Moving to the United States is an adventure for anyone. I moved from Australia in 2017 and I didn’t think anything of it because they speak the same language and with the number of movies I’ve seen set in New York, I was confident that I was just a hop, skip, and jump away from becoming settled… How wrong I was.
1. Tipping in America
Coming from a culture where tipping is not expected (at all) and moving to one where it’s expected at every turn is a real eye-opener.
When you first arrive, if you’re not used to it, it’s going to take you some getting used to and you’re probably going to say “I don’t want to” sometimes, but you have to know: that’s not an option.
So how do you do it properly?
In New York the easy way to calculate a tip is this:
- If you’re drinking at a bar, and your drinks are beer or wine: $1/drink is fine (leave it every time you get a drink, unless you’ve got a tab open)
- For everything else, the easy rule of thumb is: 15% suggests you barely enjoyed it. 18% is the common-practice “standard” tip. 20%+ suggests that you loved it and you want to thank the staff for what they did.
An easy way in New York to work out the tip is to double the tax and slightly round up. Tax is a little less than 9%, so you’re going to end up somewhere very close to 18%.
Don’t be that person who stiffs the waiter at the end of a meal. You live here now!
2. Differences in accents & language
So it turns out that my 2’s and 3’s apparently sound similar when I’m on the phone. For the life of me I don’t understand, but it’s become very confusing when reading out my credit card number.
My name has gone from “Josh” to “Jaaash” when I’m yelling across a loud bar to order a drink, I’ve stopped calling the inclined slope at a playground a “slippery dip” and have taken to calling it a “slide”, and I try to make sure that whenever I speak, I harden the letter “r” so I get a water and not a waiter!
None of these things are the end of the world, and it’s become quite natural, but it’s another little thing that you will need to think about. It will be annoying at first, but then you can take a moment and be excited that you’re immersing yourself in a culture completely different from your own! Consider it an adventure!
3. Learning about starting and maintaining credit
Building credit from nothing is hard. I had no idea!
I’d grown up in the same country my whole life, so never before have I had an issue with being able to apply for a credit card or get a loan when I needed one. When I arrived in the U.S. though I quickly found out that this wasn’t the case anymore.
As a really quick snapshot, there’s a number between 300 and 850 that determines how reliable you are, known as your “credit score” and when you move to the U.S. for the first time, you start without a number.
Going to a bank without a credit score will result in a lot of discussions trying to explain that in your home country, you don’t have a score, and the reason you don’t have credit history is because you only arrived yesterday! Unfortunately, they won’t take all that much interest in you and you will be left high and dry with a chicken and an egg problem: You need credit to build your score, and you need a score to build your credit.
4. Renting an apartment in a big city
I remember before I moved to New York that people used to tell me that renting was impossibly difficult, and finding an apartment would be the most difficult thing I’d have to do. It made no sense to me! Surely I look on the internet, I find a place I like the look of, and then I put in my application. A few days later, I walk in with my bags and setup my new place… Nope.
Let’s break that down.
New York has a LOT of apartments. You can filter down to the most specific of requirements (I’m looking at you, 2 bedroom apartment with living area and 1.5 bathrooms, no higher than a 3rd floor walk up, in a nice neighborhood, for less than $2,000/month) and you can STILL find a few hundred possibilities. Which ones of these are real? Which ones are scams? Are there landlord issues? Are there financing problems? The internet presents all the options, but provides none of the answers!
Putting in the application itself is no problem at all. You fill in the form, you tell them about your love for your favorite sports team and you agree to handover your first born. What they don’t tell you is that there are 412 other people who are looking to do the same thing as you. They love this apartment as much as you do; MORE than you. They earn more than you do, they have more references than you do, and their credit is definitely better than yours (see above). It’s now a battle.
If you do get so lucky that you are actually accepted, congratulations! Now you just have to work out how to get your luggage up 5 flights of stairs, and argue with a landlord who just doesn’t care!
5. Coffee, drinking it
On a lighter, but just as important note, there’s the coffee.
If you’re a coffee snob from Australia, or Europe then you’re going to find the transition a little bumpy at times. Be ready to understand the differencef between “coffee” and “espresso” and know that a small coffee is always going to be big enough for what you want.
None of this is impossible, it’s just going to take some time to adjust.
But don’t worry, we’re here to help!