San Francisco

Cost of Living in San Francisco?

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Cost of Living in San Francisco

Looking forward to expat life in sunny San Francisco? Then make sure to read up on the cost of living in San Francisco, for life in this Californian city does not come cheap. From rent to grocery expenses, our InterNations guide tells you what prices you can expect.
Expenditures for accommodation will play a big role in your cost of living in San Francisco.
  • With a cost of living that is 62.6% higher than in the rest of the US, San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the country.
  • The public transportation system in San Francisco is one of the best in the country, and this has its price.
  • Water and garbage collection is usually included in the rent. Other utilities such as electricity, communication, and television need to be paid separately by the tenant.
  • Since public transportation works well in the San Francisco, a lot of residents do not own a car. Besides public transportation, car sharing is an option which comes at a feasible price.

New York City in general, with Manhattan and Brooklyn in particular, may be able to claim the title of “most expensive to live in” in the US. However, San Francisco is nothing to sneeze at, either. According to the Council for Community and Economic Research, the cost of living in the City by the Bay is 62.6% higher than the national average. . Taking a closer look at the cost of living in San Francisco is therefore highly recommended as a basis for salary and benefits negotiations.

Sky-High: Housing Prices in San Francisco

Charges for accommodation will play a big role in your cost of living in San Francisco. The city was just beaten by New York and is now the second most expensive in terms of accommodation. In September 2016, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the City by the Bay was at around 4,650 USD, while New York was at a whopping 5,130 USD. However, San Francisco did edge New York out in the price of one-bedroom apartments with a median of 3,520 USD. Nonetheless, with the Silicon Valley drawing more and more tech workers into the area, as well as severely limited expansion options, the cost of living in San Francisco and nearby Oakland can be expected to continue rising, at least in regard to expenditures for accommodation.

Of course, prices vary depending on size, location, condition and so on. For example, the mean rent for a two-bedroom apartment in nearby Oakland was 3,248 USD, which is a good deal cheaper than San Francisco but still more expensive than the national average of 1,275 USD. Your cost of living in San Francisco will, however, not be any less if you decide to buy instead of rent: in September 2016, the average selling price of property in San Francisco ranged between 8,800 USD per square meter outside the city center to 12,100 USD per square meter in the city center.

More Costs to Add to Your Rent: Utilities

Utility expenses, on the other hand, typically do not factor as heavily in your cost of living in San Francisco. For September 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average electricity price in the San Francisco – Oakland – San Jose area was 0.20 USD per kWh. Piped gas, meanwhile, contributed to the utility expenses with an average price of 1.40 USD per therm. The final figure on your bill, however, obviously depends on the size of your household and home, as well as your lifestyle and resulting energy consumption.

However, the costs for water, wastewater, and garbage collection are typically already factored into rental costs, so make sure to inquire about this when renting. Furthermore, it is also always a good idea to shop around before deciding on a utility provider.

You can also read up more on general information regarding utilities in our InterNations guide on utilities in the US.

Communication and Television: Keep an Eye Out for Bundle Deals

Expats in San Francisco will have the choice between various communication and television service providers, such as for example the national providers Comcast and AT&T. While shopping for the deal that suits you best, make sure to check for availability in your new home early on, keep an eye out for special offers, and be careful with any additional, “free” services you will have to pay for if you do not cancel them before the free trial runs out.

At the time of writing, expats could expect their cost of living in San Francisco to include monthly prices for television and communication services ranging around the following:

  • Landline: starting at 25 USD for unlimited local calls Internet: 30 USD for a 6 Mbit/s connection
  • Digital TV: 50 USD or more, depending on the number of channels
  • Mobile: 50 USD for 2 GB data and unlimited text & talk

These prices are, of course, just some first examples and can vary quite a bit, especially in connection to special offers, so make sure to compare prices. Also look into getting your services from one provider in a so-called bundle deal. These are typically much cheaper than the combined costs for single services. You can, for instance, get a basic television, landline, and internet bundle starting at 89 USD per month.

Don’t Forget to Bring Your Big Wallet: Groceries and Restaurant Prices

San Francisco does not rank in the top five of the most expensive cities in the United States without reason, and local prices for groceries and goods play their part in keeping the cost of living in San Francisco high. A dozen eggs, for example, will cost expats in this corner of California around 40% more than the national average and many other food items tend to be similarly expensive.

Prices do, however, depend very much on where you shop. In California, fresh produce is relatively cheap when bought from markets or produce stores. For those who want to keep their cost of living in San Francisco as low as they can, supermarket chains such as Safeway and Costco typically offer the cheapest deals, especially when you buy in bulk. Small convenience stores, on the other hand, are often more pricey.

When dining out, you’ll be spoiled for choice in San Francisco. From Asian cuisine in famous Chinatown to Italian restaurants in North Beach, expats in “Frisco” will be able to enjoy meals in various forms and with all kinds of price tags: from a 15 USD meal at an inexpensive restaurant to a high-class, multiple-course dining experience for a few hundred dollars.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Raul Gonzales

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