Tips for Moving to Champaign-Urbana and East Central Illinois
Moving with your family is a challenging experience made easier with the right help.
Are you getting ready to move your family to a new home or apartment in greater Champaign-Urbana? Whether you’re just moving to Champaign-Urbana from one town over or coming in from out of state, setting up in a new neighborhood is a lot of WORK.
As parents who have all moved at some point in time, to or within Champaign-Urbana (or Mahomet or Tolono or St. Joseph or Homer or Monticello or Rantoul or Sidney or Philo), our team has gathered helpful information and resources for you on this page.
We are here to help make your move to Champaign, Urbana or whichever town you choose as seamless and smooth as possible, so take a look and share this page with friends who are on the move as well.
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What’s It Like to Live in Champaign-Urbana?
If you’re moving from outside of East Central Illinois, you might think: but there’s no mountains or water. And there’s lots of corn.
Well, we’re here to tell you that the strength of our community is its concentration of intellectually curious people; its incredible diversity; and its warm, Midwestern charm. It’s also a place with gorgeous sunsets over the prairie. Add to that a reasonable cost of living, little traffic and lots of outdoor fun, and you have a recipe for a wonderful, family-friendly place to live and raise kids.
There’s something about this place that makes it awfully sticky. There’s tons of amazing green space and parks. We have major college sports without the traffic that usually goes along with them. We have a world-renowned performing arts center (Krannert Center for the Performing Arts) and we were named the Midwest’s Best Food Town in 2017 (so much great food here). We also stay authentic to our ag roots, with plenty of agritourism fun. We are known as one of the most bike-friendly communities in the Midwest. And we average a 14-minute commute to work. We out-punch our weight on so many lists.
Urbana-Champaign? Champaign-Urbana? Or BOTH?
Every city has its own vernacular, and terms that no one from outside that community would understand. If you’re moving from outside of East Central Illinois, here’s an overview of the local lingo we thought you should know while you’re in the process of relocating. Because we get that this can be confusing.
Urbana: Urbana was the first city to be established in what was known as “Big Grove.” The name comes from a city in Ohio. It is the county seat of Champaign County, and has a federal courthouse in addition to all of the county government operations.
Champaign: Champaign is the larger of the two communities, with more than twice the population of Urbana. Champaign was originally called West Urbana, and grew faster because of the railway tracks located there. This growth continues to this day: At this writing, Champaign is one of the few cities in Illinois that is actually growing.
Champaign-Urbana: That’s what most locals call the community when they are referring to this geographical area, mainly because, as we understand it, Champaign is larger. Put together, Champaign-Urbana would rank as the sixth largest city in the Illinois.
Urbana-Champaign: That’s what the University is called. The reason? Most of the official university campus land is physically located in Urbana.
Chambana: We’re not sure who originally coined the name Chambana, but it’s caught on as a mashup name of the two towns. It’s pronounced SHAM-ban-ah. Other nicknames include Shampoo Banana (we’re serious). We created the #chambana hashtag.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: A 150-year-old land grant public university that is the flagship institution in the state, it now has more than 48,000+ students and is the region’s largest employer. It consistently ranks as one of the top public universities in the country, with one of the top Engineering colleges in the world.
UIUC: The unofficial acronym for the university. The university doesn’t refer to itself by this acronym any longer, but it’s still in the vernacular. We actually hear it’s coming back en vogue.
Orange and Blue: The university colors. You have never seen so much orange in your life. The orange is pretty bright, while the blue is more of a navy hue.
Fighting Illini: The athletic nickname for the University of Illinois, usually shortened to Illini. If you hear someone say “I-L-L” the proper response is “I-N-I”. (No, they aren’t sick!)
Savoy: A town contiguous to Champaign, located south. Savoy has its own village government, but is part of the Champaign Unit 4 School District.
Willard Airport: Willard is the Airport that serves Champaign-Urbana. It currently has multiple American Airlines flights a day to Chicago and two direct flights to Dallas.
Campustown: Campustown is generally the area that surrounds Green Street in Champaign, which contains the largest business district connected to campus. Think lots of fast casual food, ethnic restaurants, coffee shops, and other businesses that generally serve student needs. (We like to go there too. Check out our list of top Campustown places to eat.)
Assembly Hall: Now known as the State Farm Center, the Assembly Hall serves as the home of University of Illinois basketball. It also hosts concerts, traveling Broadway productions, and other entertainment. But locals will never stop calling it the Assembly Hall. You can decide if it looks like a spaceship, mushroom or something else.
(We could go on and on, but we’ll stop there for now.)
Moving to Champaign-Urbana – What Neighborhoods
First things first. Where to live? Well, let’s consider what you want in a home.
Do you enjoy a more urban environment that features walkability, with access to a business district? There are neighborhoods like that in both Champaign and Urbana. For example, Urbana has the Historic East Urbana Neighborhood Association; Champaign has the In-Town Neighborhood.
Do you want to live right next to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus? The West Urbana Neighborhood, which includes the “state streets,” is popular because it literally runs right into campus, with stately older homes from a bygone era. West Urbana has an active neighborhood association called WUNA.
Do you enjoy a more “suburban” environment, yet still have a reasonable commute to school and work? Champaign and Urbana both have multiple subdivisions that would qualify, with housing stock of various sizes, ages, and price points. Some more popular suburban-ish areas include the southwest and west side of Champaign; the far north side of Champaign; and the southeast suburban areas of Urbana.
Do you want a quieter bedroom community? Savoy is located just south of Champaign, and feeds into the Champaign school district. It has fewer of its own amenities (but does have ample grocery stores).
Are you drawn to small-town life that’s still only a short drive away from the amenities of Champaign-Urbana? You might enjoy places like Mahomet, St. Joseph, Sidney, Philo, or Tolono. Located a little further away: Monticello, Rantoul, Tuscola, Paxton, Homer. Each town has its own personality and amenities.
General Information for Champaign-Urbana Area Families
Pregnant? Thinking about getting pregnant? Check out our guide to All Things Baby in Champaign-Urbana.
Don’t worry about searching online for where kids can eat free or cheap at restaurants in the Champaign-Urbana area. We have a comprehensive list of kids eat free here.
Find School Information and Childcare Resources
Looking for the right school for your child? Maybe you want a balanced calendar, or a dual-language program. Learn more about how the Schools of Choice program works in Champaign Unit 4 Schools. If your child is in Urbana, learn about kindergarten registration here. There are also private schools in the community.
There are many preschools in Champaign-Urbana and beyond – and all have different personalities, ages, and times. Some are more traditional; others are all day. Does your preschooler qualify for free preschool? Start the process here.
Must Read Resources for Parents
So you’re buying a house or signing a lease. What’s next? Well, be sure to bookmark our site. This is where you will find all the fantastic resources you will need for your family to enjoy our community once the moving trucks have said goodbye.