What does a Canadian expat moving to Chicago need to consider?
March 11, 2012 12:34 PM   Subscribe

I am a Canadian expat currently living in the UK and I might be moving to Chicago. What kind of things do I need to consider? What are the differences in employment benefits that I need to look out for? I'm married. What are the work visa issues for spouses of someone with a work visa? Where in Chicago can you live (rent) without a car and still have a garden? What am I forgetting?
posted by srboisvert to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
GOOD HEALTH INSURANCE!!!!!! (and vacation days) but mostly HEALTH INSURANCE!!!!
posted by misspony at 12:48 PM on March 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can pretty much rent anywhere in the city without a car - the public transportation here (CTA) will get you almost anywhere that you want to go. All of the train lines go into the Loop/downtown (which I'm guessing is where you're likely to be working), so just make sure you're near a train or bus stop.

As far as somewhere with a garden, Chicago is pretty cramped; most apartment buildings back up to an alley and there is absolutely no room between them. You'd really have to live in a less populated or up-and-coming area to find somewhere that has a backyard. The far north or west sides would qualify - neighborhoods like Albany Park. The downside is that these neighborhoods, since they're not as developed, tend to be less safe and further away from downtown.
posted by anotheraccount at 12:55 PM on March 11, 2012

Where in Chicago can you live (rent) without a car and still have a garden?

If you work downtown, then you want to live near a train line, or perhaps a convenient bus. Whether you can rent and have your own garden is a toss-up, and entirely dependent on how your landlord would feel about you using any space that's available. Renting an entire house would be expensive, but you'd have a yard to yourself. Many smaller, older apartment buildings (two- or three-flats) will have a yard that might be shared by all the tenants. "Garden apartment" doesn't mean what you want it to mean; it means an apartment at street level or in the basement.

There are lots of community gardens in Chicago and in Evanston (a suburb just to the north that has an L line and a cosmopolitan feel). Sometimes there are waiting lists for a space. If you'd like to help other people garden, especially high school kids, I can recommend some programs.

Chicago has two car-sharing programs and is a pretty good city for bike transit.

Where would you be working? What else are you looking for in a neighborhood? Restaurants and culture? Bars? A scene? Good schools? Lots of families? Businesses that cater to specific ethnic groups? Affinities to one of our baseball teams?
posted by hydrophonic at 1:07 PM on March 11, 2012

I'm a native Chicagoan currently living in the UK. If you want to live without a car, it's totally doable if you live near a train line (Red or Brown, for example), or a major bus route. But this completely depends on where you will be working. I never owned car in Chicago and never regretted it.

On preview, fwiw, I've had the exact opposite experience as anotheraccount: Chicago living is roomy and spacious (both inside and out) compared to all the other cities I've lived in. You could easily find an apartment with access to a communal garden (sharing with one or two other apartments), if you make that one of your search criteria. Many of my friends, in apartments across the city, have awesome gardens in which they grow vegetables or whatever other plants they like. There are definitely some larger apartment buildings that back up to an alley or just have stone patios, but I've found that this is not the norm with smaller buildings, which are plentiful in older neighborhoods.
posted by swingbraid at 1:16 PM on March 11, 2012

You need to speak with an American immigration attorney about all of this, but my understanding is that anyone who wants to work in the US must qualify for a work visa in her/his own right. So, if your spouse is authorized to work because he's sponsored by an employer, you're not automatically authorized to work as his dependent. Rather, you would also need to find an employer willing to sponsor you for a work visa or find some other, independent way to become work eligible. But you really need to talk to an American immigration lawyer about this in order to ensure that you don't get yourself into serious legal trouble.
posted by decathecting at 1:42 PM on March 11, 2012

As for visas it depends on what kind of visa you are planning to get. I can tell you a bit about temporary work visas.

If you are a Canadian with a university degree in almost anything (notably almost anything except things computer related), and you have a job lined up, you are eligible for a TN-1 visa. This is a 3 year work visa that came out of NAFTA. The company you will be working for has to write some letters and fill out some forms to sponsor you and it costs around $60. Your spouse (possibly of opposite sex only) is entitled to a TD visa, that allows him or her to live in the US with you, but not work. He or she would have to get a separate TN visa with the same conditions.
The TN-1 is easy to get. But doesn't allow your spouse to work. It needs to be renewed every 3 years. And most annoyingly it is only valid for one job, so if you get a new job, or lose your job you have to apply for a new one (and you only have 10 days to do so or you have to leave the US). Also annoying is that they can revoke it at any time for absolutely no reason.

You could get an HB-1 visa, but they are harder to get because there are a limited number issued every year. Unfortunately, it also does not allow your spouse to work.
It lasts 6 years and you have to get your employer to sponsor you for it.
The main difference is that you are allowed to have "intent to immigrate" so you can start to apply for citizenship or green cards or whatever. This is not the case for a TN visa.

If you are an academic you can get a J-1 visa and this one actually allows your spouse to work. However, it is mainly for students, researchers and teachers. I think au pairs and similar are also under this visa.

So your spouse may have to pursue his or her own visa.
posted by keeo at 1:54 PM on March 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I assumed the OP meant "yard" by saying garden. Isn't garden the English way of saying yard? If that's the case, you can get a yard in many areas of Chicago. I live in a 6 unit apartment building with a tiny yard out back. My neighbor plants some veggies along the edges. Renting one floor of a 2 flat can be affordable and will likely come with a yard. If you're renting you need to talk to the landlord in advance about how you can use it, especially if you plan to "garden."

I'll add to the above posters by saying insurance, insurance, insurance (family plans are often much more than just insuring you), and watch out for how much vacation you get—2 weeks is pretty standard so you might have to make a special request in your contract for more if you've gotten used to European standards.
posted by Bunglegirl at 2:02 PM on March 11, 2012

Response by poster: Oh dear. I've gone English with the Garden/Yard! Yes, I meant yard. The area would be Lincoln Park. It is all very preliminary and no offers or decisions are made yet. Now that I know what to look for I'm pretty sure the Visa issues won't be a problem at all.

Ideally, I would like to live somewhere with quick access to running and cycling paths but number 1 on my list is to avoid long commutes. LazyWeb Question: What sort of rent would a nice middle class 2 bedroom apartment go for and what would the utilities bill be like?
posted by srboisvert at 4:09 PM on March 11, 2012

Would you be working in Lincoln Park or living there?

In Andersonville/Edgewater (north of Lincoln Park, sill close to the Brown Line) a crappy 2 bedroom will be about 1k. You can get something much nicer for around 1200. I'm not completely certain about utilities, as that would HIGHLY depend on the building (if it comes with heat, what kind of heat/air conditioning... it's ridiculous to figure out and I've lived here 15 years). For the small 1 bedroom with electric no gas, we pay $120 a month year round.
posted by bibliogrrl at 6:14 PM on March 11, 2012

bibliogrrl is spot-on about utilities--so much is dependent upon the type of heat (radiators? forced air?) and whether or not heat is included in rent. At the condo I lease out (I own it and now am landlord), heat is included because it's radiators and part of the owner's assessments. Utilities in that one bedroom are electric and phone. The electric is about $10-13/month. Heat where I live now (a three bedroom, two level) is forced air (which seriously sucks. seriously. seriously). In the winter, we can pay a couple hundred a month, keeping the place at about 65 inside. So my advice would be pay a little more rent to avoid being responsible for your own heating bill.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:20 PM on March 11, 2012

I lived in Lincoln Park in the mid-2000s and it can be tremendously expensive. At the time, I had a 3 bedroom that I shared with two other people that was $1,700/month. I'm now living in Andersonville (the neighborhood that bibliogrrl mentioned in her post) in a pretty large one bedroom for $835. I had to pay for utilities in Lincoln Park but I don't here (except for electric and cooking gas) - remember that any time you'll be paying for utilities on top of rent you're looking at a pretty penny because of the heat. A fair number of Chicago apartments have heat included, but it seems to me like that trend may be coming to an end.

If you're open to being near to Lincoln Park but not in it, Lakeview is a bit cheaper and very close and has tons of access to running paths on the lakefront, parks, etc.
posted by anotheraccount at 5:37 AM on March 12, 2012

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