As a city surrounded by water on three sides, San Francisco’s ability to provide accommodation is greatly 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. Not only are rental costs exceptionally high, but supply often fails to meet demand.

That said, there are many housing options in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, where expat accommodation can be found within a short distance of the thriving metropolis itself.

Types of accommodation in San Francisco

The constricted and compact nature of accommodation in San Francisco has given rise to an area characterised by apartment buildings and divided houses rather than free-standing 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 good option for those planning on settling down in the city, since mortgage payments are sometimes less than the equivalent spent on monthly rent. 

Factors to consider when house-hunting in San Francisco

Rents in San Francisco vary considerably between different 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. As can be expected, the cheapest housing options aren't always located in the most central or trendy parts of San Francisco.

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.

Finding accommodation in San Francisco

After deciding on a suitable neighbourhood, the best place to begin a search is online. Local newspapers can also be a good source for apartment listings.

Aside from these traditional methods for searching for accommodation, expats can drive or walk around an appealing neighbourhood looking for "For Rent" signs.

Renting accommodation in San Francisco

Expats should act fast once they find a suitable apartment. Since the rental market in San Francisco is so competitive, apartments are often snapped up very 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. It's best to always 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.


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