By Kelsey Sheehy
Cities and states are shelling out serious cash to lure remote workers.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, will pay you $10,000 to move there and telework. West Virginia is offering $12,000 and two years of free outdoor gear rental . Move to Maine, and the state will help you pay off your student loans .
These incentives are appealing, especially for newly minted remote workers who want to capitalize on their newfound flexibility. But a snap decision could cost more than the money you’re chasing.
Read the program fine print, talk to your employer and assess your own deal breakers before you pack your bags and head to Topeka, Kansas, where remote workers can get up to $10,000.
Understand the process, requirements
Most remote relocation programs have an application process with several rounds of interviews to screen prospective residents. Only a fraction of applicants are accepted.
Tulsa Remote accepted just 3% of its 30,000 applicants in 2021, according to Justin Harlan, managing director of Tulsa Remote.
The Opportunity Maine Tax Credit doesn’t cap participation, but it does have a host of other stipulations. Whether the tax credit is refundable, for example, depends on the year you graduated and your field of study.
And the Ascend West Virginia program only accepts applicants for certain cities, at certain times of the year.
Relocation incentives are designed to boost the local tax base, so most programs pay the benefit over a year or two. And many encourage you to put down roots.
Tulsa Remote will pay the $10,000 in a lump sum if you buy a home (the cash is otherwise spread out over the first year). In Topeka, remote work applicants need to buy a home to get the full $10,000.
And don’t forget, any bonus may be taxed as income, so you need to set some money aside for the IRS.
Assess impact to your current, future employment
Remote work still has some limits. Understand your employers’ expectations before applying or moving, as certain things can impact your quality of life in your new locale.
If your company and colleagues are all on the West Coast, for example, you may be expected to keep those hours, even if you relocate to Maine. That can make for some late nights.
Your new city may have a lower cost of living than your current home base — that’s typically part of the appeal. Will your company adjust your salary to your new cost of living? You want to be crystal clear on that before taking the leap.
“Financially, you should be prepared to take a pay cut if you’re relocating from a major city to somewhere less costly,” says Tina Hawk, senior vice president of human resources at GoodHire, which provides employee screening and background checks for businesses.
Most relocation programs are only open to those who already have full-time employment with an out-of-state company (Maine is an exception). But no job is guaranteed forever, so you need to research the local job market.
How easy will it be to find a new gig if you are laid off? Are there opportunities locally if you outgrow your current company? If you dream of someday starting a business , is your potential new home friendly to entrepreneurs?
Determine your deal breakers
While money is important, it’s not what makes a place livable. Take stock of what’s important to you — things like restaurants, networking, walkability or outdoor activities — and identify your deal breakers.
“The incentive can get your attention, but the meat of the matter is, when you get there, you gotta stay,” says Nate Wildes, executive director of Live + Work in Maine.
Even “Vacationland” is not for everyone, Wildes admits. “We’re a four-season place. If you hate snow and you hate snow shoveling, look somewhere else, please.”
Don’t just assume you’ll like or dislike a place. Experience it firsthand to get a true sense of the city’s vibe. You might be surprised.
Maria Kim, 28, certainly was. The former Washington, D.C., resident moved to Tulsa as part of the Tulsa Remote program in March 2021.
Initially on the fence, Kim decided to take the leap after visiting the city and meeting with other members of the program, which puts a strong emphasis on networking and community.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” says Kim, who freelances full time as a copywriter. “The city is busy. You’re able to get the small-town benefits with big-city energy, and you can explore without so much excess.”
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Kelsey Sheehy writes for NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @KelseyLSheehy.