A friend of mine recently told me that he bought some property in Washington and asked me to help him move. I was feeling pretty generous, so I agreed and I told him that I would help him load up his U-Haul.
After we moved the couch, we decided to take a break. I asked him if he had found a new job closer to his place. He looked at me like I had grown a third nostril and said, “I’m going to dinner with that gal from Accounting next week. I can’t leave this job!”
I shrugged and thought to myself, “well, fair enough. It’s not MY two-hour commute!”
I later found out that there are actually a decent number of people who live in Washington but choose to work in Oregon. I talked to some of them to get a better understanding and to learn the pros and cons of such an arrangement.
First, we’ll do a point and counterpoint, discussing the things on which they disagreed. Then, we’ll get into other pros and cons they gave me. Finally, I’ll share what I think about the idea.
Pro: Oregon has no state sales tax on purchases, while Washington charges 6.5% plus whatever the city and/or county charge. You can buy that Xbox One X in Oregon on your way home and not have to pay an extra $30.
Con: Oregon charges a 9.9% personal income tax on all money earned within the state, while Washington has no state income tax. With the new IRS Code instituted a few years ago, you can no longer deduct state income tax on your federal return.
Counterpoint: However, if you can make 15% more by working in Oregon instead of Washington, you’d still be coming out ahead.
Pro: I don’t understand it myself but I know people who prefer longer commutes. They like to listen to podcasts or music and just relax in their cars or on public transportation. I’m more of a “work from home” guy but if you like long commutes, it could be a pro.
Con: I don’t think I have to explain the con on this one. I don’t think anyone enjoys rush hour on I-5 twice a day.
Counterpoint: Naturally, this assumes you’re traveling for at least an hour in each direction. If you live in Vancouver and work in Portland, your commute might actually be shorter than if you lived in East Gresham! If you’re a remote worker, this obviously doesn’t apply.
Con: Washington State as a whole has a significantly higher number of violent crimes, nearly 10,000 more per year.
Counterpoint: On a per capita basis, the two states are almost equal. Washington is ranked 36th in the nation and Oregon is 37th, so there will be more crimes committed but the chance of one of them being committed against you is about the same.
Con: As of 2020, the average salary in Washington is almost $15,000 per year higher than in Oregon.
Counterpoint: That number is inflated because of the large number of high-paying tech jobs in the Seattle area. Amazon, Microsoft, and several other major companies very probably skew those numbers just a bit.
Cost of Living
Pro: According to the Cost of Living Index Report posted on WorldPopulationReview.com, Washington’s cost of living is 111.6 and Oregon’s is 130. This indicates that it’s significantly less expensive to live in Washington.
Counterpoint: That information might not apply to your specific case because you’ll be splitting time between the two states. It’ll certainly be higher in at least one aspect, which is the 9.9% state income tax levied on your wages by Oregon’s government.
Average Housing Rental Prices
For this section, I’ve decided to compare studio apartment rentals in Portland and Vancouver, since those are the two logical cities as they’re both on the border on either side of the Columbia River. Prices for larger rentals are roughly proportional, I think.
Pro: In Portland, the average price of a studio apartment rental is $1,250 per month. In Vancouver, it’s $1,191 per month. It might not seem like much but over a year, that’s roughly $700 in savings.
Counterpoint: You’ll probably spend far more than $700 a year in gas during your commute to work, especially if you’re going to a Portland suburb like Gresham or Beaverton.
Pro: If you’re more of a smaller-city person, you might prefer Vancouver as it has a population of roughly 190,000 people. Portland, on the other hand, has around 650,000.
Con: Some people prefer to live in bigger cities as they enjoy the anonymity of living in an apartment where they don’t know any of their neighbors and no one drops by for a cup of sugar.
Pro: Washington Schools are consistently ranked better than Oregon Schools in graduation rate, test scores, dropout rate, and nearly every other metric. If you have children, you may want them to attend school in Washington rather than Oregon.
Pro: I did a Bing search for “is Vancouver better than Portland?” and an answer box popped up and it read “Yes”. Who am I to argue with Microsoft Bing?
Con: There are twice as many homeless people in Portland than in Vancouver. If you don’t enjoy interacting with that particular demographic, you’ll have a much harder time at work.
Con: You’ll pretty much be required to have a car in good working order, as the public transportation in Vancouver isn’t all that great. There are commuter buses that run between the two cities but they’re slow and will add to your commute time considerably.
Con: If you work remotely for a company in Oregon from your home in Washington, that money is still subject to the Oregon State Income Tax because it came from an Oregon business which was news to me!
Obviously, like the friend I mentioned in the intro, there are some life circumstances that invalidate everything on this list.
For example, imagine that you’re a married man. For some of you, it’ll be easier to imagine this than for others. Imagine that your wife wants you to live in one state and work in another.
If you value your marriage at all, a short commute across the border a few days a week is a small price to pay for your wife’s happiness. She’s probably right anyway, as usual!
As for me personally, if I were giving advice to a friend, I’d probably suggest the opposite. I’d work in Washington to receive higher wages, then drive across the border to my home in Oregon and enjoy some sales tax-free shopping.
That’s just me, of course. There are plenty of valid reasons for wanting to live in Washington and work in Oregon. It’s possible that just one pro is enough to outweigh all of the cons.
These are just a few pros of cons of living in Washington and working in Oregon. It might sound silly to some people but there are definitely valid reasons for doing so, even if I might personally recommend the opposite!
If you’re interested in doing so, I’d recommend getting a hotel in Vancouver, since it’s right on the border. Choose a place in or around Portland, or several if you want to try different neighborhoods, and drive there in the morning as if you were going to work.
Maybe you won’t mind the drive and you can start looking for a job in the City of Roses. Maybe you’ll decide the opposite. Either way, you’re sure to have a great time in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.