylvania has a few cities which attempt to control the door-to-door activities that happen on Halloween by celebrating the holiday at a different time. Several communities designate a specific trick-or-treating time that happens for a couple of hours on a different day. Harrisburg has been known to celebrate Halloween as early as October 27. Hanover decided to push it even sooner by authorizing candy giving activities on the 25th. Some of the parades, such as the one Carlisle throws each year, have been as early as October 17.
7. You need to have a license to carry to transport a loaded firearm.
Pennsylvania allows gun owners to open carry throughout the Commonwealth. If someone wants to carry it in a hidden location, then you must have a license to carry in such a way. It is currently illegal to transport a loaded firearm without holding this license. Gun owners without one must transport their firearms and ammunition in separate containers, even if their intent is to only go hunting.
This disadvantage can become problematic if you are unaware of the law and receive a request from law enforcement to pull over. You will find even more trouble if you are subject to a protection from abuse order since that stops the purchase of a firearm in the first place.
8. Your kids are going to have some questions about the town names in Pennsylvania.
The sixth grader in you wants to snicker when you see some of the town names that are in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. You can choose to settle in Bird-in-Hand, Blue Ball, or even Intercourse. If you prefer something a little less graphic, there is Mount Joy, Fertility, or Lititz. Now insert your own joke.
According to Andrea Gillhoolley of Lancaster Online, there are innocent reasons for all of the names. For Blue Ball, the town was originally called Earl Town. A hotel owner began hanging a blue ball in the front of his building, and the locals eventually changed the name to match the business. Have fun explaining the birds and the bees.
9. You will need to get used to the nuclear sirens in the area.
There are several nuclear power plants that dot the landscape in Pennsylvania. Workers need to test the alarm systems occasionally at these facilities, so it is not unusual to hear sirens coming from the power plant. They do an excellent job of notifying residents about their intent to test, but if you miss the alerts, it is very easy to start having your heart begin to pound the rapidly in your chest.
Harrisburg, Peach Bottom, Limerick, Beaver Valley, and Susquehanna all have sirens installed to warn residents about a potential incident. This disadvantage is similar to what coastal residents experience when they hear the tsunami sirens sound.
Verdict on the Pros and Cons of Living in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is an interesting place to call home because there is such a wide variety of cultures, perspectives, and opportunities to pursue. If you love to experience the changing of seasons, then you are going to love autumn here. You will be at one of the ideal latitude and longitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere where the foliage displays are always breathtaking. You can go hiking, biking, and picnicking throughout the year, pick apples, or cuddle up in a blanket next to the fireplace.
It is also very affordable to life in Pennsylvania unless you opt for one of the downtown areas of Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. Bethlehem is the most affordable community in the Commonwealth, with average home prices barely topping $170,000.
The pros and cons of living in Pennsylvania are ultimately about the personal experiences that drive your desire to move here in the first place. You can find job opportunities, natural wonders to explore, and the chance to create a new life.
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.