TLDR: Have moved to San Francisco, USA. I’m a-ok 🙂
I’m writing this post as a record for myself and also to share with others my experience of moving to America. There might be some things I’m doing wrong, but this is my journey that I’m sharing with you. All the bumps, bruises, and laughs.
Working in Silicon Valley has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while. For now, I’ll start with day zero, which is upon landing in America. Why Day 0? Well its what we call it when user first downloads and installs an app. If they make it to the next day, its Day 1 :). From Zero to One!
I decided to arrive about 1.5 weeks before I started work based on the advice of my company’s relocation specialist. This was to allow me to settle, set things up and ease my way in.
There may be some disadvantages in writing this post because some people will look it up and see that I’m new in US when applying for things like an apartment. My goal is that the more open I am about the experience, who I am, my struggles and successes, the more the universe will conspire to help me 🙂 It will also help those who come after me and anyone contemplating the move.
The visa dance
When I got to the customs line at SFO (San Francisco Airport), I realised that I needed to have my visa documents ready to hand over. To be honest there are quite a number of documents with weird names that I can’t remember which is which. When I was waiting in line, I decided to re-read the Immigration Attorney’s instructions. By way of background, my work (Atlassian) used an immigration attorney. The documents were locked in my carry on bag and I didn’t read them until I was waiting in line. I had read them when I was back in Sydney when I had received the advice when first applying.
It said I had to hand over a copy of this document called I-129S. One copy was to be stamped and the other one I had to keep. It was meant to be my proof of record of my visa. When I read the instructions quickly, it said that officers can stamp it but sometimes they don’t. So they stamped my passport and I checked that the date matched the date of my visa document. It was the same. Phew! But they didn’t stamp my copy of the visa document. So I asked them why not? The response was that all I needed as proof was the stamp in my passport and the I-94 document which I could download.
I was a bit confused and stressed. But I walked away and read the document again. It said that I didn’t need my copy stamped only that the one I handed in had to be stamped. I also HAD to retain my copy as my proof. It turns out that this I-94 document which gets generated and you can download later is pretty important as its your proof of residency. The advice I’ve received from a friend (via their attorney) is to always carry it around in case you get asked – particularly under the Trump administration 🙁 He even took it out of his wallet to show me.
I had my stamp and was good to go! I had a final thing to pass which was customs. I handed over my customs form. Then the officer looked at my 3 bags (2 big suitcases and 1 carry on) on the trolley and asked “why do you have so much stuff?”. I said “cause I’m moving here!”. He then replied “E3 visa?” in reference to the Australian visa. He must have seen the Australian nationality on my form. I replied “L1” which is the intra company transfer visa. He then let me through! For reference, you suddenly become a defacto visa expert if you’ve gone through the process. You’ll start speaking in codes like H1B, SSN, W8-Ben, I-797 and more!
I can also confirm that there is no wall to climb to get into the country.
A soft landing
I was the beneficiary of what’s known as a soft landing. I didn’t know the term until a friend told me about it. My work had organised a driver to pick me up at the airport, accommodation for 30 days, and a relocation service. The relo service (noticed I said relo cause I’m a pro now) helps you with moving, settling in, looking for accommodation. There’s a definitely a big advantage with having these services provided to you.
The driver picked me up in a big van that can carry 4 bags (or more). This was also helpful in that they could take more luggage but I had decided I would start afresh with stuff and simply take some clothes. I didn’t know if I’d find a place that would be furnished. Plus, I had nowhere to send stuff to! So I took what I’d estimated I’d need for a year (4 seasons). Plus I knew I could buy stuff pretty cheap in U.S – much cheaper than in Oz.
My flight landed at 9.30am and I got to my accommodation at 11am. My work had organised for the accommodation company to greet me at the door and show me to my apartment. It was definitely helpful having someone guide me. They showed me how to use the oven, washing machine, cable, all the facilities, etc.. I probably could have figured it out on my own but it was convenient having someone show me. I also got a welcome pack of food. My fridge was also stocked with some essential items – eggs, milk, bread, juice, ready to mix salads, butter, etc.. I’m grateful to have that stuff on hand.
This is a picture of the fridge, kitchen and the welcome pack.
I knew that my priorities on Day Zero were:
1) Get a phone – so I could get data, use google maps, book uber to drive me around and contact people if needed.
2) Get a bank account – so I could get paid! Also to be able to spend US dollars after getting paid.
As the apartment had wifi, I looked up the nearest place to get a SIM card. After some research, it occurred to me that the nearest AT&T or T-Mobile was 25 min walk away. I took a screenshot on my phone of where the store was and set out walking! I went with AT&T because I had used it before. I feel that the service is better than T-Mobile but more expensive. I assume its like the Telstra of US telco’s – better coverage, more expensive. Whereas T-Mobile is like Optus/Voda/Amaysim in Australia i.e. a lesser service but cheaper.
I got there and I wanted to get the $25 plan. But I was told that it had no data and it cost $5 to get 250MB. That wasn’t enough for my data heavy needs! So I got upsold to $45/monthly plan with 6GB. I was like whatever, I need to get a SIM card with data.
The phone case upsell / hustle
The sales guy then saw that I didn’t have a phone case and offered to upsell me a $5 phone case. I told him I didn’t need it cause I have one back at the apartment but it was broken. But then I thought, why not, show it to me. It was a lil bit bulky but it seemed ok. I was a bit concerned about how the case slightly covered the camera. But he showed me the picture was still good and it was a decent case so I bought it.
A few hours later, I discovered that the headphone jack didn’t quite fit and the sound cut in & out. I ended up returning it. Another staff member was serving me and asked if the problem was the camera. I laughed because clearly they knew something. I then said it was the headphone jack. The staff then nodded and affirmed it. I could tell that they knew this was a common problem and that these cases were faulty. Yet they still sold it to me! I understand why its $5 now instead of $45 RRP 🙂
As I now had a new sim card, I could order an Uber. Fortunately, I knew from past experience that if you switch phone numbers from a different country, Uber won’t let you. So as soon as I got my new sim card, I advised Uber to change my phone number via customer support so I could start using it.
In my discussions with the sales person who originally sold me the sim card, I asked about a phone plan that came with a handset. I started finding out about this notion of a “credit score”. I had heard it mentioned to me before by the relocation agent and now I started piecing it together. A credit score is a credit rating based on your financial history, transactions, defaults, etc..
I didn’t have a US bank account or credit card, so I didn’t have a credit score. You probably don’t realise you already have a credit score in the existing country where you live. You’ve been accumulating it since you had a credit card. But in a new country you have to start building it up again for that country. A good credit score (above 700) will allow you to do things like get a phone, rent an apartment, lease a car, etc… You can build it quickly by getting a credit card and spending money. I thought that was crazy! The more cards you have, means you can spend more and build up more credit history. You also need to pay it back (i.e never default). There’s all these techniques people have told me which I’ll get into later.
It occurred to me on the day before the flight that I needed to figure out how to receive US money and move my money over. I had already changed some Australian dollars to USD and also had my credit cards to use.
I had arrived on a Friday which is a business work day. It was about 4pm now, and I decided to see if I could get an account before it closed at 5pm. I had asked a question to my colleagues and in this forum called “Australians in SF” and a number of people had recommended various banks. So I made a beeline to one of the banks and got in before it closed. Within 1 hour, I got a bank account and a secured debit card.
A secured card means that you need to have the cash to back it up. It draws down on the security (the cash). The bank wouldn’t give me a credit card yet. What you ideally want is an unsecured credit card so you can spend more without needing the cash to secure against it. Like a normal credit card! It allows you to build up your credit history faster.
Due to having no financial history, they gave me a secured debit card. I’ve heard that you can get secured credit cards immediately with small amounts (e.g $500). Also some banks or credit unions may give you unsecured ones. They probably have higher interest rates on them. But that’s ok, if you can pay it back within the timeframe (30 or 45 days). You also don’t want to use more than 80% of the card’s limit. Plus never ever default!
I was able to get a savings account and a checking account. A checking account is like a transaction account. The savings account can only move money into the checking account.
So in summary, within 1 day I had a US phone number and also a bank account! By the time Uber had updated my phone number and I was able to order an Uber to get back to the apartment.
Fry all the things
At about 8pm, I decided to head out to dinner. As it was late, I decided to go to somewhere I had been before and wasn’t too far. I went to Little Skillet to get some fried chicken and waffles. Its a weird combination, but it works! Its a southern dish and not something you can get easily in Australia.
I walked in and people were talking about customer success. Its a SaaS (software as a service) term for pro active customer service. It was pioneered by Salesforce to help activate new customers to help them be successful to get to the value of the product. Only in SF would I be able to walk into a casual restaurant/bar and people would be talking about customer success on the way in!
Little Skillet had great music too with 90’s hip hop (aka the golden era). They were playing Biggie’s Ubelieveable, Camp Lo’s Luchini and ATCQ. The culmination of 3 of my favourite things – hip hop, good food and tech!
Next priorities – finding accomodation
My next priority is finding long term accommodation in San Francisco. As my work is in Mountain View I would like to be close to the Caltrain station. It takes 45mins – 1 hour to travel there on the Caltrain from either 4th & king or 22nd st station.
I’m currently looking in SOMA, Mission Bay, Dogpatch and Potrero as these are the closest to the two Caltrain stations in SF. As accommodation is quite expensive in SF, I’m looking for shared accommodation. If you know of any shared housing available or simply have friends in SF you can connect me to, please let me know! I’m currently inspecting apartments in these areas and building out my network in SF.
I’m out like fried chicken & waffles,