San Francisco and Silicon Valley are naturally dream living destinations for people all over the world. I too had that dream and in 2015 it became a reality when I relocated to launch a recruitment business. Four years later, and with a new wealth of experience, I often reflect on the initial year and recall the things I wish I’d known before I made the move – not things that would have changed my mind but rather help me prepare and settle in. In a bid to pass on some seeds of wisdom, here are my top tips for anyone looking to relocate to the Bay Area.
1. Credit is everything and everything needs Credit. When I moved from Sydney to Silicon Valley, I became painfully aware of the need for a credit score and just how much it can impact your ability to get a cell phone, car, apartment and credit card. Prior to moving to San Francisco, a friend recommended that I apply for an American Express card (because of its universal nature). After 3 months I was then able to transfer that to a local American Express and it helped build a credit score and history far more quickly.
2 Location Location Location Selecting where you live is probably the biggest decision you will make when you relocate and your choice can have a major impact on how you view a city and how quickly you settle. Sadly, despite being the technology center of the world, public transport in and connecting San Francisco and the other Silicon Valley cities leaves a lot to be desired. The major roads in and out of the city are also often gridlocked during peak times and at weekends, so consider where your office will be based and what commute will be. If you’re thinking about moving to San Francisco proper, the small city (7x7) has vastly contrasting neighborhoods and each have totally different vibes; from the hippy haven in Haight-Ashbury, to the rainbow crosswalks in the Castro to the immaculately maintained streets of ritzy Nob Hill. Do your research and spend time in each neighborhood to discover the right vibe for you.
3 Brace yourself for the cost. I know, I know, it is cliched to say that San Francisco is expensive, but you don’t realize just how expensive until you move there. San Francisco will be found on any list discussing the most expensive cities in the US and even the world. With a median rent price approaching $3500 for a one-bedroom apartment, San Francisco takes it’s ‘pound of flesh’ from its residents. With a near zero unemployment rate and a subsequent talent war that has driven salaries higher than any other city in the US, San Francisco’s rental market is just as competitive, and landlords have capitalized. If your company is relocating you to the Bay Area, ensure you negotiate a San Francisco premium for your salary. Rent, transport, restaurants and bars are all more expensive than almost any other city in the US, including New York.
4 Karl the Fog. “Microclimate” was a term I was unfamiliar with before arriving in San Francisco, but I quickly became acquainted with. As the hot inland air rises the cool breeze from the pacific creates the iconic fog that locals call Karl (named after a giant who's misunderstood in the Tim Burton movie “Big Fish”) which cools down the city significantly compared to the East or South Bay. With a short Bart ride (subway) over the Bay from San Francisco to Oakland (we’re talking 5 miles over the water), you’ll often leave behind a chilly 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius) and emerge from the tunnel to a lovely 85 degrees (29 degrees Celsius). Even the temperature in SF itself can change within minutes so always be prepared with layers to add or take off.
5 Tipping and Sales Tax. Meals and shopping will always be more expensive than the menu or price tag suggests. Sales Tax is added to the bill at the end of a meal or at the till in a shop so don’t be surprised when you’re asked to cough up more than you thought! There is also a huge tipping culture in America and for the vast majority of servers and bartenders, tips make up a substantial part of their income and in general you are expected to tip 15 – 20% of the bill. The same goes the same for hotel bell staff, beauticians, tour guides and taxi’s, etc.
Despite this, San Francisco is an incredible city to live professionally and personally. You will find more networking opportunities here than any other city in the world and people are always happy to stop and help you out. You’ll be hard pressed to find bad food and if you love the outdoors you will never grow tired of your surroundings (skiing, hiking etc), but the biggest benefit for me is the sports culture. The Warriors, Sharks, Giants, 49ers, Raiders(for now), Earthquakes, A’s….I could go on. The Bay Area is spoilt for choice where professional sports are concerned with all 4 major US sports having a presence in San Francisco. And, depending on the time of year buying tickets is relatively affordable (even by SF standards).