You’ve arrived. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping… the sirens are wailing and the horns are honking. Welcome to New York City!
No doubt your friends have already given you a list of all the great cafés and restaurants you “just have to try”, the latest designer shops to visit … and of course, you have to see Carrie Bradshaw's apartment in Greenwich Village and have a cupcake from nearby Magnolia bakery.
But, first things first. You need to get your family set up for life in The City. Here are five tips to get you started.
1. Get a Cell Phone (mental note: it’s no longer called a mobile)
If you brought your phone with you from Australia (and remembered to get it unlocked by your mobile carrier) then your best bet is probably to head over to Cricket Wireless and get a month-to-month plan where you don’t have to commit to a long-term contract. Cricket is owned by AT&T, one of America’s biggest telephone companies and shares its network – so you get pretty good (not perfect) coverage around the country. I currently use their service and think it is excellent.
Monthly plans at Cricket start at $30/month which provides unlimited calling and enough data for about 1000 emails (1GB) but I recommend starting with either the $40/month plan (to get enough data to handle your latte-induced email frenzies) or, if you’ll be sending a lot of text messages to Australia, get the $50/month plan which includes even more data and unlimited international text messaging to 38 countries, including Australia.
If you didn’t bring your phone with you, but still like the Cricket Wireless plans, you can buy a phone directly from them or get one on EBay. If you do this, expect the to pay more up-front than you will if you buy a phone with a one-to-two year contract with one of the bigger, national carriers (more on that in a sec). Apple and Best Buy also sell their phones on financing plans which are worth checking out – if you can qualify for the financing.
You can also get prepaid or monthly plans with a range of other providers. The three I see the most are AT&T (we were with AT&T for the first five years we were here), Verizon and
T-Mobile. All have good cell coverage in the city, though apparently T-mobile gets a bit patchy nationwide – so you should probably avoid it if you will be doing a lot of domestic travel. Verizon also uses a type of cellular network that doesn’t exist in Australia. That means you can’t connect your Aussie phone to their network or take your NY phone back to Australia and put it on an Aussie plan if you decide to move back.
AT&T offers unlimited talk, text, and data for $35 for 30 days on one of its Go-Plans. Just walk into any AT&T store and they will set you up on the spot. (You can use your Aussie phone.)
2. Apply for a Social Security Number
One of the first things an Aussie Mum needs in New York (besides a mani and pedi) is a Social Security Number (“Social” or “SSN”). This is like a tax file number in Australia and you’ll need it to do anything from getting a bank account, renting an apartment and filing your tax returns.
Its free to get one … and the application process is about as exciting as getting your car registered back home (without the visit to the mechanic) – you fill out a form, submit it in person at the Social Security Office (where you will likely wait 30 – 60 minutes with 50 of New York’s finest residents… after which you will receive your social security card in the mail a week or so later (you don’t get one on the spot.)
You can use the https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp (Social Security office locator] to find the office closest to you and the hours they are open. You can also visit social security website to find out what documents and identification you will need to bring with you (remember, they only accept originals.)
Finally, once you have your "Social” remember to keep it safe. It isn’t uncommon to hear tales of people who had their identity stolen on the basis of a “found” SSN.
3. Set up a Bank Account
Ok, so you have your phone and have a Social Security Number on the way. Next step is to get yourself a bank account.
You will probably have to wait until you have your Social Security number before you set up your account. You will also need a local address and a phone number. There are plenty of branches around, so find one near you and just walk in and ask exactly what that specific bank will require.
When setting up your account, you should opt for a checking account instead of a savings. Paying by cheque, (‘check’ ), is still common practice in the U.S.A. The checking account will allow you to deposit money, withdraw cash, and write cheques. You will also get an ATM card and a check book.
We set our first account up with HSBC which was pretty seamless but switched after a year or so to Chase which has (or at least had at the time) better online payment options (Chase-Pay lets us automatically pay our rent each month).
If you can, try and set up a bank account in Australia with a bank that operates in NYC, it may make the whole set up process here much easier. For example, Citi Bank and HSBC operate in Australia as well as New York City.