As a city surrounded by water on three sides, San Francisco’s real estate is limited by the same geography that makes it such an appealing destination.

Finding a house or apartment in San Francisco is one of the biggest hurdles new arrivals face when moving to the city. With the rise of Silicon Valley and the influx of techies from all over the world, the cost of accommodation has become eye-watering.

That said, there are many accommodation options in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, where newcomers can opt for an apartment or house within a short distance of the thriving metropolis itself and get to work via an easy commute.

Types of accommodation in San Francisco

The constricted and compact nature of the city has given rise to apartment buildings and divided houses rather than freestanding houses. Detached houses are difficult to find and extremely expensive, although apartments can also be very pricey. 

Most expats in San Francisco prefer renting rather than buying property. Nevertheless, buying may be a viable option for those planning on settling down in the city, since mortgage payments are sometimes less than the equivalent spent on monthly rent. 

Areas and suburbs in San Francisco

Rents in San Francisco vary considerably between neighbourhoods. Expats on a tight budget should avoid affluent parts of the city, such as Russian Hill and instead look for more affordable housing in areas such as Inner Sunset and Chinatown. 

Other factors to consider when choosing where to search for a home in San Francisco include access to public transport and road links, distance from schools and work, facilities available in the area, and safety.

►Visit our page on Areas and Suburbs in San Francisco to find out more.

Finding accommodation in San Francisco

After deciding on a suitable neighbourhood, the best place to begin a search is online. Forums, social networks, property websites and community messaging groups are all popular ways of finding accommodation. Local newspapers can also be a good source for apartment listings.

Of course, house hunters can also drive or walk around an appealing neighbourhood looking for 'For Rent' signs. Another option is approaching an estate agent for information on a particular neighbourhood. They do charge often-substantial fees though.

Renting accommodation in San Francisco

Newcomers to San Francisco should act fast once they find a suitable apartment. Since the rental market in the city is so competitive, apartments are snapped up shortly after being advertised.

Application and lease

It's vital to put in an application as quickly as possible for the best chance of getting the apartment. Potential tenants should be prepared with proof of a positive credit history as well as funds for the rental deposit. Having these elements pre-organised can speed up the process, meaning the lease can be signed as soon as possible. The typical length of a lease is 12 months.


The deposit is usually the equivalent of one or two months' rent. In addition to this, tenants will need to pay the first month's rent upfront.

►For more details about the rental process, see Accommodation in the USA.

Utilities in San Francisco

Unless otherwise stated, expats should assume that utilities aren't included in the rental cost. Generally, utilities are an extra expense on top of rent. Expats should make expats make allowance for this in their budget.

Gas and electricity

Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) provides gas and electricity in San Francisco. Their website allows customers to sign up for service and pay their bills online. There are several different rate plans to choose from, depending on customer needs and preferences. It's also possible to set up an automatic monthly payment through the PG&E website using a credit or debit card or a bank account. 

Water and sewerage

San Francisco Water Power Sewer (SFWPS), also known as the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, provides water and sewerage services and, in some cases, power. To start receiving services from SFWPS, tenants can give them a call using the number on their website. A number of details are needed to initiate service, and a deposit equal to twice the estimated monthly water and sewerage cost must be paid. The minimum deposit amount is USD 50.

Rubbish removal and recycling

Rubbish removal and recycling in San Francisco is managed by Recology. To have their rubbish collected, tenants can simply put their rubbish outside on collection day. To find out what day rubbish is collected, view Recology's collection calendar online. Bills for rubbish collection can also be paid on the Recology website.

Expat Health Insurance

Cigna Health Insurance

Cigna Global Health Insurance.

Moving your family abroad can be intimidating, but learning about medical options such as family health insurance early on can help you settle successfully.

  • Comprehensive Family coverage, wherever you go
  • Paediatric coverage for well-child visits & immunizations
  • Access to dental and orthodontic care
  • 24/7 multilingual Customer Service

Get a quote from Cigna Global

Moving Internationally?

Sirelo logo

International Movers. Get Quotes. Compare Prices.

Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.

Get your free no-obligation quotes from select removal companies now!