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Moving to San Diego

The birthplace of California, San Diego is a city where history meets progress. Passing through Native American, Spanish and Mexican hands before becoming part of the United States, the city’s pioneer spirit can be felt blowing through the palm trees that line its streets and sun-baked beaches. San Diego is known for its pleasant climate, seemingly endless miles of sandy coastline and small-town atmosphere. 

Living in San Diego as an expat

The city is the economic centre of San Diego County as well as the border-defying San Diego-Tijuana metropolitan area. There are many strong industries that newcomers might find work in, including international trade, telecommunications, software, electronics, tourism, military-related activities and manufacturing. The city has also gained a reputation for its world-class healthcare facilities and cutting-edge biotechnology industry.

With a comprehensive public transport system consisting of buses, trains and trolleys, as well as well-designed highways, new arrivals will have no problem getting around in San Diego. Owing to its unique geography, spreading from inland valleys to the coast, there is a wide range of accommodation available to suit just about every taste and budget. This ranges from oceanfront mansions and rural estates to first-time-buyer condominiums and bachelor apartments.

Cost of living in San Diego

San Diego's cost of living may be well below that of its Southern California neighbour Los Angeles, but it's still pretty high. It's above both the California state average and the national average. Fortunately, depending on which industry newcomers work in, salaries are generally high and most San Diegans live comfortably. Housing in outlying suburbs beyond the city limits are affordable for both renters and buyers and, as long as residents don't splurge too much on imported products, eating out and frequenting bars, they should be able to navigate the relatively high cost of living with ease.

Expat families and children

It is a great city for children, with many options for public and private schooling as well as a range of activities and attractions to keep the whole family entertained. This includes famous destinations such as the San Diego Zoo, Legoland California and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. There are also countless hiking trails in the hills around the city and plenty of weekend camping spots.
San Diego is also the home of exciting annual events such as the world-famous San Diego Comic-Con International.

Climate in San Diego

Some see San Diego's climate as one of the best in the world, with nearly year-round summer. Perfect for a city on the coast, it has a semi-arid climate with only slight variation in temperature between the seasons. Occasional heat waves are caused by the hot Santa Ana winds blowing in from the desert, making it significantly hotter, but the temperatures in peak summer, between June and August, average between 62°F (17°C) and 76°F (24°C).

Affording its residents a high quality of life in a family-friendly setting, plus many job opportunities in multiple industries, San Diego is gaining popularity among Americans and expats alike.

Weather in San Diego

San Diego has a semi-arid climate and enjoys sunny and mild weather all year round, with only slight variation in temperature between the seasons. Occasional heat waves are caused by the hot Santa Ana winds blowing in from the desert, making it significantly hotter. That said, the temperatures in peak summer, between June and August, average between 62°F (17°C) and 76°F (24°C), while temperatures in winter, between December and February, range between 48°F (9°C) and 65°F (18°C). May and June are prone to fog. Rainfall is low, with most of it falling between November and April.


Working in San Diego

With the city expected to experience stable job growth for the next few decades, especially with the emergence of high-tech companies, the presence of the United States Navy and increased foreign trade, expats looking for work in San Diego should have many opportunities for employment.

San Diego's economy is significantly influenced by its position along the US-Mexico border and its deepwater port. It is also known for its strong economy, educational institutions and educated workforce.

Job market in San Diego

Sharing a border with Mexico and hosting one of the world’s busiest border crossing points, international trade plays a major role in the local economy of San Diego.

In addition, San Diego’s coastal geography forms the foundation of a long association between the city and the US Navy. As a result, the military industry is one of the city’s biggest sectors and among its largest employers.

Other major industries include healthcare, biotechnology, research, tourism and pharmaceuticals. The unique mix of high-tech industries, recreational options and the standard of education in San Diego has gained the city a reputation for being one of the country’s best climates for technological development.

Finding a job in San Diego

Expats in search of work in San Diego can get an idea of the job market by browsing online job portals. Getting in touch with recruitment agencies can also be a good way to scope out opportunities. Once in the city, networking can be extremely helpful when it comes to getting a foot in the door.

Work culture in San Diego

San Diego, at a glance, may seem like a laid-back beach town populated by surfers and suburban families soaking up the sun and living fairly relaxed lives. The reality is that the city has a rather vibrant economy with hard-working residents thriving in various booming sectors. 

The city has low unemployment rates, and most large employers ensure that employees are generally happy by affording them generous benefits and plenty of down time. This, coupled with the great weather, reasonable cost of living and sheer amount of things to do, makes the San Diego workforce one of the happiest in the US.  

Newcomers working in San Diego will find that companies put a real emphasis on investing in their employees in terms of incentives, education and training, which in turn limits turnover and a healthy company culture.  

Accommodation in San Diego

New arrivals on the hunt for accommodation in San Diego will find that the city offers a huge variety of housing and a diversity of neighbourhoods. Prospective tenants will have plenty of options, like affordable apartments, single-family homes in the suburbs and luxury oceanfront estates.

Many of those who move to the city rent accommodation first while getting to know their environment and the market before making a commitment to buy. If they don’t intend on staying for the long-term, expats in San Diego generally prefer to rent.

Types of accommodation in San Diego

Having formed through waves of changing architectural trends, San Diego is a diverse city with a variety of accommodation. Choices range from apartments and high-rise condominiums in pedestrian-friendly urban districts to Spanish-styled homes and stately mansions in picturesque neighbourhoods.

Finding accommodation in San Diego

The internet is a valuable resource for expats on the hunt for a new home, providing them with access to a wide variety of rental websites and online classifieds. Property sections in print media are another good resource. Seeing a property in person is the best way for house hunters to make a considered decision and opportunities can arise from exploring and responding to a neighbourhood's for sale and rental signs.

A real-estate agent is also a good choice, as these specialists have intimate knowledge of the various neighbourhoods in the city and may have access to property listings before they are advertised publicly.

Renting accommodation in San Diego

Properties can get snapped up quickly in San Diego, so expats should be ready to act quickly if they find a place they like.

Submitting an application

Once a prospective tenant has found a property they like, they submit a lease application. They will need to show proof of income and may be subject to a credit check.


Tenants will need to put down a security deposit, usually the equivalent of one or two months' rent. In addition, they will be expected to pay for their first month upfront.


Lease length can vary but most leases are signed on a six-month or one-year basis.


Utilities such as water, electricity and gas may or may not be included as part of the rental price – expats should inquire about this before signing the lease.

Areas and suburbs in San Diego

The best places to live in San Diego

San Diego’s neighbourhoods sprawl out between ocean, desert and mountains, providing expats with a diverse range of options that contribute to the city’s small-town atmosphere. Here are a few areas and suburbs in San Diego favoured by expats.

Suburban living in San Diego

Balboa Park


Hillcrest is a bustling neighbourhood known for its coffee shops, independent antique stores, bohemian bookshops and speciality boutiques, all of which contribute to the area’s village atmosphere. Nearby attractions include Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo. Many of Hillcrest’s residents live close to their workplaces in a variety of accommodation styles, including apartments, condos and freestanding houses.


An upmarket area northeast of downtown San Diego, Kensington is known for its Spanish Revival houses and quiet, picturesque atmosphere. One of the city’s older neighbourhoods, residents enjoy strolling through its winding palm-lined streets and exploring the businesses and eateries on Adams Avenue. This peaceful neighbourhood is great for raising a family and is close to several good public schools.

Mission Hills

Developed in the early 20th century, Mission Hills is one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods and is known for the impressive architecture of its well-maintained mansions, craft-style bungalows and stately family homes. Residents have access to everything they need in the area, including parks, a library, shops and entertainment venues in the city’s commercial district. Situated on the hills to the north of the city, the suburb overlooks downtown San Diego.

Urban living in San Diego

East Village

East Village

The opening of the Petco Park baseball stadium in 2004 helped turn East Village from a warehouse district into an area with upscale hotels, rooftop bars, gourmet eateries and fashionable cafes. The largest neighbourhood in downtown San Diego, East Village is mostly made up of luxury condominiums, studio apartments and lofts. As much as it is a great fit for sport-loving expats with the necessary budget, the area is also home to the San Diego Central Library, for the bookworms at heart.

Little Italy

Little Italy has gone through an urban revival in recent years, with old family businesses combining with fresh ideas in this city centre district. Expats will have access to decades-old shops and restaurants alongside galleries and trendy cafes. New housing developments also mean that potential residents have more options. Apartments and condos are standard in Little Italy, while free-standing family homes are rare in this area. Parking can also be hard to come by, although the area is replete with public transport options.

Seaside living in San Diego

La Jolla

La Jolla

La Jolla is a seaside Mediterranean-style village rich in history. Residents have access to fine dining, designer shopping, and a thriving cultural scene in a strikingly beautiful setting. Gentle waves along the hilly coastline make swimming, kayaking and surfing popular activities. Home to the University of California San Diego, the area also provides a variety of education options at kindergarten, elementary and high school level. As one of the most affluent areas in San Diego, La Jolla offers house hunters a variety of options including cliffside homes above Black’s Beach and upmarket apartments with ocean views.

Mission Beach

Mission Beach offers expats the opportunity to live the California beach lifestyle in a tamer environment than the better-known Venice Beach in Los Angeles. Surf shops, beach bars, restaurants and nightclubs entertain residents along a sprawling seaside boardwalk. Much of the area’s housing was built to be holiday accommodation, which contributes to the area’s relaxed atmosphere. Expats looking to move to this area have options from double-storey houses to seaside apartments. It also provides a host of family activities and is home to Belmont Park, which offers an amusement park with shops and restaurants.

Healthcare in San Diego

New arrivals will have a wide variety of choices when it comes to healthcare in San Diego. The city has a good reputation for offering world-class healthcare facilities, with several of them making national rankings.

The clinics and private hospitals in San Diego provide residents with a range of specialities. There's a large number of pharmacies in San Diego, including outlets of large pharmacy chains as well as a wide selection of independent pharmacies.

As is generally the case in the US, it's important to have a comprehensive health insurance plan to easily and affordably access the best medical facilities in San Diego.

Below is a list of some of the most prominent hospitals in San Diego.

Hospitals in San Diego

Rady Children’s Hospital

Address: 3020 Children's Way, San Diego

Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla

Address: 9888 Genesee Avenue, La Jolla

Sharp Memorial Hospital

Address: 7901 Frost Street, San Diego

Jacobs Medical Center

Address: 9300 Campus Point Drive, La Jolla

Education and Schools in San Diego

The San Diego County Office of Education is in charge of education and schools in San Diego County, providing services to 42 school districts. These districts provide educational programmes for more than 750 public elementary, middle and high schools. There's also a wide selection of private schools in San Diego. Public schools are free to attend but private and international schools usually charge hefty fees.

Public schools in San Diego

Schooling in San Diego operates according to catchment areas. While children are automatically eligible to attend the school within their zoned area, it's also possible to apply at a school outside of this area through the School Choice Program.

Generally speaking, the top schools in San Diego are in the most affluent areas. Even these vary in quality and the best way to be sure is to see the school and its staff in person.

Non-English-speaking expats have the option of sending their child to one of the city's dual-language immersion public schools. Most are Spanish, but there are also schools offering German, Mandarin and French.

Magnet schools

Magnet schools are government-funded schools that offer a specialised focus on one or several subjects, which is a good option for expats with children who show promise in a specific area of their education. There is a wide range of options from schools with a strong emphasis on maths and science, to those specialising in the performance arts. Some magnet schools require an audition but placement is largely via lottery.

Charter schools

Charter schools operate on a performance-based contract with the government. In most cases, this means that charter schools can generally be counted on to offer a good standard of education. They have a greater degree of freedom in teaching styles and curricula than regular public schools. Some charter schools offer specialised curricula or subscribe to alternative teaching philosophies. Again, attendance is determined by a lottery.

Private schools in San Diego

Parents have access to a wealth of private schools in San Diego, with different approaches to education. While most are co-educational, some are single-sex schools. Many of San Diego's private schools offer education through a religious lens, most commonly Christian. Others favour alternative educational approaches such as Montessori.

Each school has its own admission requirements which may include application fees, tests and personal interviews. While there are no geographical restrictions on attending a private school, this also means that waiting lists are often long and there is strong competition for places at the best schools.

The academic freedom and facilities provided by these institutions do come at a price and private schools are more costly than their public and charter counterparts.

International schools in San Diego

There are very few private schools in San Diego that are specifically aimed at the expat community. Despite the rarity of San Diego international schools in the traditional sense of teaching a foreign country's curriculum, there are a number of public schools that offer the globally recognised International Baccalaureate.

For the most part, parents looking for schooling with an international element are best off opting for an International Baccalaureate or dual-immersion public school.

Homeschooling in San Diego

Homeschooling is legal in the state of California and is regarded by the government as a form of private schooling. Parents will therefore need to complete and submit the Private School Affidavit (PSA). Legally, children must receive some form of education between the ages of six and 18. The state doesn't offer specific guidance and advises parents to seek advice from non-governmental resources such as local homeschooling organisations. 

Special-needs education in San Diego

The San Diego Unified School District aims to identify, locate and assess all students from birth to 21 years old that may have disabilities. Support is then provided based on an Individual Education Program (IEP), which is put together by a panel consisting of education professionals as well as the child's parents. 

Depending on each child's individual needs, there are a few possibilities. A child with relatively mild special needs may be sent to a regular public school but receive additional special education services and support. There are also special day classes for moderate cases and special schools for cases where a higher level of support is required.

There are also a number of specialised private schools in San Diego that are well equipped to cater for special-needs students.

Tutors in San Diego

Tutors are a widely used resource in San Diego, especially for students approaching final exams and college applications. There are a number of reputable companies and individuals offering a range of services for various subjects and grade levels.

Expat children who are struggling to adjust to a new curriculum or who aren't studying in their home language can benefit from tutoring. Tutors can assist bilingual children in brushing up on new language skills while also maintaining mother-tongue language skills.

Lifestyle in San Diego

When it comes to lifestyle and shopping in San Diego, expats will have a dizzying selection of options. Shopaholics have access to countless shops, boutiques and malls. Night owls can choose from rooftop bars, live music, karaoke and more. Family-oriented expats, on the other hand, will find the city is home to an array of attractions to keep the little ones busy such as the San Diego Zoo, various family beaches and a host of museums.

Shopping in San Diego

Expats will be spoilt for choice when it comes to shopping in San Diego. Whether in search of designer labels at shopping centres or bargain buys at vintage boutiques, there are a range of options for city residents.

The city boasts a slew of malls, from family-friendly outdoor centres to luxury shopping complexes. Prominent among these is Fashion Valley, a 200-store mall in Mission Valley that hosts more than 18 million visitors a year. The mall offers designer stores such as Gucci and Jimmy Choo, department stores such as Macy’s and Nordstrom, and a wide selection of restaurants and bistros.

For bargain hunters, there are outlet centres all over the city that offer discounts on designer labels and brand names.

There are also a number of neighbourhoods in San Diego that are well known for being shopping districts. Areas such as Little Italy, La Jolla, Mission Hills and the Gaslamp District go over and above the standard shopping experience, offering a variety of antique stores, arts-and-crafts boutiques and restaurants.

Nightlife and entertainment in San Diego

The city comes alive after dark, with a variety of nightclubs, music venues and bars. The Gaslamp District is especially well known, and the easily walkable neighbourhood offers revellers everything from jazz clubs to outdoor bistros.

San Diego’s repertoire isn’t limited to jazz though, and patrons have a variety of venues available featuring everything from DJs and karaoke, to live rock bands and flamenco dancers. Bar hoppers will be happy to know that the city offers options from old-style pubs to wine bars and exclusive speakeasies with unfamiliar labels.

The city is known as the ‘craft beer capital of America’ and is home to more than 150 breweries of various sizes. Craft beer connoisseurs can go for a tour in most of these establishments or enjoy one of the many events celebrating the city's craft beer scene, such as the San Diego International Beer Competition.

Food and wine in San Diego

With local produce and seafood delivered fresh from the dock, the city is a major attraction for some of the USA’s most talented chefs. Everything from food truck snacks to gourmet cuisine is available in San Diego.

Wine lovers will be pleased to know that a trip to North County leads to one of the finest grape-growing regions in the western US. Crossing through mountain valleys, expats with a taste for the finer things in life are sure to enjoy exploring hillside vineyards and visiting family wineries which offer regular tours and tastings.

Outdoor activities in San Diego

Whether enjoying the beauty of San Diego's natural environment, watching one of the city's sports teams or visiting one of the numerous outdoor attractions, expats who love the outdoors will be right at home in San Diego.

Balboa Park spans 1,200 acres and offers virtually endless outdoor activities. Highlights include the Japanese Friendship Garden as well as Pepper Tree Park and Playground, which provides shade for one of the best family picnic spots in the city. The San Diego Botanical Garden is another favoured green space in the city, offering miles of garden trails, countless numbers of plant and bird species as well as events such as concerts, exhibits and festivals.

Expats with a yearning for the great outdoors will enjoy places such as the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve which offers hiking trails against a backdrop of pine forests, sandstone canyons and Pacific Ocean views.

What's On in San Diego

San Diego is well known for its diversity, and it shows in its annual events calendar. Residents get to enjoy a variety of festivities that celebrate the city’s natural beauty, its history and its culture. Offering everything from flower festivals to comic conventions, expats will be spoilt for choice when it comes to events in San Diego.

Annual events in San Diego

San Diego Museum Month (February)

With a 50 percent discount on entry fees at dozens of participating museums throughout San Diego, February is the perfect time for expats to explore the city’s wealth of history and culture. Lovers of art, history and nature will all be in seventh heaven with so many diverse museums to choose from.

San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon (June)

The Rock ‘n Roll Marathon is a running event with a musical twist. On the marathon and half-marathon course, runners are urged along by local bands playing on course-side stages. There is also a finish-line festival running throughout the day, and a free post-race concert to end the day on a high note.

LGBTQ Pride Parade and Festival (July)

More than 200,000 attendees from all walks of life congregate at Balboa Park for the colourful, cultural spectacle that is San Diego Pride. Dozens of musicians, bands and dance troupes can be seen at the city’s premier LGBTQ event.

San Diego Comic-Con (July)

Arguably the city’s most famous event, Comic-Con is the largest pop culture and comic book convention in the world. Participants dressed as superheroes and sci-fi characters attend screenings of new films and video games, watch panel discussions featuring famous actors, directors and writers, and get to meet some of their entertainment heroes.

San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival (November)

Some of San Diego’s best restaurants, wineries, breweries and distilleries come together with celebrity chefs and thousands of attendees to celebrate all things food and drink at this yearly festival. One of the biggest events of its kind in the country, the Wine and Food Festival is a great warm-up for the festive season.

Balboa Park December Nights (December)

For the past four decades, Balboa Park December Nights has brought together city residents to enjoy the festivities that take place beneath Balboa Park’s Christmas lights. The largest free festival in San Diego, December Nights offers a chance for attendees to enjoy live performances and a winter marketplace while munching on grub from the festival's speciality food stalls.

Getting Around in San Diego

Whether driving or using public transport, expats will find getting around in San Diego fairly easy.  

Public transportation in San Diego is administered by the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) which operates buses and a light rail tram system in the city. There are more than 90 bus routes in the city and surrounding areas as well as three light-rail lines.

Public transport in San Diego

Single tickets for public transport are easily available and relatively affordable. The most cost-effective option for expats intending to make frequent use of public transport in San Diego is to purchase a monthly pass. Day passes are also readily available.

Physical tickets can be purchased at stations, or tickets can be purchased online using a service known as the Compass Cloud. Regular commuters should purchase a Compass Card, which is a smartcard that can be used across all MTS services.


The public bus service in San Diego is one of the most economical ways of getting around the city. Most buses run seven days a week, with extra services during weekdays and peak traffic times. There are dozens of bus routes that comprehensively cover the inner city and surrounding areas, including rural routes.  

There is also a rapid transit bus service of nine lines, with two additional rapid transit lines operational during peak hours.

Light rail

The San Diego Trolley is the city's light rail system and is one of the most recognisable forms of transport in the city. Also known as the Red Trolley, the service consists of more than 50 stations on three main lines that cover around 54 miles (87km) of track.

There is also a vintage trolley service that runs on a single line in downtown San Diego on weekends, select weekdays and during major events. Primarily a tourist attraction, the vintage streetcar Silver Line service is a good way for new arrivals to get to know the city.

Taxis in San Diego

MTS is responsible for licensing and regulating taxis in San Diego, as well as ensuring that they adhere to safety standards. Rates vary between companies, but a starting cost (known as a 'flag drop fare') plus a per-mile fee is standard. Cabs in San Diego can either be called in advance, hailed from the street or found at a taxi stand.

Several ride-hailing applications also have a presence in San Diego, including Lyft and Uber. These allow users to summon a cab directly to their location and gives an estimated price for the trip upfront.

Cycling in San Diego

The city actively encourages residents to cycle and is constantly expanding existing infrastructure as part of the San Diego Regional Bicycle Plan.

Given the favourable weather conditions and support from local government and the private sector, commuting by bicycle in San Diego is becoming more popular. The city is constantly expanding its network of bicycle paths and lanes.

Driving in San Diego

Given the spread-out nature of the wider region, a car is the most convenient way of travelling outside the city, and most expats moving to San Diego are likely to purchase one.

Expats with valid driver's licences from foreign countries are able to drive in the state of California, but once expats become residents of the state they will need to get a local licence. Some countries have agreements with the state of California, meaning that their citizens can transfer their driver's licence without needing to retake a driver's test. Other expats must take a written traffic law test as well as a practical in order to get a local licence.