(Ken Struys' Blog)

web-developer, serious schemer

Tips for a Canadian Developer moving to San Francisco

I moved to San Francisco about 3 months ago. Before moving I read Ian Chan's Tutorial about developers moving to the US and found it very useful. Step 1, read Ian's post, his post saved me a lot of trouble. I had a very similar experience and I decided I would share some of my advise as well.

Your Visa

There are two different Visa you can get as a Canadian working in the US, the H1B and the TN. H1B allow temporarily employment of foreign workers in speciality occupations (engineering, medicine, law, etc). The duration of the H1B is usually 3 years and can be extended to up to 6 years. The TN is a visa under NAFTA that is unique to Canadians and Mexicans seeking work in the US again in speciality occupations.

Some major difference between these visas:

  • TN can be renewed indefinitely but is a temporary visa that does now allow for permanent residence status like the H1B (You can eventually apply for a green card with the H1B)
  • Your TN is approved at the border/airport which involves an interview process. Your employer will typically hire a immigration employer to prepare you for the interview. With the H1B you are pre-approved you show them your visa documentation fill out an i94 form and they staple it in your passport.
  • There is a yearly cap on the number of H1Bs. There's no cap on the number of TNs
  • Your TN can be revoked whenever entering the US. You must to carry your documentation with your whenever you re-enter. The H1B is pre-approved and is accepted for multiple entry.

Try your best to get a H1B. The process for your employer is a little more difficult/expensive but it allows for a lot more flexibility - You can apply for a Green Card, easier when going on vacation/home, no interview.

If you end up going down the TN route, don't apply for your visa on the day you're flying out. If you get rejected you can re-apply the next day. Also don't apply for the visa at a major airport, they are generally more strict. If you're from Ontario, go to Niagara Falls.

Finding an Apartment

San Francisco real estate is very expensive. Most 1 bedroom apartments are between $1900-$2600/month. It does sound like a lot of money but when you consider the average engineering salary in this city, it's not that crazy. Don't let the cost of the city stop you from moving down here.

When you come down to interview, try to stay longer than 24 hours so that you have time to see all of the different neighbourhoods. The different neighbourhoods are all very different and have very different restaurants, apartments, noise levels, etc. I ended up really liking Nob Hill, Telegraph Hill and SOMA.

Once you're a couple weeks away from moving down start looking at apartments, figure out where you would want to stay and setup appointments to see apartments. I managed to find a place I loved within 1 week but I know of people who spend months living out of suitcases because they didn't hustle to find a place right away. Also if you're shipping anything to the country, you don't want to be without your stuff for an extended period of time while finding your apartment. Try padmapper to find an appartment.

During the one week I was looking for my apartment, I stayed at the Mayflower Hotel. It was $90/night, very clean, had a small kitchenette and was in a neighbourhood I was considering. Airbnb is a great service to find a temporary place but because of my visa I was not sure exactly when I was moving to the city until it was too late to book anything reasonable on Airbnb.

Transferring your Money to the US

I screwed this up big time. I spoke to my bank in Canada and asked them "I'm moving to the states, will I be able to transfer funds to a US account?". The bank ensured me this would be fine but when I arrived in the states it was a completely different story. You can only wire funds from a Canadian account to a US account while you are standing inside your Canadian account home branch. I ended up having to a cash advance on my credit card to get money into the US account and paying off my Canadian credit card with my canadian dollars. Luckily I had a high enough credit limit to advance enough money to cover my first months rent and security deposit.

I would suggest you transfer your funds to a family member's account and have them wire the money from their account to your US bank.

Misc Costs

Be prepared to pay for a lot within your first month especially without a Social Security number. Most services require your SSN (cellphones, internet, cable, electric bills, rent, etc). You won't have your SSN for about a month (assuming you apply right away) and you'll have to pay extra since you don't have your SSN.

  • AT&T and Verzion charge a $500 and $400 security deposits respectively to signup for a contract (You get the deposit back after the first year). I went with T-mobile, they don't charge you anything they just need a copy of your visa.
  • Comcast will charge you a $50 deposit
  • Be prepared to pay a hirer security deposit. Typically the security deposit is around one months rent, because I didn't have a SSN yet it was 2 months
  • Your employer typically can't pay you without your SSN, try to get them to give you a temporary SSN so that you have a reasonable cash flow.

Meeting People

I was fortunate to move down with my girlfriend who took a job at Rapleaf and had a couple good friends already in the city. I can imagine it's a little scary moving to a city where you don't know anyone. Of course you'll make good friends at work since you won't be the the only person in your situation but you can also take advantage of this incredibly nerdy city. Go to meetup.com, search for a programming language or something that interest you. You'll find monthly of pubnights, and presentations taking place within walking distance of your apartment that often have over a hundred people attending. Some of the smartest and coolest people I've met are randoms from the JavaScript pubnight.

If you've randomly stumbled upon this post and have any questions, comment below or shoot me an email. I'll try to answer anything to the best of my ability.