Moving to Boston, MA from Auckland, NZ
January 4, 2014 10:20 PM   Subscribe

I am emigrating to the the USA from New Zealand in a few weeks for work, but apart from the job I don't have much organised on the other side yet. Is there anyone else out there that has recently made a similar move? What difficulties did you encounter? What would you do differently? Any secret tricks for day-to-day living in the states (e.g.: setting up bank accounts, etc) that you can impart.
posted by AndrewStephens to Travel & Transportation around Boston, MA (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: UK --> US transplant here, although I did it on an immediate-family visa.

Three immediate difficulties:

1. You will not be allowed to open a bank account -- or indeed any form of financial account -- without a social security number.

If you check the right box on the visa application, the USCIS is supposed to coordinate with the Social Security Administration to issue one for you. This didn't work in my case -- or at least only glacially slowly -- and I ended up having to schlep out to my local SSA office to sort it out and get a number.

So: get an SSN ASAP. And keep at least some of your NZ-based accounts active, so that you at least have a working debit and/or credit card while you're waiting to get US accounts up and running.

2. Your credit rating won't follow you to the US; to US lenders you'll be an unknown and so will start off with pretty shitty credit and will need to build a US-based credit history. I found Capital One was the first lender willing to offer me a credit card -- or at least one without any bullshit initial and/or annual fees. (There are a lot of predatory lenders at the bottom end.)

3. Landlords also rely on your credit rating as a guide to rent-worthiness. No credit or rental history makes you an unknown quantity. This may be less of a problem for you as you have a job to back you up so you can at least have your HR department provide you a "yep, he's employed here at $X" reference. Offering to pay a few months rent in advance can also help.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:51 PM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

See if your new employers have any association with a local credit union that will give you favorable credit cards/accounts. If not, then go to whatever bank and ask for a secured credit card, they should offer you like $500 limit if you put $500 in the securing account. This will start building your credit history. (I don't know if all banks will do this, but definitely some will so just keep asking).

I've never heard of getting an SSN automatically - I had to go to the office, and that was part of my employers regular process for new foreign employees (five years ago, anyway). They recommend you don't apply for one until you've been in the country for ten days, and here are details on applying.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:21 PM on January 4, 2014

This may be silly/obvious, but you're going from a very temperate Auckland summer to the completely yuck middle of a New England winter; make sure you've got appropriate clothing, transportation arrangements, etc, as needed for when you arrive. Dressing for Auckland winter is probably insufficient, depending on how the weather is when you get here. I say this after a recent conversation with a friend in Auckland re: recent weather in the northern US concluded with, basically, "Why did anybody want to colonize North America again?"
posted by Sequence at 1:18 AM on January 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

apart from the job I don't have much organised on the other side yet.

Boston is a biggish city with lots of distinct neighborhoods and distinct areas within those neighborhoods. These little areas each have their own characteristics. And that's in Boston itself; the suburbs make it a lot more complicated.

Tell us where in Boston you're going to live and people will be able to tell you what to expect. Or if you're still looking for a place to live, people will be able to make recommendations based on, for example, where in Boston you intend to work, how much you can afford to pay for rent, whether you like living dangerously, whether you want to drive or walk or bike or take the train to work, etc. If you're going to work outside the city, maybe living in the city won't make sense at all, or maybe it will make great sense depending on your transportation options.
posted by pracowity at 2:48 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you have temporary housing lined up? Because of the concentration of universities and colleges here, most of the housing stock is available 6/1 or 9/1, and you will have fewer options in January. Good luck, and welcome!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:11 AM on January 5, 2014

I moved from Auckland (well ... Orewa) to southern New Hampshire (just north of Boston) in 2000. I had a job on an H1B visa. I'm a permanent resident now. I guess, looking back, I had a reasonably easy time compared to some.

I opened a bank account straight away with no SSN but ... that was in 2000. I think it's tougher now. The person at the bank just said "leave that blank" and didn't care. I got an SSN in the next few days anyway. It was just a matter of showing up at the SSA office with my visa papers.

I'm living in a small town which I think made a few things easier. My partner is a local with a good reputation which probably helped a bit too because I could use her for references.

The big difference with renting that caught me by surprise is that almost everything here is an annual lease whereas in NZ, there's usually no fixed term. A couple of weeks notice and you can be gone in NZ. Here it can be a real pain to break a lease early if your circumstances change. I was unsure of how things would work out so I was reluctant to sign a lease. I answered an ad in the local paper and managed to rent an apartment just on a month to month basis. After all that I ended up staying about two years anyway.

I bought a cheap second hand car from a local dealer. Insurance was no real problem. My partner introduced me to her insurance agent. Most insurance seems to be done through agencies rather than direct with the companies like I remember it in NZ. My car wasn't worth much so I was only going to get liability insurance and not bother insuring the car itself but it's not like NZ where you can "third party" (i.e., liability) coverage for very little. The liability coverage here cost much more than the covering the cheap car. Adding "collision coverage" for the car didn't add much to the total.

Yes, the whole credit rating thing is a bit of a pain. You start from scratch here. You can always get a "secured credit card" which means you need to pay a deposit but that gets you started in building a history. It's sounds weird but I think I paid $50 to CapitalOne which gave me a credit limit of $200. I think I also had one with Chase, $200 deposit for about $1000 limit. After a year or two they converted it to a real credit card and refunded the deposit. I also bought a reasonably big item with a "store card" and paid it off over a year or so (basically what we call HP in NZ). That helps your history too. Debit cards are basically what you know as EFTPOS, used with a PIN but ... they are also a Visa or MasterCard so they are accepted anywhere that accepts Visa or MC, processed as a "credit card" (and signed on paper rather than PIN) but the money still comes straight from your bank account. Therefore a debit card is an easy way of simply having a Visa or MC but using it does nothing to help your credit record.

Driving license. I think you can drive with your NZ license for two years. The guy at the local Dept of Motor Vehicles here in NH seemed to know the international laws well. I think I did the local test after about 8 months. I don't know about MA but in NH they wanted to see some "proof" that my NZ license wasn't suspended because of drunk driving or something. That was somewhat difficult to get because of NZ privacy laws etc. My Dad managed to get the NZ department of whatever it is these days to print out on a plain piece of paper a single line saying "no convictions". Believe it or now, the NH people accepted that. You probably should try to get some sort of driving record or court record documents before you leave. Again, I don't know about MA but in NH, as a non-resident, I always had to go to the DMV office in the state capital to renew my license, I couldn't do it at my local office.

The snow was a novelty for the first year or two but that has well and truly worn off now.

I can't think of much else right now. Feel free to send me a MeFi message which any questions. I'm in the same profession as you.

Good luck, it will be quite an adventure ...
posted by tetranz at 5:50 AM on January 5, 2014

My biggest concern for you outside of the weather would be housing, too. If you don't have housing lined up, please convince your employer to either pay for a broker so you have a place upon arrival or pay for temporary housing until you find a place, because in January? It isn't going to be easy.

There are also lots of MeFites in Boston and a pretty regular meet up in Cambridge (that I haven't had the fortune of making, yet), so don't be afraid to call on us locals once you're hear if you need assistance.
posted by zizzle at 6:39 AM on January 5, 2014

I moved from Canada to Boston in 2008 and was able to open a bank account at Bank of America with no SSN.

I'm still in Boston. Feel free to message me if you have specific questions when you get here. I agree that it would be helpful to know where your job is/what your rental budget is so that we can help make suggestions.
posted by ewiar at 9:35 AM on January 5, 2014

As an Aussie that moved to the US a few years ago, though I ended up staying unexpectedly so some things may be different.

Any winter clothing you have most likely won't be wintery enough unless you ski a lot in NZ's winter, the chances of finding a coat this time of year in NZ that will be warm enough is pretty slim. Be prepared to go shopping soon after arrival. I landed in Chicago from Australia in January wearing what I thought was a lovely winter coat, I thought I had died and gone to a frozen hell the second I walked out the airport and that my face was going to crack and fall off.

Get a SSN early on it makes everything easier, the offices are depressing and slow, be prepared, bring a book and be patient, patience and a friendly nature will get you further with the staff than grumbling. It is all pretty easy to get.

I had no problems getting a bank account. I got some shop credit cards to start building up my credit history, but when we went for a mortgage I had not been in the US enough for it to count, so I had a print out made of my Australian credit history sent to me in the US and bought it with me the bank had no problem using that history for it's records. It's a pain in the ass to find a place to get it in Australia, I have no idea what it is like in NZ if you have chance before you go it might be worth getting a copy. Not sure if it will help, but it can't hurt to have it, if only because landlords use that info a lot for rentals in the USA.

Here in Indiana I could go 2 years on my foreign license, I'd wait until Summer to go for a US license, I did mine in winter and driving in snow and ice AND on the wrong side of the road is a pain in the butt when someone is grading you. The US licence makes a lot of things easier as it's the main form of ID after SSN.

The three little things that you would think would be no problem, but still throw me off living in the US to this day. The date being written month/day/date, I spend more time double checking dates on cheques than writing them. Having to measure things in inches, I cannot express how much more difficult this makes calculating things for DIY. Why don't they include the damn tax in the price of the item on the tag and stop making me wait until I check out to find out how much I really spent. On the plus side most Yanks I've met are super helpful, so when in doubt at banks or DMV or where ever just ask the people working there, most of them if they can't help you will direct you where to go or at least offer suggestions and then tell you that you have a cute accent.
posted by wwax at 10:01 AM on January 5, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great advice. For the record I will be working in Waltham (sadly not near public transport), possibly looking at Belmont as a reasonable place to settle.
posted by AndrewStephens at 10:58 AM on January 5, 2014

Best answer: I am from the US, but live in Boston. I have a coworker who moved here from Australia, so I may rely on her experiences/complaints here.

Some notes based on others' responses:

1) It's common to pay first and last months rent here, but I've never heard of anyone in the Boston area having to pay several months at once. There are lots of international students here, so I don't think landlords are too freaked out by that. It IS common to have to pay an extra month's worth of rent as a fee to a real estate agent here. Security deposits (usually ~1/2 mo rent) are also common. SHORT ANSWER: Be prepared to pony up 3.5 months rent in cash (by check) to get your apartment. On that note - if you don't mind roommates, I highly recommend roommates at least until June or September when the rental market will be much better (look on craigslist). One bedrooms are very expensive here.

2) Waterproof boots. Rainboots with some really solid socks will tide you over if you can't buy them til you get here. You'll also want a windproof coat - the most common style in Boston is a peacoat, though that isn't always warm enough this time of year. If you have a ski coat, bring it. If you plan on having a car, you will need yet warmer clothes because you will likely have to shovel it out.

3) Many apartments do not come with guarenteed parking places (or charge extra for one). If you plan on buying a car, keep parking in mind in your apartment search.

4) Keep your NZ bank account. If nothing else, I think you'll need it for tax purposes. My Aussie coworker has complained about this, but I didn't entirely follow... I know that AUS/NZ are different countries and all, but this bit seems like it could be very similar.

5) A lot of bars will not accept my coworker's AUS license as legal ID. I think she even had trouble getting one to take her passport! Even if you don't plan on getting a MA license, look in to getting a Liquor ID.
posted by maryr at 12:52 PM on January 5, 2014

Driving in Boston when the weather is perfect is... interesting. Driving in Boston in the winter if you're not well-versed in driving in the snow/ice/slush can be a catastrophe. I grew up in New England and lived in Boston for 15 years, so I am a seasoned crappy-weather driver, and still I cannot recommend strongly enough that you avoid every part of car ownership in winter. You really don't want to drive in it. You really don't want to try to find parking in it. You really don't want to get up an hour early to dig your car out of a snowbank for the privilege of driving in it and trying to find parking in it. I still feel a little part of my soul die when I remember clearing the end of the driveway of two feet of dirty ice deposited there by the plow.

Are you sure there's no bus that goes even within a mile of your office? Even if it takes you more time to travel by public transport, even if you have to walk that last mile from the bus stop to your office, your quality of life will be drastically improved if you avoid driving.

Culturally, speaking quickly and bluntly is the de facto mode of communication in New England, and sarcasm is the dominant form of humor. I know it can come across as a bit aggressive, but it's really, really not intended to be rude or insulting. In fact, busting your balls is how people will let you know they're fond of you! As a general rule, if you have to ask, "Are they being mean to me?," the answer is no, they're just kidding. When someone is trying to be mean to you, it'll be unmistakeable. It might take a little time to get used to it, but it's so refreshing to know where you stand with people. Now that I live in the San Francisco area, where insincerity and passive-aggression are everywhere, it's the part of Boston that I miss the most.
posted by jesourie at 1:23 PM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I live in Belmont, and to follow up on what maryr said re: parking, Belmont, along with a number of other suburbs (possibly including Waltham, can't remember) does not allow overnight on-street parking. So it is in fact crucial that you find a place that includes parking, or else that you secure a rented spot somewhere if you are going to have a car.

Belmont is not very big, though, and a good chunk is made up of very expensive, single family homes. You may also want to widen your search to Watertown and Arlington to give yourself more options.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 6:20 PM on January 5, 2014

No overnight parking in Brookline, either, IIRC.

Keep in mind that a mile's walking in good weather is one thing, but those same hard to park on streets do not have well paved sidewalks - walking in the winter can be not only difficult, but dangerous in places.
posted by maryr at 9:05 PM on January 5, 2014

The date being written month/day/date

(Just write it the way the date is usually said: January 6th, 2014 = 01/06/14. I know you can figure it out and all, but that's how I remember the format)
posted by maryr at 9:10 PM on January 5, 2014

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