Tips for New Vermonters from a New Vermonter

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New to Vermont or thinking about moving to the state? Here are some tips for new Vermonters based on my experience moving to Vermont 5 years ago.

Fall Drive with Leaves in VT
Move to Vermont and you could see something like this beautiful drive through fall colors, from one of our family hiking trips.  After trips like these, we like to joke, “What a great place!  Wouldn’t it be great if we could live here?” as we pull into our driveway.

I moved to Chittenden County with my family 5 years ago. Chittenden is the county that contains Burlington.  We were looking for a kid-friendly place with great schools, a walkable town, jobs, snow, and diversity. While we didn’t hit everything on our list, our spreadsheet led us to Vermont, where small towns thrive and my husband’s family has lived for generations.

I grew up in a small town in New York’s North Country, under feet of snow. Since I’ve lived in Texas, the Albany, NY area, outside of Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and endured an embarrassingly long layover in Los Angeles, I use these places as a basis of comparison.  While Chittenden county doesn’t represent all of Vermont, my list of tips for new Vermonters should be useful regardless of where in the state you end up. If I’m wrong, please let me know.

Vermont is Kid-Friendly

People in Vermont understand that kids exist and are part of the landscape. There are playgrounds everywhere, and pre-pandemic most were open to the public. Libraries are fantastic. Hiking is everywhere. And there are tons of activities for kids of all ages to participate in, with several statewide listings posted online. When I interviewed with local companies, they often tried to recruit me by selling all the great ski and swim activities for kids.

Apple Picking
Early season apple picking for Ruby Macs at Shelburne Orchard with my kiddos.

The Town Library is Your Home Base

When looking at towns, we found that libraries were awesome places to get info about the town, meet local people, and ask questions about homes, jobs, schools, and more. Just drop in at any time and ask, and experience what the community looks like.  You’ll find they have great tips for new Vermonters as well.

library
When choosing a town to live in, drop by the local library to hear more about the town and check out resources for moving there.

Front Porch Forum is your Best Friend

Front Porch Forum (FPF) is a local online forum (and email list) for posting free stuff, stuff for sale, housing, events, etc. You register using your physical mailing address, so you get listings from your local area. Once you have a rental or permanent home address, you can join.

Craigslist Vermont, Facebook Marketplace, and Kids Swap Vermont on Facebook are also helpful places to find used stuff. Yard sales and Free Days are major events in Vermont. Some of the resale shops in Chittenden county are fantastic places to get almost new stuff at very good prices. I do find that there is a culture of overpricing used things for sale on some of the forums. So, buyer beware. Sometimes you can do better buying something used in a larger metro area, and paying for shipping.

Schools are Awesome

Vermont public schools rock. They’re well-funded, and small things like art, music, and physical education (PE) are included in the standard curriculum. (In contrast, in Los Angeles, I experienced public schools where parents had to fundraise to hire the YMCA for PE, and parents had to teach science).

Childcare is Hard to Find

There is a very limited supply of daycares, home childcare programs, and nannies. Part of this is due to a new-ish regulation that requires licensed providers to have an undergraduate childcare degree. Plan ahead to apply to programs, bug them often for openings, and hound anyone you know who might know a nanny.

The state provides some funding to support the costs of licensed pre-K programs. Contact your local school district or potential pre-K program for more information about Vermont Act 166.

Summer camps (childcare for big kids during the summer) start booking up in Jan. or Feb., so plan ahead. You pretty much need to apply the hour the programs open up if they don’t use a lottery system. The less popular programs may still have openings in late spring. Ask around for good programs, but don’t discount the less popular ones.

Housing is Hard to Find (AKA Popcorn Jellybeans)

There is insufficient housing for rent or purchase, and prices have gone through the roof. House hunting takes significantly longer here than in most places I’ve lived, and often reasonably priced houses go incredibly quickly (in a single day). You also need to hunt for a house during house hunting season, which is late spring and summer. By fall, a significant percentage of the properties that remain on the market are leftover properties with significant flaws or higher-than-average prices.

You know how after you serve jellybeans, at the end is a pile of all the gross ones that no one likes, such as the popcorn-flavored ones? It’s like that. The houses that remain for sale after house hunting season is over are truly the popcorn jellybeans that no one else wants. But you never know! Maybe the house is out there just waiting for you. (I got mine in off-season hunting during mud season/spring, and it was perfect for us). A realtor is strongly recommended, but you can also get great info from FPF and your local school or library or from driving around.

Be aware that if you’re moving to Vermont (even if it’s to return home) and buy a house here, you’re contributing to the housing price inflation problem, which is harming native Vermonters who don’t have out-of-state incomes.

Vermont Companies Might Not Respond to Out-Of-State Job Applications

Many Vermont companies assume that applicants outside of Vermont aren’t serious about the position or may back out once they see how much snow driving is involved. Vermont companies tend to have less collective experience in management and recruiting than you’d see in a larger city, and may not realize this approach is limiting their ability to recruit.

If you’re certain you’ll be moving to VT and need a Vermont address for job applications, consider getting a Post Office Box set up that you can use for your resume, or include a personal note with your application indicating that you are, in fact, moving to town. You can also cold call (or email) a company or department to discuss if there might be an opening fit for your skills. I’ve developed some great contacts this way that have panned out later in my Vermont career.

Note that Vermont salaries may be lower than those paid for similar jobs in neighboring states with large urban centers (Vermont wages are, on average, 80% of what is paid in Boston).

Everyone Here is Brilliant

There are lots of very smart, highly skilled, college educated, and/or highly experienced professionals in Vermont. My dishwasher repair guy has a master’s degree. My neighbor used to work for the Obama Administration. I’ve met many transplants to Vermont who have very specialized skills that don’t match the local workforce. When looking for skilled people to support my company, I look around Vermont first.

Diversity, Racism, and Sexism

Vermont has a sordid history of discouraging people of color to remain in the state. In recent years, many Vermont towns have become refugee relocation centers, which has brought some well-needed diversity (and food variety) to the area. That said, there have been some recently publicized cases of black politicians, homeowners, and educators experiencing racism and threats that were handled poorly, or not at all by public officials and the police. When these issues happen, what I hear most often from Vermonters is “Well, what did you expect coming to Vermont?” as if the lack of diversity is in itself an excuse for not treating others fairly.

While I work in aerospace and am used to seeing persistent low-level sexism, Vermont is the first place where I’ve actually had someone physically ignore me at the checkout line at the hardware store. The old-timey Vermont feel occasionally comes with some old-timey beliefs about women.  I don’t see this often, but it’s now at the back of my mind when I choose where I shop.

dolls, baby, mother, car

Speed Limits

That 40 mph sign should read “40 mph, no really!”  In many places, there is no margin on speed limits to keep your vehicle from sliding off the road or getting undercarriage damage. Speeding is not recommended if you want to stay on the road. Speed enforcement is also taken very seriously by many townships.  Traffic stop demographics are now tracked by the state, and studied by research groups at the University of Vermont.

Stuff Closes by 8 pm

Unless you’re in Burlington, you’ll find that many restaurants, groceries, pharmacies, and hardware stores close by 8 pm or earlier. Some of the chain supermarkets in Burlington stay open until 10 pm or midnight, but not all night. Many locally owned stores and restaurants may have odd hours, like lunch only, or opening only 2-6 pm. We’ve taken to stockpiling any kid’s medications we might need in the middle of the night. Thankfully, we haven’t run into a gas station that closes in the evening but did once have a stressful situation pondering this question while driving home at 1 am in -26F weather while running low on fuel.

Surviving the Seasons

You need to find an activity or sport to enjoy for each season, or you’ll go crazy. Winter is very long. Mud season can be a depressing giant mess. Similarly, when the weather is nice and Vermont tells you to get outside, you need to listen. Get outside. I personally love all the opportunities for picking your own fruit and farm fresh produce (July Blueberries & Raspberries, Aug/Sept. Corn, and Sept. Apples).

Seasons of Vermont
The 12 seasons of Vermont, a common meme

You Need Better Winter Gear and Driveway Plowing

We get -20F weather, and if you’re not used to this, you’ll likely need better winter gear. (Sorry, but your west coast ski gear just isn’t warm enough for Vermont). For ridiculously crazy warm gear, I use Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington. After a miserable first year for my toes and fingers, I asked for mittens that would work for Antarctica, which they carried, and then did one step down. For kid’s clothes, I live off of Kamik and other Canadian brands which have boots and jackets rated town to -40F. Sierra Trading Post sells last year’s styles of snow gear at a significant discount. Some friends swear by Bogs for boots.  There are lots of other great brands for winter gear too.

eBay and Craigslist are awesome places for used gear once you know what you want. We typically buy 2 sets of everything (winter boots, waterproof gloves/mittens, snow pants, and jackets), because someone is always getting gear soaked, mudded up, or barfed on.

One hot tip for new Vermonters: Vermont school kids are outside all year unless the wind chill makes it dangerous (typically below 0F). Be prepared.

Climbing in snow
If there’s snow, it will be climbed. A winter jacket, snow pants, insulated winter boots, and waterproof gloves are essential for living in and enjoying Vermont winters.

Kids (and some adults) need galoshes for the non-snow seasons.

For your car’s winter preparation, you also need several legit snow shovels and lots of ice scrapers.  You can choose to snow blow your own driveway or get a plowing service. Book early, because like everything else, plow services get booked up too.

Pro tip:  Don’t forget to switch to “Yankee washer fluid” in your car.

This is the stuff with antifreeze in it that keeps your washer fluid from freezing in those cold sub-zero nights (and days).  If you didn’t pour in the washer fluid yourself, consider draining it and replacing it with the real deal, so you know you got it right.  I say this from experience:  The dealer who serviced our car before we shipped it to VT swore that they put in antifreeze washer fluid like we asked.  When the washer fluid and pump was frozen rock solid on arrival, we asked the dealer what happened.  They sent us a photo of what they used: a bottle of washer fluid that said it wouldn’t freeze down to +32F.  (If you’re not doing a facepalm right now, look up the freezing temperature of water.  Yep, they added water).  We spent a month trying to rig up heaters to thaw the car so we could drain and replace the washer fluid pump… and have a clean windshield again.

washer fluid
Don’t use standard 32F washer fluid that freezes when water does. Use an antifreeze washer fluid down to sub-zero temperatures. The colder the rating the better.

Snow Tires, not All Season

All-season tires are not snow tires nor are they winter tires. They will not give you good traction in the snow or ice (you will be stuck where you are parked). Here they are used for all the seasons *without ice or snow.*

You need to buy a separate set of snow tires to be installed prior to snowfall and swapped out afterward. (Your dates will vary depending on how much snow your area gets, but yes, there is occasionally an ice storm in May).  You can choose studded or unstudded snow tires. If you choose not to get snow tires, you will likely experience getting pulled out of an icy driveway or ditch by a friend with a tow rope and snow tires.

snow tires
You’ll need to buy snow tires when you move to Vermont.

Tire shops book up early for seasonal tire changes. If you’re moving here in the winter, arrange with a tire shop to buy/install your snow tires ahead of time so you don’t get stuck (speaking from experience).

I have not found a good snow-driving school in Vermont.  Talk with local friends for tips on learning how to drive on ice and snow.  They’ll probably send you to an empty parking lot.

You Need [a Friend with] a Trailer

I’ve tried to avoid it, but having a trailer for hauling brush is really convenient. My town, unlike other places I’ve lived outside of Vermont, does not offer municipal brush/greens hauling (or large object disposal pickup). If you own property, you need a way to store, handle, and move leaves, brush, branches, etc. When winter ends, the vegetation explodes into full growth as fast as it can and continues to grow non-stop until hard frost. You’ll need to trim tree branches and clear out weeds. All this green material piles up and needs to be either chopped and composted on-site, or brought to a municipal drop-off. For this, you need access to a trailer (yours or a friend’s) or to pay for brush hogging or hauling services.

Shoveling Leaves
Every year you’ll get a huge pile of leaves to play in, rake, compost, or relocate.  Where will you put it all, and how will you move it?

Tradespeople and Contractor Shortage

Need an electrician? Your dishwasher broke? Vermont has historically (going back 50+ years) had an insufficient number of tradespeople (electrical, plumbing, construction, HVAC, tree trimming, etc) for the scope of the work in the state. Don’t expect immediate availability when you call for a repair. Many tradespeople are fully booked with clients, have a 4-6 week wait time, or just can’t meet their promised schedule. It is recommended that you plan ahead to find tradespeople you like who can meet your schedule, or develop some DIY skills (where safe).

If you happen to be a tradesperson and want to start a business here, please come. There are also special programs for training people to work in the trades, including one run by Vermont Works for Women that is specially focused on getting women into the trades.

Note that utility companies respond immediately to serious problems, so you’ll often see Green Mountain Power at a downed pole within an hour, and if you smell a gas leak, the gas company will be there ASAP to shut off your gas or assist with a repair.

Counter to this trend, there is currently an ample supply of physical therapists. So if you’re an avid outdoors person with a tendency towards injury or just someone accident-prone, Vermont has you covered.

No Shoes Inside

In Vermont culture, outside shoes are removed at the door. I’m not sure why this is. I’m guessing the answer is something between cow poop and slush.

Welcome Home

I hope these tips for new Vermonters help you and your family have a smooth and successful relocation to this gorgeous green and snowy state. And when it goes awry, as something always does, don’t forget to laugh and share your stories with the rest of us. Welcome to Vermont!  It’s a great place to settle, especially with a family.

 

 

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Deb is a mechanical engineering consultant, STEM educator, artist, and parent in the Burlington area. She is also the co-owner of the Vermont Idea Company. Deb has designed parts of Mars Rovers, astronaut tools, underwater robots, and eye implants that enable the blind to see. She has years of experience teaching fun hands-on STEM workshops and camps focusing on fundamentals of engineering (often by destroying things) and empowering kids to build their own giant creative things with tools. She currently teaches Arduino and Space Design courses to high school students at the Governor's Institute of Vermont. As an artist, she loves learning new ways to make things and integrating those new skills into her art. She dabbles in illustration, woodworking, silversmithing, sculpture, fabric, food, and more. In her free time, you can find her picking blueberries, inventing a new toy (like an interactive phone switchboard for her preschooler), or making kreplach and challah with her kids.

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