My Roaming Spirit
Disclaimer: This document is based on my personal experiences and some information might not hold true for everyone. I moved to New Jersey. So things might be slightly different in other states but not entirely. Don’t hold me responsible for anything that goes wrong and yes I make mistakes too!!!
You have planned your move to the U.S. and are looking forward to a new exciting life ahead. But give yourself a moment to pause here. Things always look bright on the other side but it’s a long way before you make it to the end. And believe me you probably will be changing your mind and think ‘let me stay back, India is awesome’ by the time you reach the end of this document. Wait! You have already planned your move, don’t let these hold you back. Get that international exposure and you can always come back to your home land. So let me start the journey for you.
First few weeks
As you land at the airport, remember you need to pay for your luggage cart (first shocker!!!) – About $6 per cart. Second stop converting that to INR. You cannot survive in the US unless you stop that.
You can rent a car (self-driven) from various car rental counters:
Hertz - https://www.hertz.com/rentacar/reservation/
Enterprise - https://www.enterprise.com
The car rental can always help you with initial few days in the U.S. where unlike India you are handicapped without one. Go for weekly rates which are much cheaper as compared to the daily rentals. And note, you can drop the car back at any Hertz/ enterprise counter nearest to you, in any city (yes, even California if you picked it up from New York). Hertz is more wide spread and easily available. And get that GPS on your phone to work. Trust me, google maps will be your best friend in the U.S.
If you are not comfortable driving around in a car right after you land, get a taxi to your destination from the airport (again expensive but your only option unless Uber is willing to pick you up or if you will be living in a city where you have access to metro or buses) - Costs about 75 cents a mile.
You first few days in the US should be spent on getting a social security number, opening a bank account, applying for a credit card, finding a home for yourself, locating a school for your child (if you have one), getting the gas & electricity connection, water connection, phone connection, cable and internet, Renter’s insurance, car, car insurance.
Initial stay – If you are not a hotel person (atleast at a place you are going to call your home) try oakwood or execustay for service apartments. This can be a good precursor to your home finding exercise. To give you an idea of what you want. Airbnb.com can also be a good resource for daily, weekly or monthly stay.
Social Security number (SSN) – Social security number is your first step for being a resident in America. Apply for social security number for all family members at an office of social security near you. Find your office at:
You will need: your passport, I-94, marriage certificate for spouse, address proof etc. See document requirements here: https://www.ssa.gov/ssnumber/ss5doc.htm
You social security number will be required for almost everything, from getting a gas connection to getting a phone number to getting a car.
Bank Account – Get a personal checking account (remember not savings account). Concept of saving account is very different here. Pretty much like a fixed deposit account in India. Most of the banks might require your SSN for a bank account but Bank of America is good without one. Other banks you can try are Chase, PNC & Citi. There are several banks in US but I prefer these. Walk into your nearest bank and request the process for a personal checking account. Account opening is instant. Get one for yourself and one for your spouse or may be a joint account. Checking account requirements are either salary credit (direct deposit) of minimum $500 per month or $1500 minimum balance (this applies if your salary is not going to be credited in the account, especially for the spouse account, if they are not going to work)
Ps: Confirm with your employer if they have a preferred bank and if they help you with opening the bank account.
Credit Card - This thing is going to be your second most important thing in the US. Apply for a basic credit card when you open your bank account. More likely than not you will be rejected. So don’t worry, you can get a secured credit card. Say, for a credit limit of $500 you will be paying a security deposit of $500 (this amount will be refundable after a gap of time, I guess one year). Even if this makes no sense to you, get one. You need a credit card to build your credit score and without a credit score you are next to non-existent in U.S. Once you get your card use it very wisely, pay on time, utilize less credit limit but try using your card for most of your transactions.
Phone Connection: Getting a postpaid phone connection without a SSN can again be challenge. But you can get a prepaid phone connection from AT&T (Go smart) for $45 a month plus $10 for India calling minutes (1000 minutes) + taxes. This will come with unlimited local calling and text plus 1.5 GB data. This probably is the best plan for new comers but you can also search for plans at Verizon, T-mobile & Sprint.
Car Rental – Before you get your own car you will need a car in the initial few days and car rentals can be the thing for you. They cost you around $35 per day plus taxes plus gas ($2 per gallon). I suggest you add the car insurance to your rental, which can set you back by about $20 more per day. Messing up a car or any accident (even scratches) can be disastrous for your finance here in the US. However, some corporates generally have discount agreements with rental companies (like my company has a deal where we pay $33 per day including insurance and better rates for weekly and monthly rentals, $730 per month). So make sure you get that information from your company. To pick up a car you will need a credit card and your India DL (both should have same names). Debit cards are not accepted.
If you don’t want this, you can always use Uber to move around. Get the Uber app, its easy and fast. Also if you use uber you will need a credit card details stored in the app (even Indian card will work). You then don’t need to pay anything after your ride, charge will be automatically deducted from your card. Easy.
Make sure you have phone numbers of local taxi providers in case the app does not work or the internet on your phone is down or an uber cab is unavailable. Keep enough cash for such eventualities.
Home Finding – Home finding can be a real task or very easy depending on what you are looking for. Decide on the areas you want to stay, kind of apartment you want (condo, which is same as a flat in India or town house or an independent house), floor (remember US system for floors start from one in place of ground, so second floor is your typical first floor in India, also in suburbs there are no elevators so don’t go beyond 2nd floor which you will realize after you come back home after a shopping trip), number of beds and baths. Create a list of apartment complexes and set appointment for a look around with the leasing office of the complex. You can also walk in and they will entertain you unless they are super occupied). Rent.com, apartments.com, Zillow.com etc. can be your good resources.
Look for a home with in-apartment washer and dryer. Apartments come with a dishwasher, trash compactor, cook top with baking oven, refrigerator. All houses come with centralized AC and heat but no electrical fittings. You will need all other furniture and appliances. Always prefer a covered car port for your car, even if it comes for a few extra bucks.
Apart from your rent you will be paying for your utilities (gas, electric, water, trash), total cost should be average around $150 per month (for a two bed apartment). These will be direct, variable bills to you.
Rentals (lease) change with the period of lease, shorter the lease higher the cost. Prefer one year lease. If you go higher than that you are stuck and if you move out before lease ends you pay for the balance period.
For renting a home you will be paying a security deposit, around 1.5 times the monthly rent without a credit history plus first month’s rent. Also an annual facilities fee (swimming pool, fitness center, sports complex) ranging from $200 to $500 per year. Before finalizing the lease you will be paying an application fees of around $75 per member of the family. And before you move in you will have to submit proof of renter’s insurance to the complex. Renter’s insurance come for around $150 per year. An extra deposit and monthly fee is generally paid if you have a pet.
Some apartment complexes ask for the deposits and other initials only as certified payments (US bank draft, or from US credit card). So keep provisions for cash for such things.
Remember, you might not get the apartment of your choice on the day you want (may be after or before that date), so be prepared for the additional hotel costs. It does not work on the system of first day of the month for possession of house. It can be any day of the month depending on availability.
Utilities – You will have to set up your utilities like gas, electricity & water before you move in. This is an easy process. You have to call the providers and they will set it up for you. The name of the providers are given by the apartment leasing office but generally it’s PSEG, American water etc. Since you don’t have a credit history, they might ask for a security deposit as well. But again without a SSN this too can become a bit difficult.
Cable and Internet – There are various providers with Verizon fios and Xfinity Comcast being the most prominent ones. Ask your community leasing office for the preferred service provider as most of them need infrastructure to get you connected. If they are not present you cannot get the service (which is highly unlikely).
Verizon is more advanced technology but Comcast works as good as Verizon and is cheaper. Various rates and plans are available. Choose as per your convenience.
My suggestions – Get basic cable connection with high speed internet (will cost you around $60 per month on xfinity comcast) plus $10 modem and router fee per month if you don’t have one (buy one at $100 from amazon or best buy). Buy an Amazon fire tv hd box or Roku box (around $100), connect it to the internet, get apps like Yupp Tv (for some Indian channels and a movie library, $8 p/m), Netflix (for awesome collection of movies, indian and hollywood and American tv series, all seasons, $9 pm), Hulu plus (for recent series on American tv, one day delay, $8 pm), you tube (free). Amazon itself has a vast collection of free music, tv, movies if you buy amazon fire tv. All the paid apps have one month free trial, so keep it if you want else unsubscribe. Buy amazon fire tv only if you don’t have a smart tv, else smart tv is good enough for these apps.
Apart from these there are various providers, like Dish tv, if you want all your Indian channels, Sling TV for international programmes. With cable (basic) you can add various channels (where you pay for every channel). And many more options. You get what you pay for.
Driving License – Next step is to apply for your driving license at the nearest DMV. You will need to first go to the DMV and apply for a new license. You will be given a temporary registration card or permit. Then you need to appear for your written test and score atleast 80% to pass. If you fail you can take the test again after 10 days. After you clear your written test, you will be asked to appear for a road test at a later date assigned by them. If you are lucky, your India license can provide you waiver from the road test. After you clear you road test you get your license. Refer to the following link for more details http://www.dmv.org/ . Prepare for your written test using a state driver’s manual (you can get it from the DMV or online). Also take some mock tests for better preparation. Also for the road test you need to be driven to the test center by a US licensed driver.
Car – One thing to make it very clear from the start, you don’t need a US license to buy a car in the US. Driving is a different matter. You can drive with Indian license (in English) plus IDP (not required but some officers can be dumb). Leasing a car is easiest and cheapest option for you but since you don’t have a credit history this can be a big deal for you. My suggestion, try Honda and Toyota dealerships or Acura/ Lexus (if luxury is your preference), they value Indian patronage. But you will be paying a premium monthly lease amount as compared to others. Other option you have is to buy used car by paying the full amount upfront. Keep in mind, used cars are generally in as good shape as new in the US. Most of the dealerships have multi brand used car stock. Set your budget and you will get your car even as low as $5000. And if you have the money buy a new car by paying the full amount upfront. Getting a car loan with a 3 year visa (generally) can be difficult, that is after you cross the credit history hurdle.
Keep in mind, Car insurance will also be expensive (around $1200 for six months for a mid-size sedan). Compare rates with Geico, Progressive, State Farm, Esurance, AAA etc.
If you get the car on lease be prepared to pay a down payment (out of pocket) around $3,000 including registration. If the down payment requested by the dealer is higher than your budget, you can negotiate the down payments and spread that into your monthly lease payments. Remember to ask the ‘out of pocket’ if you are on a set budget, as out of pocket includes various other charges apart from down payment (taxes and registration).
If nothing works you can contact International Autosource at 516-496-1816 for a car lease or buy option. They provide cars for expatriates without credit history but again, you will be paying premium rates. However, you are generally assured of a car.
Appliances – Get your appliance from stores like Bestbuy, Target or Walmart for cheaper options. Remember, they will not deliver or install anything for you. You have carry it back. So, online shopping can be a boon for you especially Amazon.com or Bestbuy.com. If the rates at best buy brick and mortar stores are more compared to Amazon, tell that to the sales representative, more likely than not they will match the amazon prices for you.
Furniture - Buying and setting up furniture is not as easy task as you would think. Furniture are bulky and heavy and it’s not always the best option to transport your furniture. In such a case websites like wayfair.com can be really helpful, you can also get reasonable furniture from Amazon.com. Best part about buying online is you get them home delivered. However, keep in mind, home delivered or not you will have to assemble them yourself. So, hone your carpenter skills, take help of your friends and family and you will be set. You will get all the required parts and assembly instructions and you don’t have to cut any wood, just that you will get disassembled furniture.
Before buying furniture it will always be a good idea to visit your nearest ikea store, a one stop store for reasonable furniture. If you are looking for some cheap stuff Walmart and Target have the answer.
For tools and hardware, go straight to Home depot. You will need to keep a tool box handy at home all the time.
Electricals and Home Appliances – Remember one thing, there are not many ceiling lights in the US apartments, so get used to floor lamps and table lamps. You can get your electricals from home depot, target, walmart, amazon, wayfair, ikea etc. Again like furniture, u have to assemble them at home and they come without the light bulbs, so you have to buy them separately (warm or cool lights as per your preference). Happy shopping!!!
Some bonus tips:
Now happy moving!!!
Abhishek is currently based out of New Jersey, USA and travels across the globe for both work and vacation. He loves waterfalls, mountains and marine life.. He also loves to write and you will find more of his guest articles on this website written specially on the request of myroamingspirit.. You may also get in touch with him at email@example.com and learn how he earns and still be able to cover more than 20 countries already at the age of 30.RSS Feed