In a Nutshell: Moving to the Bay Area

O Canada!

A Canadian post-doc wife contacted Stanford Wives seeking advice about her upcoming move to the Bay Area, so Maricki put her in touch with me.  We’ve been trading emails and have discovered that the world is too small:  her husband will be working with the husband of my best friend at Stanford.

From one Canadian to another:

VISAS

* Obtain professional advice (immigration lawyers, accountants, etc.) for specific visa  and tax questions.

* Stanford will prepare the applications for your J-1 and J-2 visas.  Go to the Bechtel International Center on campus when you first arrive to get your J-1 and J-2 visa forms signed so that you can travel outside the US.

WORK PERMITS / JOB HUNT

* Once you get your J-2:  if you’re planning to work, then apply for the work permit  right away as it can take up to 3 months for it to be processed.  Ask the Stanford Bechtel person who signs your visa form for a checklist of what you need to do to apply and pay for a work permit.

* Once you get your work permit:  go to a government office and apply for your social security number (SSN).

* The job hunt for post-doc wives is like the lottery:  you gotta keep playing in order to have a chance at winning!

APARTMENTS

* Living on campus or close to campus (Palo Alto, Menlo Park) is most convenient.

* Be realistic about what you can afford and what you need to be happy in your new home (hardwood floors vs. carpet, sun vs. shade, appliances, on-site vs. in-suite laundry, parking, storage, etc.).  Don’t rent a studio if you know that you’ll have lots of house guests or visitors.  If you’re moving furniture from Canada, make sure it fits in your new place!

* Listings on craigslist may give you a good idea of what you’ll get for your monthly rent.

* Define terms and conditions that suit both you and your landlord and sign a lease.

* Talk with you landlord and sign up for a BMR (below market rate) unit in your building, if possible.  City and County of San Francisco has details on the BMR Program for renters in San Francisco.  Some multi-unit dwellings set aside a number of units for low-income families (reduced rent).  The chances of you getting one of these units is low but it is worth trying.  The Stanford West Apartments occasionally has BMR units available for rent.

BANKING / CREDIT CARDS

* Keep your Canadian bank accounts and keep your Canadian credit cards too.  Canadian banking system regulations are strict relative to the US, which is a very good thing.  Set up a Stanford Credit Union bank account to hold your husband’s paychecks.  There’s a Stanford Credit Union Visa credit card you can apply for – if approved, the credit limit is TINY, but what can you do?  It’s your best bet when you first arrive.  If you have an AMEX, then give AMEX a call to see if they’re willing to approve you for a card in the US right away.

TAXES

* If you’re planning to live outside of Canada for more than a year, then you should really talk with an accountant who specializes in Canada – US tax.  You need to know where and when you’ll be paying tax on income (job and investment) throughout your entire time out of Canada.

CAR

* Bring your car if you have one.  I don’t know if you’re into the outdoors, but you’re not allowed to move back to Canada until after you’ve gone to Yosemite National Park!    Keep in mind you’ll need a car to take advantage of all the long weekend destinations nearby:  San Francisco, Los Angeles, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, driving along the coast, hiking among the redwoods, etc.

* By law you’re supposed to get your California license within 10 days of becoming a resident, so you might as well plan on getting it done sooner than later.  You’ll need a smog check for your car, and appointments to take written and behind the wheel driver’s tests.

* The behind the wheel driver’s test is slow:  40 km / hr = 25 mi / hr = your top speed during the test.  Just read the driver’s handbook before the written test and don’t speed on the behind the wheel driver’s test.  You should be fine.

INSURANCE

*  Assuming you currently have home or renter’s insurance in Canada, you may be covered by these policies during your move.  Best to double check with your insurance provider.

* Travel health insurance may cover your hospital bills should you need medical treatment before your husband starts working at Stanford.  We’re so relieved that we bought travel health insurance as my husband cut his foot while installing our washer / dryer the night before he started work at Stanford Medical Center.  We went to the ER at Stanford Medical Center and our Canadian travel health insurance covered the cost of stitches in his foot.

* When choosing your Canadian travel health insurance provider and your American car / rental / home insurance provider, make sure that they:  are responsive to your individual coverage needs; offer premiums that are competitive; and have good reviews online.

* Health insurance:  read the literature provided by Stanford and choose your coverage based on your needs.

The two main differences between HMO’s (Health Maintenance Organization) and PPO’s (Preferred Provider Organization) are:

1.  SPECIALIST REFERRALS:  with an HMO, you need a referral from your primary care physician in order to see a specialist.  With a PPO, you don’t need a referral from your primary care physician before you see a specialist.  As Canadians, we’re accustomed to seeking specialist referrals from our primary care physicians.

2.  NETWORK RESTRICTIONS:  with an HMO, you can seek care only within the HMO network of healthcare providers.  With a PPO, you can see any physician or specialist within or outside of the PPO network.  If you anticipate having to see lots of specialists while living in the US, then PPO coverage may be a better choice for you.

The trade-off is in how much you pay:  PPO premiums/fees are higher than HMO premiums/fees.  You make co-payments each time you visit the doctor regardless of what coverage you have.  Americans seem to fear that HMOs restrict patient access to specialists as a means of managing costs.  Whether this is true or false is up for debate.

FURNITURE

* What’s your furniture situation?  There’s an IKEA in East Palo Alto (3 miles from campus).  Get your husband signed up on the Stanford post-doc e-mailing list to score cheap finds on used furniture from departing post-docs.  There are always people coming and going.  Lots of used furniture changes hands among post-docs year round.

CANADA – US ROAD TRIP

* We drove from Toronto and turned our move into a road trip!  Granted, we hired movers so it’s not like we had a trailer strapped to our car.

* Road trip memories:  we stayed with a friend in Detroit, Michigan; spent my birthday in Chicago, Illinois; and stayed with an old colleague of mine in South Bend, Indiana.  Iowa City, Iowa is a college town, so you can expect good eats at local restaurants (Japanese, Ethiopian, etc.):  we made the mistake of eating beforehand at the “Iowa 80 Truck Stop — World’s Largest Truck Stop!”  In North Platte, Nebraska, we stayed in a hotel that was a totally forgettable experience.  Elko, Nevada has an amazing Mexican lunch place called Sergio’s on the main drag (Idaho St.).  We spent a couple nights in Moab, Utah to hike in Arches National Park. In Moab, eat at Pasta Jay’s and especially at Miguel’s Baja Grill.  Ate Swedish meatballs at the IKEA in Sacramento:  it was right off the highway and we were hungry!  Stayed at the Creekside Inn in Palo Alto on our first night.  My camera was stolen in the hotel restaurant, Cibo.  Although the hotel is nice and the food is good, I don’t have fond memories of that place.  Fortunately, our Canadian home insurance covered the cost of replacing the stolen camera.  It’s heartbreaking that the photos we took on the road trip can’t be replaced!

Hope these tips are helpful to my fellow Canadians!

Helsa, blogging from downtown Los Angeles

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