By Karina Rook
There’s so many tasks to do, some are fun (shopping, yay!), some are dull (visit the bank, meh!) and some are scary (take that driving test, no!).
Let’s assume you have landed and are in temporary accommodation, are searching for a house, but have employment sorted out. Here’s my recommended order for some basic setting up tasks, based on my experience here in the San Francisco Bay Area.
1. Open a bank account. It’s hard to do without a Social Security Number (see point 2 below) but I think it’s more urgent because it takes several days to get your debit cards in the mail, and you don’t want to walk around with too much cash. Yes, you can use your existing cards, but they don’t always work and you get slugged international transaction fees. You also can’t get a credit card for at least 6 months after you open a bank account, so the sooner you open one the better.
2. Apply for your Social Security Number. You must wait for 10 days after arrival before applying, but there’s so much that’s hard to do without one. If possible, apply for your SSN as part of your visa paperwork. It makes life so much easier when you have this, and it is issued the same day as your appointment with the Social Security Administration people.
3. Buy a car (or two). Hire cars can be pricey. You need to drive everywhere and public transport is only good in the northern part of the Peninsula and the city. Everywhere else you’re looking at trains that run every hour, and buses that don’t publish detailed maps or arrival times per bus stop online. You need an existing foreign driving licence, and insurance (we sorted that out online in the car dealership), and a bank cheque (cashier’s cheque) to pay for the car. If you need financing, that will take much longer, and you should probably move this task way down the list as you’ll need a SSN and a credit history.
4. Find a house. Renting a home in Silicon Valley is extremely competitive and takes about 4 days on average. We ended up offering more rent to beat the other 4 applicants for our house. You can’t be too fussy either, unless you’re happy to keep paying for that temporary accommodation. Implied in this task is organising landlord insurance, buying furniture and getting the home WiFi/cable TV connected.
5. Connect your utilities to enroll at school. Aside from needing electricity, gas and water after you move in, you need proof of your residence in a school district to enroll your kids. You probably want to get them out of your hair sooner rather than later. Well, I did anyway. I also wanted them to attend the last 7 weeks before school shut down over the Summer break, so every day mattered as it gave them time to adjust and make new friends.
6. Apply for a work permit. As a spouse of an E3 visa holder, I am entitled to work in the USA, but I had to apply to the Department of Homeland Security first to get my Employment Authorization Card. It took me 2 days to do the paperwork/passport photos, and it took them 3 months to issue the card. If you need to earn money to pay the high rent, this card should be a priority for you.
7. Get health care sorted. Contact your health insurer (ours was part of hubby’s salary package) and start connecting with your doctors, dentists and specialists; especially if you have medical prescriptions to be filled soon. This process was painstaking, but mostly done online. Part of joining a medical practice as a patient is having initial check-ups done with blood drawn and everything. Better to do this now and be set up completely within the health system than deal with all this is an emergency. The kids also needed additional immunisations for school too, as well as medical emergency contact info for their student records.
8. Get a Californian licence. If you don’t, you have to keep bringing your passport everywhere as identification. I get asked for ID when I use my debit card, use self-service checkouts at the supermarket, and buy alcohol (so pretty often!). Your Californian licence is your primary source of ID here, and is issued by the DMV. You can drive a car using your foreign licence for a while, but there’s nothing like a written exam and driving test to give you the knowledge and confidence to drive safely.
9. Get a Clipper card. If you have kids, you need to visit the SamTrans office with their passports to apply for a child Clipper card, giving you a single pass for all public transport. It takes time to arrive, and setting up the automatic payments was fiddly for me. Over half the middle School kids get the bus to school, so this was fairly urgent for us, otherwise kids have to take cash to pay for their bus ride.
10. Get a Safeway card. A bit dull, but with my club card I save 25% off my shopping bill. Loyalty programs are not really big here, so there’s not really a concept of earning points for flight programs or other prizes or redemptions. But many department stores offer a store card with 5-10% permanent discount, and Safeway offers many programs. Yes, they track your purchases, but they also offer personalised deals on items you buy frequently.
I’m sure there’s other tasks I have overlooked, so let me know your experiences or questions and I’ll incorporate them.