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San Francisco is a top cultural and financial center and home base for some of the most well-known tech companies in the world. It’s also home to a notoriously steep cost of living, which may be one reason why the city’s population has been declining in recent years. Between 2020 and 2022, San Francisco’s population shrank by about 7.5 percent, according to U.S. Census data. If you’re thinking about relocating to San Francisco, it’s important to know what to expect. Read on to learn more.
What does it cost to live in San Francisco?
Typical living costs in San Francisco are not for the faint of heart. According to data from RentCafe, the city is 28 percent more expensive than the average cost of living in California and a steep 79 percent higher than the national average.
Some of the day-to-day expenses contributing to San Francisco’s pricey lifestyle include utility bills that are 32 percent higher than the rest of the country, food costs that are 31 percent higher and transportation costs that are 38 percent higher. But it’s housing costs that make up the largest share of most people’s expenses, and those prices are also likely to give you sticker shock.
Housing costs in San Francisco
Like much of California’s housing market, the cost of finding a home in San Francisco is daunting. Whether you’re buying or renting, RentCafe says you can expect to spend a whopping 207 percent more than the national average.
If you’re in the market to buy a home in San Francisco, you’ll need a big bank account (perhaps helped along by one of the many high-paying tech jobs). The median sale price here as of April 2023 was just over $1.33 million, according to Redfin. That means a full half the homes that sold in April actually sold for more than that. Renting here isn’t much more affordable at about $3,313 per month, per RentCafe. These costs are well beyond the means of many Americans.
While there are many major employers in San Francisco, the city has been hard hit by layoffs in recent years. More than 24,000 people from 166 companies were laid off here in 2022. The tech industry in particular, including Bay Area–based behemoths like Twitter, Meta and Alphabet, made headlines last year for their significant labor cutbacks. The year ahead looks equally daunting, with predictions that employment figures will continue to decline.
That said, California’s Employment Development Department reports that San Francisco county had an unemployment rate of 3.0 percent as of March 2023, which is actually lower than the national rate of 3.6 percent during the same period. And the outlook is brighter for non-tech jobs, with the leisure and hospitality sectors both seeing year-over-year employment gains.
In terms of pay, high salaries in the city help to make up for the high cost of living. The average salary in San Francisco as of May 2023 is $94,480, according to ZipRecruiter. Most salaries in the city range between around $76,000 and $112,000, it says. For comparison, Census data shows that the median household income in the United States in 2021 was $70,784.
Food costs in San Francisco are about 31 percent more than the national average, according to RentCafe. MIT’s Living Wage calculator provides a more detailed look at what you can expect to spend on food in San Francisco: For a single adult living in the city, the annual food tab would be about $4,686, it says, while the cost for an adult with one child would run $6,916. The food bill for two adults with a child would be $10,702 annually.
Bankrate’s cost of living calculator can show you the costs of particular food items in San Francisco, as they compare with costs in another city. For example, milk costs about $3.38, eggs $3.83 and bread $5.04.
San Francisco has a well-developed system of public transportation, with buses, trains, ferries and the city’s famous cable cars. Fares on BART, which stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit, are based on the distance being traveled. A single adult ticket on Muni, the city’s bus and metro system, costs $2.50, and a monthly pass is $81.
If you prefer to drive, be aware that gas prices in California are quite high. The average cost of a gallon of gas in the city as of mid-May was $4.79, according to AAA, as compared to $3.53 for the country overall.
Local and state taxes
- Sales tax: The sales tax in San Francisco is set by the state; it’s currently 8.625 percent.
- Income tax: San Francisco residents pay a flat city income tax of 1.50 percent, as well as California state income tax, which is based on annual income and ranges from 1 percent for the lowest earners to 13.3 percent for those whose annual salary is above $1 million.
- Property tax: Property tax rates in San Francisco are calculated based on a property’s assessed value. For the 2022–2023 tax year, the rate is 1.179 percent.
Moving to San Francisco
Moving to a challenging housing market like San Francisco makes having an experienced local real estate agent by your side even more important. An agent who knows the city well can help you find a neighborhood that suits your budget and lifestyle, and help ease your transition to a new, expensive city. Before you make the leap, be sure to consider your budget carefully and determine whether life in pricey San Francisco can work for your finances.
Both housing costs and day-to-day expenses are high here, so crunch the numbers of your current income to see how much you could afford for monthly housing costs. Experts often recommend the 28/36 rule, which states that no more than 28 percent of your monthly income should go toward housing, and no more than 36 percent should go toward total debt. The median home price here is a high $1.33 million, according to Redfin data, so take high home prices into account as you budget. The median household income in San Francisco was $126,187 in 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Very. The cost of living in San Francisco is 79 percent higher than the national average, according to RentCafe. Everything from housing to utilities to healthcare to food is considerably more expensive here than in the nation as a whole. (That said, salaries here also tend to be higher, so there’s a bit of balance.)
The cost of living in San Francisco is 28 percent higher than the California state average, according to RentCafe. Housing specifically is 52 percent higher than the rest of the state. Bankrate’s cost of living calculator shows that San Francisco’s cost of living is 18.65 percent higher than in Los Angeles and 24.34 percent higher than in San Diego.