The cost of living in San Diego is more or less on par with the state average, but 44 percent higher than the national average. New arrivals moving to San Diego typically earn lucrative salaries and can afford to get by comfortably. By far, housing will be the highest expense San Diego’s residents will need to contend with. While the city offers a wide variety of high-quality accommodation, this comes at a cost 121 percent higher than the national average.
Cost of accommodation in San Diego
The cost of accommodation in San Diego is one of the highest in the USA. This rising cost has been fuelled by the city’s population growth, which has led to an increase in housing demand.
Although San Diego has sky-high rental prices, newcomers can find some areas and suburbs with affordable housing. Areas such as City Heights, Mountain View and Paradise Hills offer reasonably priced housing in the city centre, coast and southeastern part of the city.
Over and above rental costs, new arrivals must also account for a security deposit of two months’ rent, as well as monthly utilities. Fortunately, the weather in San Diego is temperate for most of the year, which reduces electricity costs. In fact, the cost of utilities in San Diego is 11 percent lower than the state average.
Cost of transport in San Diego
Public transport in San Diego is comprehensive and generally efficient. Even though commuting costs in San Diego are not particularly expensive, they are still higher than the state average. Still, new arrivals living close to public transport hubs can reduce these costs by purchasing a reloadable PRONTO card that offers discounts.
Those who are looking to explore outside the city centre will likely need a car, but this comes at a high cost. In addition to the initial purchase price, newcomers must budget for maintenance, service, fuel, insurance and toll costs. Alternatively, San Diego is a cycle-friendly city and this is an affordable and healthy way to get around the city.
Cost of groceries in San Diego
San Diego is home to many wonderful farmer’s markets where residents can buy fresh local produce at affordable prices. The cost of pantry staples will largely depend on where residents choose to shop. Buying imported products at upmarket supermarkets such as Whole Foods and Barons Market will incur a higher cost than shopping at stores like Food4Less.
Cost of entertainment and eating out in San Diego
One of the best things about the lifestyle in San Diego is the diversity of entertainment options on offer at different price points. Nature-loving newcomers who prefer being outside will have plenty of opportunities in San Diego, with activities such as swimming, hiking and surfing on offer at little to no cost. Amusement park and attending cultural events, will attract higher costs.
Eating out in San Diego is affordable, with many restaurants offering fantastic food at great prices. Thanks to the city’s many international influences, there are plenty of cuisines on offer. Newcomers who are willing to shell out will also not be disappointed, with a number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the city.
Cost of healthcare in San Diego
San Diego boasts excellent healthcare and qualified medical practitioners, but the cost for accessing this care without health insurance is high. Most expats moving to the city are fortunate enough to have this cost included as part of their employment package. It is essential that those without this benefit purchase comprehensive health insurance to ensure their healthcare needs are catered for.
The cost of health insurance is determined individually, but is typically calculated based on one’s age, health status and lifestyle habits. Generally, though, health insurance can be pricey and will likely be an expat’s second-largest expense.
Cost of education in San Diego
Public schools in San Diego are free for all to attend, and the standard of education and schools in the city is largely adequate. Some school districts perform better than others, so parents looking to send their children to the best public schools will need to prioritise finding a home in their catchment areas.
Although most foreign parents are happy sending their children to local schools in San Diego, those in San Diego for a short assignment may consider private or international schools that offer a curriculum aligned with that of their home country. This will cost a pretty penny, though, as these schools charge steep fees. Most parents will find that the standard of teaching, the school facilities and the variety of extracurricular activities more than make up for the high cost.
Cost of living in San Diego chart
Prices may vary depending on the product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for San Diego in October 2023.
|One-bedroom apartment in city centre
|One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre
|Three-bedroom apartment in city centre
|Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre
|Milk (1 litre)
|Loaf of white bread
|Chicken breasts (1kg)
|Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)
|Big Mac Meal
|Local beer (500ml)
|Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant
|Mobile phone monthly plan with calls and data
|Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)
|Basic monthly utilities (includes electricity, water and refuse)
|Taxi rate per km
|Public transport fare
|Gasoline/petrol (per litre)
►For info about entertainment options in the city, see Lifestyle in San Diego
What do expats say about living costs in San Diego?
"Cleaning services were exceptionally expensive comparatively and pre-primary school was also very highly priced. Drinking alcohol with a meal at a restaurant is also very expensive, where buying a bottle of beer or wine at the grocery store is more affordable." Read more about the experiences of Quinne, a South African expat who lived in San Diego for many years.
Are you an expat living in San Diego?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to San Diego. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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