- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals San Francisco Guide (PDF)
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 many positive aspects, such as the gorgeous aesthetics and bohemian culture of the city, might outweigh the drawbacks, depending on the individual.
Here is some of our pros and cons of relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area.
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: Progressive work culture is not for everyone
The Bay Area boasts progressiveness with open-plan workspaces and attitudes geared towards job satisfaction and happiness. However, such environments are not to everyone’s liking as it’s not always conducive to productivity. There is a catch to a happy and fun workplace: employees must work long and hard hours, often to make up for distractions during their normal workday.
- 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 expats 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
Expats have 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 characteristics. From the trendy area of SoMa or upmarket vibe of Noe Valley to the family-friendly neighbourhoods such as 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. In fact, it’s one of the most expensive areas for housing in the US. Buying a house is close to impossible for the average citizen. Salaries are adjusted for this, but expats 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 in order to find the best property at a decent price.
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 and 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 the broad range of menus. Cuisines from a broad range of cultures 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, expats can explore Alcatraz Island, museums, such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 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 the 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 and can be startling for some new arrivals.
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 protocol in case of an earthquake emergency. Fortunately, housing is required to follow earthquake-resistant building regulations, which reduces the risk of damage.
Education and schools in San Francisco
+ 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.
- 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.
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, expats are not short 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 till the next one arrives.
- CON: Taking public transport may be unpleasant
Public transport is not perfect. Many expats must commute to work and some report the journey to be unpleasant or uncomfortable and the subway system unclean. We recommend expats give it a go and seeing which route and mode of transport suit them best.
- CON: Travelling by car can be frustrating
Dodging traffic seems to be one of the biggest challenges in the city, and driving is no picnic. 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 petrol (gas), car insurance and maintenance by taking public transport.
►For a general overview and introduction to the guide, read Moving to San Francisco
"As long as you're prepared and know what to expect, you're going to love San Francisco. It's a beautiful place surrounded by awesome national parks for hiking and camping, beautiful beaches, a great nightlife and basically the pros well outweigh the cons." Read more about an expat's opinion of life in San Francisco in our interview with Katherine.
Are you an expat living in San Francisco?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to San Francisco. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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