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Living in San Francisco

A comprehensive guide about living well in San Francisco

Many expats dream of living in San Francisco, intrigued by its liberal spirit and welcoming atmosphere. Still, life in San Francisco has its ups and downs. Read all about San Francisco in our InterNations GO! guide, and learn about education, health, and the much-dreaded apartment hunt.

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Life in San Francisco

  • San Francisco’s location between two tectonic plates causes earthquakes. Therefore, keep an eye on the earthquake warnings of the USGS.
  • There are many public schools in San Francisco where your children can get a good education. If you prefer them getting an international education, there are also various independent schools located in San Francisco.
  • There are various healthcare options available in San Francisco. Healthcare coverage through your employer is a usually a good idea.
  • Looking for an apartment in San Francisco is going to be a challenge. You also need to prepare your wallet, as the city can compete with New York in terms of rental prices.

In the 1950s, San Francisco first became known for its liberal character thanks in large part to people like Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who were living in San Francisco at the time. The Summer of Love cemented this image in the 1960s, and the civil rights movement followed closely after. But there is much more to the City by the Bay than this liberal lifestyle and the hippies of yore, or today’s “hipsters.”

Between Tectonic Plates: Earthquakes in San Francisco

While living in San Francisco, you may occasionally experience earthquakes. They inevitably occur every now and then because of the city’s location just over the San Andreas Fault. Forming the boundary between two tectonic plates, this continental fault runs 800 miles (1,287 km) along the length of California, from Salton Sea in the south to the Mendocino coast in the north.

Several other faults are scattered around the Bay Area, all capable of causing significant earthquakes. In 1906, for instance, a major earthquake and subsequent fires devastated most of the city. Thousands of lives and homes were lost. Fortunately, earthquakes of this magnitude are rare, but as someone living in San Francisco it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye on the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and their fault map for the region. This is also the place to refer to for earthquake warnings.

Education for Expat Kids

Expat children living in San Francisco are part of the United States education system, which is administrated on three levels. The federal Department of Education delegates most authorities to the various State Departments. In turn, many State Departments leave much of the decision-making to elected Boards of Education on an even more local level.

Schooling is compulsory for all children living in San Francisco and elsewhere in the USA, but homeschooling is also an option. Aside from public schools for children between the ages of five and 21, there are no government-sponsored childcare facilities. Of course, private nurseries and preschools are available.

Public Schools in the San Francisco Area

The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is the seventh-largest school district in California and hosts over 57,000 students each year. Visit the SFUSD’s website for a complete list of public schools. There, you can also find contact information for all administrative offices.

The interactive school selector is a useful tool to help you find a school for your children while living in San Francisco, based on your specific preferences. Additionally, you can find information on enrollment requirements. Of course, the SFUSD isn’t the only school district in the Bay Area. If you do not plan on living in San Francisco itself, your child can attend a school in a different district.

Looking for a Different Education? Independent Schools

There are also many independent schools for children living in San Francisco, including some international schools. This may be the right choice for your life in San Francisco if you want your child to receive schooling with an international flavor or to attend a school with a specific educational concept, such as a Waldorf school. The independent schools in San Francisco include:

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Healthcare in San Francisco

Although high-quality healthcare services are available almost anywhere in the US, many treatments are unaffordable to a lot of people. The 2010 Affordable Care Act, however, has aimed to make healthcare more accessible and affordable for the less fortunate. At the time of writing (September 2016), 16.4 million uninsured people have gained health coverage.

Nevertheless, the United States remains the only developed nation that does not offer any comprehensive national healthcare plan to its residents. A few public health insurance options are, however, available in the form of Medicare for pensioners and Medicaid for minimum wage earners and other people with very low incomes.

Getting Health Insurance through Your Employer

If you move to San Francisco for work, you can usually receive health coverage under your employer’s group insurance plans. Most companies allow these policies to be extended to cover your dependent family members as well. Since your employer covers a part of your health costs, this is most of the time the cheapest option. Nonetheless, there is a downside: if you lose your job, you often also lose your health coverage. The COBRA Act of 1985 ensures, however, that you can keep the insurance until 18 months after you have lost your job, but usually at higher costs.

Normally, a variety of different plans are available. Usually, the higher your monthly contributions are, the lower are your costs for medical treatment. However, keep in mind that virtually no insurance plan provides 100% coverage. Visit the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality for more advice.

Where to Find Medical Services in San Francisco

There are a lot of public and private hospitals throughout San Francisco and the entire Bay Area. While treatment is usually easier to afford at public hospitals, the facilities and services are typically more sophisticated at private hospitals. Of course, they are also a lot more expensive and your insurance may not cover all their services. University clinics are usually quite well equipped, so it would not be a bad idea to try to find a public hospital that is affiliated with a university.

Note that costs for emergency treatments may have to be settled right away if your condition isn’t considered a true emergency. For basic care, walk-in clinics aren’t a bad alternative to hospitals. Although they operate on a first-come, first-served basis, they are much cheaper and quite popular among those who are a bit strapped for cash.

HCSO & Healthy San Francisco

The San Francisco Health Care Security Ordinance (HCSO) requires large and medium-sized employers to spend certain amounts on providing healthcare for their employees. You can refer to the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE) for a chart of healthcare expenditure rates in relation to the size of the company.

Employers can choose to contribute to the “City Option,” through which employees will be granted free or discounted access to the Healthy San Francisco program. This program was established to offer affordable healthcare to people without health insurance. However, since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014, the HSF program has seen a rapid and continuous decline in enrollment due to patients transitioning to new options.

While Healthy San Francisco is technically not a health insurance plan, it does provide basic care. Also, you will be limited to a small network of local healthcare providers. As such, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to consider taking out health insurance on your own if your employer does not offer you anything besides this program. Most well-qualified expats in San Francisco should be able to afford a private healthcare policy.

Further Information: The Department of Public Health

Expats living in San Francisco would be wise to consult the California Department of Public Health for even more information on healthcare, such as medical services throughout the state. Their website generally offers information on a host of different healthcare providers, one of which is the San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.

The Department of Public Health can also refer you to an open clinic or specialist care facilities. However, if you are in need of medical care, it can also pay off to consult your friends and co-workers for recommendations. Also, do not hesitate to contact your insurance provider if you have further questions.

Accommodation in San Francisco

Finding a place to live is one of the biggest hurdles for many expats moving to San Francisco. Not only are rents exceptionally high, the rental market is also rather tight. Needless to say, this can make it very hard for you to find a place to live, even on a big budget. Expat or not, apartment hunting in San Francisco requires a lot of preparation and patience.

The Apartment for a Small(er) Budget

San Francisco is indeed an expensive city. In fact, the rents in San Francisco are the second highest in the whole nation. With an average price of 4,650 USD for a two-bedroom apartment, the city is only outranked by New York (5,130 USD). Although the rent may be a major concern for many expats, knowing a few tips and tricks could at least increase your chances of finding a relatively affordable place in the City by the Bay.

First of all, it’s helpful to set yourself a budget and focus your search on areas that seem to be within your limits. As in any other city, rents vary considerably from neighborhood to neighborhood. For example, wealthy and charming Russian Hill on the northern waterfront can be rather expensive compared to the city’s Inner Sunset district with its down-to-earth Chinatown. Obviously, affordable housing is usually not located in the most central or stylish areas.

Once you have picked out neighborhoods you deem affordable, you should try to narrow your search to those that best fit your lifestyle. For example, upscale Noe Valley has a remote feel thanks to its hilly landscape, and the artsy Mission District oozes with trendy restaurants and an exciting nightlife. Walk Score can help give you an idea of the area surrounding your dream apartment in terms of cafés, restaurants, and stores within walking distance.

The Apartment Hunt: Put On Your Walking Shoes

Once you’ve settled on a few neighborhoods that match both you and your budget, you can begin to search for actual apartments. Online, various real estate sites are handy, and so is Craigslist as long as your use your common sense. Local newspapers, such as the SF Gate, are also useful for rental listings by neighborhood, price, and size. A city like San Francisco calls for more than the traditional apartment search methods, however. For instance, driving or walking around town could be wise since you can immediately make a call if you see a “For Rent” sign.

In general, there is a lot to keep in mind when searching for an apartment in San Francisco. For instance, some neighborhoods are located on very steep hills, so you may have to be prepared for a daily climb on your way home or to work. Also, you need to act fast and not hesitate. Only the savvy renters get the best apartments. Always keep proof of your positive credit history ready as well as cash or a check so that you can sign the lease right away if an opportunity presents itself.

Tips and Tricks

It’s worth taking into consideration that rents are lower in far-flung areas like Bayview in the southeast and Outer Sunset in the west. On a small budget, you most likely need to make sacrifices in terms of location, size, or both.

Along this vein, one of the peripheral neighborhoods or districts in San Mateo County may make more sense for you, particularly if your family is tagging along. Moreover, depending on the location of your workplace, you could also consider one of the many other towns and cities in the Bay Area.

Additionally, avoiding both brand-new and historical buildings might be wise, as these can be a lot more expensive than flat-front apartment buildings. Lastly, do not underestimate the traditional word of mouth. Make sure to ask your co-workers, friends, and other expats, who may know of a great vacancy before it has even been advertised. After all, in a city like San Francisco, you need to be on top of your game if you want to find a place to live that is both nice and affordable.

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: December 13, 2017
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