Making the move to San Diego from Australia is a wise choice. The weather is absolutely amazing (even compared to Australia), opportunities are great over here, and there isn’t a language barrier to overcome (well, not much of a language barrier anyway).
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There are definitely a few things you’ll need to get used to though so here are some tips to get you prepared for your big move:
1. Get your CA driver’s license
Getting your life set up in San Diego is similar to what you have to do in any other U.S. state. You’ll need to do things like setting up a bank account, get your Social Security Number, and find a place to live. You’ll also need to get your California driver’s license, and this is one aspect that I found particularly amusing—and easy.
Getting your driver’s license in San Diego isn’t as easy as just showing your Australian license to the DMV. You’ll need to sit both your written and driving tests all over again, which makes sense since there are different rules in the U.S., which also vary by state.
The amusing part that I was alluding to before was the physical driving test itself. You’ll need to do the usual things, like stopping at intersections and changing lanes, but one thing you won’t need to do is a parallel park. In fact, the most challenging thing you’ll encounter on your driving test here in San Diego is pulling to the side of the road and backing up in a straight line for the length of three vehicles.
Although it was nice not having to parallel park under pressure, it’s crazy to me that the DMV wouldn’t make people learn how to do this in a city where you absolutely will need to parallel park on multiple occasions.
2. Driving in San Diego is scary at first
Everyone in California speeds—a lot.
Freeways over here are scary as hell when you first start driving in San Diego, but it’s impossible to avoid them. You’ll eventually realize that freeways are the best (it takes too long to get anywhere otherwise), but it might take you a while to get used to them.
Although the speed limit on most freeways here is 65mph, most people will be driving at least 80mph, with speedsters in the left lane going upwards of 90. If you’re new to driving in San Diego, stick to the right lanes (plural because many freeways have four lanes).
Why do people speed so much? Because there is no such thing as a stationary speed camera here like in Australia. The only way to get a speeding ticket is to get physically pulled over by a cop.
San Diego Freeway Tip:
Even-numbered freeways go east-west, while odd-numbered freeways travel north-south.
Another thing that makes driving scary in San Diego is that people drive after drinking. In addition to not having speed cameras, there are rarely random breath testing (RBT) spots set up over here. I’ve lived here almost nine years and have only seen two. I was stopped once, and all they did was look at my driver’s license, ask if I’d been drinking (to which I said I’d had one drink), shine the torch in my eyes, and send me on my way.
3. Casual is the new dressed up
If you work in an office in San Diego, you may notice that the dress code you once adhered to back home in Australia no longer exists. This, of course, isn’t a blanket rule for all offices in San Diego, but I’ve worked in four different corporate jobs over nine years, and it’s common to see people coming to work in shorts and t-shirts or yoga pants.
Although it was a welcome change at first, I will admit, I miss wearing my office attire—the tailored pants, pencil skirts, and heels.
It’s so rare to get dressed up at all in San Diego unless you’re going to a fancy event like a wedding or going clubbing. I once wore a blazer with jeans for a casual outing, and almost everyone commented on how dressed up I was.
4. Aussie beaches are still no. 1
Although California is known for its beautiful surf and beaches, I would say San Diego beaches aren’t as breathtaking as you would imagine.
Firstly, the actual beach isn’t that big, so they are often crowded, especially during the summer—a stark contrast to many beaches in Australia where the sand continues as far as meets the eye.
Secondly, the beach stinks, literally.
The ocean here is full of kelp which washes up onto the beach during high tide. It’s then hit by the hot SoCal sun and starts to smell like off seafood. On top of that, it starts to attract these little kelp flies, which can make your beach trip less enjoyable.
During the summer, parking at the beach is also a huge pain. Unless you get there super early, you’ll be driving around for a while trying to find a spot, or you’ll end up walking a mile from your car to the beach itself.
5. Don’t lose your Aussie accent
I can almost guarantee that one of the first things you’ll notice about Californians is how different their sense of humor is from ours. Many of the locals don’t really understand our level of sarcasm, and it’ll become more apparent just how sarcastic we Aussies are. Although some people may take offense to our joking ways, you’ll find that you’ll actually get away with quite a bit over here, thanks to your accent.
Something that would be offensive coming from an American will just be hilarious coming from your mouth. Americans just love accents, and the Aussie accent is an absolute killer over here. My number one tip would be not to lose your accent! I’ve made it a habit to watch Aussie TV shows over here just to help me keep my accent.
If you’re struggling to find people with a similar sense of humor, try to find people from the East Coast. I’ve found I get along much better with them, as they’re less sensitive, get my sarcasm, and are usually easier to joke around with.
Great article Tina, really handy advice!
I’ll be moving to a job in Carlsbad in the next few weeks… any tips?
I’ve heard most people wouldn’t commute from San Diego and tend to live in Encinitas or Oceanside etc.
Hi Nick! Congrats on your new job! Yeah, driving from San Diego city into Carlsbad is a fair drive. Without traffic, it’s probably about 40 minutes each way, depending on where in San Diego you live, but WITH traffic, I don’t even want to think about it. I used to work in Encinitas and did the drive up there and I would say that was my limit.
What saved me was getting a plug-in hybrid car so I take the carpool lane part of the way (taking the 805). But mind you, this was pre-COVID where I’m assuming traffic was much worse than it is now (with more people working remotely).
Generally, it makes more sense to live in North County if you work in North County and vice versa. Although some people do make the drive and I guess you just get used to it over time.
Not sure what your budget is, but just be aware that Encinitas is one of the most expensive places in North County these days (but for good reason, it’s pretty dope).