It's hard to believe that Silicon Valley had humble beginnings. Today it's an affluent region home to millionaires (and billionaires!), the software companies they built, and hundreds of startups chasing the dream. But it started out as farmland and orchards before morphing into a manufacturing and blue collar hub in the decades after World War II.
Silicon Valley is not a city itself, but a region of the San Francisco Bay Area that runs roughly from south of San Francisco to San Jose. It earned its name from the many local companies manufacturing computer chips, which used silicon as a primary component. More than two dozen cities and communities are now included within its boundaries.
The area included when someone mentions refers to the Valley has changed over time. Initially it referred to just the Santa Clara Valley in Santa Clara County, but it's expanded to include any city in the region with a prominent software industry. These days it extends north into the cities of San Mateo County. You'll likely find no one agrees on exactly what cities are included, but you can bet the term will expand as tech companies continue moving north in search of more affordable office space.
Many of the world's biggest and best known technology companies are based here: Google, Apple, Facebook, eBay, Cisco, Electronic Arts, Netflix, Oracle, and Hewlett Packard are just some of the marquee names you'll recognize here. But there's more to the region's businesses than just software. NASA has a research center. Visa, the financial services company, is based here. Tesla is headquartered here.
The employees at these companies are highly educated and well paid. Those healthy paychecks and the large population of people who have hit it big when their companies became successful have contributed to skyrocketing housing prices. Families where both parents work and earn six figures are still solidly in the Valley's middle class. Modest homes easily sell for over a million dollars.
This is a thoroughly suburban area and there's not much to demarcate one city from another as you drive through. It does have pockets of urban living such as downtown San Jose and downtown Palo Alto (and if you prefer to be off the grid, it's got some rural communities as well). But if you're coming from a "proper" big city you should expect a much slower pace here.
The Valley has its charms, however. This is a great place to raise kids thanks to stellar schools and low crime. The Bay offers water sports and the nearby mountains and parklands offer miles of hiking and biking. And for people in the software industry it's hard to turn down a chance to working at cutting edge companies with talented people.
Read on to learn about the basics (housing, transportation, internet, and more!) of moving to Silicon Valley and to find the perfect neighborhood for you.
Silicon Valley is home to some of the safest cities in America, but it does have a few rough spots.
With the exception of a few areas, public transit isn't good here so you'll need a car to get around.
Thanks to all the cool tech companies based in Silicon Valley, you might be picturing cutting edge urban living. But Silicon Valley is solidly suburban: malls, ranch-style homes, and bland office plazas are the norm here. There are some more urban centers, such as downtown San Jose, but you're not going to find the buzz of a global city.
Thanks to the high demand and limited supply, housing is expensive here. You'll need a million bucks to afford a modest ranch home for a family. Rentals are similarly pricey. Even with two people bringing in six figures each, you'll be middle class here.
If you're single and ready to mingle your gender is going to have a big role in how successful you are. A 2014 study found that Silicon Valley has 14 employed single men between the ages of 25 to 34 for every 10 single women. In fact, the city of San Jose has earned the nickname "Man Jose" thanks to this gender imbalance. This same imbalance is found at many of the technology companies here.
Silicon Valley usually doesn't come to mind when people think of the worst traffic in the United States. But this region evolved from farm land to a quiet suburban area, so the infrastructure just doesn't exist to handle the 3 million people that now inhabit its towns and cities.
"Silicon Valley has great weather, safe towns and cities, tons of companies doing interesting work, and a lot of energy from all the brilliant people who come here to work ath these companies. Other cities in the United States may be gaining credibility for their startup scenes, but the Valley is still the statup capital of the world."
You'll need a healthy bank account and strong constitution before wading into the Silicon Valley housing market. The explosion of people moving here for those high-flying technology jobs has created a classic supply and demand problem: there's not enough housing for everyone so prices have consistently been going up...and up...and up. It's now among the most expensive places in the United States and there have been high profile stories of people leaving because they can't afford it.
But if you are moving here, then our guide will help you understand the market and how to find a place, whether you're renting or buying.
RENTING IN SILICON VALLEY
In many Valley cities, like Mountain View, the majority of residents are renters so you'll find a wide range of housing options available, from modest studio apartments to luxury homes. As with all housing here, rentals are expensive.
Median Silicon Valley rental costs:
Studio/1 bedroom = $2,295 per month
2 bedroom = $2,900 per month
3 bedroom = $3,950 per month
4 bedroom = $5,200 per month
Many landlords expect you to prove an income triple that of the annual rent. So if you're looking for a 2 bedroom that is going to cost $36,000 per year you'll need to prove income of at least $108,000. (Note that affordable housing for lower income families is quite difficult to get – there are generally long lists of applicants with estimated waiting periods of a year or more.)
Finding a rental
Real estate agents here generally don't get involved in helping tenants find rental properties so you'll work directly with a landlord or property manager when you find something you like. The biggest property managers around are Prometheus, Essex, and Irvine Company and they operate large apartment communities, many with their own fitness centers and pools. You can search directly on their websites or use any of the more popular consolidated property websites below to include these and smaller buildings and single-family homes in your search..
You'll also find furnished apartments here. These will generally be more flexible on timing if you don't want to be locked into a year long lease or aren't sure if you'll stay in the area, but they'll also be significantly more expensive.
When to start your search
You shouldn't start your search more than 30 days before you need a place since any homes you see will rent before you're ready to move. Leases generally start on the 1st or the 15th of the month, so basically plan for one of those move-in dates and back out 30 days from there to know when to start. When you find a place you like you can contact the landlord/property manager to schedule a viewing.
Be careful of location
Make sure the home/apartment you'd be getting isn't close to a major road or -- worse yet -- the train tracks. Caltrain runs from 4:30am to 1:30am, and while this schedule won't apply to every part of the Valley, you could be stuck with a train passing by at all hours of the night.
If you like a place, you should be ready to submit all your paperwork and a deposit on the spot. Many people have spent a day touring homes and decided they liked on they saw earlier in the day best only to learn that someone else beat them to it. While landlords have some latitude, state law requires they accept the first qualified applicant (that term "qualified" is where they can slant things to favor someone who applied later).
WHAT YOU NEED TO RENT IN SILICON VALLEY
As mentioned, it's a good idea to have your documents in hand when viewing a property, just in case you fall in love with it and want to lock it down quickly and hassle free. Here’s what you’ll need to rent:
California state prohibits landlords from inquiring about the residency or immigration status of a prospective renter, so you won’t need to provide a Social Security number.
BUYING IN SILICON VALLEY
There are no restrictions on purchasing property by foreigners in Silicon Valley (or the rest of the United States). Qualified foreign buyers will need to place a larger down payment on their property than US citizens to acquire financing (generally around 30-40% vs 20% for local buyers). Income verification is a must.
Generally speaking, fees will be split between the buyer and seller in order to pay agents on both sides. Fees will range from 2-6%, depending on where the property is purchased and what local laws are regarding sales. For example, San Jose has a transfer fee that must be paid that is about 0.16% of the final sales price.
Homes here are, as you'd expect, very expensive.
Median Silicon Valley home costs:
Studio/1 bedroom = $499,000
2 bedroom = $729,000
3 bedroom = $1,050,000
4 bedroom = $1,680,000
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.
Since Silicon Valley consists of mostly suburban areas this is defintely the kind of place you'll need a car. While there are a number of public transit options within the Valley, how practical those are as a primary means of transportation will really depend on where you live and where you work. If you're walking distance to a bus stop or train station on both sides of that equation, then it's workable (though you'll likely still want a car for errands and weekend excursions). The lone exception to this rule is Downtown San Jose, which is a hub of transportation.
Caltrain has extensive coverage, running from San Francisco in the north to Gilroy in the south. It's got stations within most of the cities along the way -- San Mateo, Belmont, San Carlos, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, and San Jose, to name several -- and serves nearly 20 million riders a year.
The area covered by the train is broken up into six zones and the cost of travel is dependent on how many zones you're traveling in. For example, a one way ticket within zone 2 is $3.75, but if you're going from zone 2 to zone 3 then that same ticket is $5.75. Monthly passes are also available, ranging from $84.80 to $349.80 depending on how many zones you'll travel through.
Significantly discounted fares are available to seniors, disabled, youth, and Medicare cardholders.
VTA Light Rail and Bus
The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA for short) operates a system of buses and light rail.
The Light Rail system starts in Mountain View and goes southeast to San Jose before splitting off on other tracks to the east, south, and west.
Bus routes mainly stick to the commercial roads cutting through the valley: the 101 freeway, Middlefield Road, Alma Street, and El Camino Real. You could be walking a mile or more to the nearest stop. The main exception to this is around Downtown San Jose, which has a relatively dense network.
San Mateo County has its own bus service to cover the 16 cities, 4 towns, and other communities that fall within its borders. Called samTrans, this bus service extends north into San Francisco and south into Palo Alto for commuters. However, the network of routes isn't particularly dense, so unless you live near a stop it's not going to be convenient.
Mountain View has a free community shuttle that operates 7 days a week from 10:00am to 6:00pm. It's got 50 stops around town.
Palo Alto also offers free shuttle service with stops at schools, commercial districts, and business parks.
Many of the Silicon Valley tech behemoths operate their own private bus systems for employees. Google alone carries about 4,000 people a day to its offices from around the Bay area. Facebook, Box, Apple, and many other companies also provide private bus service to employees.
There are dozens of banks in Silicon Valley and for day-to-day personal banking they’re all pretty similar so you should pick one convenient to you. It’s important to consider that if you use an ATM (aka Cash Machine for you Brits) from a competing bank you will likely be charged a service fee of $2 to $4 dollars, so don’t pick a bank that is far away or every time to you need to take out cash you’ll get charged. This obviously becomes less important as more and more businesses accept payments via your smartphone.
Alternatively, there are some banks in the U.S. that are online only. Because they don't have any physical locations they allow you to use any bank’s ATM and then reimburse you for any service fees.
Note that each bank will have its own policies, such as minimum balance requirements. Make sure you understand any requirements and fees before you open an account.
All bank deposits in the U.S. are backed by the government up to USD $250,000.
Banks in Silicon Valley:
Education in the United States is typically broken up into five phases:
The great majority of students in the United States in elementary school, middle 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 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.
Fortunately, Silicon Valley is packed with amazing public schools at all levels. For the most part you won't need to worry about ending up in a neighborhood with a bad school -- instead you'll need to figure out if your child will end up just a "good" school or one of the many excellent schools around.
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. Silicon Valley 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. But 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.
There are many internet service providers in Silicon Valley, but we'll focus on the top four:
Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable) is ubiquitous but much hated for their terrible customer service. Their basic internet service offers download speeds up to 100 megabytes per second (Mbps) for $40/month when you sign up for a 12 month contract. Spectrum has unlimited data usage.
AT&T Internet is another big provider, but isn't available at all addresses. Their U-Verse product starts at $30/month for speeds of 3 Mbps (yes, you read that correctly; it's slow) and has a data cap of 1 terabyte a month.
Frontier is actually a provider of another company's product, Verizon FiOS. You can get speeds of 50 Mbps for $45/month if you sign a 2-year contract. Speeds of 100 Mbps will cost you $55/month and 150 Mbps is $65/month. All plans have the 2-year contract requirement
XFINITY is offered by Comcast, a big media and telecom company. They offer speeds up to 55 Mbps for $40/month if you sign a one year contract. For an extra $10 per month you can get speeds up to 100 Mbps. They also offer bundled packages including cable television.
None of the cities in Silicon Valley have bans or restrictions on specific dog breeds. However, even though these cities don't forbid certain breeds, know that many landlords and property managers will, so owning a pitbull, rottweiler, doberman pinscher or other breed frequently maligned in the media can make it harder to find a home. Those that do allow pets may charge an additional deposit.
You should always license your pet. If you live within Santa Clara county you can find instructions on how to do this at their county website. San Mateo county requires licensing for dogs and recommends it for cats. You can find instructions on licensing your pet online, by mail, or in person on their county website.
Dogs and horses must be registered with the city each year by law. Online registration is available at the Los Angeles Animal Services website.