San Francisco is the tech capital of the world. If you live there, you know that. You can’t go to a coffee shop or a pub without running into someone excitedly telling everyone within earshot about a great new startup they’re coding for or the hot new product they’re designing. The energy there is palpable, and there are tech jobs waiting to be nabbed by the best and brightest.
But there is a downside to San Francisco. Living there is expensive. While some tech salaries can support a comfortable lifestyle in SF, not all of them can, which is why more and more people in the tech industry are looking north to Seattle, Washington.
The cost of living in Seattle is an average of 21 percent lower than in San Francisco. That’s a big difference, but there are other things to consider before deciding to relocate. What is the market like? What are the people like? What kind of salary can you expect?
Culture and Demographics
Before making a big move, you want to get a feel for the place. San Francisco is more energetic, Seattle is laid-back. People in San Francisco are friendlier, while Seattle lends itself more to small, tight-knit groups of friends. Let’s take a closer look.
As of July 2015, the population of San Francisco was 864,816. Seattle’s population was 684,451. 69.5 percent of Seattle’s population are caucasian, compared to 48.5 percent in San Francisco. Asian residents make up the second-highest percentage in both cities, coming in at 33.3 percent in San Francisco and 13.8 percent in Seattle. Seattle has more children under 5 years and children under 18 years than San Francisco, evidence of Seattle’s status as a great place to raise a family.
Many of Seattle’s residents were born there, which contributes to the “Seattle freeze,” as some call it. Seattle-ites are generally considered nice, but not friendly. The immigrant population is growing, however, with a 40 percent increase in the foreign-born population between 1990 and 2000.
This has contributed to a population boom that has continued. Since 2010, Seattle has been the fastest-growing big city in the country, and it’s expected to grow by almost 200,000 more people in the next 20 years.
Only 37.7 percent of San Francisco’s population was born in California. The rest were born in other U.S. states (25.2 percent) and other countries (35.6 percent). It’s possible this is one reason why the people in San Francisco are so friendly. If you’re an SF newbie, you’re not alone.
According to Suburban Stats, the median age for both men and women in San Francisco is 38. The median age for women in Seattle is 36. For men in Seattle, it’s 35.
Another big barometer for deciding if a city is right for you is the weather. Seattle is known for its rain, but it technically receives less precipitation than most major cities on the east coast. The sun doesn’t make much of an appearance throughout the year, though, with a mean number of 201 cloudy days a year and 93 partly cloudy days.
On the other hand, residents don’t hesitate to sing about the glory of Seattle summers, with sunny, dry days and temperatures in the 70s.
San Francisco is known for its gorgeous weather. Summers are dry, with temperatures below 80 degrees most days, and winters are rainy and mild. You won’t really get seasons in San Francisco, and locals complain about the fog, but the city is hard to beat when it comes to weather.
Cost of Living
As we noted, the cost of living in Seattle is 21 percent lower than in San Francisco, but let’s break that down a little further.
The real estate market is hot in both Seattle and San Francisco. In Seattle, home prices have increased almost 20 percent since 2010, and that’s largely due to the booming tech industry in the city. The current average home price is $440,000.
San Francisco is not to be outdone in this arena. Existing home sales prices rose a whopping 36 percent in two years, from $543,780 in 2012 to $737,600 in 2014.
If you’re looking to rent, San Francisco has the most expensive rental market in the U.S., with a two bedroom median rent of $4,650. That two bedroom rental in Seattle will run you an average of $2,109, which is still nearly 80 percent higher than the national average.
Owning a car in San Francisco can be expensive, with monthly parking rates between $200 and $400 and an average gas price of nearly $3.00 a gallon, according to gasbuddy.com.
But the good news is, if you’re living in the city, you probably don’t need a car. Public transportation in SF is reliable and relatively economical. The San Francisco Municipal Railway, known as Muni, is a network of buses, trolleys, light rails, cable cars, and two heritage streetcar lines. Adults can get a monthly pass for $73.00, and a pass that includes the BART within the city for $91.00. There are also senior, low-income, and youth (5-18) prices, and kids 4 and under ride free.
Seattle has a light rail system as well, but you won’t benefit from it unless you live and work within its limited range. There is also a bus system. But most people in Seattle drive, and you can tell. The city has some of the worst traffic in the country, so depending on your commute, you could be logging an extra hour or two on your commute each way. That’s extra gas, too, which is usually at least 10 percent more than the national average.
You’re going to find great food in both Seattle and San Francisco. Seattle’s got prime seafood, a vibrant local beer scene, renowned restaurants, and, of course, a ton of excellent coffee.
As a bigger city, San Francisco has more options, and reportedly much better Mexican food, but the two cities both offer a wide variety of delicious options.
Groceries are definitely the less expensive way to go, but they’re not exactly cheap in either location. A gallon of milk costs an average of $3.63 in Seattle and $4.37 in San Francisco. A pound of rice is $1.92 on average in Seattle and $2.50 in San Francisco.
One other important point: sales tax in Seattle is higher than San Francisco — 9.6 percent in Seattle versus 8.5 percent in San Francisco. However, Seattle currently has no state income tax.
As we said, the tech industry in Seattle is booming. Amazon and Microsoft have been hiring at a rapid rate, and there are now over 80 engineering centers run by companies like Facebook, Alibaba, and eBay. All that adds up: Seattle was the third largest job market for tech in 2015.
Number one on that list was, you guessed it, San Francisco, which led tech growth for the sixth year in a row. San Francisco has become synonymous with tech, because you can find great jobs with the big names like Amazon, but also with one of the many startups, if that’s more your speed.
How Will Relocating Affect Your Salary?
The average market salary for tech employees in San Francisco is $189,000 per year, ranging from $97,100 to $228,000. Average market salary includes $122,000 base salary, $24,200 annual bonus, and $42,400 annual equity.
In Seattle, the average market salary for tech employees is $224,000 per year, ranging from $108,000 to $286,000. Average market salary includes $137,00 base salary, $35,400 annual bonus, and $51,400 annual equity.
Let’s take a look at how that shakes out for some of the top tech titles.
Software Engineer Salaries
The average market salary for software engineers in San Francisco is $186,000 per year, ranging from $102,000 to $219,000. Average market salary includes $115,000 base salary, $20,900 annual bonus and $50,100 annual equity.
The average market salary for software engineers in Seattle is $216,000 per year, ranging from $115,000 to $272,000. Average market salary includes $134,000 base salary, $31,700 annual bonus, and $50,900 annual equity.
Software Development Engineer
The average market salary for software development engineers in San Francisco is $179,000 per year, ranging from $129,000 to $246,000. Average market salary includes $120,000 base salary, $25,700 annual bonus, and $32,800 annual equity.
The average market salary for software development engineers in Seattle is $220,000 per year, ranging from $169,000 to $303,000. Average market salary includes $143,000 base salary, $35,300 annual bonus, and $41,800 annual equity.
Project Manager Salaries
The average market salary for project managers in San Francisco is $158,000 per year, ranging from $99,500 to $168,000. Average market salary includes $105,000 base salary, $20,900 annual bonus, and $32,000 annual equity.
The average market salary for project managers in Seattle is $195,000 per year, ranging from $108,000 to $205,000. Average market salary includes $119,000 base salary, $28,500 annual bonus, and $47,100 annual equity.
Systems Engineer Salaries
The average market salary for systems engineers in San Francisco is $158,000 per year, ranging from $95,500 to $172,000. Average market salary includes $106,000 base salary, $20,300 annual bonus, and $32,200 annual equity.
The average market salary for systems engineers in Seattle is $203,000 per year, ranging from $131,000 to $274,000. Average market salary includes $138,000 base salary, $36,300 annual bonus, and $29,400 annual equity.
Which City Is The Best For Tech Talent?
Only you can decide which city is right for you. Relocation is a big move, and there are many factors to consider. If you’re looking at salary alone, Seattle clearly has more to offer. There are many reasons this is the case, including the fact that the top companies are trying to entice talent away from the tech hotbed of San Francisco.
Something else to consider: Paysa recently analyzed salary data and found that Seattle and San Francisco are among the cities most likely to underpay their tech talent. It may be worth looking at relocating to a different city altogether, if salary is the biggest factor in your decision-making process. Tech hubs benefit from a buyer’s market, so companies are more likely to lowball their workers.
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