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Friday, August 26, 2022

Living in Virginia or North Carolina: Which State is Better?

City comparison between North Carolina and VA

Living in Virginia vs North Carolina: Which is the Better State?

The Southern states have seen massive growth. The weather, cost of living, growing job markets, and housing affordability make them attractive to thousands each year. For these reasons, the region has become one of the top places in the country to live. When it comes to living in Virginia vs. North Carolina, both have their advantages. Yet each has distinct factors that may make it the better state for you. Check it out.

Comparing Cost of Living

cost of living comparison between North Carolina and Virginia

The Sperling Best Places index helps compare the cost of living for two places. Their scoring system assigns a national average of 100. This means any score below 100 indicates an area’s goods and services are overall cheaper than average, while a score above 100 means they are more expensive.

When comparing the North Carolina vs Virginia cost of living, the former has an overall score of 91. Virginia’s overall score is much higher at 104.2. The Tar Heel State comes out as the clear winner here. Its scores for groceries, housing, utilities, transportation, and miscellaneous are all lower than Virginia’s.

That said, Virginia’s healthcare cost is notably lower than North Carolina. Here’s the full breakdown:

North Carolina



10.7 million

8.68 million

Median Property Value



Median Household Income



Homeownership Rate
























Remember that both are large states, and the cost of living changes widely based on where you are. For example, the cost of living in downtown Charlotte, NC, is much higher than in Boone, NC.

North Carolina and Virginia Growth

piggy savings bank and wallet beside a tiny home model

A state’s population can have a significant impact on a variety of aspects of living—so researching a state’s growth (or lack thereof) and comparing it to your personal needs provides insight into future conditions. For example, if you’re looking for a booming economy, new construction housing, and a wide variety of amenities, consider a growing state. Conversely, a more rural state will be cheaper to live in, but you may have to travel farther for specialized amenities.

At the time of writing, North Carolina ranks as the third fastest-growing state by population, adding over 140,000 residents from 2022 to 2023. Wake, Mecklenburg, Guilford, and Forsyth are the most populous counties. As of the April 2023 Census estimates, 10,835,491 residents lived in North Carolina.

Virginia is growing more slowly, but its pace of new residents ticked up from 15th in 2020 to 8th overall by 2023. The state added over 36,599 new residents, bringing the 2023 Census estimate to 8,715,698.

Fairfax and Prince William are the most populous counties in Virginia. Loudoun County is not far behind as the fastest-growing county in the state.

City Living in Virginia and North Carolina

Major Cities in North Carolina

Home to over 1.5 million people, North Carolina’s capital Raleigh is known as a major center for education and research. It is home to the “Research Triangle,” a metropolitan region named for its many universities and laboratories, including North Carolina State, Duke, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Several high-profile tech companies call the Triangle home, such as Intel, Lenovo, Qualcomm, and Nvidia.

But the most populous city in North Carolina is Charlotte, home to over 2.8 million people. As the second-largest financial center outside of Wall Street, many financial institutions have their headquarters in Charlotte. They, and many other recognizable corporations, are listed in the Fortune 500. It is also home to museums, art galleries, and sports teams—including the home of NASCAR.

On the smaller side, the historic coastal city of Wilmington is a popular choice—with 467,337 people in its metro area, many drawn by the University of North Carolina. Other highlights include its booming film industry, beautiful beaches, historic downtown area, and two-mile riverwalk.

Major Cities in Virginia

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most populous city in Virginia is Virginia Beach, home to 463,766 people. The Guinness Book of World Records named this resort city the longest pleasure beach in the world. The famous three-mile-long boardwalk contains museums, bars, and the Neptune Festival Park. It is home to the yearly East Coast Surfing Championships and the American Sand Soccer Championship. The town center has ample shopping, dining, and entertainment for visitors and the locals.

The next two most populous cities are neighbors to Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Chesapeake. Together they make the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport Metro area.

Virginia’s capital, Richmond, is the fourth-most populous city in the state. It sits on the James River and was home to several significant historical events during the Revolutionary War. Eight Fortune 500 companies, including Carmax and Universal, call Richmond their home. Colleges and Universities in the city include Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond.

However, if you step back to look at metro regions, Northern Virginia is the most populated area in the state. This metro surrounds Washington, DC, but they don’t register on top population lists because it is made of many smaller, independent cities. These include cities like Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, and Manassas.

Education Quality in North Carolina and Virginia

Living in Virginia vs North Carolina has one area where both excel: education. US News and World Report ranked North Carolina’s public K-12 schools 21st in the nation.

But the edge goes to Virginia’s public K-12 system, ranking no. 9. Virginia K-12 students are typically more ready for college than their peers in North Carolina, although the latter state has a significantly higher high school graduation rate and child scores on tests.

Where North Carolina shines is its higher education—no. 14—as it’s a state well-known for its prestigious colleges and universities. Among them are Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest University.

Virginia is ranked 20th in higher education but still has its fair share of well-known colleges and universities. Students flock to well-ranked schools like the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and the College of William and Mary.

Climate Differences in North Carolina and Virginia

North Carolina’s Tale of Two Climates

The two states share a border and, similar geographies than span from beach to mountains. Although both states experience four distinct seasons, the weather gets more moderate the further south you go.

Among the pros and cons of living in North Carolina is the weather. The state can be split into two parts: medium continental conditions in and around the mountainous regions of the northwestern part and warmer, subtropical conditions closer to the Atlantic in the state’s southeastern corner.

The Appalachian Mountains see the most snowfall in the state during the winter, although average temperatures remain in the 40Fs. During the summer, temperatures average in the mid-80Fs. Higher elevations will see lower temperatures on average during summer months.

Conversely, the Atlantic coastal plains provide hot, humid summers—with average temperatures reaching up to 90Fs—and cool, milder winters—during which the average temperature rarely drops below 50F. The spring and summer bring rainfall, with the coast especially vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms. The state reports an average of 20 tornadoes a year.

Virginia’s Four-Season Weather

Virginia’s western edge is bordered by the Blue Ridge Mountains. East of the mountain range, the majority of the state shares North Carolina’s subtropical climate. However, being farther north, Virginia gets a bit colder in the winter, with averages reaching as low as 25F. The summer isn’t quite as extreme as North Carolina, with highs averaging in the mid-80Fs.

The climate transitions to a humid continental to the west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This region sees drier, harsher seasons and experiences the most snowfall in the state during the winter months—although the rest of the state is no stranger to snow storms caused by cold-air damming in the Appalachian Mountains. Winters can vary wildly, however, and the state averages only 10 inches of snowfall per year.

Thunderstorms and tornadoes are common in the state, with the most occurring during the spring and summer months. The coast is also particularly prone to hurricanes and tropical storms.

Which State Has Lower Real Estate Taxes?

In both states, property taxes will vary slightly depending on your municipality.

Property taxes are assessed at market values set every four to eight years in North Carolina, depending on the specific county’s reappraisal schedule. One mil is equal to $1 for each $100 of appraised value. Property owners pay taxes based on this appraisal.

For residents 65 and older or permanently disabled with an income of under $38,000, the state has a homestead exemption—the greater of $25,000 or 50% of the appraised value. Additionally, there is a potential veteran exemption of $45,000.

Property taxes in Virginia are significantly lower than North Carolina and the United States national average, with one mil equaling $0.86 per $100 of appraised value. Counties (or independent cities like Richmond) set the market value, and all homes are charged at 100% of their determined value.

Disabled and elderly residents (65 or older) also qualify for property tax exemptions in Virginia—from 50% and up to 100% depending on income.

The State With Lower Taxes for Retirees

In North Carolina, there is no social security or state estate tax. However, the state provides no tax breaks for retirees, and all income is taxed at the state’s flat rate of 4.5%. Pension incomes and personal withdrawals from retirement accounts are also taxed.

When weighing the pros and cons of living in Virginia, factor in that the Old Dominion State is more tax-friendly for retirees. Income taxes range between 2-5%. In addition, pension incomes and retirement account withdrawals are only partially taxed. Like North Carolina, there are no taxes on Social Security income.

Virginia also offers an age deduction on taxes. Residents born on or before January 1st, 1939, can subtract a flat $12,000 from their taxable income. For residents born on January 2nd or later, the subtraction is based on income.

Overall, Virginia comes out on top regarding tax options for retirees.

Crime and Safety in North Carolina and Virginia

Regarding your peace of mind, there are no cutting corners regarding safety. Every state has areas with lower crime rates and risk factors than others. Looking at the big picture, the pros and cons of living in Virginia include a lower crime rate with more positive outcomes. North Carolina posts middle-of-the-road rankings in public safety and crime and corrections. So, both states have better reports when it comes to property theft or violent crime.

Virginia vs North Carolina Job Markets

The top industries in North Carolina include manufacturing, finance, education, retail, and healthcare. In particular, the state is well-known for furniture and automobile manufacturing. Additional market leaders provide services in biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and energy companies.

Some major North Carolina employers are Home Depot, Lowes, Wake Forest Baptist Health, Duke Energy, and Bank of America. Like much of the country, the job market in the state is strengthening, and it currently sits at a 3.5% unemployment rate in summer 2024.

In Virginia, top industries include leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, information, trade, transportation, utilities, and manufacturing. The top employers in the state are Performance Food Group, Altria Group, CarMax, Dominion Energy, and Markel—all in the Fortune 500. The unemployment rate in Virginia continues run under North Carolina. It was 2.8% in the summer of 2024.

Outdoor Recreation

first person view of riding a bike

Benefits of North Carolina Recreation

With over 100 miles of trails, 50 lakes, and 31 beaches spread across 300 miles of coastline, North Carolina is a dream for the outdoor enthusiast. Its rocky, mountainous terrain has some of the country’s best mountain biking, rock climbing, and skiing. And with over 41 state parks and natural areas—including the most visited national park in the US, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park—you’ll find no shortage of places to picnic, hike, fish, and camp.

If you prefer water recreation, the state’s numerous lakes and ample coastline have you covered. Kerr Lake, Lake Norman, Lake Murray, and the largest Lake Mattamuskeet all provide swimming, sailing, bass fishing, and lake living access.

Popular destinations like Wrightsville Beach and Outer Banks are on the Atlantic Ocean. Saltwater fishing, kiteboarding, and deep-sea excursions like whale watches are exceedingly popular. These destinations also have resort-quality amenities and plenty of dining options.

Benefits of Virginia Recreation

From the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west to the Chesapeake Bay to the east, Virginia similarly provides a whole range of recreational opportunities throughout its four distinct seasons. The state contains 41 state parks, 63 natural areas, and a whopping 670 miles of trails across a variety of geography, perfect for hiking, biking, and exploring. Thanks to the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia also contains a vast, 7,213 miles of coastline and over 36 lakes and ponds.

Two of Virginia’s most legendary national parks, Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway provide stunning views of the state. Other parks of interest include Great Falls and Prince William Forest Park.

The Appalachian Trail runs through both states, spanning over a thousand miles from trailheads in Georgia and Maine. Its halfway point is in Virginia.

There’s no shortage in Virginia if you’re looking for lake recreation and living. The largest lake in the state is the John H. Kerr Reservoir, featuring 800 miles of shoreline and two state parks, Occoneechee and Staunton River State Park. Other popular lakes for living and recreation include Smith Mountain Lake, Lake Anna, Lake Gaston, and Claytor Lake.

Finally, no discussion of Virginia recreation would be complete without mentioning the legendary Virginia Beach, where resort-quality amenities, entertainment, dining, and recreation meet. There’s also the nearby Sandbridge Beach and Cape Charles if you’re looking for a quieter experience.

Sports Cultures of Virginia and North Carolina

Fun fact: basketball was invented in North Carolina! Appropriately, its collegiate teams have featured in and won several national tournament titles—notably, the UNC Tar Heels and Duke. North Carolina schools have educated some of the most legendary players in the sport, including Michael Jordan himself.

The state is also home to the Charlotte Hornets, the Carolina Hurricanes (NHL) and the Carolina Panthers (NFL).

Notably, while Virginia is home to a number of professional sports teams, it is the largest US state without any major league team to call its own. Instead, it hosts two teams representing Washington DC: the Commanders (NFL) and the Capitals (NHL). Minor league professional teams include the Richmond Elite (basketball) and the Richmond Flying Squirrels (baseball) as well London United FC soccer league.

Lifestyle in North Carolina and Virginia

In both states, you’ll find that many residents live up to the South’s reputation for charm and hospitality.

North Carolina’s residents are known for their friendliness and down-to-earth attitudes. Being the more populous state, you’ll find ample opportunity for urban living with plenty of quiet, rural pockets in and around the Appalachian Mountains, where you’ll find a distinct folk culture and tradition. No discussion of North Carolina culture would be complete without mentioning its world-famous barbecue, which differentiates itself with its tangy vinegar, mustard-based flavors, and simple seasonings.

Virginia is known for its American colonial architecture and exceedingly polite residents. Being closer to the Northeastern US, here you’ll find an eclectic mix of Northern and Southern cultures. Culturally, it delights and entertains through literature, music, performances, and fine art. Cuisine in Virginia is similar to its southern neighbor, and you’ll find the aforementioned vinegar-based BBQ here as well. What stands out is the signature Old Bay-style seasoning, which can be found on many seafood dishes in the Chesapeake Bay area.

Choosing Between Living in Virginia vs North Carolina

The pros and cons of living in North Carolina or Virginia are oddly similar. Indeed, they share many features. Both have highly desirable urban areas that serve as activity hubs in their state. They share beaches and mountains, cuisine, and culture. When deciding if you’ll move to Virginia or to North Carolina, it all comes down to the fine details of what you’re looking for. We recommend getting in touch with a local real estate expert to explore your options.

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