San Francisco - tell me anything about living there

(29 Posts)
Wobblestones Sun 17-Aug-14 23:13:30

DH is possibly relocating with his job from London to San Francisco. It hasn't got as far as package negotiations yet but is at the 'positive chat' stage and we'll know more over the next couple of weeks. I'm trying to gain an idea about what we need to be considering. We've spent all weekend reading various ex-pat forums and blog posts about living there, but as usual I figured Mumsnet will help me out (am a long standing poster on an identity-saving namechange).
So the situation is: DH works in IT for a company who are located in SF itself rather than Silicon Valley. We have a three year old DS and no plans for any more DC. I'm Australian, have permanent UK residency but haven't got around to applying for citizenship (am eligible). I think DH's company will arrange a green card for me so I will be able to work, but I need to investigate whether it's better for me to go/apply as a Brit or an Aussie, or if in fact it makes any difference at all. I've been to SF about ten years ago, when I spent a few months doing some post-grad work experience there but have never been back, and when I was there in my mid 20s had no concept of what life would be like with a family etc. I was certainly not taking any notice of family-friendly areas, playgrounds, schools or softplay! When I wrack my brains now trying to think back to those days all I can remember is eating out a lot and shopping. Life is a little different now!
So my questions for any SF-knowledgeable MNers are: what areas should be looking at rent in? A quick look on Craigslist seems to indicate rents are scarily high but we have no idea of where we should be looking. When I was last there I was living in menlo Park/Palo Alto, which was nice, but I don't think would be close enough for DH to commute to central SF. Or maybe it would? I'm guessing though, with all the tech expansion which has happened in the last decade, that that area is probably ridiculously expensive now. Is there such a thing as a pleasant, family-friendly area with a decent commute for DH (his office will be in the Tenderloin district). Is the cost of living sky-high? Bearing in mind we're used to London costs, will be find it comparable to UK prices? What is it like for living with small children? WHat is the childcare/early years education structure? DS goes to nursery two days a week here. Is that something I'll be able to easily sort out for him over there? Everyone tells us it's very important to make sure we get health insurance as part of the package. How do I know what 'good' means - is there a list of what I should expect? What is the norm to be offered in terms of housing/banking/shipping assistance, and trips home? SHould we be thinking about bringing all our furniture and worldly goods, or are most houses fully furnished? We don't own a house to sell or manage here, and wouldn't be looking to buy for at least a couple of years, by which point we may very well have moved on, probably to Australia.
I have some more esoteric questions/worries too, and some which probably seem really silly. I feel like, after almost ten years here in the UK, that I'm pretty good at being British now. I know lots of the secrets of British socialising, have many British friends, can function perfectly well in England. It did take a while though; Australia and the UK may speak the same language but are really very foreign from each other in terms of many social communication issues and unwritten laws. Has anyone who's moved to the US had any trouble learning the social 'rules'? Or do you always feel like an expat? Is there a large expat community? Are there many Brits/Aussies? And this one will seem pathetic, I'm sure: does anyone worry about the gun culture, school shootings, pervasive right-wing media influence etc.?
Thanks for reading my ramblings - any words of wisdom very helpful.

pupsiecola Sun 17-Aug-14 23:26:30

We have friends who moved out 18 months ago. They have just bought a house in San Carlos. They have older kids (11 and 9) and they are very happy with the schools. The wife works (the husband is a stay home dad). She commutes to SF in around 45 minutes I think. They like the area a lot. It's expensive, but not as much as Palo Alto or SF. We visited them at Easter. They have bought a lovely house with a pool and views of the SF Bay/GG bridge in the far distance. There is a bit of a "high street" too with some bars and restaurants, shops etc. They're really happy there. Not much help on the rest of your questions, but perhaps you could consider San Carlos as a possibility.

Wobblestones Sun 17-Aug-14 23:51:34

Thank you pupsiecola - will start looking at it. Sounds like your friends are nicely set up :-)

iamEarthymama Mon 18-Aug-14 00:05:33

My partner and I visited SF last year and as we are odd-bods spent ages walking in different areas of the city.
We liked Noa Valley very much, Dolores Park and Sunset.
But we were just visitors and did no research on schools etc.
We just noticed lots of families, playgrounds and a friendly vibe.
We loved it there and I am quite envious of your opportunity, whilst wishing you well, of course.
From talking to residents and doing some reading housing seems to be incredibly expensive.
We went up to Berkeley on the BART; it took about 30 mins or so and we loved it there too and the sun shone very brightly.
I am sure someone who lives in SF will be along soon. I just want to know what you decide, it's all very exciting
Good luck :-)

Wobblestones Mon 18-Aug-14 09:04:55

Thanks EarthyMama - it's great to have some names to look into.
I am really excited, but also apprehensive. Will let you know what happens.

this thread might be helpful?
It links to a great cost calculator by state and locality.
Hope it helps.

Wobblestones Tue 19-Aug-14 21:58:37

Thank you - will take a look.

Lots of people who work in SF live in the East bay and commute, either by car or on BART. As you have seen living the the city itself is very expensive, even so lots of families live all over SF, when we would go in with the kids we would go to the palace of fine arts to the exploratorium. And golden gate park or the wharf.
My Dh worked in East bay and we lived further inland as they further inland you get the cheaper housing is.
If possible I'd get the UK citizenship before moving over, makes it all much more simple to move back.

LizLimone Tue 19-Aug-14 22:45:05

Re the green card: it will take at least 2-3 years for you to get that so you will get a working visa in the meantime if you want to get a job e.g. a H1-B sponsored by your own employer or else if your DH is getting an L1 visa which is for employees being transferred with the same employer to the US (which sounds like his situstion) you can work on his visa BUT it is not a path to a green card so you'd have to look at other avenues if you wanted permanent residence. It sounds like you don't want to stay long term anyway so a working visa should suit better for you. If your DH is on a H1-B and you don't have your own working visa then you will be on a H4 with no right to work or seek work.

SF is great, we lived there for a while and loved it. Most families with young kids move to the 'burbs though as schools in SF are not great. You more or less have to go private to educate your kids in SF ($35k per year) although that's not such an issue for you with a 3 year old because under CA school system he won't start school until he is 5 turning 6.

SF is similar to London for living costs I would say bit rents are higher ($4k for a 2-bed apartment in an OK area). Tech has pushed rents up hugely bc most young tech people rent. Palo Alto is definitely commutable to SF especially as you are commuting the 'wrong' way (most techies live in SF and commute down to the valley). PA is just as expensive as SF however although state schools are excellent so no need to go private unless you want to.

Personally I think SF is a better city for the child-free than those with kids. There are lots of great play parks, museums and kids activities but there is all that and better schools out in the East or South Bay. You can always take day trips up to the city on weekends anyway do you're not missing out. Basic stuff is a PITA in SF like the lack of a washer / dryer in most rentals, pressure on parking unless you have a garage etc. We lived in a lovely penthouse with view of the Golden Gate Bridge (paid for by DH's employer) and it didn't have inside washer/dryer just shared laundry requiring quarters in the basement. And all for what would have been about $8k rent if we had had to pay it ourselves.

Re relocation package, health insurance etc: you get what you ask for! Look at your realistic costs and ask for more. They can only say no. Any decent-sized corporate will have good health insurance so that's not a concern unless you are working for a start-up.

Good luck!

LizLimone Tue 19-Aug-14 22:46:16

Sorry: that should read 'you will need to get a working visa' - you won't automatically get one!

Wobblestones Wed 20-Aug-14 21:20:53

Thanks LizLimone - loads of wisdom! Clearly, I am completely clueless here, so thanks for taking the time to explain the visas. DH has just had a loooooong discussion with HR about the relocation process. Apparently it's easy for me as an Australian due to some sort of reciprocal visa arrangement.
Oh and thanks about the washer/dryer info - I had no idea! That is exactly the sort of stuff I want to know about. Lots of reading ahead of me. A friend has recommended Oakland as a nice family place so I'm off to read up on that too.

Some parts of Oakland are really not nice at all. Be aware of what neighborhoods you are going to rent in. Oakland hills is nice though.

LizLimone Thu 21-Aug-14 20:48:20

Yep, agree with Squinkies. Oakland is a whole separate city in itself and is still in the process of gentrifying so you would need to choose carefully.

Check out city data, a US website with lots of local info on cities and where to live, cost of living etc.
http://www.city-data.com/forum/

Wobblestones Thu 21-Aug-14 22:39:12

Thanks again. Things are progressing very quickly with DH's employer and I think they're going to put together a package for next week. Does anyone know of any website or resource which can help us evaluate offers? For example, I have no idea if it's reasonable to try to negotiate on things like flights back to the UK per year, UK vs US holiday allowance, childcare subsidisation - I am honestly clueless. We really need to spend this coming long weekend reading up on health insurance polices too. At the moment I have no understanding of what to expect or ask for.

Wobblestones Thu 21-Aug-14 22:41:51

LizLimone I just re-read one of your earlier comments about medical cover etc. No, it's not a start up he works for, it's one of the big ones. They are well thought of in terms of employee benefits so I am sure they will have good medical policies etc. I just don't know how to evaluate them.

seagull70 Thu 21-Aug-14 22:55:53

Hi OP, I would recommend that you register with a few Expat forums. You will find many Brits on there who have made the move (and many to Silicon Valley). They will be able to advise on relocation packages too and it's actually a bit of an eye-opener when you look at the list of recommendations.

For the down and dirty on individual neighbourhoods, look at the City Data website. Lots of locals on there who will tell you all you need to know.

Good luck, a very exciting time for you and a beautiful part of the world.

seagull70 Thu 21-Aug-14 22:59:14

Definitely insist on Green Card sponsorship as part of the package too and make sure that all of the arrangements to get you back to the UK (should the contract expire) is just as generous and comprehensive as the package to get you out there.

He should also negotiate to keep as much of his UK annual leave entitlement as possible, I know many who have done this and succeeded. Annual Leave entitlement is the US can be shockingly poor.

I'd head over to www.britishexpats.com and go into the US section it's a wealth on info and has a wiki for the most frequently asked questions.

quakerbaker Fri 22-Aug-14 06:17:28

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Wobblestones Sun 24-Aug-14 08:50:50

Thanks all - we have spent hours and hours reading this weekend! The links above are really helpful. It's given us an idea of the (massive!) salary we need to negotiate to make it all affordable. At the moment we're quite keen on Berkeley as somewhere to look at (very into organic food, natural parenting, extended breastfeeding) but it seems family houses don't come up very often for rent, and it's quite pricey. One of the big issues regarding location is transport. DH doesn't drive so will be reliant on public transport to commute. There's a BART station right next to his office so we've been concentrating on neighbourhoods with BART. Berkeley has three so that's a plus. There are some lovely looking places on Craigslist in the Berkeley hills but I think that would make DH's commute unfeasible. If anyone has any knowledge in this area please feel free to share!
DH is expecting to receive an offer this coming week so then we'll know a bit more. I'd really like us all to go out there for a bit of a look around before committing. Do you think this a reasonable request for us to make of the company or should we be looking at self-funding a little look-see trip?

seagull70 Sun 24-Aug-14 11:34:10

I think a look-see trip should also be part of the package although I guess it depends on the level of job. No harm in asking!

They should also cover the cost of some temporary accommodation for you when you first move out there - anything from 3-6 months. It will give you the chance to properly research the area and find a house to rent.

Do you have pets? If you're taking them then all relocation costs should also be covered by the company plus an allowance to cover the purchase of white goods. It's unlikely that your vacuum/kettle/toaster/hair dryer/blender/lawn mower etc will work on their voltage and so it will all need replacing.

HelloLA Sun 24-Aug-14 13:17:36

It sounds like your husband may be on a L1-B, if he's transferring within the same company, which is really good: you'll get an L2 visa and can apply for employment authorization (EAD) after you arrive. It may take several months for you to get the EAD, and you can't work in the interim, so budget for that accordingly.

I think the reciprocal visa for Australians is E-3, isn't it? I don't know whether that would be more or less hassle than an L2. L2s tend to be very straightforward (so long as you haven't got any criminal convictions, but that would hamper most visa applications!).

Definitely get some written guarantee about being sponsored for a green card at some point. Having a temporary visa (one that's tied to your job) seems fine at first, but then after a few years of building a life in the US, paying taxes etc, it's really unsettling to realize you can still be told to leave at very short notice.

I would also consider getting your UK citizenship before you go, if feasible, mostly because you never know how spouse visa requirements are going to change. It's a million times easier just to have a simple and immediate right of entry back to the UK.

It's very hilly.
grin

Loved it when we visited. Very cool and friendly vibe. I've lived in lots of cities and SF is one I would definitely consider.

Wobblestones Sun 24-Aug-14 22:03:22

Okay well today's earthquake is filling me with enthusiasm hmm

on what to ask/negotiate on - we moved to LA 2.5years ago, slightly different situation as DH was newly employed by an American company, not transferred by a British one but we chose not negotiate on salary and instead focussed on:

More holiday (offered 2 weeks, negotiated 3)
Green Card (we came on H1-B and H4 visas, they agreed to process Green Cards after we'd been here at least 6months. Process started a year ago, we are now about a month away from receiving them - delays include government shut down last summer. They have paid for everything to do with the application and done all the leg work on it)
Flights home (they said they couldn't do yearly - I think you generally only get this if you work for a charity and get sent somewhere difficult like Sudan! But they could fudge their accounting to give our family of 4 2 round trips in our first year - we managed to extend that so we went home 3 times in the first 2 years)

The package also included:
temporary accomodation for minimum 30 days and up to 3months if neccessary
they gave us $15,000 all in to spend on relocation costs which included our flights
they paid for hire car until we got ourselves sorted (6 weeks)
they lent us money for rent deposit as we had no credit history - you arrive with your credit rating n/a - so all landlords were asking at least double the deposit as security
good medical and dental package - I just trusted them on this and it's by all accounts very good, according to the Americans also working for the company, but in truth I don't really know what that means!
pet insurance package
relocation back again if DH still employed by them when we return (this is required by law)

basically ask for everything you can think of that you want, it's a negotiation process so they'll offer what they can/are prepared to. They can only say no!

britexpats and citydata are excellent resources (even if the regulars are on the whole patronising and crushingly negative!)

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