Cost of Living in San Francisco


The Golden Gate city is regularly ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the USA.
While life in New York is perhaps more costly, the cost of living in San Francisco ranks higher than many other large US cities, including Los Angeles, Washington DC, Chicago and Boston.

However, this shouldn’t put expats off moving to San Francisco. There are still many things that the city offers at bargain prices.
 
Expats living in San Francisco will never tire of the well-priced clothing and grocery shopping available in the city. This is largely because the Central Valley in California supplies the region with fresh, cheap fruit and vegetables, while meat is also reasonably priced. 
 
The least affordable aspect of living in San Francisco is the extremely high cost of housing. Many expats will find they spend half of their wages on rent. It often happens that buying a property ends up cheaper than renting. However, most expats moving to San Francisco are transient, and don’t want to settle down and commit to a mortgage.
 
Furthermore, the majority of expats relocate to work in the hi-tech industries of Silicon Valley, and are in many cases single and childless. The growing expat population has created a high demand for rental properties which in turn has pushed up the prices for rental accommodation in San Francisco, especially in the heart of the city. 
 
When considering a move to San Francisco, it becomes very much about the salary an expat can earn to maintain a comfortable standard of living. 
 
Earning a six-figure salary in the city is rare. Therefore, once the cost of accommodation in San Francisco is taken care of, there is usually enough left over for entertainment and eating well. The amount that someone can save ultimately depends on personal preferences and lifestyle choices.
 

Cost of accommodation in San Francisco

 
Housing is a big ticket item in an expat's total cost of living in San Francisco. Generally, expats will find that it is not possible to afford a nice place 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. 
 
For expat families looking to buy a house in San Francisco, the cost of accommodation is even higher, especially for those who want to live in a good school district. House prices in San Francisco are driven by the local public school academic results, so those who want their child to be eligible to attend a good public school should expect to pay more to live close by.
 
Annual property taxes are also a burden for many home owners as the amount is set as a percentage of the property’s purchase, usually around one percent. This results in a property tax bill of several thousand dollars.
 
Some rental accommodation in San Francisco includes utilities or gardening costs, which can be better value for money. However, with demand for rental properties being so high, many properties are leased within two days of being advertised. Tenants also negotiate the rental amount, so somebody who offers to pay more rent than advertised will often get the apartment over other applicants.
 

Cost of food in San Francisco

 
The cost of food is comparatively cheap in San Francisco’s supermarkets, especially if an expat joins store loyalty programmes to get automatic discounts on certain items. Farmer’s markets and specialty organic food supermarkets often provide produce of a higher quality but can be pricier.
 
Alcohol is reasonably priced and available at most supermarkets and drug stores.
 
On the other hand, eating out at an average restaurant in San Francisco is very affordable, even when factoring in the 20 percent tip that is expected.
 

Cost of transportation in San Francisco

 
Public transport is San Francisco is limited for people who don’t live along the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train line. However, fares on public transportation are reasonable. Because of the limited nature of the city’s transit system, it is 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 stationary and excursion costs are required. There are also endless fundraising events at most public schools to cover the costs of education, however, all donations are voluntary. 
 
The cost of private education in San Francisco, while generally of a higher standard, can cost more than USD 30,000 per annum, depending on the location and status of the school.
 

Cost of clothing in San Francisco

 
Some of the value items in San Francisco are ridiculously cheap clothing and shoes. The city has many discount shopping malls where brand name bargains can easily be found.
 
There are also more upmarket boutiques, but when there is a sale it is definitely possible for expats to save on their purchases.  
 

Cost of entertainment in San Francisco

 
The cost of leisure pursuits and entertainment in San Francisco will depend on personal preferences.  
 
A trip to the cinema for a family of four can easily be done for around USD 50 in San Francisco. Paperback books, video games and gaming consoles are also relatively affordable.
 
Ticket costs for good museums, musicals and concerts are more expensive, but many theme parks and tourist attractions offer season passes, or group deals that make it affordable to discover the attractions of San Francisco.
 
Cable television and Internet access in homes is also competitively priced, depending on how many channels an expat wants. Internet television services offer a cheaper choice for those who don’t want to pay for cable television.

Cost of living in San Francisco chart (2014)

(Note that prices may vary depending on product and service provider and the list below shows average prices)

Accommodation 

Furnished two bedroom house USD 4,200
Unfurnished two bedroom house USD 3,600
Furnished two bedroom apartment USD 4,000
Unfurnished two bedroom apartment USD 3,500

Shopping

Dozen eggs USD 3.70
Milk (1 litre) USD 1.15
Rice (1 kg) USD 4.50
Loaf of white bread USD 4
Chicken breasts (1kg) USD 13
Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro) USD 7

Eating out

Big Mac meal USD 6
Coca Cola (500ml) USD 2
Cappuccino  USD 4
Bottle of beer (local) USD 5
Three course meal at a mid-range restaurant USD 40

Utilities/household

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile) USD 0.17
Internet (Uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)  USD 47
Basic utilities (Includes electricity, water and refuse) USD 150

Transportation

Taxi rate/km USD 1.70
Bus fare in the city centre  USD 2
Gasoline/petrol (per gallon) USD 3.95

Our San Francisco Expert

Karina Rook's picture
Karina Rook
Australia
United States
I love moving to different countries and spent a year in London in 2008, returned home to Melbourne, Australia, for three...
Karina Rook


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