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SF Ranked 26th Most Expensive City for Foreign Workers

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Sticker shock is apparently our biggest export

San Francisco is not just a hub for American tech workers anymore. Over the past five years, the number of H-1B visa holders (a visa program designed to give American companies access to nonimmigrant labor from other countries) has shot through the roof.

Between 2012 and 2015, over 6,600 companies filed for permission to hire H-1B holders just in San Francisco. And Santa Clara County is the number one stop for H-1Bs in the entire country.

Apple alone has put in bids for over 8,600, according to the Chronicle. Which is lucky, because those visa workers are going to need a high-paying Apple salary once the sticker shock of San Francisco sets in.

According to the New York-based HR consulting firm Mercer, we’re the 26th most expensive city in the world for expat workers, the most expensive in California, and the second most expensive in the US, behind only New York.

Mercer calculates its annual Cost of Living index by comparing the relative costs of over 200 commodities in cities around the world, from the rent on a three bedroom apartment all the way down to the city’s median price for a bottle of beer.

Last year, San Francisco was only 37th worldwide. The huge jump certainly has something to do with the madness of last year’s housing prices, but American cities in general climbed up the rankings. The dollar is relatively strong against most currencies these days, thanks to a relative dearth of financial disasters.

Which is great for us but smarts for anyone incoming.

The only other California city to break the top 200 was LA, one spot below SF. San Jose’s absence seems noteworthy, but it’s possible Mercer is lumping the entire Bay Area together under the "San Francisco" banner, as people tend to do. (They haven’t yet returned our calls asking for clarification.)

The most expensive city in the world for foreign workers is still Hong Kong, where a two bedroom apartment costs over $6,800/month, a pair of pants costs over $128, and a cup of coffee is $7.77. Note that Mercer measures housing costs only in "appropriate neighborhoods" rather than the citywide median.