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Before you Arrive

You're moving to New York! How exciting!

Now you need to start planning for how to negotiate the details of your relocation package and setting yourself up so week one all goes smoothly.

Here are some tips for things that should be at the top of your list.

Health Insurance

No doubt you have heard about how crazy the US health insurance situation is ("repeal and replace" anyone?) Regardless of your political views, you must understand how your health insurance works and the benefits on offer. And it isn't easy. I will never forget my husband opening the bill from the hospital after we had our first baby ... the frantic cry of "Forty-three thousand dollars! Do we have to pay this??" still rings in my head.) Thankfully our health insurance at the time took care of all the charges...but be warned not all coverage is equal!

So make sure you ask about the details of the insurance your, or your partner's, employer provide including:

  • What does the policy cover (and if you are expecting, or hoping to expect, what maternity cover provided)

  • What is the co-pay (the amount, usually expressed as a percentage of the bill, you will pay when you see a doctor.)

  • What is your deductible and maximum out-of-pocket?

Under most plans you will have to incur and personally pay expenses up to a specified amount (called the deductible). After that amount your insurance will cover a percentage of the claims (based on your co-pay) until you have reached your out-of-pocket limit after which your insurance will cover all the costs.

Of course, don't forget to ask how much it costs (and be prepared for it to be eye-watering expensive.) You may get to choose from several different plan options, each with different coverages, co-pays, deductibles and out-of-pockets. It can be pretty confusing so you'll need to do your homework. That said, seven years later and we are still trying to figure out what is best for us!

Corporate Accommodation

Regardless of which Australian city you live in, renting is New York is crazy expensive and finding the perfect apartment, whether it be a Sex in the City bedsit in West Village or a three bedroom loft in Tribeca (good luck to you!) is going to take some time. Negotiating for your employer to pay for temporary accommodation gives you a chance to find your feet, choose which part of the city you want (and can afford) to live in, find a good broker and inspect some apartments. You should try and get at least four weeks of temporary accommodation paid for by your employer.

Bank Accounts

Its hard to believe, but its true. The 1990s called New York City and wants its banking system back (seriously - you will need to brush up on how to write a 'check' again.)

Without a permanent address and social security card, it is extremely difficult to set up a bank account. And its almost impossible to get a permanent address without a bank account! So speak to your current bank in Australia, and your employer, to see how they can help you. Citibank and HSBC both have services suitable for NYC ex-pats.

Credit Cards

You may have been using credit cards and paying off a mortgage in Australia for decades. It doesn't matter - you have zero credit history in America and that means pretty much every credit card provider won't want to do business with you. Fortunately there are two paths you can go down here:

1. If you have a priority / platinum card in Australia (e.g. American Express Platinum) call customer service and ask what they can do for you. Usually they will be able to set up an American account for you if you give them enough lead time.

2. Get a "secured" credit card to start building up a credit history. When we arrived we didn't realize how hard getting a credit card would be so, after several failed credit applications we spoke to Capitol One about their secured card. A secured credit card lets you buy your designer bags and cocktails just like a traditional credit card, but you only get one after paying the bank a set amount of money first (a security deposit) typically in the range of $500 - $1000. Sure this is a pain, but once you have one set up and have made a couple of monthly payments on-time you'll start building a credit history and can move on to a regular way card. Pretty soon, you'll have so many credit card offers stuffed in your mail box you'll need a separate recycling bin just to file them all.


"Why don't they just add the tip to the bill" he says.

"But we have to tip, they only earn minimum wage!" she says.

"Ok, so how much should we tip" they both ask.

Love it or hate it, tipping is a way of life in the Big Apple. Don't try and fight it - it will get the locals offside, make your fellow Aussie's uncomfortable and probably result in you collapsing in exhaustion from the effort.

You will tip everyone from barstaff ($1 per drink), the delivery guy ($2 - $4 per visit) to your doorman at Christmas ($50 - $100+ per doorman ... and its "the holidays" not Christmas) . In restaurants, a simple rule is to simply double the tax shown on the bill.

If you aren't sure how much to tip, don't overcomplicate things - simple math works well. Usually you'll get away with 15% of the bill but 20% is closer to the mark if you'll be frequenting a spot. A smile and friendly "thank you" also helps. Aussies have a bad reputation when it comes to tipping.

You do get a little respite - no tipping expected in department stores, shops, supermarkets or pharmacies.

Airport Transfers

Depending on what time of day you are arriving and whether you are traveling solo, with a partner or as a whole family you have a couple of options to get from the airport into the city. Some are better than others.

  • Taxi: Grab a yellow cab from JFK for a flat rate $52 plus tolls. If you are coming into Newark or La Guardia the fare will be metered but expect to pay $40 - $60. You'll need to stand in line at the airport and wait times can be anywhere from 2 minutes to an hour at rush hour - not pleasant in mid-winter with little kids! Speaking of kids, whilst you should bring a car seat to put the little ones in, most taxi drivers won't have a problem with you holding them on your lap - we have certainly never had an issue on this front. Of course, YMMV (your miles may vary) and you need to do whatever you think is right for you, your family and the safety of your kids.

  • Just like Australia, taxi quality can vary dramatically depending on vehicle type and the driver's ability (a lot of taxi drivers consider themselves a formula one racer in training).

  • Car Service: Dial 7 and Carmel are the two commonly advertised car services that offer pre-booked rides in a Lincoln town car. Cost is pretty comparable to a taxi (usually around $50) and we have found the quality to be pretty good - its simply a great deal compared to a yellow taxi. You can pre-book a car with car seats for little tigers if you need them (though there will be an extra charge for car seats). You can also pay extra (almost double) to have them meet you at the exit to baggage claim. Otherwise you have to call customer service to let them know you have arrived and wait five minutes or so for the assigned car to arrive.

  • UBER another car option, you will need to order the car from your App once you are curb side and as you know Uber works on demand so if it is peak hour or bad weather the ride will be more expensive. Usual quotes are between USD$50-90.

Home Living

As I said above, renting in New York is expensive. Very expensive. So its likely your apartment won't be as big as your home in Australia. You need to take that into account when planning what furnishings to ship to your new abode.

Regardless of whether you are shipping your couch ("sofa") and King bed from home, or buying them new from Bloomingdales, keep in mind they have to be carried up the fire stairs or fit in a service elevator to get to your apartment. Many a new sofa has been returned to the store because there was no way to get it into the new apartment.

If you have a stroller, its also worth taking the size of the elevator into account when house hunting. Strollers that don't fold easily may not fit inside and have to be left in the foyer ("lobby").

Most apartments won't have any outdoor space. And much to your husband's disappointment its illegal to use BBQ's on balconies - so leave them at home.

Finally, you are probably aware that the US has different electric outlets from Australia. Most of your electric goods will work if you bring an adapter so don't forget to pack a couple. You can buy adapters from a pharmacy when you get here but they tend to be more expensive.

That's it! Good luck with the planning and the move. It can be a little daunting at first but remember you are moving to one of the greatest cities in the world.

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