San Francisco is known for its hilly geography, iconic Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, and colorful Victorian houses. It's also known for its weather. The famous quip that “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco" has been misattributed to the writer Mark Twain but can still prove shockingly true. That just makes San Franciscans cherish warm, sunny weather all the more and on a nice weekend the parks will be flooded with people soaking up the rays.
Despite a long history, it sometimes feels like you’re living on the edge of the future here thanks to the tech industry's dominance of the the employment scene. Things move quickly and someone is always telling you about an app they heard of that will disrupt some staid business and revolutionize the world. It can feel alternatively very exciting and very ridiculous.
The tech migration to SF is a real thing. The culture (and class) distinction between tech workers and non-tech workers can feel like a big gulf at times. People will often tell you that all the culture SF is known for has migrated to East Bay, but this is an ongoing debate.
Neighborhood boundaries are contentious and ever evolving, often due to realtors attempting to make areas more desirable, such as the “Tendernob,” which combines the fancier Nob HIll neighborhood with the infamously sketchy Tenderloin in order to make it marketable. Watch out! Do research on where housing is located in neighborhoods. Some can go from chic to sketchy in a couple of blocks. One thing that is consistent across the city, however, are home prices: this is now the most expensive city in the United States.
Regardless of its challenges, San Francisco is a place that instills deep loyalty in long-time residents. Many say they can't imagine living anywhere else. From the diversity in its people, foods, and neighborhoods to the beautiful day trips around the city, there's a lot to love here.
Read on to learn about the basics (housing, transportation, internet, and more!) of moving to San Francisco and to find the perfect neighborhood for you.
This city is relatively safe but certain parts should be avoided after dark and some should be avoided altogether.
You're better off without a car here due to limited parking and frequent break-ins.
Don't let the palm trees trick you into thinking SF is tropical; it's not. (The palm trees are imported from Southern California.) The ocean is freezing and you can never swim in it. You can surf with a wet suit.
Parking can be an exercise in patience in many neighborhoods of San Francisco. Meter inspectors take their jobs seriously and parking violations will earn you a hefty fine.
Thanks to its location the weather in San Francisco can change quickly: even on a warm sunny day the fog can roll in and drop the temperature significantly in a short time. Carry an extra layer.
"San Francisco is a vibrant city with beautiful views, year-round perfect weather and amazing restaurants. You have access to high paying jobs, world class universities and, of course, the tech capital of the world. It feels like there is an app for everything here! You are also spoiled for choice when it comes to day trips -- options include hiking in Big Sur, cycling in the Marin headlands, skiing in Tahoe, surfing in Santa Cruz, or wine tasting in Napa.
If you can afford it, San Francisco is a great city to live in. All the neighbourhoods have their own distinct personalities, there's always something to do, and friends/family are eager to visit!"
San Francisco is having a bit of a housing crisis. It has surpassed New York City as the United States' most expensive city to live in. Long time residents have been forced out of town and families stay squeezed in studio apartments because that's all they can afford.
Blame is often laid at the feed of the tech employees who seem to have taken over the city, and certainly their high salaries contribute to the problem. But the reality is that San Francisco's laws have made it very difficult to build new housing for decades, so you have a classic supply and demand problem: more people want to live in the city than can be accommodated, so prices have skyrocketed.
Nonetheless, there are pockets of the city that are more affordable than others. You'll just have to put up with a longer commute or fewer amenities within walking distance.
RENTING IN SAN FRANCISCO
Competition is fierce for rentals in this city. That means that speed and persistence often make the difference between your rent application being accepted or getting tossed in the trash bin with a few dozen others. You need to mentally prepare yourself that finding a rental property in San Francisco is going to be a challenge.
It also means it's a good idea to spend a week (or two) in the city before you start a job so you can be flexible with seeing properties as soon as they become available. You should also plan on looking for a place to live 2-3 weeks before you need it; any earlier than that and most of what you see online will have a rental start date that's too early for you.
So, where to start? First, try to narrow down your search to several neighborhoods based on what's important to you. Maybe you want tons of restaurants and bars nearby, maybe you want to be near good public schools, maybe you want a short commute to work, or maybe you want all three. Our Neighborhood Explorer for San Francisco can help you narrow the search down using several criteria.
Next, make sure you've got all your paperwork ready to go before you start looking for a place to live. If you find a place you like, you don't want to lose time pulling it all together because in the time it takes someone who is better prepared could get the apartment. You should have this paperwork ready to hand over when you see a place you like. You'll need to have the following documentation:
The next step is to start the home search. Apps like Padmapper are great for searching because they aggregate listings from many sites. Craigslist, which started in San Francisco, is also a good resource for finding an apartment or finding a roommate to share the cost with. As with all things in life, if something appears too good to be true on these sites then it likely is. If an apartment or home is particularly cheap compared to others around it, chances are it's not real. Also, be careful when you see creative use of language: if something is "cozy" then assume you'll barely have room to move; if something "has lots of character" then assume it hasn't been updated in 100 years.
Make sure to ask whether the property will include key appliances, like a refrigerator, washer and dryer (if there's a hookup), and even – though it's rare not to have one – a stove. Not all homes have these items included and it can be an unpleasant surprise if you move in only to find out you'll have to buy one.
The only real consolation for the high prices and competition is that once you've found a place, San Francisco has very strong tenants rights law. These laws apply even if the unit you're renting is not legal. Here are several things to be aware of:
More information on your protections as a tenant can be found on the San Francisco Tenants Union website.
HELPFUL REAL ESTATE WEBSITES
Padmapper.com - Padmapper pulls in rental properties from over 100 sources and displays them in a map view. You can easily filter the results based on home size, cost, and whether pets are allowed.
Zillow or Trulia - Similar in functionality (and owned by the same company) both sites can be searched for properties for rent or for sale. They generally have the exact same listings; the main difference is how they display the results based on your search criteria.
Craigslist - This is not just a place to find a home: you can find pretty much anything you can think of on Craigslist. But it can be a great place to find a rental or a roommate. Just be more careful with the properties you see here since there is not a lot of quality control.
San Francisco has a fairly extensive public transit system, but just how good it is will be highly dependent on the neighborhood you live in.
TRANSIT AND WALKABILITY RATINGS
For each San Francisco neighborhood you'll see a Transit rating and a Walkability rating. The Transit rating tells you how good and reliable public transportation options are in that neighborhood. The Walkability rating tells you how many local amenities (shops, restaurants, fitness options, etc.) you can walk to in that neighborhood.
Education in the United States is typically broken up into five phases:
The great majority of students in the United States in elementary school and high school attend public schools. Public schools do not charge tuition (they're funded by taxes, so they're not exactly free) and are open to any school-aged children in the school district.
School districts are an important thing to understand when moving here. The United States has some terrific public schools, but it also has some terrible public schools. The school district you live in determines which public school your child can attend. You'll typically find that a home located in a good school district is more expensive than a home that isn't. It's also important to know that school districts don't necessarily overlap with an entire neighborhood – some neighborhoods may be split in half by the boundary of a school district, creating a huge difference in home prices even though the homes are only separated by a few feet.
And some school districts may have a great elementary school but a bad high school, or vice versa. So if you have school-aged kids and plan to send them to public school, make sure you check the quality of the schools before you find a place to live.
The independent Great Schools organization has a useful website that grades all of its public schools on a number of criteria.
CHARTER SCHOOLS AND PRIVATE SCHOOLS
Charter schools are a type of public school but often have a private sponsor as well to help fund the school's operations. Charter schools typically pop up in communities with bad public schools. They focus on rigorous academics and are less beholden to the rules and restrictions of regular public schools. Because of their strong curriculum and teachers they are highly desirable, which means there are never enough spots for all the kids who want to go to them. Many accept students through a lottery system. This is something you may want to look into if you will be living in a neighborhood that does not have any good public schools in its district.
Private schools are another option for educating your child. San Francisco has dozens of private schools within its borders; some of the private schools are among the best in the country and send a large proportion of students to the top institutions of higher education in the United States. There is no restriction on which private school your child can attend provided he or she meets the school's criteria (some are very competitive academically). The downside of private schools is that they do charge tuition and can be quite expensive. You're also still required to pay the taxes that fund public schools so you're double-paying in a way. Most private schools do offer financial assistance to students who can't afford the full tuition.
American healthcare may be one of the most confusing things you'll have to navigate when you move here. If you're being relocated for work by your employer and will be on an employer-sponsored visa, then typically your employer will provide some sort of healthcare plan for you and your family. If you're moving for a different reason and will not be covered, then by law you'll need to obtain healthcare on your own.
Many physicians will not provide their services if you do not have healthcare. Note that in the event of an emergency hospitals must provide treatment even if you don't have insurance. However, you can expect to receive a bill for the treatment and even simple procedures can cost thousands of dollars.
PREMIUMS, DEDUCTIBLES, COPAYS, AND COINSURANCE
When you're evaluating healthcare plans you'll see the terms premium, deductible, coinsurance, and copay. These are important terms to understand since they'll impact the cost of the healthcare plan to you.
A premium is the payment you make, typically monthly, to your health insurer to keep your health insurance plan active. If you have health insurance provided by your employer then they may pay for some or all of the premium.
This is the amount of money that you will personally have to pay for healthcare services each year before your health insurance starts to provide coverage.
For example, if your plan has a deductible of $2,000 then your health insurance won't cover any costs until they are higher than $2,000. So if you have a procedure that costs $5,000 you would pay $2,000 and your insurance would pay $3,000. If you're a healthy person who doesn't require any major treatment during the year then it's likely you'll never spend more than your deductible.
Some health insurance plans do provide coverage for basic services like an annual check-up before you've met your deductible.
Plans with a high deductible typically have cheaper monthly premium payments, but you'll pay more out of pocket before insurance kicks in. And some plans with very high monthly premiums do not have a deductible at all.
Think of coinsurance as sharing the cost of healthcare services with your health insurer. This is a fixed percentage amount that you pay for healthcare services and applies after you've met your deductible
For example, let's say you have physical therapy treatment that is covered by insurance and your health insurance plan dictates that each time you visit a physical therapist you have a 25% copay. If the physical therapy treatment costs $100 then you must pay $25 and your health insurance will pay $75.
Plans with a lower monthly premium payment tend to have a higher coinsurance amount.
Some health insurance plans have something called a "copay" when you obtain medical services or prescription drugs. This is a fixed amount that you pay for healthare services and, once again, only applies after you've met your deductible.
For example, you may have a prescription for medicine that is covered by your health insurance, but each time you go to the pharmacy to refill the prescription you have a copay of $20 – basically, you have to pay $20 to get your medicine and your health insurance covers the rest.
If your situtation or your family's situtation requires frequent trips to the doctor or you are frequently refilling prescriptions, you'll want to find a plan that has a low copay amount.
Some health insurance plans may have both copays and coinsurance.
HELPFUL HEALTHCARE WEBSITES
Amino Cost - Amino helps you find a doctor in your area to treat specific conditions. Their cost tool lets you see average costs for the same procedure in your metro area and can be useful to make sure you're not overpaying.
GetInsured - This simple-to-use site makes it easy for you to shop for insurance if you're not covered by an employer. You can filter by different criteria such as deductible amount, plan type, and health insurer.
ZocDoc - ZocDoc is an easy way to find a doctor in your neighborhood who accepts your insurance.
Very few Americans install landline phones these days, so we'll focus on "cellphones", which is what mobile phones are called here. There are two main ways of getting a cellphone and cellphone service in the United States:
CELLPHONE SERVICE PROVIDERS
Cellphone coverage is ubiquitous across this country's major metro regions but not all service providers are created equal. There are four main businesses in the United States and they each offer trade-offs between the quality of their coverage and their price.