Like with any other major expat destination, there are ups and downs to moving to San Francisco. One of the biggest downsides to moving here is the high cost of rent – but for many, the positive aspects, such as the gorgeous aesthetics and artsy culture of the city, outweigh the drawbacks.

Here are some pros and cons to consider before moving to San Francisco.

Culture and lifestyle in San Francisco

+ PRO: Creative, forward-thinking and trendy atmosphere

San Francisco is known for its bohemian and creative environment, which draws in artists, techies, other skilled and talented individuals, and open-minded people. It’s perhaps because the city is a melting pot of so many different cultures that results in such a vibrant, trendy atmosphere and lifestyle

+ PRO: Easy for expats to settle in

San Francisco’s progressive ambience and diverse population go hand in hand. Expats from all over the world live and work in this bustling city, and it’s not too hard to find citizens from one’s own home country. This can help a new arrival settle in quickly and feel comfortable.

+ PRO: Culturally diverse cuisines

Of course, with the diverse culture, San Franciscans benefit from a broad range of menus available in the city. Cuisines from all over can be found in neighbourhoods around the Bay Area, be it Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese, Ethiopian or Italian. Expats need not go far for a taste of home or to explore some new flavours.

+ PRO: Lots of things to see and do

San Francisco’s residents never get bored, and new arrivals have plenty to see and do. Other than the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, there’s everything from Alcatraz Island to art museums and Union Square for buzzing retail, dining and nightlife options. The pleasant year-round temperatures make outdoor activities popular, too, such as walking and jogging in the city’s myriad parks and exploring the majestic Redwood forests on San Fran’s outskirts.

- CON: Lifestyles are fast-paced

People from the Bay Area are always on the go; many are business-minded and driven individuals. This comes with its own set of pros and cons, but this busy city life is not for someone who wants to live at a relaxed pace. While it depends on which circle expats find themselves in, busy and rushed people may not seem so friendly, and making friends may be difficult.

- CON: Inequality is evident

The high cost of living flows throughout most pros and cons and general aspects of life in the Bay. The inequality between those who can afford all the luxuries and entertainment options on offer and those who live on the breadline is evident. Homelessness is a real issue which can be startling for some new arrivals.

Working and business culture in San Francisco

+ PRO: Job market is competitive but exciting

No commentary about the industry in the Bay Area would be complete without mentioning Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is not only a regional or national economic hub, but it is also known as a global centre for innovation, technology, start-ups and venture capital and social media. 

Employment options are competitive but not limited, and though the job market is constantly evolving, expats can find work in sectors from tourism to finance and technology, and opportunities abound in freelancing.

- CON: Income tax is high

Residents in San Francisco must contribute to the federal tax, California state tax and city income tax. This adds up quickly, and those new to living here should understand the implications and how to balance their income, cost of living and taxes.

Accommodation in San Francisco

+ PRO: Great areas and neighbourhoods to choose from

There is a wide range of areas and suburbs to search for the perfect accommodation in and around the Bay Area, and each neighbourhood boasts its own unique characteristics. From the trendy area of SoMa or the upmarket vibe of Noe Valley to the family-friendly atmosphere in Walnut Creek, there is something for everyone. 

- CON: Property is outrageously expensive

Accommodation can be prohibitively expensive in the Bay Area. The cost of living in San Francisco is undeniably high, especially regarding the property market. It’s one of the most expensive areas for housing in the US. Buying a house is nearly impossible for the average citizen. Salaries are adjusted for this, but those who live here work hard for their money.

- CON: City-centre accommodation is limited to apartments

In the city centre, rental options are largely limited to apartments – and it’s no secret that gentrification has caused the ever-increasing rise in rent. Families moving to the Bay Area expecting a spacious freestanding house will most likely have to look outside the city centre and commute. Prospective residents should be sure to plan ahead and act swiftly to find the best property at a decent price. 

Safety in San Francisco

- CON: Natural disasters in the San Francisco Bay Area

The San Francisco Bay Area is prone to earthquakes and fires and has experienced major issues in the past. Natural disasters should not be taken lightly, and expats moving to this region must be familiar with safety protocols in case of an earthquake emergency. Fortunately, housing is required to follow earthquake-resistant building regulations, which reduces the risk of damage.

Transport and driving in San Francisco

+ PRO: Many options for getting around

From the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) metro to the light rail system and Muni ferries and buses, as well as taxis and bike and scooter sharing schemes, there are plenty of public transport options in San Francisco. Public transport is relatively reliable and frequent – if a bus is missed during the day, it likely won’t be a long wait until the next one arrives.

- CON: Taking public transport may be unpleasant

Public transport is not perfect. Commuting to work can be unpleasant or uncomfortable, and some say the subway system is unclean. We recommend that new arrivals try out their options to figure out which route and mode of transport suits them best.

- CON: Travelling by car can be frustrating

Dodging traffic seems to be one of the biggest challenges in the city, and, as unpleasant as public transport is, driving is no picnic either. Peak-hour traffic leaves drivers frustrated, and finding free or affordable parking in the city centre is by no means simple. Most residents in the Bay Area save on car-related costs (such as gas, car insurance and maintenance) by taking public transport.

Education and schools in San Francisco

- CON: Private schools are expensive

Like anywhere else in the world, private school education comes with a price tag, especially with international schools in San Francisco. There are several international schools to choose from, and these help many parents ease their children into their new homes with a familiar curriculum. 

+ PRO: Special-needs education support is well-developed

San Franciscan schools – both public and private – boast a high quality of education that is inclusive of students with disabilities. Special-needs education is widely available, especially in private and international schools, which accommodate a range of learning difficulties.

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!