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Working in San Francisco

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Find out how to get a job and work in San Francisco

Expats working in San Francisco may not see much of the typical Californian weather. However, the City by the Bay has a lot in store for professionals from all over the globe. Read our guide on working in San Francisco for more information about the economy, social security, business culture, and more.

Employment in San Francisco

  • The Bay Area is also known as the new media and technology birthplace. There are more than 300 media companies located here and the Silicon Valley is a spearhead of the industry.
  • The workforce in San Francisco is extremely diverse and highly educated. Furthermore, the city’s unemployment rate is lower than the state’s one.
  • You need a social security number to work in San Francisco. When to acquire one depends on your visa.
  • The business culture in the City by the Bay is, as anywhere in the US, quite informal. Don’t be surprised if you’re on a first name basis with your boss.

Working in the Financial Center of the West Coast

Since the early days of the California Gold Rush, San Francisco has been an important financial center on the West Coast. Expats who consider working in San Francisco’s financial sector will benefit from the city’s location, halfway between Tokyo and London.

The city’s harbor has let San Francisco thrive on trade and shipping ever since its founding. Today, however, it is more of a niche player compared to the neighboring and considerably busier Port of Oakland. Still, San Francisco is home to some of the country’s largest banks, such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America. This metropolis is a center of world commerce and the place to be for expatriates in search of jobs with good salaries.

The Legendary Silicon Valley: New Media and Technology

Expats dreaming of working in San Francisco will be happy to learn that the surrounding Bay Area is considered the birth place of new media. More than 300 digital media companies operate out of the area, including YouTube, Twitter, and Pixar. Without a doubt, working in San Francisco is the dream for many hoping to make it big in the tech sector.

The high-tech development that started in the mid-1900s is still under way. The nearby Silicon Valley and Stanford University have played major parts in the tech boom, and they spearhead the industry even today. Engineers and other specialists working in San Francisco’s numerous high-tech companies produce computers, semiconductors, and a lot of other electronic equipment.

What about Life Sciences or Tourism?

Expats considering working in San Francisco’s life sciences and biotech sector will also feel right at home. After all, this city is a driving force in terms of research and development of pharmaceutical products, medical electronics, and genetic engineering. In total, there are over 1,600 life science companies employing upwards of 164,000 people in the Bay Area.

Another prominent economic sector is the tourism industry. Since it is one of the largest industries in the entire region, many expats are quite likely to find work in this sector. After all, in 2015 tourism supported more than 76,500 jobs and generated around 9.3 billion USD in spending.

The Wall Street of the West

The Financial District, located in San Francisco’s northeast, is distinctly marked by clusters of high-rise buildings and towers. Here, you will find San Francisco’s tallest buildings, including the Transamerica Pyramid.

Moreover, expats intent on working in San Francisco’s business services sector have a good chance of winding up in the Financial District, as it is home to San Francisco’s largest concentration of corporate headquarters, law firms, banks, and other financial institutions. Montgomery Street forms the traditional heart of this area and is often referred to as “the Wall Street of the West.”

Several consulates are located in the Financial District as well. Members of the diplomatic corps could, for example, be working in San Francisco’s Consulate General of Sweden, Japan, Ireland, Israel, or the UK, or even in the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office.

San Francisco’s Educated Workforce

The San Francisco metropolitan area has one of the higher concentrations of new immigrants and expats in the nation. Apart from being tremendously diverse, the workforce is also very well educated, as about one in five of the city’s residents holds a graduate or professional degree. This highly qualified labor force is one of San Francisco’s most valuable resources and a magnet for businesses and international companies.

Small and medium-sized businesses abound throughout the city, and at 3.8% in August 2016, the unemployment rate is lower than in the entire state of California (5.5%) and in all of the US (4.9%).

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Doing Business in San Francisco

Social Security and Pensions: What You Need to Keep in Mind

To work in San Francisco or anywhere else in the US, you need a social security card and a social security number. When to acquire these depends on your visa.

If you will be staying in San Francisco indefinitely, you can request a social security number when applying for your immigrant visa. As a nonimmigrant, on the other hand, you should submit your request online ten days after your arrival in the USA.

In the US, social security consists of retirement benefits as well as survivor and disability insurance. The US Social Security Administration has more information on social security for noncitizens and other issues. To qualify for a US state pension, you must be at least 67 years of age and have contributed to the US social security system for at least ten years. Note, however, that retirement benefits alone are seldom enough to keep up one’s past standard of living. Thus, it is often a good idea to contribute to a company pension fund or make other retirement arrangements.

Does Your Home Country Have a Social Security Agreement with the US?

The United States maintains social security agreements with 25 countries, including the UK, Japan, and Australia. As they regulate how social security contributions between two countries are handled, these agreements can make your expat life in San Francisco a lot easier.

First of all, most agreements protect expats from paying social security taxes on the same income in two countries. Moreover, they help fill gaps in benefit protection if you have spent part of your career abroad. As such, your contributions in San Francisco may count towards your social security account at home.

For a full list of countries and information on each specific agreement, you should visit the Social Security Administration’s website.

How to Find Out Your Tax Status

As an expat in San Francisco, you will have to pay income tax on both a federal and a state level. Income tax is, however, comparatively low in the US. Typically, expats are taxed like US citizens.

How you will be taxed does, however, depend on how much time you have spent in the US during the last three years. See the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for more information concerning taxation of foreign employees working in the United States. If you continue to pay income tax in your home country, you might be exempt from paying federal income tax in case your home country has a double taxation agreement with the US. Keep in mind, however, that this does not affect state income tax.

Time is Money: Business Culture in San Francisco

In the business world, Americans tend to be very direct, which might require a bit of an adjustment for expats from other cultural backgrounds. There is not much beating around the bush, and most people try to get the job done as quickly as possible. Indeed, the saying time is money rings true here, even in a laid-back city like San Francisco. Of course, being direct and to the point should not be mistaken for being rude.

At the same time, you will soon find that the American business culture is rather informal. Co-workers, business partners, and even your boss may call you by your first name right away and expect you to do the same. Note, though, that lavish business gifts are uncommon. In fact, some may perceive them as bribery, which obviously could cause a lot of trouble.

InterNations GO!
by InterNations GO!
13 December 2017
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