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It’s a Tough Relocation Choice for Software Engineers: US or Canada?

It’s a Tough Relocation Choice for Software Engineers: US or Canada?
6 min. read

The demand for software engineers and other tech talent is far from slowing down in North America, the US and Canada having been for years competing with each other to attract the best IT specialists. The San Francisco Bay Area and other US tech hubs have so far managed to lure in the best and brightest by offering incredible benefits, 6-digit salaries being the most attractive one.

Although not at the very top of popular North American tech hubs, Vancouver is not doing too bad either, big-name companies such as Hootsuite and Amazon and also a series of start-ups having already attracted tens of thousands of IT specialists from the entire world. But given the recent heated discussions on how more restrictive US immigration policies might affect tech companies, many are already wondering if the political context might just be the kick Canada needs to become the top choice for tech talent. 

Will San Francisco continue to be the Mecca of tech talent or should employers look for other go-to locations for their tech businesses?

To answer this question, we picked 3 cities, which we considered to be the most well-known West Coast hubs on both sides of the US-Canada border and looked at real numbers representing income, housing and living costs applicable to a software engineer.

Take a look at the infographic below to see how big the differences between San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver are (all numbers are expressed in US$). We’ll let you guess the winner there in terms of income vs. housing affordability.

For a version of the infographic where numbers are expressed in CAD$, click here.


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Software engineers earn double in San Francisco than in Vancouver. How does cost of housing affect this gap?

Up until recently, Canadian tech companies were not able to compete with their Silicon Valley cousins regarding the number of top employees they could attract. Quite the contrary: the San Francisco Bay Area managed to attract more than 300,000 Canadians to fill its tech jobs. Silicon Valley alone — already having 75% of its computer and mathematics talent aged 25 to 44 born in foreign countries — registered in 2016 a net foreign immigration of more than 15,000. So judging only by the numbers, and leaving political and immigration issues aside, it’s clear that the majority of tech workers prefer the US.

The fact that tech talent favors the US is not accidental. A software engineer in San Francisco earns twice as much as his counterpart in Vancouver in a year: US$110,554 vs. US$54,709.  Although regular costs such as groceries, transportation or Internet are about the same, housing is what really makes the difference.

If we take into account the median price calculated for all property types in the two cities, we see that it’s almost the same, which puts Vancouver in the shade again: while houses in the City by the Bay are US$1,217,500, in Vancouver (just the city) the median is not by much below — US$1,145,000. House prices were calculated only for the city of Vancouver, where they have been skyrocketing for some time now. The Greater Vancouver area, which includes adjacent suburbs, has a more affordable median house price of US$689,000. This is yet very high compared with the rest of Canada. 

The type of property tech workers are planning to buy may make a difference though. Many IT specialists, especially the ones with families, said they feel priced out of living near work and that even rent is quite high if you want to live in the city and not go through hours of commute every day. We looked at detached houses and condos and noticed important differences between the two market segments. The most important one is that tech workers planning to live in Vancouver will feel even more priced out buying a detached house than they might feel in San Francisco. The reason is represented by about US$500,000 in house cost. However, condos are more affordable in Vancouver than they are in San Francisco.

  • Owning a detached house

For tech employees aspiring to become home owners, the grass is greener in the US — if you’re considering a detached house. The median price for detached San Francisco homes is $500,000 under the cost of one in Vancouver, both having gone over $1 million (US$1,276,000 vs. US$1,751,909).

However, it’s Seattle homes that have the most affordable price — US$675,000, which is one of the reasons why many magazines ranked the city very high on their lists of best tech hubs in the US.

  • Owning a condo

However, when it comes to condo prices, Canada turns the tables on the US. The median price of condos for sale in Vancouver hovers around US$500,000, which represents around 40% the cost of a 1-bedroom condo in San Francisco (US$1,191,670).

  • Rental costs

Renting is significantly cheaper in Vancouver (US$1,500)– less than half of the cost in San Francisco, known for having the most expensive rental costs in the US. It’s also about $500 less per month than what Seattle offers, according to data we found on Teleport.org. The shortage of rental units San Francisco has been experiencing for a while is definitely reflected by the unpalatable price people have to pay — US$3,500 on average, about 40% of a software engineer’s monthly pay.

The real winner in terms of income vs. housing affordability: Seattle, WA

We’ve so far compared San Francisco to Vancouver, but everything changes when we add Seattle, WA in the mix. Seattle has been only steps behind San Francisco in terms of tech salaries while its real estate market does not even compare to those two cities in terms of affordability.

The city pays software engineers around US$108,000 annually, which really is just a few $ less compared to what the Bay pays. Add to that a nice — for a tech hub —  median house price of US$610, 000 and around US$2,000 per month for renting a 1-bedroom apartment in Seattle and you’ll get the picture.

The median price for a detached house in Seattle (US$675,000) is half compared to prices in San Francisco and Vancouver. Median condo prices (US$475,000) are about the same what Vancouverites pay and half what San Franciscans pay.


All in all, although income and the reputation gained by working for a big-name company are two of  the most attractive benefits of working in the US, Canada’s free healthcare, lower child care costs, economic stability, and more inclusive immigration policies should also be taken into account as they can actually play a decisive role in the relocation decision of tech employees.

Data Sources: Glassdoor, Toronto Real Estate Board, Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, PropertyShark, Teleport.org, California Association of Realtors, NorthWest MLS, Royal LePage, and Cassandra Ariken.

Take a look at how much house sizes differ in the US and Canada!

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