July 21, 2013
So, you’ve moved from Australia to California? Great for you! Got no idea what you’re doing? Me either! But, here’s some tips I’ve picked up along the way…
I’m going to start out this article on a bad note just to get it out of the way, then we’ll move onto the more informational aspects. So… without further ado…
Unless you really have to (they’re the only ones who do a direct SYD -> SFO router, for example). Half of their fleet is over 15 years old (747-400), with nothing good going for them, but lots of bad:
If you are getting a Non-Immigrant Work Visa, apply for Social Security at the US Consulate at the same time. Apparently it will take an extra 3 weeks to arrive once you’re in the US, but at least you don’t have to wait 10 days once arriving to actually apply for one. (You’ll need an application for a SS number to get paid, to open bank accounts, etc, etc. Think of it as the AU TFN (Tax File Number) == US SS (Social Security)).
You need groceries, and clothes, and plug adapters, and a new SIM card… But from where!?
|AU Store||US Store|
|Coles / Woolworths / IGA||SafeWay|
|Dick Smith Electronics / JB Hi-Fi (sans DVDs)||Best Buy|
|Tandy / Dick Smith Electronics||RadioShack|
|Telstra / Optus / etc||AT&T / T-Mobile / Verizone / Sprint|
They’re all insanely polite and super helpful. You got a question? They’ll bend over backwards to answer it, and do anything they can to get you what you want.
On the flip side - there are a lot of good, charismatic salespeople, who could sell ice to an eskimo! However, I’ve noticed (so far) that if you simply say “No”, they will leave you alone (unlike Aussie salespeople who harass you until you submit. Or kick them in the balls.)
There is no unified tax system like the GST, and as such the tax rates vary between different categories, and again between different states. This tax is also not included in any ticketed price. Keep in mind around a 20% markup, and you’ll always be pleasantly surprised at the till (I haven’t seen anything that is over 20% tax yet).
Tips are also not included, except at some restaurants who automatically add it to their bill (but I hear you can cross it out and not leave a tip if you like). From what I hear, 10% is standard to a minimum of $1. For example, I was happy to leave a$1 tip for a $5 beer.
Holy crap. Every single store has its own rewards program. And they’re all actually useful. And free.
For example, SafeWay have their “Club Card” prices that they show predominantly on most products, providing up to a 15% discount! Just swipe it at the checkout to receive the lower price.
Best Buy have a Credit Card you can sign up for to get 5% off in-store purchases.
That is to say; some are different… You see, at some point in the past, Verizone and Sprint decided that they’d stick with a GSM style network where the functions a SIM provides are built into the phone. This means that if you want to use either of these networks, you must purchase one of their phones, and henceforth you can’t change networks with that phone (aka: fail). So, make sure you pick a network which provides SIMs.
You can then decide if you’re going to go with a post-paid plan, or with a month-by-month pre-paid option.
If you’re in US for less than 24 months, then don’t even bother looking at the plans.
Finally, if you choose a month-by-month option with BYO device, make sure your device supports that network (for example, T-Mobile, and AT&T use special frequencies in the CDMA spectrum that not all phones support).
Bonus: T-Mobile offer a first-timer signup to get unlimited talk, text, and data (5GB worth at 4G LTE speeds, then shaped to 3G speeds) at just $30 for 30 days. In comparison, AT&T offer unlimited talk & text + 2GB data at$60 for 30 days. I only stumbled upon the T-Mobile offer after I’d already decided to sign up for their regular $50/30d option, so your mileage may vary.
At some point, you will have trouble understanding people - not everyone has a Hollywood style accent (which tend to be more neutral). Just be polite, ask them to repeat what they said, then take a second to digest it.
You’ll also confuse the shit out of people with your accent - Australians have a tendency to run words into each other, not to mention the completely different pronunciation of some words. Keep in mind to talk slightly slower and concentrate on pronouncing your words individually. Be patient when you are (continuously) asked to repeat what you just said.
You’ll also not know the local name for some things: Kettle? Hot Pot. Rexona? Degree.
Yes, there is fast food everywhere. Yes, it looks disgusting. Yes, it is cheap (way, way cheaper than in Australia - at least half the cost in some cases)!
Fresh & healthy food is also everywhere. With all the obesity whinging on TV, I was surprised how easy it was to find fruit & veg stores / fresh product in the Supermarkets / etc. The prices are slightly cheaper than in Australia,
They’re freaking hypnotic! Advertisers in Australia could learn a LOT from ads in the states.
And the Prescription Drug ads are… Scary Beautiful. Just like that Lazy Boy song: These people are beautiful and happy and seem to have amazing lives… Then the disclaimers start, going for the majority of the ad (over 30s in some cases)! I don’t know whether to be amazed by the happy family, or scared of potential anal bleeding and death.!?
Learn how to quickly convert between miles -> kilometers, and ounces -> grams. Then, how many ounces in a pound, how many feet in a mile, etc, etc. After a bit it’ll become intuitive to guestimate measurements in the Imperial System.
I’m not sure if this is a San Francisco / Bay Area local thing or not, but there are some quirks about pedestrians using the roads:
That’s all I’ve learned in the 3 days I’ve been living in Mountain View, California, so I’m certain there is a lot of stuff I’ve yet to learn.
If you’ve got any additions or corrections, I want to hear it in the comments :)