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Common Misconceptions About US Life (Part 1 – New York)

Its interesting when I was thinking about what to talk about today, I was wondering what the average person struggles with. When you first think about moving to the US and imagine life in a particular city, what images conjure in your mind and what experiences do think you will most enjoy?

From this I came up with topic where I will hopefully demistify all that is unclear for you as well as tell some home truths about actual life versus what you might experience on a holiday or see on tv/movies.

Sex and the City is widely seen as one of the main players in the modern female sexual revolution but it also helped glamorize New York as a must live destination beyond what it was already thought to be.

Each year wherever you are in the world, you hear the story about some local home grown star from your region of the world who went to LA and Hollywood after years of struggle and made it big with that major movie, tv deal or recording contract. Then you see things from Paris Hilton parties to the Oscars televised and California also seems like the place to be.

NY and LA are probably top of most people lists of places to visit and potentially live if they desire the US and are two cities which have many benefits you probably aren’t aware of but also huge negatives that you would never really experience properly unless you live there. These are the things I think anyone should consider when moving to any city in the world.

Firstly let’s talk about NY

You watch a sitcom like Friends or Will and Grace and as mentioned above Sex and the City and whole NY experience just seems like 24/7 fun if you love city life. I mean you have hundreds of shows to choose from, thousands of restaurants, conveniences everywhere as things run for 24 hours, life, musical events every day almost, celebrities everywhere without even mentioning the endless famous sites, museums and areas. Then you take in the type of lifestyle they seem to portray on TV with their jobs and it all seems so easy. IT ISN’T

New York City is made up of 5 parts with Manhattan being the most famous (the other FYI are Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx & Staten Island). Now Manhattan rentals are on average the most expensive in the US and the World by a fair way given what you get. The price for a studio so a 1 ROOM apartment with a mini kitchenette and tiny bathroom attached in a middle of the road area of Manhattan usually start around $1,800 USD (so approx 1,260 GBP and 2,770 AUD as I write) per month. While most other living costs in NYC are cheap compared to world standards (although expensive by US standards), the rent alone takes a huge chunk of the average person’s salary. So groceries, utilities, internet/cable, cell phone, etc. are all pretty cheap because of the competitive market. However health costs are not but will leave that for another post 🙂

NY probably work longer hours than most of the country and remember the average US company only gives 2 weeks annual leave and just because a day is a Federal Holiday doesn’t necessarily mean it is a day off. Each company decides that policy (generally 2 federal holidays, Martin Luther King Day in January and Columbus Day is October are often omitted)

So with large expenses, longer hours, tiny apartments and less holidays do you think the slack lives of Joey on Friends or Jack on Will and Grace are even remotely possible!

I am not trying to scare you about life in NY, it is amazing and as mentioned above there is so much to do..all the time BUT be prepared for the reality of NY. It is ultra competitive, it is harsh and ruthless, the people can seem snobby and unfriendly at times and finding a place to live is like Christmas sales in other parts of the world, if you turn your back, it will be gone!

NY has the only fully operational 24/7 subway system in the world. It is 3 times bigger than The Tube in London and has more stations than all the other subways in the US combined. It is easy to get around.

NY is also extremely safe in most areas. From being the most violent and dirty cities in the US in the 70s and 80s, it is now in the top 5 safest cities in the country with very little crime at all given how many people live here. The streets and subways are very clean with barely any graffiti or damage and the police presence is large and visible all the time. You can walk around Central Park at night, take the subway all hours and be perfectly fine. Of course there are the odd really undesirable areas in outer Brooklyn, outer Queens and areas of The Bronx but for the most part everyone is always stunned by how clean and safe the city is.

So while this is only a short outline of NY and only covers some parts and as promised I will do other parts of different cities and aspects of life, I hope this cleared up a few misconceptions in your mind 🙂

Good Luck As Always and Happy Australia Day/Indian Reupublic Day/Chinese New Year


H1Base….in my opinion

Its funny while I am writing this post I have a chat window open for Live Chat Support at H1Base which tells me I have 0 people in front of me and I have 1 minute wait time, yet nobody comes.

I don’t recommend these people or company in any way or whatever it claims to be and this is the reason why and if you have a different story, please feel free to share in the comments section.

Before I first moved to the US to live 3 years ago, I like you was lost and did searches online and H1Base came up in the paid listing in Google along with numerous other people proporting to help you get a work visa (for a fee of course!).

Now after browsing through most of them H1Base seemed the most reputable as it provided genuinely helpful information and didn’t ask to charge you the moment you entered the site as most others did. Additionally the US Diversity Visa Lottery (or Green Card Lottery as it is more commonly known) run by the US State Department was mentioned on there as a simple form you could complete yourself to enter. This is entirely true, it takes all of 5 minutes and is as basic as a form could be and is FREE to enter. However many sites charge a fee to do this for you, claiming all sorts of things and difficulties you may have.
To me the only difficulty you could possibly have  is if you can’t read or speak English. However if that is your issue you wouldn’t be able to understand the site asking for your money anyway 🙂

So I digress, H1Base seemed reputable. It had as one of their offerings at the time and still does when I look at the site a guaranteed job finding service that will not stop until they secure you a H1B visa job (or E3) and you get your visa. On the face of it that sounds awesome given the relatively low price you have to pay (currently under $200USD) but has one major flaw. Ultimately regardless of whether they even do find you a job, there are a few bridges to cross.

Firstly the USCIS (US Customs and Immigration Service) formerly known as the INS, and Department of Labor have to approve separate petitions of the company willing to employ you and pay relevant costs.

If you pass that hurdle then you have the significant hurdle of the Quota for H1B (there is a quota for E3 too although has yet to filled in any year it has been running). H1B applications open each year on April 1 and the last 2 years at least they received in excess of 100,000 application on that first day alone.
So you can see instantly there is an issue. There is huge demand and even if you have ticked every box 100% successfully up to this point you can still lose out here very easily because there is an element of luck involved. Granted there are things that can help having a US Masters Degree or higher (which would have most likely cost you a lot already) which puts you under a different cap, working for an approved  non-profit/government/education institution which are often uncapped, paying the Premium Filing Fee (an extra $1,000) to help expedite your case and have access to your case officer by phone, etc. but in the end this is still out of yours (and H1Base’s hands).

Finally you have to be approved by the US Consulate that you apply too and you can be rejected there for a whole host of reasons either because of something to do with you or the company or both. Consulate’s are funny entities and can operate completely differently depending on the city or country you apply. Generally if you have paid all the fees, you haven’t lied about anything yourself, there is no criminal history, the company documents and fees are in order, etc. you should be fine but there are certainly no guarantees.

So H1Base claim of guarantee of a job and a visa does not mean much when they have no say over 95% of the process!

Now the suspicious aspect of this all for me is that (by the way I am still waiting for that live chat support I mentioned at the beginning) when I was in Australia and I emailed them asking for help, they answered all my questions quickly and fully and seemed very friendly. When I moved to the US initially under a J1 visa and was looking for a permanent work position and contacted them for help via email mentioning I was in Boston, I never once got a response.

Given I was in the US I also thought I would call their numbers as well but the numerous times I tried during normal business hours (given they are supposedly based in Florida and same timezone as me) i went through an endless look of automated answering options and no matter what options I picked I always ended up at a voicemail at the end. Very Suspicious I Think!!

When you look at their site they supposedly have recommendations from Monster and CNN and Universities and maybe its true and maybe it isn’t or it has been taken out of context but I’ll bet if those institutions knew about my experiences they may think twice about their comments.

Anyway I will be back soon again for more help….but otherwise Happy Searching!

CJ (still no response from their Live Chat…surprise, surprise!)

P.S. as a side note, read one of their ridiculous newsletter headlines and then obvious comments from someone from their company below the post (even though he can’t admit it)