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What You Need to Know When You’re Moving to San Francisco

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Relocating to San Francisco

  • Even though San Francisco is located in sunny and warm California, you should prepare yourself for chilly and foggy weather.
  • The neighborhoods in San Francisco are as diverse as its population. Whether gay, married, or young professionals, there is a place for everyone.
  • There are different types of visas for expats. If you’re moving to San Francisco for a limited amount of time, you need to apply for one of the nonimmigrant visas; otherwise, an immigrant visa might be the one for you,
  • The public transportation system in San Francisco is quite good; within the city limits you should be able to find public transportation at any hour of the day.

Anybody interested in US history probably knows that moving to San Francisco will take you to the source of a very significant civil rights movement. After all, this is where immigrants and former service men experienced the Summer of Love in the 1960s. However, San Francisco is not only a Mecca for liberals and hippies; it is the cultural and financial center of the entire Bay Area.

Dressing in Layers: The Weather in San Francisco

If you are expecting a warm Californian climate with temperatures allowing for shorts all year long, you may have to think again. While moving to San Francisco will indeed take you to “sunny” California, the city’s climate is not what many expect. On the contrary, San Francisco is in fact known for its chilly, foggy summers.

Once the morning fog lifts, temperatures rarely reach higher than 70°F (21°C), and often linger at around 60°F (16°C). After your move to San Francisco, it is best to dress in layers to be prepared for all kinds of weather. Even days that start out hot and sunny may see temperatures drop quite rapidly once the summer fog rolls in. Expats moving to San Francisco in winter will experience a lot less fog.

While San Francisco might not bring you the type of Californian weather you had anticipated, it will certainly get you acquainted with the city’s own set of microclimates. Weather conditions vary considerably within San Francisco itself. It may be foggy and drizzling in one part of the city while it’s bright and sunny in other areas. If you are looking for San Francisco’s sunniest corners, you will usually find them nestled in the protective cover of the hills.

San Francisco’s Neighborhoods

San Francisco is located at the northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula, sharing borders with San Mateo in the south. The city itself is divided into a number of neighborhoods, each with its own unique character, demographics, and microclimate. When moving to San Francisco, picking a location can be hard, but these brief descriptions may be able to help you on your way.

The Inner Richmond: For the Outdoorsy Ones

In the northwestern quadrant of San Francisco, you will find the Inner Richmond area. Just south of the Golden Gate Bridge and immediately north of Golden Gate Park, this neighborhood offers people who are fond of the outdoors plenty of opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of the streets. Clement Street in particular is packed with a wide variety of Asian cuisines, and some indeed consider the area “Little East Asia.” Besides the international cuisine, you’ll also find international cinema or Eastern-style bazaars in the Inner Richmond. Rental prices are also very reasonable in the area.

The Marina: A Young and Trendy Neighborhood by the Water

Just west of the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, the Marina district has a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The walk from Marina Boulevard through Crissy Field to the bridge is sure to relieve any stress you might have built up at work. You can also find art galleries, international eateries as well as a double-digit list of boutiques in the area. For some expats moving to San Francisco, rent is a main concern, and the Marina is not among the city’s cheapest areas. For those who enjoy the smell of the ocean and the fresh morning air, though, it will be well worth the costs.

The Castro: The Gay Universe

In the very heart of San Francisco, the Castro sputters with vibrant energy. This, the so-called gay capital of the world, boasts a lively nightlife, oodles of cafés and bars, as well as quite affordable restaurants. Contrary to the food prices, however, rents are among the city’s highest for people moving to San Francisco’s most spirited neighborhood. The Castro is well connected, with three Muni lines, which makes a car unnecessary for most residents.

The Outer Sunset: A Family Place

For expats on lower budgets who decide to move to San Francisco, the Outer Sunset in the southwest represents a cheaper alternative than the more popular neighborhoods closer to the city center. The neighborhood represents San Francisco’s ethnic diversity with a lot of residents originating from different countries. The middle-class working folk generally make up the population of Outer Sunset. With several well-regarded public and private school, the area is also a strong family place. The fog is a particularly frequent visitor to this area, but the gorgeous view of the ocean along with the many charming restaurants and stores alleviate any worries you might have.

Visa Categories for San Francisco

US immigration authorities distinguish between immigrant visas and nonimmigrant visas for expats moving to the United States. There are several visas in each category, the most typical of which will be explained below.

For a Temporary Relocation: Nonimmigrant Visas

Nonimmigrant visas are for expats thinking of moving to the US for only a limited period of time. The type of visa you need depends on the purpose of your stay.

Specialty Occupations (H-1B)

The H-1B visa is for expats working in a specialty occupation or doing research and development in cooperation with the Department of Defense. Additionally, fashion models of international renown also fall into this category.

To obtain an H-1B visa, your occupation must require a bachelor’s degree, an equivalent thereof, or even higher education. Initially, the maximum duration of your stay on this visa is three years, but it can potentially be extended up to six years.

Executives and Managers (L-1A)

If you are being sent to San Francisco by your current employer to assume an executive or managerial role, you may be able to obtain an L-1A visa. To qualify, you must have been with your company for at least one year before your transfer to the US.

The visa is valid for one year if you are sent to set up a new office in San Francisco. If, on the other hand, you are sent to work in an existing San Francisco-based branch of your company, the visa is valid for three years. It can, however, be extended up to seven years.

Expats with Extraordinary Abilities (O-1)

The O-1 visa is for expats who have reached national or international acclaim, recognition, or distinction in the field of science, education, business, sports, or arts. For example, extraordinarily successful athletes or TV producers can apply for this visa.

This visa will allow you to work in San Francisco for a period of three years, and can potentially be extended by another year.

Treaty Traders (E-1)

To enter the US on a treaty trader visa, you must originate from one of the countries that maintain a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States. In addition, you must engage in substantial trade with the US.

After the initial two years, there is no limit to the number of extensions that can be granted as long as you qualify. Dependents of E-1 visa holders can also apply for dependent visas to tag along to San Francisco.

Temporary Visitors (B-1 and VWP)

Expats who need to stay in the US no more than six months can apply for a B-1 visa. This visa gives you the freedom to conduct any activities of a commercial or professional nature. If your home country is part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), however, you are exempt from needing a visa at all as long as your stay will not exceed 90 days.

Please note, though, that even if you are free to travel to the US under the VWP, you need to register prior to your arrival in the US. This is done by applying for an ESTA via the Department of Homeland Security.

Here to Stay: Immigrant Visas

If you are planning to work in the US on a permanent basis, you will need an immigrant visa. There are five different preference categories for such employment-based immigration, namely EB-1 through EB-5.

In most cases, your prospective US employer has to prove to the Department of Labor that no equally qualified workers were available in the US to fill your future position. The company also has to show that hiring you will not compromise the wages or working conditions of US workers in similar positions. This only applies to some of the preference categories, however. Visit the USCIS for detailed information on permanent workers.

Public Transportation in San Francisco

The Muni

Founded in 1912, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency — or “Muni” — is one of the oldest transit companies in the United States. From modern light rail vehicles, diesel buses, and electric trolley coaches to the symbolic cable cars, there is no shortage of options for getting around town.

There are over 80 routes throughout the city, and within the city limits, it should be possible to find public transportation at any hour of the day. For you nighthawks, a handful of Owl buses service certain areas of the city once the rest of the Muni fleet has called it a day.

However, none of Muni’s services reaches San Francisco International Airport, which is located around 10 miles (16 km) south of the city. For transit to and from the airport, you can instead rely on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) or SamTrans.

Getting around San Francisco: Tickets and Fares

A single ticket for Muni’s buses and light rails costs 2.25 USD. The ticket is valid for 90 minutes and includes unlimited transfers. Trips with the famous cable cars, meanwhile, are 7.00 USD per ride.

For limited travel or first-time visits, you can get a Limited Use Muni ticket at one of the vending machines at the metro train stations. Tourists and business travelers should also consider the Muni Visitor Passports, which are valid for unlimited travel on all Muni services for either one, three, or seven days.

Once you have moved to San Francisco and know that you will probably be using Muni regularly, a Clipper card may be a good option. The Clipper card is a reloadable transit card, on which you can load a monthly pass or simply any cash value. You can recharge your card at vending machines on metro stations or at Clipper retailers. The monthly passes come in two varieties: one for Muni only and one that also includes the BART.

Another Way of Getting Around: Taxis

If squeezing yourself into a trolley car with hundreds of others every day is not your cup of tea, taxis could be a decent alternative to getting around town. Fares generally start at about 3.50 USD and run at 2.75 USD per mile, plus 0.55 USD per minute of waiting or traffic delay. Remember that, in the US, a tip of at least 10% is customary.

Cabs are probably easiest to hail along downtown streets. If you find yourself anywhere else in the city, you may need to call a taxi company. Most taxi drivers accept credit cards, but you should ask in advance just to be safe.

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  • 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.

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