Expater life in San Francisco with Katherine

Sherbet hued Victorian homes, glittering tech start ups and foggy hills all year round. San Francisco is unlike anywhere else in the US. If you’re moving to San Francisco you really need to reach out to a local to find out the score.

Thankfully, dear Expaters, I’ve saved you the trouble. Meet Katherine. Her she tells us all about her experience moving to San Francisco, the pros and cons of San Francisco life, how to find an apartment in a good neighbourhood and… orange cheese.

Life in San Francisco

Tell me about life in San Francisco. What is San Francisco like for foreigners?

I often tell people that adjusting to life in San Francisco wasn’t so difficult, because I find it so similar to my previous home in Australia.

People, for the most part, are laid back and welcoming, and the weather is similar to Sydney’s. So for me, the adjustment was more about learning to drive on the right (*cough* wrong) side of the road, learning about building a credit history, and grappling with a slightly higher cost of living.

The initial culture shock was more in line with moving to the US, rather than specifically San Francisco issues. I’m still in awe of Amazon deliveries, and how you can get almost anything delivered to your front door. And I will never get used to orange cheddar cheese.

But other than that, I found settling into life in San Francisco relatively easy.

How did you find the experience of moving to San Francisco? 

The move was relatively easy for me. I had the experience of moving to London under my belt, so that really helped with setting expectations, knowing what I’d need to pack and what I’d never use.

I was lucky enough to have a friend’s place to crash at for the first two weeks, while I did an apartment hunt. That really took pressure off myself to find a place before I arrived.

My plan was to work for the two years on my visa, and then decide whether to return to Sydney or renew. I honestly thought I’d be back home in 18 months’ time, so leaving friends and family behind didn’t bother me too much.

I found it much more difficult to move to London, since I moved there in October, just in time for autumn and winter, which was a really difficult experience.

Tips for Expats moving to San Francisco

What are the pros and cons of living in San Francisco?

Let’s get this out of the way, one of the biggest cons of living in San Francisco is the cost of living. It is astronomical. San Francisco is regularly touted as the 2nd or 3rd most expensive city in the US (behind New York), so it really does pay (pun intended) to have some solid savings behind you.

Another con is the high population of homeless and mentally ill people living on the streets. It’s a fact of life in San Francisco that you won’t walk far without coming across someone who is down on their luck.

But there are so many pros to living here – there is always something exciting to do or see. The weather is pretty great (winters are mild), although there is that pesky fog and the microclimates to deal with. It’s a fairly cosmopolitan city, so you’re going to meet people from all walks of life.

Is there anything you should know before you move?

If you’re moving to San Francisco from another country, it is entirely possible to find a rental property here, despite your lack of credit history.

You may have to offer a higher bond, show proof of your employment along with your promised salary, or show proof that you have savings to back you up.

No matter where you move to, you’re going to get homesick. Give yourself at least a few months to settle in, and more if you’re coming here without having a job lined up.

Your first reaction when moving to a new place will always be “what have I done?”. But give yourself time and space to ride that out before making any snap judgements about your new home.

San Francisco Neighbourhoods

Do you have any advice for those moving to San Francisco with family?

While there are more dogs in San Francisco than there are children, it doesn’t necessarily mean that families aren’t welcome or catered for.

Look for places with parks nearby, as backyards are scarce. You’ll also want to consider the reputation of the school district that you are moving into.

What is a good salary in San Francisco?

It’s very personal and there is a big wage gap, but the median salary in San Francisco is $72,947 USD.

Living comfortably is one of those relative terms that is difficult to pin down. Renting a middle-of-the-road two-bedroom apartment in the city will set you back around $4,000 USD a month.

But if you’re willing to share with others, and are happy with living in a smaller space, you can reduce your costs significantly.

Personally, I would not recommend moving to San Francisco without the safety net of savings behind you. This might just be my own reticence, but with such a high cost of living, I’d always want to know I had something to fall back on.

San Francisco weather

Do you need a job before moving to San Francisco?

If you have significant savings or have someone who has promised to support you (in the case of love), then it is fine to move to San Francisco without already having a job lined up.

Keep in mind that the job market can be very tight and competitive at times, so cut yourself some slack. It can take months to find a job once you arrive here, that is normal.

My advice for those moving here before finding a job would be to join as many groups within your interest range as possible. Start to make friends as quickly as possible. It sounds jaded, but a lot of “finding a job” is networking and having someone already in the company to vouch for you.

Where is a good place to live? What are the best neighborhoods in San Francisco?

This all depends on your personal taste and what you’re looking for in your new home. Families should check out Noe Valley, Bayview, Bernal Heights, Glen Park, and Dogpatch.

The Castro is known for its LGBTQ culture and the fact that it welcomes people from all backgrounds and cultures.

Young professional might like to try the Mission District, North Beach, Richmond District, and Potrero Hill.

All in all, is San Francisco a good place to live?

I love living in San Francisco. I might be biased, but I think it’s a great place to live. It’s got a variety of entertainment and cuisine options, the shopping is great, and it’s a beautiful place to live.

Moving to the US? check out my post ‘10 things to know before moving to the USA’

Katherine blogs at brightlightsofamerica.com. Follow her for tips and advice on moving to the US, as well as travel advice throughout the country.

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