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How to get started in GTA Online

GTA Online
(Image credit: Rockstar Games)

GTA Online has changed a lot from when it first launched back in 2013. Though major updates have been few and far between, they've coalesced over the years to create an enormous and daunting multiplayer world where you can rob casinos, smuggle drugs, own biker gangs, fly jet-powered motorcycles and unleash havoc on unsuspecting players. From the moment you first start a new character, you'll be overwhelmed with texts and emails from in-game NPCs offering you all sorts of jobs, with little guidance as to how you should actually spend your time (or your money).

This guide will help you punch through that noise. If you're just jumping into GTA Online for the first time (it's free on the Epic Store until May 21), here are some tips to help you navigate the winding crime-filled streets of Los Santos.

GTA Online beginner's guide: Getting started 

In order to play GTA Online, you need to first complete the prologue of the singleplayer campaign. Tthat only takes about 20 minutes. You'll know the prologue is over when you see a cutscene of Michael, one of the main characters, sitting in a therapy session. Skip the cutscene, open the main menu, and you can join GTA Online and start making your character.

GTA Online is an enormous game that can feel very confusing at first. Embrace it and know that, as you continue to play and familiarize yourself with all its activities and systems, it'll begin to make more sense. Here are some basics tips to help you survive the first few hours: 

  • Aside from your appearance, don't sweat the choices in the character creator too much. They subtly affect what level your skills start at, but it won't matter in the long run.
  • Do the tutorial. It takes about an hour, but the tutorial, in which Lamar takes you on a few missions, is a vital introduction to different aspects of GTA Online.
  • The two biggest progression systems in GTA Online are cash and RP (reputation points). Cash is necessary to buy new guns, clothes, and properties, while RP increases your overall level. Starting out, a lot of stuff will be locked until you're a certain level.
  • If you don't want other players to attack you, you can turn on passive mode in the interaction menu (press 'M'). This makes you invulnerable to other players but also prevents you from using weapons or attacking, so it's best used when you're peacefully exploring and don't want to be interrupted.
  • The interaction menu has all sorts of useful features, like being able to quickly set your GPS to different destinations. You can also change your clothes, access your inventory of healing items (bought at convenience stores around Los Santos), or set restrictions on who can enter your car. Explore the menu thoroughly to see what it can do.
  • Hacking and cheating happen somewhat often in GTA Online. If you suspect people aren't playing fair, you can jump to a different session from the main menu.
  • Deposit money into ATMs often. If other players kill you, you'll drop a portion of the money you have on you. So get in the habit of periodically dropping by an ATM (use the interaction menu to find the nearest one) and depositing your cash.

What can I do to earn cash and level up? 

We have a whole guide for how to make money in GTA Online, but that also includes activities that are only available to higher-level players.

When you first get dropped into an online session, you're in an open-world version of Los Santos with other players doing their own thing. This is one half of GTA Online, where you can explore, find hidden weapons, buy stuff for your character, or just cause mayhem. Sadly, there aren't many opportunities to make good money in the open world when you're a brand new player. And no, there's no GTA 5 money cheat you can enter to instantly get cash.

That's where jobs come in. You can start jobs in a variety of ways: Either driving to the location on the map, using your phone (up arrow), or going to the main menu. There are hundreds to choose from that range from races against other players, modified versions of singleplayer missions, to big elaborate bank heists. But some jobs pay better than others and some just suck and aren't that fun.

GTA Online players love to maximize how much money they earn, but that can sometimes come at the expense of having fun. Grinding sucks, so worry about that later. Do whatever you think sounds interesting.

(Image credit: Rockstar Games)

If you want some ideas, here are some activities that pay well and are great for low-level characters:

  • Contact Missions - Found in the Job menu or by phoning an in-game NPC like Lamar.
  • Missions with doubled rewards - Rotates weekly, check the loading screen tooltip to find out more.
  • Spin the big wheel in the Diamond Casino - Use your GPS to find it. You can spin the wheel once per day. If you get casino chips, exchange them at the kiosk or gamble them.
  • Steal cars and sell them at mod shops - This one is a bit tricky because high-end cars are too hot to sell, so there's a sweet spot you have to be aware of. This list will help.
  • Do Maude's Bounty Missions - Maude will text you periodically as you play and offer bounties. Bringing them in alive nets a nice reward and will take you all over Los Santos.

What should I spend my money on? 

Everyone has a different answer to this because it ultimately depends on what matters to you. But the best thing you can buy early on are some better weapons and a property to store your cars and act as a home base.

For guns, the first one you'll want is a Micro SMG from Ammu-Nation. The Micro SMG is perfect because you can fire it while driving—just be sure to grab the extended magazine so you don't have to reload as often. After that, you can start saving up for something heavier like the Special Carbine, which packs a nice punch and will help on harder jobs.

Don't buy a car right away. I know it's tempting, but there's literally thousands of vehicles all around you that you can steal for free. If you completed the tutorial, you should know how to personalize a vehicle and claim ownership of it, but here's a refresher on the steps: 

  • Steal a car that isn't too high-end (the Felon, F620, or Jackal are all great choices and easy to find)
  • Take it to a mod shop and purchase a tracker and insurance

(Image credit: Rockstar)

Now this car is yours and will spawn near you whenever you join a GTA Online session or after completing jobs. If it gets destroyed, you can file an insurance claim and receive a new one by calling Mor's Mutual Insurance from your phone.

When you have $25,000, consider buying the garage on 124 Popular Street. Use your phone to access the internet and then navigate to the Dynasty 8 Real Estate website and search for low-end properties. You can store your new car here and even set this as your spawn location so you always start out somewhere safe when you first log in. Buying a garage also gets you access to the Mechanic, who you can call any time to have your car delivered to you. 

How can I get started doing heists? 

Heists are the defining endgame activity of GTA Online and well worth your time, but they're not exactly friendly towards brand new players. Because Heists are challenging and elaborate, they're best tackled by groups of friends using voice chat to coordinate, but they're possible to complete with strangers too.

Heists are divided up into prep missions and a big finale that, completed successfully, rewards a big payout. Teams are led by a heist leader, who is responsible for the upfront costs and recruiting other players. To unlock heists and be a heist leader, you have to be level 12 and own a high-end apartment, which will set you back at least $200,000.

Fortunately, you can join heists led by other players. You'll make less money, but it's a great way to dip your toes into this endgame activity without risking too much. Starting out, it might be hard to find players willing to take you under their wing, since you might be a liability on the mission. There's a community for organizing heists you can look at, but the best method is to either join up with strangers (you can join heists using the job menu) and carefully follow their instructions or attempt heists with some pals. Regardless, you should consider reading a guide for each specific heist so you know what to expect. 

(Image credit: Rockstar)

What's next? 

Once you have a car, some guns, and a property, GTA Online begins to open up. The first major milestone you should work towards is buying one of the luxury apartments around Los Santos, which will get you access to a special planning room where you can take on Heists. These ultra-difficult missions require a coordinated team and a lot of prep work, but they're the defining feature of GTA Online.

As you earn more money and increase your RP, tons of new activities open up, like gun running or drug smuggling. These activities are covered extensively in our how to make money in GTA Online guide. Once you've saved $50,000, you can also start to take on VIP missions that have big payouts but come with some serious risks. These activities are a little complicated to explain in one guide, but fortunately the community has some excellent guides that will guide you on your next steps to becoming a multimillionaire. 

Steven enjoys nothing more than a long grind, which is precisely why his specialty is on investigative feature reporting on China's PC games scene, weird stories that upset his parents, and MMOs. He's Canadian but can't ice skate. Embarrassing.