The pros and cons of expat life in San Francisco

21 September 2017

Imagine the sun setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge as you sit in one of the city’s many well-maintained parks – San Francisco has an undeniable appeal as the colourful centre of northern California. One of the Unites States’ most liveable metropoles is home to numerous big banks and spawned Silicon Valley as a prominent neighbour. In other words, plenty of expat attractions to go around.

Pros: Cultural diversity

The Bay Area is filled with people from all kinds of cultural backgrounds. And that shows. San Francisco has been a perpetual breeding ground for cross- and countercultural paradigm shifts – most famously the anti-war love and peace-movement in the 1960s. The Summer of Love had its apex exactly 50 years ago, but the lingering effects are still noticeable in the city today. No matter where you come from, chances are you will not particularly stand out in this creative melting pot. In the contrary, as an expat, you will fit right in.

Cons: Cost of living

Would you like to live in a particularly pleasant and vibrant city? Well, you’re not alone. San Francisco has an exceptionally high cost of living. The median rent in 2015 was reported to be around 4225 dollars. As a result, many middle-class families are leaving the city for the slightly more affordable suburbs. Expect tough competition for affordable housing and make sure you have thoroughly researched the neighbourhood you want to live in.

Pros: Food

San Francisco is known for its culinary innovation. (Where else could you study Culinary Arts at university?) You can literally taste the finely honed craft in the hundreds of ethnically diverse restaurant, bars and food trucks spread around the city. Unlike housing, good food is quite affordable.

Cons: Safety

Over the years Fog City has carefully cultivated an image as a particularly safe city. A cosy community where you can safely walk around at night, no matter your ethnical, sexual or religious background. And, it’s true, San Francisco is extremely tolerant to people from all walks of life. Recent reports, however, have shown that petty crime is on the rise. San Francisco has the highest per-capita property crime rate of the US’s top 50 cities. Better keep a close eye on your possessions!

Pros: Mobility

Pro tip: if the distance is at all manageable, just walk. There’s plenty to see and the weather allows for a nice stroll all year round. No surprise, then, that San Francisco was voted the second most walkable city in the US. Still not convinced? No problem, the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont metropolitan area is the 16th best area in the US in transit coverage to job access (direct download – PDF). Whether you prefer the subway, bus, or old-school tram, with a little experience you’ll be navigating the streets without breaking a sweat.

Cons: Fog & air quality

Yes, the weather in northern California is really, really nice. But make no mistake; it can get cold too. If you rent near the water, you will probably not see the sun all summer long. The heat in the southern valleys creates a dense fog that envelops the waterfront for months on end. And that’s not the only aerial problem the city faces: the Bay Area ranks among the 10 worst polluted regions in the country.


Culture, nightlife, delicious food: San Francisco has a lot to offer – that much is clear. But it’s not all sunshine and roses. Literally. The air quality and dense fog will make you wish for the hot LA-sun during winter, while you could be too stretched financially to buy a bouquet of roses because your rent has just gone up for the second time in a year. 

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