The E-3 Journey

Several people have contacted me asking to hear more about my job hunting experiences in the US. The short story is that I did indeed find work in the last week of May, and I joined my current employer in mid-July. I will write a longer version of this for my next post, but I wanted to document the general experiences with how you (as an Australian) can make your overseas move as painless, or at least as open-eyed, as possible.

The information and statements below assume that you are not currently employed in the United States under a different visa, and that you are not looking for an intra-company transfer. If you are the latter, you want to investigate out the L-1 Visa.

I strongly recommend seeking advice of Immigration Lawyers. More likely than not your employer will help you here, but do not take my advice as gospel. This is an ever changing landscape and you want to be armed with the facts and the best tactics.

The first thing to know is the unique privilege you have as an Australian: the E-3 Visa is an United States non-immigrant Visa. It is similar to the H-1B Visa, except that is exclusively for Australian citizens. The great thing about this Visa is that unlike the H1-B whose quota of 65,000 issues per year are usually filled by the middle of the year, the E-3 has a separate quota of 10,500 per year. To date this quota had not yet been reached on an annual basis. Like the H1-B it is a 24 month term, multiple-entry Visa, and it can be renewed indefinitely. There are three disadvantages of the E-3 compared to the H1-B:

Firstly the E-3 is not a “dual intent” Visa: this means that you cannot easily apply for a change in immigration status (most commonly to Permanent Residency, aka the Green Card). While it is possible to do submit such an application, it can effect your future E-3 renewal. It also means that if you do apply for another Visa or permanent residency, you will essentially be “landlocked” in the United States until the outcome of that application is met. You will not be able to leave the US and return while you are in this application limbo.

Secondly, you cannot apply for the E-3 Visa in the US (although can you renew it there) – you must apply for it in Australia. There are stories of people going to Canada or the United Kingdom to apply, but it is fraught with risk that a knowledgable Consular staff member will reject you. Unless you like living on the wild side, ensure that a trip back to Australia is in your future.

Thirdly, if you lose your job (which nullifies your E-3), you have 10 days to find a new sponsor (i.e. a new job), or leave the country. At first glance this caveat really sucks, however I will discuss later about the reality of this issue and ways to deal with it.

And can you qualify for an E-3 visa without a university degree? Yes you can, with conditions: the US recognises time in the workplace as the equivalent of degree time at a 3:1 ratio. Given a standard bachelor’s degree is 4 years if study in the US, you need at least 12 years in the workforce in the field you are applying for. For example, if you’re aiming to get a job in the IT industry in the US, you need to have worked in the IT industry (as your job – your employer doesn’t have to be in the IT industry itself) for at least 12 years. This isn’t an absolute rule, but this need to be the basic standard you need to aim for. Any less and you risk disappointment.

Looking For Work

If you’re working in IT, applying for work is fairly similar as it is in Australia: you submit your resume, you have 1 or 2 phone interviews, a few in person interviews, and then a job offer. There are however a few important things to know before you start your job hunt.

  1. Trim down your resume. In Australia resumes are allowed to be 5 or 6 pages long, depending on experience. In the US, anything more than 2 pages will get binned almost immediately. The first page must to 90% of the sell, the second page should have supplementary data to compliment the strong first page. There’s several Resume Proofing services available online (you can search Groupon for some decent discount coupons too) – use it.
  2. Make potential employers aware of the existence of the E-3. Most employers will know about the H1-B and will assume that that is the way you want to try and get into the country, and because of previously stated quota issues they will rightly assume it is too hard. Informing them of the E-3 may change their position.
  3. Recruiters have a hard time in the US. Most big shops and almost all IT companies have internal recruiters. As such, unfortunately you cannot rely on recruiting companies, but it certainly doesn’t hurt reaching out to them either.
  4. Utilise your network. You’ll find your vendor account reps, colleagues and friends will know people who work at the companies you want to work at. Internal referrals get you past the first hurdle of resume screening.
  5. Be prepared for a lot of rejection. It’s a buyer’s market out there, and sadly being a non-US citizen will put you at a disadvantage straight away. Your resume is your key tool to getting a foot in the door.
  6. Get a US Skype number. You can set this up in minutes and have it forward to your local Australian number. This is relatively inexpensive ($25 a month, depending on call volume as you pay the Skype tariffs) and makes a good impression on your resume.

Lastly, nothing beats pounding the pavement in person. In my experience I discovered companies respected the effort to be in their backyard, and makes it more appealing to bring you in for an in-person interview than having to fly you in from Australia. Don’t forget you can visit the US for 90 days under the Visa with Waiver Program (VWP).

I Got A Job Offer!

Congratulations! Give yourself a pat on the back – all that hard work has paid off. However all of the real chaos is yet to come. But before you sign that contract, consider the following, especially if you have more than one offer:

  1. Are they giving you any kind of relocation package? Moving is expensive.
  2. Will they pay for the immigration lawyer services? This will save you a lot of time and money, so you need to consider this as a tangible financial part of your offer.
  3. Do you feel that the salary offered will provide you with the quality of life you have or want?
  4. If you have a spouse and/or kids, are they really willing to move?
  5. Are you really willing to move? Is this what you really want?

Points 4 and 5 shouldn’t be underestimated. If for whatever reason something goes wrong here, you are much better off graciously declining an offer and keeping that line of communication open & bridge unburnt, than accepting it and later having to reverse that decision before you start.

Getting Your Visa

You need to setup your appointment with the US Embassy as soon as possible. US Embassies in Australia are located in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Canberra.

Before you can make the appointment, you need to complete a DS-160 form (as does anyone else in your family who you are taking dependents, who will be applying for a E-3D Visa.) This requires passport-style photos to be uploaded with your application, so use a digital camera. Once you submit this form, print the confirmation page. Then you’ll be ready to make an appointment at the Embassy. Keep in mind that you need to take several key documents to the appointment, including the Labor Condition Application (LCA), which your employer has to assist in filed (you need the original – and do not throw it away after your interview as you will need it later!), the DS-160 confirmation form, marriage & birth certificates, and of course your passports. Lead times at these embassies can be quite long – for me the first available interview was 2 weeks after I booked it, but I booked it after I knew the immigration lawyers were sending the LCA and the petition from my employer to the US Embassy to support my E-3 request. You’ll need to balance the timing depending on the urgency of your desired start date and the reality of logistics.

When it comes to your actual interview day & time, keep in mind that there is a long line to get into the Embassy (where your electronic devices will be confiscated) and Airport-style security. More often than not you will not be seen at your appointment time; your appointment time is when you will actually be let into the Embassy office area. After that there are queues and a place to get a number in the line. To be safe, ensure that you get there early, and plan to be within the Embassy facility for up to 3 hours. If you are still working, consider taking the day off! Your actual consultation will not take more than a few minutes. Usually you will be told that your application has been provisionally approved. They will then take your Passports and send them back to you within 7-10 days. You do not need to bring a self-addressed Express Post Platinum satchel, as the cost of your application includes this (so don’t do what I did and be left with satchels you’ve already written on!) More information can be found at the US Embassy site.

Keep your LCA documentation – will you need it in the future, beginning when you land in the US. Scan it as a backup as well.

While you’re applying for your visa, you should also apply for your Social Security Number (SSN). Almost everything you do in terms of managing your life, especially with a government agency, requires you to get a Social Security Number (SSN). Ironically as a non-US Citizen you are not entitled to any kind of ‘Social Security’. See the Social Secuirty Administration’s page on “Social Security Numbers and Non-Immigrant Visas” here for more details.

Home Affairs

Now that you’ve started your journey to moving overseas, you now need to start considering how to wind up your Australian affairs.

Marriage

If you were like me and in a relationship but not married, you need to take care of that right now. Make haste to the Department of Births, Deaths & Marriages and obtain an application for marriage. From there, the quickest you can get married is 14 days from the day you submit the petition if you prove urgency (a copy of your employment contract would suffice). Time to make a honest woman/man out of your loved one! Sadly the US still does not recognise civil unions or same-sex marriages for the purposes of a E-3D Visa.

Contractual Obligations

Consider any contracts you have that need to be cancelled. Here’s what was on my list, but consider your full picture, as depending on the service you may have to give more than a month or / billing cycle’s notice:

  • Rental Leases
  • Mobile Phone Contracts
  • Internet Access
  • House/Contents Insurance
  • Car/Boat Insurance
  • Health Insurance
  • Magazine Subscriptions
  • Bank Accounts
  • Credit Cards
  • Lay-Bys/Pre-Orders
  • Electricity, Gas, Water accounts
  • Paid frequent flyer programs (e.g. Qantas Club) – unless you plan on using their services within the next membership cycle.

A few notes:

It is best to not cancel your Health Insurance, but rather put it on hold. Depending on your insurance provider, you should get up to 4 years on hold without charge. Check the fine print carefully here however, as some providers may charge you exorbitant fees to take it off hold early. The primary reason to not cancel your membership outright is that once you break a continuous health insurance policy after the age of 31, you lose any Lifetime Health Cover loading. You want to keep your ‘foot in the door’ with insurance until you’re absolutely sure you’re not moving back to Australia beyond the period you’ve put it on hold.

If you’re renting, ask your landlord for a reference (provided you were on good terms with them!) This can come in very handy when looking for places to live in the US. Also obtain a rental ledger to prove how much you were paying. If you owned your property and had a mortgage, prepare a document of your mortgage repayment history.

If you do own property and aren’t intending to sell, consider using a real estate agent to handle the ongoing tenancy. While they will take their percentage (anywhere from 7 to 15 percent per month), you don’t want the hassle of trying to manage your property from the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

If you have an American Express credit/charge card, your membership and payment history will enable you to transfer your card to the United States. To clarify: ‘transfer’ meaning the setup of a new account without long-winded credit checks (given that you will have no credit score/history in the US) – you will still need to arrange to cancel your Australian AMEX.

Don’t set the cancellation of your health, home and contents insurance until the day after you leave Australia. Just in case.

Get your mobile phone unlocked if you’re planning on taking it with you! The smallish fee for doing this is surely cheaper than buying a new phone (unless you were planning to upgrade, in which case it may be cheaper for you to wait until you get to the US).

Document Gathering

Take high quality, colour scans of these documents. You will need these from time to time, especially when working with the US Federal Government but also banks and insurance companies.

  • Birth Certificates
  • Marriage Certificate
  • Drivers Licence (both sides)
  • Passport (including all pages you have any stamps on, not just stamps for US trips)

You should also obtain copies of these documents:

  1. Driving Record (for all states you’ve lived in in the last 10 years)
  2. National Police Check, if you’ve ever had one done. They are only about $50 to have one performed and can be handy for later immigration or future employment background checks / clearance.

Keep in mind that if you need to print them in the US, you will need to select Legal paper size if it’s a full A4 document.

Clean House

If you’re like me, you will have a full apartment or house worth of belongings. You’ll have to decide what to keep and what sell or dispose of. Consider the following:

  1. The United States uses 110 Volt power outlets, where Australia uses 240 Volt outlets. Most modern computer equipment will happy switch voltage automatically (or they may have a small toggle switch where the power supply is), but most other items will not. That means all of your whitegoods, bathroom & household appliances, tools etc aren’t going to work. I would strongly suggest you sell anything you aren’t overly attached to – most rental properties come with a Refrigerator, Washing Machine and Dryer anyway. Smaller appliances are a lot cheaper in the US so you won’t go broke replacing everything (depending on your taste and budget). For items you don’t want to take, Ebay or Gumtree are your best bet. Just take the usual care with selling to strangers.
  2. For those electrical items you do want to take, you can buy voltage inverters.
  3. Keep in mind any kind of region locking for home theatre devices and gaming consoles (the Wii U and Nintendo DS are region locked, Xbox 360 and PS3 are a mixed bag of games which are and are not region locked).
  4. If you have a vehicle and are planning to sell it, don’t state in your advertisement that you’re moving overseas – people will try to screw you on price. You should however disclose this prior to completing the final sale (at least, I would.)
  5. Take this opportunity to decide what you really want to take with you. Do you want those t-shirts you haven’t worn in 3 years? Shoes with a hole in them? Books you’ll never read again? That crockery set your mother bought you and you’ve never taken out of the box? Don’t just throw all of this away – Goodwill groups such as St. Vincent De Paul, Salvation Army etc. will take a lot of household items in good condition. Reach out to your local Goodwill or check out their website for more details on what they will take from you.
  6. Check with your local council regarding hard rubbish pickup – they will take most household items with some restrictions on items such as chemicals, TVs, etc. Check with your council via their website. Use your new adventure as an excuse to get rid of old items you don’t mind parting with.
  7. Keep in mind that you cannot take most liquors, foodstuffs etc into the US, so you’ll have to part ways with the content of your liquor cabinet (US customs provide some flexibility here with small quantities you can take  – see the US Customs website here for more information.) What my friends have done in similar situations is have a “don’t BYO” party, and you can all enjoy consuming all the alcohol you’ve been collecting.

Removalists

There are several big players out there who do overseas moves regularly (I am not going to mention any names here as I have had a semi-bad experience with the one I used, but you can contact me directly if you want to know more), so you can usually get a fairly decent price. That said, be prepared for this to be expensive.

  1. Contact at least three companies and arrange for an onsite visit. They will walk through your house/apartment with you and based upon your feedback (e.g. you can tell them that certain items aren’t coming with you) they will give you a quote.
  2. US Customs strongly prefer the removalists to do the actual packing of boxes. What this means is that the removalists must account for the contents of each box before it is sealed. If the shipment is classified as “owner packed”, US Customs may (and mostly likely will) hold onto your items a lot longer, so spend the extra money for the full packing service. For any particular sensitive or fragile items, pack the box yourself but leave the box unsealed so the removalist can perform a visual inspection prior to them sealing it. Plus, the removalists will know how to best wrap & pack items for long journey.
  3. Get insurance. It is usually about 3-4% of the total value you specify. The insurance should cover transit door to door (and anywhere from 7 to 30 days after your items are delivered to your US address, depending on the removalist/insurance company). Don’t be the one person who doesn’t get insurance who gets a phone call one day to inform you that your container fell off the ship and you’re left with nothing to show for it.
  4. The removalist will most likely quote you for a “shared container” versus “sole container”. A shared container means that your boxes will be put into a shipping container with other people’s boxes destined for the US. A sole container means you get one all to yourself. The benefit of the shared container is that it can be several thousand dollars cheaper. The biggest drawback is that the removalist/shipping company will not book space on a vessel until the container you’re in is full. In my case I had to wait 6 weeks before the ship departed Sydney. A sole container will basically ship as soon as space on a vessel is ordered and available.
  5. Most ships leaving the Australian east coast will travel via China and South East Asia first. As such, the travel time on the vessel will be about 5 to 6 weeks. It is best that you plan to not see your belongings for 12-14 weeks from the date of collection from your Australian residence (and potentially longer if you are coming from the Australian west coast and/or to the US east coast).

Final Preparation

Utilise the maximum luggage allowance you get with whichever airline you plan to use, and investigate how much their excess baggage fees are. Given how long you will be without your belongings, you will want to bring a lot of clothes, toiletries, etc with you directly rather than waiting for the shipping container to arrive. You can buy cheap suitcases for $40-50 from many outlets – ultimately they only need to last this one trip but hopefully will of course be usable for longer than that. In my case we relocated with 4 suitcases, a laptop bag and a backpack, but realised after we arrived in the US and looked up the benefits of my tier of Airline Club membership that we were in fact entitled to a third 23kg bag each. Doh! One friend of mine did his entire US move with about 6 suitcases.

If you take prescription medication, talk to your doctor about a “Regulation 24” script. This means the doctor can authorise you to have your entire set of repeats issued at once. Note that this is at the doctor’s discretion and they may not agree to do this for any kind of addictive medication. Ensure that any medication which requires refrigeration can survive a 24-36 hour period outside of those conditions. This will just make it easier for your first few months in the US. Don’t throw away the boxes, partly in case if you are queried by US Customs when you arrive in the US, and partly because when you finally do see a doctor in the US they will rely on knowing the active ingredients and dosages rather than the brand name which often aren’t the same in the US.

If you’re entitled to any discounts through your health insurance such as sunglasses etc, you should consider taking that up prior to leaving to get your money’s worth.

Ensure you use, sell or give away any gift cards, vouchers etc. which expire before you can foresee returning to Australia. No point throwing that money away.

Your employer’s health insurance will not kick in until the day you start, so I strongly recommend that you obtain travel insurance for the few days/weeks you will be in the US prior to your start date.

Welcome to the United States

Congratulations! Now the real craziness will begin.

Social Security Number

If you didn’t apply for your SSN when you applied for your Visa, the Social Security Administration must be your first stop after you get to the US. Check their website to find the closest one to you. You need to complete a SS-5 Form along with required identity documentation. Get used to filling out a lot different forms when dealing with State and Federal Government agencies.

I-94 Number

When you arrived into the US, you will have had an I-94 number assigned to you, which is not given to you explicitly when you arrive into the US. Historically there was a time when this used to be a paper form that you filled out, but now it is done electronically. You will need this number, and luckily it is very easy to obtain this number. Click here to fill out the form, which is quick and free. Once you press submit, provided you entered the data in correctly, you will be given a receipt page with your I-94 number clearly marked. Make a note of this number as well as keeping a copy in PDF form or print it out. You will need it in the future.

Employment Authorization Document (for Spouses)

If your spouse who intends to work, they must obtain an Employment Authorization Document, or EAD. Without this they cannot even apply for work, and painfully cannot get a SSN. This requires filling out an I-765 Form and submitting the application by mail, along with a cheque (which in the US is referred to as checks) for $380. Make sure your form is filled out exactly right, as these applications can rejected for even minor errors, and the average processing time is 90 days, so it’s a long turnaround time for resubmission. Some handy tips (although please consult the I-765 handbook to ensure you have the right data – don’t just take my word for it) for particular parts of the form:

  • Question 10: Enter your I-94 number.
  • Question 14: E-3D
  • Question 15: “Spouse of E-3 Visa holder”
  • Question 16: (  a  )  (  17  )  (      )

Pre-Paid Mobile Number

Get yourself a pre-paid SIM card and/or pre-paid phone if you don’t have an unlocked phone. As of June 2013, you can now get data on a pre-paid account in the US (which came as a huge relief when I discovered this!) Your employer will most likely give you a phone and/or SIM card under a corporate contract, but if you’re bringing a dependents with you they will need a phone to make things easier.

Bank Account

You will need to set yourself up with a bank account. If you don’t have your SSN yet you can still set this up, but you will need to supply this to your bank as soon as you can for tax purposes. You will most likely get a checking account, so welcome (or welcome back, if you’re old enough) to having a checkbook. As a courtesy they should provide you with a “void” check which you may need on your first day at your employer for the purposes of getting up your pay deposit. The truth is that your Routing Number (like a BSB) and Account Number are printed on the bottom of the check, and payroll prefer to see the numbers to prevent typos leading to you not getting paid.

Most banks will also give you a debit card with your account which can prove very handy if you don’t have a US credit card – most of time is unobtainable in the first few months due to your lack of credit history.

Transferring Money Abroad

Once you have a US bank account established, you can begin to transfer funds across. The easiest way is via a bank transfer, although there are other options like travel money cards, etc. If you are planning on moving more than AUD$5,000 across, I would recommend a company such as HiFX who will charge no fee for a large transaction and will give very competitive rates against the USD (they make their money by transferring it at a time where they can make the most from changing FX rate by analysing the market). It will usually take 7-10 days to arrive into your US bank account. Keep an eye on the AUD:USD FX Rate to determine when the best time is to buy.

I recommend keeping some money in Australia for two reasons: firstly for any bills which haven’t arrived yet (e.g. final electricity or gas bills) or any bills in the future (Accountants, credit card annual fees, etc), and secondly because of the appallingly low interest rate in the US – most banks will give you less than 1% interest per annum. If you have considerable savings that you don’t want to bring with you straight away, keep it in Australia.

Post Office Box

Your employer may be fine with you receiving packages, but if not I would recommend you get a Post Office Box. I personally got a UPS box which was a few streets away from my office. You can rent a tiny PO box and still receive packages – they just leave a note in your box. The price isn’t too unreasonable per quarter, and if you are receiving a lot of packages it pays off in the long term. It also provides you with a way to receive packages/letters discreetly if sending them to your eventual place of residence isn’t feasible or preferable.

Drivers License

Depending on which state in the US you are going to be living in, most State laws mandate that new residents must obtain a new license within anywhere from 10 to 30 days. ‘Residents’ are defined are those paying tax / earning an income, so your dependents are excluded for now (as they cannot apply for a drivers license until they obtain an SSN, although this does vary by state and may require a letter from the Social Security Administration). Obtaining a new license requires you to set a written test, followed by an in-car test with a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) instructor. So much for getting your L & P plates and being done with it! Start reading up on the handbook of your new US State (as an example, here is the Californian handbook). If you’re an experienced driver in Australia most of this will be familiar to you, but there are subtle differences in laws and expected behaviors (and that whole driving on the right side of the road thing).

Health Insurance

A understatement would be to say that health insurance in the US is complicated. There could be a whole post just on this topic, so I’ll distill a few key elements.

There are three main forms of health insurance:

  • HMO. The cheapest plan for your employer and for you, but restricts you to only seeing doctors within the ‘network’ that your insurance provider covers. Often restricted to the state where you live in – out of state coverage is usually limited to emergency room visits only. Lower co-pays (like “gap payments” in Australia). You cannot see a specialist without a referral from your Primary Care Physician (your doctor).
  • PPO. You can see doctors & specialists “in network” and “out of network”, but the latter will cost you more in terms of co-pays. Usually provides national coverage. This is generally the most expensive coverage for your employer to pay but also the most flexible for you.
  • HSA. Provides the flexibility of the PPO in terms of in network/out of network coverage, however you must pay all expenses out of pocket first. The HSA system where you can contribute money pre-tax into the account, and no tax is charged if you use that money for medical expenses. This means a higher out of pocket cost for you, but the pre-tax framework may be of benefit to you. There is a cap on how much you can contribute, but you don’t lose any leftover funds at the end of the year.

I cannot tell you which one is right for you, as it is very much a personal decision based upon your specific needs. Talk to your HR department, friends, colleagues etc to determine the right choice for you. There are also a ton of websites which go into detail about this.

Once you make a decision as to which plan you want, you cannot change it again until the next “Open Enrollment” period (which is traditionally once a year), or if you have a “Qualifying Event” such as marriage, divorce, birth/adoption of a child, etc. You usually get 30 days from your employment start date to lock it in.

Also ensure that you have the right level of coverage for your dependents, as every employer will treat this differently. Some will pay 100% of the premium for your whole family, some may be 100% for you and 75% for your spouse, or some other combination. You may need to seek additional coverage if your family isn’t fully covered.

Accountant/CPA

The Tax system in the US is really hard to follow. For example, in California you have to pay state income tax as well as federal income tax. When you start your job, there will be many forms for you to fill out, part of which discusses your “withholding status” – this is to do with your family situation (if you have a spouse, kids, etc) and how much money your employer should be taking out pre-tax based upon how much money your household is earning and which tax brackets are applicable to you. I strongly recommend obtaining the counsel of a CPA prior to filling out these forms so you can get proper advice – if you end up specifying too low of a withholding status, you will owe the Internal Revenue Service (IRS, akin to the ATO) money when you file your tax return. I would recommend that a CPA does your tax return; the few hundred dollars you may spend with that will save you potential headaches by doing it yourself.

Buying A Car

Despite the often negative perception that Craigslist gets, it is actually a great place to find cheap used cars. I bought my car from Craiglist, as well as several of my friends who live in the US. Buying used cars privately is generally a lot cheaper than going through a dealer, but perhaps a little more risky. Ensure that you check the car thoroughly when you take it for a test drive. Websites like this and this provide more information about what to check for when inspecting a vehicle.

When you purchase a car and formally change the title over, ensure that you take this to your state’s DMV within 5 to 10 days (state laws will vary; California law states that when a car is sold that the DMV must be notified within 5 days). Some states will also charge a sales tax with the purchase, payable to the DMV.

There is no cooling off period with buying a vehicle – all sales are final. Your only recourse is through the courts if you believe you were sold a lemon or were sold something where the seller was intentionally misleading. Make sure you’re careful with your purchase.

Renting A Place To Live

Once again Craigslist comes in handy here, as well as websites like Trulia, to assist with searching for a place to live. If you’re relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area or to Manhattan, be prepared to pay a lot more than what you’re used to. I ended up paying about 25% more per month for a similarly sized place that I had in Sydney. In Manhattan the prices are astronomical; consider living in Brooklyn or across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

Trying to find a place to live in the US is very similar to the Sydney to Melbourne; you keep an eye out for places you like and the inspection times, turn up at the specified time and find 20 other people looking as well. Come well prepared; photocopies of references, rental histories, the page of your employment contract which specifies your salary, etc. You will be at a disadvantage because you have no US rental history, so you need to work harder to show yourself to be the best tenant for the landlord. In addition to the standard “First & Last” payments (first month’s rent up front, and the last month’s rent up front as a bond), you may have to pony up an additional month if the landlord likes you but is paranoid about your lack of local history. Don’t be extorted however; good landlords are looking for good people as well as a stable source of income. You have to sell them on how good you are as well, not just being grateful for a potential tenancy opportunity.

If you’re looking for a share house environment, Craigslist is also a good place to start.

Non-Health Insurance

Car insurance is a mandatory requirement in most states in the US. Shop around to find a good real. Every car insurance company will want evidence of your driving record going back at least 6 years. If you cannot provide it will you will still get insurance, but at a much higher price. If you are a good driver (little or no infringements, and no serious accidents/misconduct) and can prove it, insurance will be a lot cheaper.

Contents insurance is extremely cheap compared to Australia, and if you bundle it into your Car insurance premium you will save on both.

Your United States Life

Credit Score

You need to be aware that your Credit Score is a valuable asset in your life. If it’s too low, a lot of service providers may charge you more and insist on deposits or up front payments, and it will also be harder for you to secure loans later. The maximum score is 850. You should aim to keep your score above 600 at least. Here are some ways you can do this:

  1. Pay your bills on time! If you do nothing else, do this. Companies will burn you hard if you’re even a day late in paying. Some companies now offer late payment forgiveness, but don’t get into that situation. This includes paying your landlord. If someone you pay has your SSN, they can affect your Credit Score. Set up direct debits for all of your bills where possible, and keep on top of your recurring payments to ensure you never miss a due date.
  2. Keep your credit card debt under control – if you cannot pay off the balance every month, ensure you don’t get too over your head for too long.
  3. Don’t apply for too many credit cards and other services.

More information can be found on the NASDAQ website, or you can just Google it.

Store Club Memberships

What were fairly useless in Australia can pay off dividends here. Joining up to the clubs of your local supermarket, drug store, etc can yield you savings with specials, discounts, 2-for-1’s, etc (example: the cereal I like is normally $5 each, but with a Safeway Club card a special was offering it at 5 boxes for $10). You also earn rewards points for your purchases, which is real money for taking money off a later purchase.

The downside of this is that these companies start to get a pretty good idea of your spending habits and behaviours, but I personally take the reward of lower cost over the risk of spam.

Coupons

As a kid I remember “Shop-A-Docket”, where you got semi-useful coupons printed on the back of your supermarket shopping receipt. It didn’t seem to last the distance and to my mind died off a long time ago.

Americans love their coupons – almost every time I go to any kind of chain store people are paying with a combination of coupons and cash. If you have the patience to collect them, they may prove useful to you. Undoubtedly you will receive a ton of it in your mailbox at home anyway.

There’s also Groupon and several other similar websites which offer substantial savings off various goods and services.

Costco

For a a $55 per year fee, you get access to an incredible warehouse of goods in bulk. When you’re first setting up your new home, this place is invaluable. And over time it’s still a great place to shop. If you like massive containers of sauce or 20 rolls of paper towels in one box, this is the place to go. They even sell garage doors, hot water systems, and holidays. I was excited to go my first time, and I was not disappointed.

The Imperial System

Say goodbye to the metric system. You’ll need to start learning your conversions for inches, feet, yards, miles, pints and gallons pretty quickly. Don’t even get me started on Fahrenheit.

Your Emergency Plan

At the beginning of this post I talked about the third downside of the E-3 visa: losing your job means you have 10 days to leave the country. This sucks, but those are the breaks of this opportunity. Most decent employers if they have to terminate you (provided it isn’t because you’ve done something very wrong) will give you some notice before formally letting you go (and filing the paperwork with the USCIS), however you still need to plan what to do next.

The key to having a plan for this is networking. This should be a basic part of your career plan anyway, to establish networks with people in your companies. If the worst happens, reach out to your connections quickly. If you’re lucky, you may find someone who will take over the sponsorship of your Visa. You may have to take a pay cut and an adverse change in conditions, but it can get on your feet again and provide you time to find something more permanent.

The Final Piece of Advice

Enjoy yourself! Hopefully moving to the US is a positive career move for you, but despite the wackiness of guns and government shutdowns, the United States of America is a pretty amazing place to live. Enjoy seeing shows as they air, not waiting weeks for them to arrive on Australian TV at 11:30pm. Enjoy cheap movie tickets ($10.75 at my local big cinema), cheap gigs and seeing bands who rarely or never perform in Australia. Make the most of your time in the US.

Useful Resources

Ernest Semerda’s advice on moving to the Bay Area.

Advance.org’s article about the E-3 Visa.

Have I Missed Something?

I hope this guide provides useful to you. If I have missed anything you believe I need to clarify or add anything, please let me know.

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12 comments on “The E-3 Journey
  1. This is a phenomenal post. I feel like it should be broken out into a handbook, it’s that comprehensive.

    I especially like that you included that the EAD can (or will) take 90 days (I hope Sam gets some good news soon!).

    Adding to the pre-paid phone part. At first glance, Net10 looks like a great pre-paid option because it’s the cheapest MVNO using the AT&T network (which is significantly better than the T-Mobile network which most MVNOs use). However, Net10 don’t allow you to send international SMS (and they don’t say that until you ask).

    Pre-paid with AT&T directly, via GoPhone, is slightly more expensive but includes international SMS and access to the 4G LTE network (which no AT&T MVNO provides).

    What was the name of the system you mentioned where you pay $100 per year for access to a network of doctors? It’s probably worth including that under Health Care too.

    • Steven Plunkett says:

      Thanks for your feedback Brent! Thanks for the pre-paid information too – I’ll include that in my next update.

      One Medical Group was the company I had mentioned to earlier, but that are SF Bay Area only. I’ll think about whether I want to include that in my next update.

  2. Ed says:

    Great post Steven – lots of good info.

    Could you elaborate on the car purchasing and insurance bit please?

    Did you get your SSN already when applying for insurance?

    • Steven Plunkett says:

      Getting your SSN is pretty much the cornerstone of everything else you do in the United States. You don’t need a SSN to purchase a car, but you need your SSN to get a local license and to get insurance for your vehicle. Getting your SSN is pretty much the first thing you should do when you get to the US (or if you’re more proactive, you can send the application in advance with your Visa if I recall correctly – check the Social Security website for more details).

  3. Christina says:

    Hi Steve,
    Fantastic info, thank you for sharing your journey!
    Question. Do you know how long it takes for the credit score to recognise you in full? I have been here for 14 months and cannot get a home loan. I have a car loan, credit card & personal loan my bank gave me after being her for 6 months, but, apparently, you need 3 x credit score companies to prove your history, and I only have 2.
    Do you know if its a specific period of time to wait and if so, how long?

    Also, want to make you all aware. I was successful in obtaining my E3 via Canada. I did see them reject alot of people when I went but they were not Australians. Vancouver were very pleasant and welcomed an Aussie in the building. I did get very good treatment, although, I do not have a degree. I have equivalent experience in years of working in the same role. It can be done, you just have to be sure of yourself, don’t lie about anything, just tell the truth when they ask you questions. Its always a good policy.

    Thanks,
    Christina.

    • Steven Plunkett says:

      Hi Christina,

      Thanks for your comment and questions. Sadly I don’t know about the credit score for home loans yet. I know that for a credit card I was told 6 months from when I start using banking services in the US. If you find out before I do, please let me know.

      Thanks for the Canada note. We’ll most likely do that when we go to renew.

      Thanks,

      Steven

  4. rishi says:

    I am Australian citizen looking to move to US I am in IT with 13 years working in Australia. I need help with some good E3 visa consulting companies that can assist in the E3 visa sponsorship

    thx
    Ron

    • Steven Plunkett says:

      I would suggest that you search around and inquire with a few firms to find the right fit for you.

  5. Alicia says:

    Can you write a post on how to transfer jobs on an e3′, or have you?

  6. Craig Welch says:

    I should point out that the ’10 days’ period for which you can stay in the country after leaving your job is a myth. It applies to H1-B visa holders, not to E-3 visas.

  7. Tim Lucas says:

    Have been in the USA on an E3 visa for a little while now… Has anyone got advice on the best savings accounts for an E3 visa holder? Due to the terrorism-induced changes to laws, it seems impossible to get access to an online savings account that offers a decent interest rate if you’re not a permanent citizen. I have a regular checking/savings account, but looking for higher interest and the ability to setup multiple sub-accounts.
    I do miss the Australian banking system!

    • Steven Plunkett says:

      I would argue that the Federal Interest Rate is already so low that any finding a “decent interest rate” is impossible.

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