I’ve been out here for 6 months now. At the point in time I was coming out I was pointed at Andrew Pollock’s On bootstrapping oneself in the US. I figure some extra data may be useful for anyone considering the same. I moved from the UK rather than Australia.


I sorted out my US banking long before I ever moved here; in fact I kicked the process off shortly after I accepted the move offer. Matthew had recommended the HSBC approach, so I did that. This meant when I arrived I had a credit card, debit card and check book. They also allow me to do really easy online transfers between my US and UK accounts.

Mobile phone

My mobile phone was something else that was dealt with before the move. I bought a Simple Mobile SIM off eBay. I thought I’d end up moving to a contract once I had a credit record here, but actually the $60/month unlimited tariff seems to be fairly reasonable. Their customer service leaves a lot to be desired, but I’ve sadly come to expect that from phone companies. I’ve got a Google Voice account which is the number I’ve been giving out, so it’s easily for me to switch providers (or redirect things to a VOIP setup for when I’m back in the UK, but I’ve got a writeup to do for that at a later point in time).

Finding somewhere to live

One of my concerns was that it would be hard to find somewhere to live at short notice without any credit history or SSN. This turned out to be ill founded. Both of the managed apartment complexes I looked at were ok with the fact I’d just moved to the country and seemed used to such a setup. The place I went with is privately leased and was a bit more wary, but after a conversation with my US manager (who’d managed me even when I was in the UK) it was fine.

Social Security Number

AKA existing as an entity as far as the US is concern. I was told to wait at least 10 working days after entry before even applying for this, or I wouldn’t be in the system and it could cause delays. I did so and the card turned up within about a week (I had been told up to 2 weeks). Which was good, because work were having problems figuring out how to pay me without one.

You do seem to need the SSN for everything. The only times I can remember needing my National Insurance number in the UK is for new jobs and my E111 application.

Driving licence

I haven’t ended up buying a car here; I pretty much don’t need one most of the time and I’ve signed up to ZipCar for easy short term rentals - they’re happy to take a UK licence for sign up. However I figured getting a licence here was a good idea in case I did decide to get a car, and even just for ID (I kept having to point people at the DOB on my UK licence - everywhere here seems to card). Applying for a licence ideally relies an SSN, so I did so a few days after I’d got that. I did the car + motorbike written tests and got my learner’s permit. I applied for the car theory test the same day, but the first available slot was about 6 weeks later. During this period I did the CMSP basic RiderCourse, which meant that when I passed the car test I was also fully entitled to ride a motorbike here.

Other useful notes

As I live in the Bay Area I got myself a ClipperCard - it’s like Oyster except without the clever discounts. Works on more agencies though and helps avoid having to sort out change. For broadband I went with Sonic.net - I’m in their ADSL2 coverage area so I’m getting a reasonable 17Mb/s connection. The other options were AT&T ADSL (slower) or Comcast cable (evil). I’ve had zero problems with Sonic; It Just Works.

Also I sort of ended up with a trial run thanks to DebConf10 being in New York. Due to the way timings worked out this took place only a few weeks before my move to SF was scheduled. My banking and phone were already in place by this point, so it allowed me to check both were working ok. They were, and I didn’t really expect them not to be, but it was a nice safety net to have for the move proper.

Overall the main issue I had was that a lot of things were dependant on other things; get the SSN, get a learner’s permit, apply for the practical test, wait for the licence to actually turn up etc. It probably took over 3 months for everything to actually happen and come through in the post. I can tell when I actually started to exist in the system because Capital One began junk mailing me about whether I want a credit card with them…