Relocating to California for internationals – Part 1

Primarily aimed at people who move to California for a job. (Short link to this page: http://bit.ly/fotb-ca)

  1. Hunting for apartment
    Use craigslist.orgpadmapper.com (this also provides average renting  prices of the area) and housingmaps.com
    Use crimereports.org to check the crime statistics of the area as well (specially, if you are moving with family).
    Do know that good apartments fill really fast (usually one-two days).
  2. Get SSN (Social Security Number)
    By visiting nearest SSA office.
    A wait period of 10 days is recommended after entering the USA.
    Its a single number which will uniquely identify you in USA.
    Its needed for credit cards, bank accounts and pretty much everything else.
    (Most banks at their discretion will open a bank account without SSN though).
  3. First phone
    USA has both CDMA and GSM networks.
    Phone numbers in US are portable for free, so, you can always move around between different carriers.
    USA has a weird contract phone system where people pay 200$ upfront and then buy a two year contract (usually expensive) to get a phone (locked to the carrier) for apparently free.
    If you are planning to go for a contract phone, go for either AT&T(GSM) or Verizon(CDMA), they have best coverage but are expensive. T-Mobile(GSM) and Sprint(CDMA) are relatively less expensive but also don’t have good coverage either.
    I would recommend talking to your friends who owns these to see how good the coverage is in your locality.
    If you are planning to for a contract-less phone (hint: you will pay more upfront but still much less over two years), go for either a Nexus 4 (from Google Play) or go for an unlocked  iPhone from Walmart and use a MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) like SimpleMobile or StraightTalk. For the curious, a bigger list is available on wikipedia.
  4. First Bank account
    Preferably get a primary checking account (also, known as current account in some countries) at a big bank like ChaseBofA or WellsFargo.
    Open a checking account and NOT a savings account (savings account practically offer 0% at big banks and you cannot take out money more than thrice in a month from them).
    Also, don’t pay for your account, usually the accounts have a no monthly fee clause if certain conditions are met (like your employer making a direct deposit or maintaining a minimum balance ~ 1000$ dollars), if there is no such clause just tell the banker you will walk away and they will most likely fix it for you on the spot.
    Do check if any promotions are going on near by.
    Also, ask your friends, in most cases their banks/Credit Unions are happy to give you and/or them a referral bonus for a new customer.
    Note: Credit unions don’t have shareholders to distribute the profit (unlike banks). So, in some cases, they can offer better service but usually their small sizes interferes in that.
  5. First credit card
    Credit cards have better credit protection (in case of lost/stolen card) and better rewards than Debit cards in US.
    It takes time to build credit history and is useful for negotiating loans for big purchases (like home).
    So, even if you feel you don’t need one, just get one, use it and pay it in full.
    Billing cycle – Say your card started on Jan 1, then the billing cycle will end on Jan 31, and you will have time to make payment till Feb 15 or Feb 31 (depending on card).
    Don’t make minimum payment, if you can just pay it full (credit card interest rates are ridiculous ~13%-17%), just pay in full.
    Don’t go for secured credit card.
    Don’t go for card with annual fee.
    Preferably go for a card which provides no foreign transaction fee (capital one cards are my favourite  for that).
    Usually big banks are reluctant to give credit cards to people with no credit history in US (all transactions from credit card as well as any mortgage/loans in US contributes to an individual’s credit history).
    If no big bank is ready to give you a normal no-fee card then go for credit unions (I got mine from SFCU and in six months, after getting sufficient credit history, BofA gave me a normal (not secured) no-fee credit card which they denied earlier).
    Also, to avoid getting junk credit card offers in your mail box, opt out.
  6. Driving license
    Your country’s driving license will work in California for only first 10 days (and I would recommend not to drive in California alone, unless you are coming from say, Canada which has similar traffic laws).
    Getting a driving license involves two steps – a written test (easy – just read CA driving handbook - hard copies are available at CA DMV offices for free and then book an appointment). The second step which is a driving test is more involved, most of my friends failed at least once and in some cases twice, I would recommend looking for driving instructor (again on craigslist).

Continue to Part 2 (buying cars, car insurance, tax filings…)