In a short while, I will have been living and working in Silicon Valley, California for one year. An Australian expat, I thought that writing up my impressions and experiences of the US would hopefully help others in making a similar career decision. As a brief background I grew up in Bowral, Australia where I attended middle school before relocating to Wollongong to attend the University of Wollongong and to work. After finishing my degree in Computer Science, I started to slowly realize that my big IT dreams and aspirations were quickly outgrowing the resources and opportunities available for me in Wollongong and it was time to move on.
Making the Leap
The choice to relocate to the US to work for a Silicon Valley startup might seem to many as a fairly risky career choice but for me, it was a no brainer. With no kids, no mortgage and prospects of making it big there was little left for me to consider. But leaving my fiancé, my friends and my family was never going to be easy (and fyi, it doesn’t get any easier).
Unfortunately, US immigration does not recognize defacto relationships for the purposes of obtaining an E3D visa. If you are in an Australian relationship and wish to have your partner stay with you in the US, then you will either need obtain an Australian marriage certificate (pressures on!) or have your partner obtain their own E3 visa (or similar) from an employer in the US. For quite some time, until I got married, I lived in the US alone.
Finding an Apartment
The only documents that really matter when you arrive in the US are your passport, US E3 visa page and your Australian drivers license. Also keep your I-94 handy. Beyond this and a credit card, you can leave everything else behind.
I lived in a hotel (a work covered cost) for about two weeks before I found an apartment to live in. During this time, there were many instances where I wondered whether I had made the right choice in moving to the US. I was commuting to work (in a foreign country with no car, how do the trains and ticket machines work?), starting a new job (and trying to make a good impression), eating out and shopping for food (hello tips) and applying for (and inspecting) apartments. It was a pretty stressful time but I found help and support from my work colleges and soon the friendships I started to make eased the feelings of being totally isolated in a foreign country.
I was able to able to find an apartment quite easily. Pro tip: attach a cover letter to your application with your picture and a short bio (cheesy, but it personifies the app) and any previous Australian rental references. Since you have no SSN or credit history having something like this helps to settle doubts that you wouldn’t be a good tenant.
One annoyance was that before I could move into my apartment, I needed to open my account with PG&E (an energy company) in person as they needed to sight my ID. This was one of my first Uber rides.
No SSN, No Credit History
Upon arriving in the US, you will need to wait a couple of weeks before walking into the Social Security Office and applying for a SSN. This is to do with US immigration systems needing some time to process your I-94. You will also have no credit history. Yep, you might be holding a Visa or Mastercard with a crazy credit limit in your hands right now, but if it wasn’t obtained in the US then you will need to start from zero again and build up a credit rating. Of course, with zero credit rating, why should anyone give you a credit card? :)
Bank Accounts and Secured Credit Cards
Most banks will be more than happy to open checking and savings accounts for you. And you will need to provide these details to your employer so that you can get paid and to your landlord so you can pay your bond (2-4 weeks rent). Pro tip: just get a secured credit card straight away too. With a secured CC, you pay a certain amount to obtain the same amount in credit. This money is never recoverable. But a secured CC even with a small amount that you spend and repay, is a stepping stone in building credit history. Pre-approved credit cards will start making their way to your mailbox and online banking (while not fantastic like it is in Aus, still works well enough to pay online bills and repay CCs).
I am able to pay all of my bills online but many people need to pay their bills using checks. Yeah, those paper things we decline in Australia. Obtain check book from bank, lean how to write a check, mail the check, cross fingers that check arrives with recipient. It seems like a crazy process, but it works. Unfortunately :)
Your Australian Drivers License
It goes a long way. Most people when they check your drivers license for proof of age or ID are not bothered that it’s not American. You will need to look into getting a proof of ID card, or a US drivers license fairly soon though. Post-paid mobile phones require proof of residency which is something you can provide with those aforementioned cards. Not a lot requires it though.
My corner of town is in Mountain View, a place I now call my home away from home. But before it was a home it was an empty shell. Just me, my bags and a blow up mattress. You’ll want to organize an Ikea shopping run with someone (with a car!) fairly soon. You can always pay for home delivery too for roughly $100 flat. You will also want to buy a bike to make getting around easier. California is great for cycling as it’s very flat and there are lots of bike lanes. Setup an Uber account too, it’s insanely handy when you don’t have a car and need to do the shopping. Using Uber is a much bigger thing here than it is in Aus. Pro tip: be a good passenger, you too have a rating just like your driver.
Let there be Internet
The two big players in internet here are AT&T and Comcast. You will need to provide your SSN to obtain glorious interwebs so chances are you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks for this to be hooked up. Once it is, the staples of a well rounded Silicon Valley steaming diet are Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. You will want to pay $90 for Amazon Prime, 1-2 day free shipping to your door is awesome and early on as your buying things it will really help out.
Internet here is mostly cable and its usually bundled with your TV service. HBO is often bundled with plans. My download speed is about 15-20mb/s which is certainly faster than what I had in Australia :)
If getting to the shops is difficult, or just isn’t your style, then have a look at Safeway Online, Google Express and Amazon Prime Pantry. You paid for Amazon Prime right?
Hopefully you have found this helpful. Looking back on what I have covered, I notice that I didn’t talk too much about culture or lifestyle so stay tuned for part 2!