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Moving to California

So, is California calling your name? With all those beautiful beaches, majestic mountains, mysterious deserts, green valleys and happening cities—it’s no wonder that the beauty and promise of the Golden State have brought people out west from all over the country and around the world for generations.

Moving to California (or Cali, as some of the natives call it) is a very big deal, with lots of factors to consider. California may be beautiful, but all that beauty comes with some serious costs.

So, let’s dive in!

What to Know Before Moving to California

As with any major decision in life, moving to another state has pros and cons—especially a state like California. So like a good friend should, we’re going to give it to you straight starting with the cons.

The Cons

  • It costs a lot to live in California. The first thing you have to know about living in California is that it’s expensive. In fact, it’s the third most expensive state to live in, behind only New York and Hawaii.1 Because of the state’s popularity and government policies, everything is more costly—including what we call the Four Walls (food, utilities, housing and transportation). So be prepared for some serious sticker shock, especially if you’re coming from somewhere like the Midwest or the South.
     
  • You will need a car. Cars are a way of life in Cali. With its extensive network of freeways created in the mid-20th century, California was made for cars. Everything is very spread out, even in the cities (the Los Angeles metro area, for example, covers almost 5,000 square miles—that’s about the size of Connecticut!).2 And except for the Bay Area, the city centers don’t have a lot of connected and convenient public transit systems. So unless you have the cash to pay for lots of Ubers, get a car if you don’t already have one.
     
  • You will be taxed . . . a lot. Just as cars are a way of life in California, so are taxes. The California state and local governments are very good at finding new ways to tax their residents (if only they were good at other, less tax-y things). That car you’ll be driving around, for instance, will be fueled by the highest-taxed gas in the country (combining state and federal taxes and fees).3 Cali also has a state income tax (top rate of 13.3%) as well as a 7.25% sales tax, among other local taxes and fees.4 Property taxes would be higher in California had it not been for the passing of Proposition 13 in 1978 (how dare the voters want to keep more of their own money!).5
     
  • Cali isn’t very business-friendly. Thinking of starting a business in California? You might want to think again. We already covered the state government’s love for taxes. Add to that mounds and mounds of regulations and red tape, and it’s no wonder that California is ranked 48 out of the 50 states in terms of business friendliness.6 In fact, many big companies, like Hewlett-Packard, CKE Restaurants (Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s), Oracle and Tesla, have moved to more business-friendly states like Texas and Tennessee over the last few years.7
     
  • The big cities have serious issues. Because of some shortsighted policies by politicians, all the major cities in California have problems with traffic, crime and homelessness. Traffic in the Los Angeles area continues to be the worst in the nation. Most California counties experienced an increase in both violent and nonviolent crime in 2021.8 In fact, theft in San Francisco is so bad that local police are telling residents not to leave anything of value in their cars—and some have even resorted to parking with rolled-down windows and signs letting any thieves know there’s nothing in their car.9 On top of that, California now has the nation’s top homeless population, with over 160,000 people.10
     
  • There are some natural hazards. People often say they move to California because of the great weather. While it’s true the Golden State has an awesome climate, there are other natural parts of the state that aren’t as nice. Earthquakes rock the state up and down every so often. Much of California is desert and subject to severe droughts (which may mean curbing water usage). Due to the dry conditions, wildfires threaten neighborhoods and businesses on an annual basis. And when it does rain, mudslides can put a big damper on those who live in California’s many rolling hills.

The Pros

  • The weather is great. As we said previously, the Golden State does have an amazing climate overall—and it’s the state’s biggest selling point by far. You can ditch your snow shovel because Jack Frost doesn’t visit California (unless you live in the mountains). Southern California rarely gets below 50 in the winter. Even the cooler, foggy weather of Northern California is still pretty nice.
     
  • Lots of living options. California is a big place—the biggest in the union in terms of population and the third largest in terms of total area.11 The diverse climate and culture of California attracts all lifestyles. You can be anything from a surfer dude to an urban hipster, artist-in-residence, suburban family, farmer’s wife and everything in between. And depending on your budget and work situation, there are some genuinely great places to live in the Golden State.
  • Big industries are in California. While it’s true that many businesses are moving out of California, there are several industries within the Golden State that are powerhouses for not just the country but the entire world. California is home to Silicon Valley, the birthplace of the modern tech industry. Tech giants like Meta, Apple and Alphabet (Google) are all based there. So it’s not a surprise that California leads the country in technology and innovation.12 California is also the hub of the entertainment industry, with many major studios like Disney, Warner Bros. and Universal all calling the state home.
  • There’s lots to see and do. Oceans, mountains, deserts, forests, rivers—there’s so much activity packed into California’s borders. You could literally ski the slopes of Mammoth Mountain in the morning and surf on the Santa Barbara beaches in the afternoon. Sports fans will be happy that California has multiple teams from virtually every professional sport (over 18 teams in all), so there’s always someone to root for. Cali is also one of the biggest tourist destinations on Earth and home to many world-famous attractions:
     
    • Landmarks: The Hollywood sign, Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach, Griffith Observatory, Hearst Castle, California missions
       
    • Theme parks: The Disneyland® Resort, Knott’s Berry Farm, Six Flags Magic Mountain, SeaWorld San Diego, LEGOLAND® California, Universal Studios Hollywood
       
    • Natural wonders: Yosemite National Park, Napa Valley, Mount Whitney, giant sequoias, Big Sur, Lake Tahoe

What to Do When You Move to California

Now that you’ve seen some of the pros and cons of moving to California, here are some helpful reminders about what you need to do to make your move a smooth operation.

Find a Job

The reality is that most of California is expensive to live in, so you need to make sure you’ll make enough money to support yourself and your family without relying on debt. If you’re in the tech industry, the in-demand companies of Silicon Valley are probably the best places to land career-wise in the entire country. So the opportunities are there in certain industries.

Choose a City

Most of the jobs in California are found in the big cities. But because of the expense involved in living in those cities (not to mention the crime), many people opt to commute into the cities (which leads to the traffic). Depending on the kind of job you land, you might consider picking a smaller city on the outskirts of a major metro area. Not only will it be a little bit safer, but the housing might also be a little more reasonably priced (but not by much—see below).

Find Housing

This might be a bit of a challenge, especially when it comes to finding housing at a reasonable price. Because the California state and local governments have made it difficult to build new housing to keep up with demand, there’s a shortage of affordable housing in the state’s biggest cities. This shortage has driven up housing prices—how much varies drastically depending on the region. The median home price in San Francisco is $1.09 million, but it’s $387,000 in Bakersfield.13 Rents are also high. But no matter where you land, always remember that your housing costs shouldn’t be more than 25% of your monthly take-home pay.

Find expert agents to help you buy your home.

If you’re getting a mortgage and want one you can pay off fast, talk to the home loan specialists we trust at Churchill Mortgage about getting a 15-year fixed-rate conventional loan with at least a 5–10% down payment (20% is ideal). Any other type of mortgage will cost you so much more in interest and fees and keep you in debt for decades—especially in California!

Schools

If you have school-age kids, you’ll want to do your own homework about the school systems in the areas you’re looking at. Are you going to go public, private or homeschool? Does the curriculum the schools teach align with your values? These are actually super important questions to answer no matter where you’re moving.

Update Your Will

This isn’t the most pleasant thing to talk about, but it’s necessary. States have their own requirements when it comes to wills, so you need to make sure that yours follows all the rules and regulations to be valid in California.

Update License and Registration

Since you’ll be spending quite a bit of time in a car in your new home state, it’s so important to get your car registered and get yourself a California driver’s license—and fast! By law, you only have 20 days to get it done once you’ve established residency in the state.14 The California Department of Motor Vehicles has its own new resident portal to get you started on this step. But just be aware that the DMV is notoriously slow (like Flash from Disney’s Zootopia slow).

Is a Move to California Right for You?

Moving to California is a big decision—so take your time measuring all the pros and cons so you can make the best choice for you and your family. Just make sure you can actually afford to live there and keep a little margin in your budget. We have a handy cost of living calculator that can help you get started understanding the costs of moving to Cali. We also offer a free relocation guide to help you get started on your moving journey.

Then your next step is to work with a real estate agent who can find you the right home in California. And a great way to find a California-based agent is to take a look at our Endorsed Local Providers (ELP) program. We’ll get you in touch with an agent who knows the area you’re landing in and will put your needs first and take care of you the Ramsey way. That’s why they’re the only agents who carry our RamseyTrusted shield of approval.

Find an agent today!

And once you have your RamseyTrusted agent and your new home is secured, you’ll need a way to get your stuff to the Golden State. That’s where our friends at PODS Moving & Storage come in. They’re a moving company that moves on your terms and gives unrivaled flexibility with their handy storage containers that come in multiple sizes. With over 6 million moves under their belt, you can be sure they’ll give you the service you deserve.

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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