San Francisco

Cost of Living in San Francisco?

Connect with fellow expats in San Francisco
Join exciting events and groups
Get information in our San Francisco guides
Exchange tips about expat life in San Francisco

San Francisco: Transport Costs and More

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.
San Francisco’s historic streetcars are part of an extensive and affordable public transport network.

The Price You Pay for a Good Public Transportation System

Expats in San Francisco can enjoy a comprehensive public transportation system including various bus and metro lines, as well as the famous cable cars and historic streetcars. In addition to these city-centered services which are operated by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (short Muni), there are various additional public transportation options available such as ferries or the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), which also covers San Francisco International Airport as well as a number of nearby cities such as Richmond and Fremont.

At the time of writing in September 2016, fares for single rides on Muni buses or rail services cost 2.25 USD and rides on a cable car 7 USD. There are also Muni Visitor Passports, which are valid for one, three, or seven consecutive days, and cost  20, 31, and 40 USD  respectively. A monthly pass is available for 73 USD (or 86 USD to also include BART services).

So-called Clipper Cards are used as an easy and cashless payment method not only for Muni and BART journeys but also for a number of further local transportation services, such as for example the San Francisco Bay Ferry. Available for 3 USD, a Clipper Card can be used as a pre-paid payment method for rides (and sometimes parking) as well as to hold the aforementioned passes.

The Costs for Hailing a Cab

If you find yourself in need of a cab, make sure to only use one of the legal taxis, recognizable by the phrase “San Francisco Taxicab” on its rear and sides, as well as a visibly displayed driver’s ID. In September 2016, fares for cabs were as follows:

  • 3.50 USD as initial fare / for the first unit
  • 0.55 USD for each additional unit
  • 4.00 USD airport surcharge

One unit is either a distance of 1/5 of a mile or one minute of waiting / traffic delay, whichever applies first. Keep in mind that trips out of town which go farther than 15 miles beyond the city limit will be charged at 150% of the metered rate. Plus, passengers will also be charged any bridge tolls that accrue during the ride.

Cars and Car Sharing Options in San Francisco

Despite the excellent public transportation options in San Francisco, you might nevertheless be thinking of using your own car during your stay. However, while gasoline in the US is reasonably priced at around 2.22 USD per gallon, parking in San Francisco is scarce and parking fines high. Add to this registration fees, automobile insurance expenses, and other costs connected to the upkeep of a car, as well as busy traffic and often congested streets, and it is hardly surprising that many San Franciscans opt out of owning a car. In fact, surveys have shown that almost 30% of San Franciscan households do not own a car; a much higher percentage than the less than 10% nationwide.

In addition, car rentals or car sharing present a feasible alternative for expats in San Francisco who occasionally need a car for trips to the supermarket or further afield. Zipcar, for instance, offers various plans and rates for their car sharing program. Rates for the usage of their cars start from 7 USD per hour or 79 USD a day and already include insurance costs, gas, and up to 180 miles.

You can get more information on driving (and owning) a car in the US in our various articles on transport and driving in the United States.

Even More Expenses to Keep in Mind

The expenses mentioned so far obviously only cover the most common budget items. In accordance to your chosen lifestyle and your particular situation, further costs may well have to be factored in. Expenditures for healthcare and insurances as well as money spent on your children’s education are just two examples of such additional costs, so make sure to research and compare prices if you are, for example, planning to send your kid(s) to a private school. Additionally, various forms of recreation and entertainment, such as museums, movie theaters, galleries, but also sports and hobbies generate further costs that should not be overlooked.

In case you are interested in a more general, less city-specific look at expenses, check out our article on the cost of living in the United States.


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

"Thanks to InterNations, I quickly found useful tips of where to search for a flat. And I met great global minds at the same time."

Li Wang

"As I already connected with several Chinese women before moving to San Francisco, I quickly felt at home here."

Global Expat Guide