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Accommodation 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 guide, and learn about education, health, and the much-dreaded apartment hunt.
The apartment search is particularly stressful 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.

For more tips on renting and buying property in the USA, please consult our Housing and Accommodation in the USA section.


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