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Moving to San Francisco

Images of the great Golden Gate Bridge straddling the bay come to mind when thinking of San Francisco. But the city's beauty doesn't stop there. Classic bay-window architecture, steep hills with vintage trams crawling up them, bustling Union Square, the nearby Muir Woods, and the gorgeous harbour are all part of the city's charm.

The Bay City has a history of attracting visionaries and entrepreneurs who are often at the creative cutting edge of their time. Expats moving to San Francisco join a rich tradition of pioneers, from the gold miners who started the first European settlements, to the counter-cultural movements of the 20th century and the venture capitalists of the tech boom. As much as it is known for its history, migrants continue to be drawn to the city for its landmarks and the liberal lifestyle it offers residents.

Living in San Francisco as an expat

San Francisco's diversity and the city’s spirit of progress are likely to shape expats’ experiences of living and working in San Francisco. The largest contributors to the city’s economy are the financial services industry, tourism and of course the high technology of Silicon Valley. A remnant of its role in the California Gold Rush, the city is still one of the largest centres of finance in the United States.

San Francisco’s public transport system is comprehensive and efficient, helped by its compact grid layout. The city’s bus system reaches most areas, while residents can also make use of the Bay Area Rapid Transit rail service.

The healthcare system in San Francisco is one of the best in the country, and the city is one of the few places in the USA where uninsured residents have access to subsidised healthcare. It also has some of the best hospitals in California. Most expats will, however, require medical cover to access these.

Cost of living in San Francisco

In some ways, the city is a victim of its own success and long-time residents often bear the burden. The extremely high cost of living is pushing many residents out of their neighbourhoods which are, in turn, gentrified by wealthier inhabitants. Families are increasingly moving towards San Jose and other parts of the Bay Area. 

Expat families and children

Newcomers will have access to a variety of accommodation in the neighbourhoods of San Francisco, from leafy suburbs to gentrified areas with loft apartments. Parents can choose from a variety of quality public, private and international schools. The city also provides a wide selection of options for further education, including the University of California, Berkeley.

It is also a child-friendly city and kids in San Francisco can hardly be bored given all the attractions and activities for the young and the young at heart. Expat families can spend time in a variety of museums, picnic in Golden Gate Park or enjoy weekend shopping at one of the city’s malls and shopping districts.

Climate in San Francisco

With cool to mild weather throughout the year, San Francisco has a pleasant climate. There is little variation in average temperature from season to season. Areas immediately on the coast are the mildest in terms of climate. As one moves inland, the climate becomes more continental with slightly cooler winter temperatures and warmer summer temperatures.

San Francisco has much to offer those who can afford it or are willing to cut costs by commuting and living sustainably. It is a city that hums with cultural vibrancy, where industry meets imagination and people from all walks of life come together. Constantly reinventing itself, expats who move to San Francisco might find themselves a part of history in the making.

Weather in San Francisco

With cool to mild weather throughout the year, San Francisco has a pleasant climate. There is little variation in average temperature from season to season. Areas immediately on the coast are the mildest in terms of climate. As one moves inland, the climate becomes more continental with slightly cooler winter temperatures and warmer summer temperatures.

Summer is from June to September, followed by autumn which runs through to November. During these months, the city is frequently covered by a blanket of fog. In winter, rain is common from mid-November to March, so be sure to invest in a raincoat and umbrella.

 

Pros and cons of moving to San Francisco

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.

Working in San Francisco

San Francisco is the financial hub of the West Coast and one of the world's foremost centres of technology. The city is also considered one of the strongest economies in the US. As such, jobs in San Francisco are in high demand and competition fierce.


Job market in San Francisco

The San Francisco Bay Area, containing Silicon Valley to the south, has emerged as the technology capital of the United States. The Bay's technology industry is enormous and spans most conceivable areas of research, particularly in the way of advancement in biomedical and biotechnology sectors. It also has an advanced aerospace industry.

Some of the most well-known employers in the Bay Area are household names synonymous with progress and innovation. These include Apple, Tesla and PayPal. The city itself is also at the forefront of internet development and houses many of the world's largest online companies, including Twitter, Dropbox, Craigslist and Pinterest.

This attracts many specialised expats eager to take advantage of the cutting-edge attitude and the opportunities available in the technology and internet industries in San Francisco.

Despite the size of its more innovative sectors, a large section of the San Francisco economy is still maintained by its tourism and finance industries.


Finding a job in San Francisco

Highly skilled expats with expertise in their field are likely to find a position in San Francisco. Networking is important. It helps to make connections and keep one's ear to the ground for new opportunities or upcoming start-ups. Online job portals, social networks, local newspapers and recruitment agencies are also good sources for finding work.

In addition to having the right skill set, qualifications and experience, expats looking for work in San Francisco must ensure that they have the correct work permit for the US.


Work culture in San Francisco

San Francisco's trendy, bohemian character has influenced the working culture of many of the businesses based there. While it's unlikely that the financial services sector will forego its formal attire, some of the largest corporations in the San Francisco Bay are known for having an unorthodox atmosphere geared towards the happiness of their employees.

Many of these companies also place great importance on environmental sustainability and improving the world through technology, as the city continues to be at the progressive forefront of American business.

Cost of Living in San Francisco

Those planning on moving to San Francisco will need to ensure they can afford the city's high cost of living. Not only is it the third most expensive city in the US (after New York City and LA) but it's also one of the priciest cities worldwide. Mercer's 2021 Cost of Living Survey placed San Francisco as the world's 25th most expensive city out of 209 cities assessed worldwide.

However, this shouldn’t put expats off moving to San Francisco. Salaries tend to be correspondingly high, though newcomers should remember that smart budgeting is essential in the Golden Gate City.


Cost of accommodation in San Francisco

Housing is a big-ticket item in a person's total cost of living in San Francisco. Generally, house hunters will find that it isn't possible to afford a nice place to rent without compromising on location and size. Many apartment complexes also have a shared laundry, and expats will have to be prepared to pay extra for an apartment with its own washer and dryer.

Some rental accommodation in San Francisco includes utilities or gardening costs, which can be better value for money. But with demand for rental properties being so high, many properties are leased within hours of being advertised.


Cost of food in San Francisco

The cost of food can be fairly cheap in San Francisco’s supermarkets, especially if new arrivals join store loyalty programmes to get discounts on certain items. Farmer's markets and speciality organic food supermarkets often provide produce of a higher quality but can be pricier.


Cost of transportation in San Francisco

Public transport options in San Francisco are limited for those who don’t live along the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train line. That said, fares on public transportation are reasonable. Because of the high price of accommodation in the city, it's common for residents to drive long distances to work each day, which potentially involves paying several bridge tolls in addition to fuel costs.  


Cost of education in San Francisco

Public schools in San Francisco are free, but parents are expected to cover stationery and excursion costs. There are also endless fundraising events at most public schools to cover the costs of education; though all donations are voluntary. 

The cost of private education in San Francisco, as with most cities, is high. International schools, which teach foreign curricula, tend to be even more expensive than other types of private schools.


Cost of entertainment in San Francisco

One of the most alluring aspects of San Francisco is its fantastic lifestyle. The cost of leisure pursuits and entertainment in San Francisco will depend on personal preferences.  

Ticket costs for good museums, musicals and concerts are quite expensive, but many theme parks and tourist attractions offer season passes or group deals that can make entertainment more affordable.


Cost of living in San Francisco chart

Note that prices may vary depending on product and service provider and the list below shows average prices for August 2021.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

USD 7,500

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

USD 4,500

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

USD 2,800

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

USD 2,500

Shopping

Dozen eggs

USD 3.85

Milk (1 litre)

USD 1.25

Rice (1 kg)

USD 5.30

Loaf of white bread

USD 4

Chicken breasts (1kg)

USD 14

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

USD 11

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

USD 10

Coca-Cola (330ml)

USD 2.50

Cappuccino 

USD 4.80

Bottle of beer (local)

USD 7.50

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

USD 85

Utilities/household

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

USD 0.15

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month) 

USD 64

Basic utilities (electricity, water and refuse per month)

USD 190

Transportation

Taxi rate/km

USD 1.90

Bus fare in the city centre 

USD 3

Gasoline/petrol (per litre)

USD 1

Accommodation in San Francisco

As a city surrounded by water on three sides, San Francisco’s real estate is 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. With the rise of Silicon Valley and the influx of techies from all over the world, the cost of accommodation has become eye-watering.

That said, there are many accommodation options in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, where newcomers can opt for an apartment or house within a short distance of the thriving metropolis itself and get to work via an easy commute.


Types of accommodation in San Francisco

The constricted and compact nature of the city has given rise to 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 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. 

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. Forums, social networks, property websites and community messaging groups are all popular ways of finding accommodation. Local newspapers can also be a good source for apartment listings.

Of course, house hunters can also drive or walk around an appealing neighbourhood looking for 'For Rent' signs, or approach an estate agent who would be able to give them the lowdown on a particular neighbourhood and shop around for the right specs. They do charge, often substantial, fees though.


Renting accommodation in San Francisco

Newcomers to San Fran should act fast once they find a suitable apartment. Since the rental market in the city is so competitive, apartments are often snapped up 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.

Deposit

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.

Utilities

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.

Areas and suburbs in San Francisco

The best places to live in San Francisco

With dozens of neighbourhoods to choose from, there are many options when it comes to finding the right neighbourhood to call home in 'Frisco'. Whether it be for its architecture, closeness to nature or cosmopolitan crowd, freshly arrived house hunters are sure to find their ideal home in an area best suited to their needs and lifestyle.


Family-friendly suburbs in San Francisco

bridge

For expats moving to San Francisco with children, it will be a priority to be close to good schools. Suburbs with access to open spaces and facilities that cater for children are an added bonus.

Walnut Creek

Walnut Creek is a leafy suburb in the East Bay area of San Francisco. With its green open spaces, sports fields and facilities for extra-curricular pursuits, it's well known for being a family-friendly area.

There is a strong sense of community in Walnut Creek with a number of good public and private schools in the area. The suburb is well connected to San Francisco by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system and bus. There are also a number of bike lanes and trails for cycling enthusiasts.

Novato

Novato, located in the North Bay region of San Francisco, is another great area for expats with children. There are numerous good public schools in the area, as well as several private schools. Novato has an abundance of parks and museums, so there's plenty for families to do. There is also a growing number of chic eateries and boutique fashion stores in the area.


Young and trendy areas in San Francisco

SoMa

San Francisco is popular with young expats starting careers in the area's famous tech hub, and it has some excellent living options for those that want to be close to the hustle and bustle of the Golden Gate City.

SoMa

South of Market, or SoMa as it is more commonly known, is one of the largest neighbourhoods in San Francisco. The area is dotted with trendy clubs, software headquarters, bars and eateries. It is also close to the Museum of Modern Art.

SoMa’s proximity to the city centre makes it perfect for those who make it a priority to be close to work, and its massive residential blocks and warehouse conversions are popular with young professionals in San Francisco. 

There is easy access to the major highways as well as public transportation. This is one of the best areas when it comes to easy access to buses and trains.

Bernal Heights

Full of colourful Victorian houses and often referred to as an urban village, Bernal Heights has become popular with artists, young families and single professionals because of its affordable properties and bohemian charm. The area is brimming with quaint cafes, trendy boutiques and innovative eateries, and there are also regular markets.

There are many accommodation options available in the area, ranging from small studios to larger family homes with gardens.


Luxury living in San Francisco

Noe Valley

On average, rental prices in San Francisco are among the most expensive in the US. Although rent in the city is steep in general, for those who want the very best, San Francisco boasts plenty of upper-class neighbourhoods.

Noe Valley

Noe Valley is one of the most sought-after and prosperous suburbs of San Francisco. Many dot-com millionaires have chosen to make the area home, and it is filled with upscale bistros, boutique shops and cosy bookstores.

The hills that surround the valley give the area a feeling of removal from the urban chaos of the city. Properties in Noe Valley are predominantly low-rise Victorian houses, which contributes to the historic charm of the area.

Sea Cliff

For those who want the best sea views in the city and are willing to pay for it, Sea Cliff is the ideal location. In fact, Sea Cliff is the only neighbourhood in San Francisco that touches the ocean at Baker Beach and China Beach.

As well as being close to the sea, residents of Sea Cliff live in close proximity to Lands End, which is part of the Golden Gate National Park. It is also close to a number of San Francisco’s top international schools.

It is an immaculate residential suburb of free-standing properties, and it has a distinct Mediterranean feel. The properties are large and luxurious and generally come with impressive gardens and swimming pools. Rental properties are sought after in Sea Cliff, and expats may find it difficult to secure an apartment here, especially during the summer months.

Healthcare in San Francisco

The healthcare system in San Francisco enjoys a good reputation and is defined by high-quality medical centres and good access to treatment.

Most businesses in the area hiring expats will provide health insurance. It's extremely important to have full medical insurance in the US as hospitals are extremely expensive and non-emergency care can be refused without it.

Pharmacies in San Francisco are widely available in the form of chain pharmacies, in-store pharmacies that are part of a grocery or department store, and independent chemists.


Hospitals in San Francisco

California Pacific Medical Center

Website: www.sutterhealth.org/cpmc
Address: 3700 California Street, San Francisco

John Muir Medical Center, Walnut Creek

Website: www.johnmuirhealth.com
Address: 1601 Ygnacio Valley Road, Walnut Creek

University of California San Francisco Medical Center

Website: www.ucsfhealth.org
Address: 505 Parnassus Ave, San Francisco

Washington Hospital

Website: www.whhs.com
Address: 2000 Mowry Avenue, Fremont

Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center

Website: www.zuckerbergsanfranciscogeneral.org
Address: 1001 Potrero Avenue, San Francisco

Education and Schools in San Francisco

In true West Coast spirit, the San Francisco public education and school system is a little left of centre when compared with the rest of the country. There are also plenty of private schools to choose from in San Francisco, including international schools offering foreign curricula.


Public schools in San Francisco

Unlike most school districts in America, children in San Francisco do not necessarily attend public schools based on their residential address. The city tries to maintain even demographics in each school based on income, race and language.

Despite these attempts at equalising schools, some have much higher test scores than others. Families can choose a number of preferred schools in San Francisco, and the school board assigns their child to one of them. Most of the time, children can attend a school from among their top choices. For this reason, it is even more important than usual for parents to research the best options available when choosing a school for their child.


Private schools in San Francisco

Many expats opt to send their children to one of the many private schools in San Francisco. Choosing and being accepted into one of these is often a difficult process that involves testing and interviews.

Parents should begin to search for a school as soon as they are able, and it is recommended they do so far in advance of the move. Specialists can be hired to assist families with the process.

Private education is expensive in San Francisco, though there may be scholarships available to help finance children's private school education. Some of the Catholic schools in San Francisco could provide a less expensive option.


International schools in San Francisco

International schools in San Francisco are popular with expats as they can accommodate students previously studying in different curricula. This includes schools offering French, German and Chinese education. Teaching is typically in the language associated with the school's country of origin so that expats can be taught in their home language.

Expat parents favour international schools because they can provide a sense of continuity and familiarity. They also ensure that children keep up with their peers back home and earn the same certification in case they return. This is especially important for expat families who don't intend to settle in San Francisco permanently. 


Homeschooling in San Francisco

Homeschooling is legal in the state of California and, for the most part, parents are free to conduct their child's education as they wish. Regulations do require that all children are given some form of schooling from ages 6 to 18.

The Department of Education regards homeschooling as a form of private schooling. Parents will need to complete the Private School Affidavit (PSA).

Generally speaking, the state doesn't take a hands-on approach to homeschooling and advises parents looking to homeschool their children to tap into non-governmental resources such as local homeschooling organisations.


Special-needs education in San Francisco

Children with special needs are well provided for in San Francisco as there are a number of resources available.

If parents with children in the public school system think their children may have special educational needs, they should notify the school. An evaluation will be carried out to determine eligibility. If declared eligible for special education services, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is drawn up by a specialist team. Parents are included as part of this specialistic team and therefore have input in planning the way forward. 

A child's IEP is reviewed at least once a year and any child with a disability is completely re-evaluated at least once every three years in order to make sure that current interventions are still appropriate.

When it comes to private schools, some have more robust special-needs departments than others, so it's worthwhile taking this into account when picking a school. Many schools are able to accommodate and provide assistance for children with learning difficulties such as ADHD or dyslexia. That said, not all private schools are equipped to assist with more severe disabilities.


Tutors in San Francisco

Tutoring services are easy to find in San Francisco. A wide range of subjects and grade levels are catered for. It isn't uncommon for older students facing their final exams to enlist the help of a tutor to ensure that they are fully prepared.

For expats, tutors can be helpful in aspects such as English-language development, maintenance of home language skills and getting up to speed on a new curriculum.

International Schools in San Francisco

There are a number of international schools in San Francisco. These cater to a wide range of nationalities and follow various curricula from around the world. International schools are especially popular among newly arrived expats looking to give their child an experience as close to school back home as possible.

Below is a list of popular international schools in San Francisco.


International schools in San Francisco

French American International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate and French Baccalauréat
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.frenchamericansf.org

German International School of Silicon Valley

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: German Abitur and American
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.gissv.org

La Scuola International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2 to 13
Website: www.lascuolasf.org

Lycée Français de San Francisco

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: French Baccalauréat and American
Ages: 2 to 18
Website: www.lelycee.org

Lifestyle in San Francisco

The City by the Bay is a friendly and fascinating place to relocate to. There's no shortage of attractions in San Francisco, which is positively brimming with activities for new arrivals and their families to enjoy.

Aside from world-famous attractions such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, San Francisco is also known for world-class shopping, vibrant and eclectic nightlife and dining options, as well as the natural beauty surrounding the city.


Shopping in San Francisco

There is a number of great neighbourhoods for expats to explore when shopping in San Francisco. Unlike many other cities, the city’s shopping districts are fairly spread out. Union Square is a good place to start, hosting some of the most recognisable designer stores, while Haight-Ashbury's hippie roots can still be seen as vintage clothing stores mix with exclusive boutiques.

Fillmore Street is, however, considered to be the best shopping street in the city. Lined with retailers and restaurants, the area is at the epicentre of upcoming trends and provides a wide variety of shopping options, from second-hand bookshops to upscale clothing stores.


Nightlife and entertainment in San Francisco

Expats looking for a good night out will find that there is no shortage of great bars and clubs in San Francisco. With everything from electronic music and hip-hop clubs to trendy lounges and stylish cocktail bars, there are always plenty of options for a night out on the town.

Head to SoMa to dance the night away, the Mission area for dive bars galore, and the Union District for classy cocktail bars.


Sports and outdoor activities in San Francisco

The premier outdoor attraction in San Francisco has to be the Golden Gate Park. Bigger than New York City’s Central Park and one of the most visited parks in the country, it attracts 24 million every year. Throughout its vast expanse, visitors will be able to explore, picnic and exercise at the park’s lakes, groves, trails and cultural venues. Muir Woods is a highlight, and we recommend newcomers take a stroll among the centuries-old, colossal redwood trees.

Other popular outdoor activities in San Francisco include taking a boat trip through the San Francisco Bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge or exploring the air above the city on a sunset plane cruise. Bicycling is also a popular activity, whether on the city streets or in the nearby mountains of Marin County.

Kids and Family in San Francisco

Expats moving to San Francisco can look forward to plenty of activities to partake in and sights to see with children, with many museums and parks designed specifically with kids in mind.

When it comes to getting around as a family, public transport within the city centre is adequate, but having a car will certainly make life easier for expats planning on venturing out into the Bay Area.


Entertainment for kids in San Francisco

There's plenty to see and do with children in the Golden City. For a start, hours of fun can be had at one of the many theme parks surrounding San Francisco such as California’s Great America, Six Flags and the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Playgrounds are rarer, but the Yerba Buena Gardens is a great place to visit and has the Children’s Creativity Museum right next door.

Most kids love the boat trip to visit Alcatraz, and the self-guided audio tours are very interesting for older kids as they describe jail life, including stories from real inmates. Visiting the sea lions at Pier 39 is also a lot of fun.

Cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge is a popular activity, and a visit to the Exploratorium is a must for those who like hands-on science activities. The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park is home to playgrounds and open spaces as well as exciting attractions such as the California Academy of Sciences.

It only takes a short drive to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city to go hiking in the redwood forests at Muir Woods, visit strawberry farms near Half Moon Bay, or explore the tidal pools at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.


Challenges for parents and kids in San Francisco

San Francisco is a very busy city so walking the streets can be tricky with a stroller or young child. There are lots of hills and children can tire easily. Public transport is satisfactory and is being improved, but it can be difficult wrangling kids and strollers onto trams and buses. Cars are the best way to get around.

Due to the popularity of living in San Francisco and the Bay Area, housing is extremely expensive and rental prices are high. Many families need to live an hour away from the city to afford a home, and commuting to work is common.

See and Do in San Francisco

Known for its steep hills, gently ascending cable cars and, of course, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, there is a wealth of sightseeing opportunities and famous attractions in San Francisco for new arrivals to explore once the stress of relocation has settled. Here are some of the best things to see and do in San Francisco.


Attractions in San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is by far the most famous symbol of San Francisco. There is nothing quite like seeing this iconic rust-coloured bridge in person for the very first time.

Alcatraz

Commonly known as ‘The Rock’, this alleged escape-proof island prison once held the likes of Al ‘Scarface’ Capone and George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly. Expats can explore the prison on guided tours and learn about the island’s fascinating history.

Golden Gate Park

One of the most picturesque open spaces in the city, Golden Gate Park has plenty of features that will keep residents coming back for more. Beautiful lakes, the spectacular Muir Woods forest, numerous sporting facilities, and fascinating museums make the parkland a fantastic destination for families, picnickers, or just a break from the day-to-day grind.

Aquarium of the Bay

Featuring more than 20,000 aquatic animals, from sharks and starfish to otters and octopi, the Aquarium of the Bay is a fascinating way to spend an afternoon. 

Lombard Street

By some measures, famous Lombard Street is the most crooked street in the world, featuring eight hairpin turns. Originally designed in 1922 to make the 27-degree slope of the hill manageable for residents, Lombard Street has become one of San Francisco’s quirkier attractions.

Chinatown

San Francisco has one of the oldest Chinatowns in the United States. Even today, the area draws more tourists a year than even the famous Golden Gate Bridge. This is a great place to pick up fresh fish and vegetables and spend some time perusing the herbal shops and enjoying a meal in one of the many enticing eateries.

What's On in San Francisco

San Francisco’s diversity and eccentricity have at times influenced culture around the world, and the city's unique attributes are reflected in its diverse and exciting events calendar.

Residents get to enjoy a variety of festivals that celebrate the city’s history and character. From beer and wine festivals to marathons and parades, new arrivals will be spoilt for choice.


Annual events in San Francisco

SF Beer Week (February)

This festival showcases San Francisco's craft beer scene with hundreds of events over 10 days each February. Brew-loving newcomers will be in beer heaven, but even those who don’t know the difference between pale ale and dunkel will find something to delight in. Festival-goers can also enjoy gourmet events that sample some of the best food in San Francisco, meet the best brewers in the Bay Area, and can even attend home-1brewing demonstrations.

San Francisco International Film Festival (April)

The longest-running film festival in the US, the San Francisco International Film Festival hosts around 200 films from 50 countries each year. Attendees get to enjoy some of the best new films from around the globe in an exciting setting.

Bay to Breakers (May)

Part-fundraiser, part-marathon and part-celebration, the Bay to Breakers footrace has been a San Francisco institution since 1912. From serious athletes to costumed casuals, runners of all kinds can join in on the fun. Participants are cheered on by spectators, with the race concluding at Ocean Beach and the Finish Line Festival.

San Francisco Pride Parade (June)

One of the wildest and friendliest on the planet, the San Francisco Pride Parade follows a week of celebrations. The colourful contingent struts down Market Street to the cheers of the thousands of onlookers who gather to witness the event every year.

Fourth of July Celebration at the Pier (July)

Every year on Independence Day, city residents gather on Pier 39 to enjoy an evening of food, fireworks and live entertainment. There is no better way to experience this most American of holidays in the city.

Union Square Tree Lighting (November)

Christmas cheer abounds during this event, with plenty of entertainment on offer, including live performances and holiday shopping. The festivities culminate with the lighting of a giant Christmas tree in the centre of Union Square, a decades-old tradition.

Frequently Asked Questions about San Francisco

New arrivals headed to the Golden Gate City are sure to have plenty of queries and concerns about their new home. Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions about San Francisco.

Can I commute easily from the Bay Area?

Many people commute into San Francisco, and public transport options abound in the city: bus, train, ferry and vanpool access is plentiful. Most companies are obliged to abide by the San Francisco Commuter Benefits Ordinance, which requires the company to provide financial support for commuting employees. This can reduce the costs of one's day-to-day commute significantly.

Is San Francisco safe?

Safety standards in San Francisco are no different than any other major city. Common sense is the best deterrent to avoiding petty or serious crime. It's a good idea not to walk alone at night, and it's best to stay out of public parks at night time as well. A large homeless population in San Francisco gives the appearance of unsafe neighbourhoods, but they are mostly harmless.

What is the weather like?

Many new arrivals expect San Francisco's weather to consist of constant warm and sunny days, but summer temperatures usually sit around 72°F (22°C). Moist coastal weather meets Californian heat and often blankets San Francisco in a thick layer of fog. Winters, on the other hand, are cold and bring a lot of rain.

Getting Around in San Francisco

Getting around San Francisco is relatively easy regardless of whether residents choose to drive themselves or take advantage of the city’s public transportation.

The city is small in size, so many of the places that people want to visit are within walking distance. It's best to keep in mind, though, that San Francisco is a city of hills, some of which are steep. This is worth paying attention to as new arrivals begin to orientate themselves.

People who enjoy walking are likely to find it easy to walk through most areas of the city but may opt to take public transportation in the areas where the hills are at their steepest.

Many expats living in San Francisco do own cars, but it's possible to get by without one.


Public transport in San Francisco

There are many public transport options in the city. Most residents use buses and trains for getting around San Francisco on a day-to-day basis, but making use of the city's famous cable cars and ferrying across the Bay make for a nice change when enjoying a leisurely day out in the city.

Metro

The Bay Area Rapid Transit, or the BART, is the rail system that moves through the city. With six lines and nearly 50 stations, it's a quick and easy way to travel.

The BART trains arrive every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 20 minutes at night and on weekends. Service begins at around 5am on weekdays, while service starts slightly later on weekends. Train service ends at around midnight every day.

Buses

Bus services are run by Muni. Services are fairly frequent during the day when buses stop at six- to 20-minute intervals, depending on the particular route and time of day. Owl services run from 1am to 5am and arrive every half hour. It generally only takes one or two buses (with minimal walking) to reach most destinations from anywhere in the city.


Taxis in San Francisco

Taxis in San Francisco are reasonably priced, especially since travel distances around the city tend to be short. Frequent use of taxis does add up in cost but they are a great way to get around quickly and efficiently. 

It is safe and easy to wave a cab down on the street, or they can be called in advance. Taxis are available at all hours of the day and night.

Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are also available in San Francisco.


Driving in San Francisco

Getting around San Francisco in a car is fairly simple, although expats living in the urban city centre will certainly encounter some traffic problems. 

One of the things to get used to when driving around San Francisco is the many one-way streets in the city. There are many areas of the city where drivers cannot make left turns off of major streets so they have to make a series of right turns instead. This can be frustrating.

The major problem for most people who own cars in San Francisco isn't driving but rather parking. Parking lots in the city are expensive. Most areas allow street parking for free but only for two hours at a time. Expats will find that their best bet may be to purchase a parking permit for the area in which they live.