Our monthly newsletter contains health and financial news, expat articles, social media recommendations and more.
Moving To The USA On An O-1 Visa
So what qualifies as ‘extraordinary ability’? What does this visa allow you to do, and how difficult is it to get? How did Mia and Dave successfully set themselves up in Los Angeles in just two weeks? How have they got on with landing jobs? What about healthcare? And what culture shocks have they experienced?
Carlie: Hey there. It’s Carlie with another episode of the Expat Focus podcast. For anyone moving or living abroad, our guests share their experiences and offer lots of practical advice to help make your expat journey just that little bit easier.
Do you dream of moving to LA to chase your Hollywood ambitions? Today’s guest has done exactly that. Mia Stewart and her husband Dave packed up their life in Australia, including their pets, and moved to the USA on O1 visas. These ones are for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement. So, what qualifies as extraordinary ability? What does this visa allow you to do and how difficult is it to get? How did Mia successfully set themselves up in Los Angeles in just two weeks? How have they gone with landing jobs? Healthcare? And what culture shocks have they experienced? Keep listening to find out, and if you want to discuss this episode or share your own tips for moving to the States, you can join the conversation on the Expat Focus USA forum or Facebook group.
So, Mia, you and your husband are Aussies. What made you decide to pack up and move to the USA?
Mia: Well, my husband Dave is a composer and I’m a sound editor, and we’ve both been pretty successful and lucky, really, in a way, that we were freelancing back home in Sydney, and we were doing that pretty much fulltime. And we were happy, but we kind of thought, well, we really want to kind of push ourselves and see where we could go. And we either wanted to live in London, Tokyo, or LA. [laughs] And I guess because Hollywood is in LA, it made sense for us and our work to come over here.
Carlie: You’ve been in LA for six months. So today, we’re going to talk briefly about the visa you chose to come over on and how that application process was, and also about the setup process and how you found that.
Mia: For Australians in particular, there’s two kinds of visas that you can get – the E3, which is only for Australians, and you need to have a degree and a work sponsor. And we were going to try for that visa, because it is super cheap. The O1 is very costly. So we wanted to go for the E3 initially. But because we freelance and we go from project to project, film to TV show, we can’t just stick with one employer, so we needed to go for the O1, which allows you to basically freelance for I think up to three years. And the O1 visa is called … it’s a non-immigrant visa, and this sounds really wanky, but it’s for individuals of extraordinary ability. You can’t see that I’m doing quotations marks there. [laughs]
Carlie: [laughs] I did read that on the website actually – individuals with extraordinary ability …
Mia: Ability, yeah.
Carlie: … or achievement. And I’m curious to know, how you prove that in your application.
Carlie: Because my mum thinks I’m very extraordinary, but not necessarily a visa office.
Mia: [laughs] I know, and that’s a kind of really daunting thing. How do you prove that? You really have to get used to talking yourself up. But thankfully, we hired [lawyers] to do that for us. And we have to prove that we are basically in the top of our field, which for Dave is composing and then for me is a sound editor. So we had to provide a list of all of our credits. And for the O1 specifically, say, your extraordinary ability is in science, you either have to have been nominated or won a Nobel Prize. And for our area, which is in the motion picture sciences, it’s Oscar. So, I was part of the team on Mad Max, that won an Oscar, so that kind of pushed up my extraordinary ability, even though I was a part of the team, I didn’t win the Oscar myself. But yeah.
Carlie: You didn’t get to take it home and put it on your mantelpiece.
Mia: No, no. I got to go to the Oscars and hold it up and get free drinks at the [laughs] Dolby Theatre, and take awkward photos next to Matt Damon. But no. [laughs] I didn’t get to win the Oscar myself.
Carlie: But it did get you this visa! So everyone wins.
Mia: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. But it’s much harder to get, and you can’t really do it without lawyers. So, if you can get an E3, if you’re Australian, try to go for an E3, which is an employment-based visa.
Carlie: So, this is a non-immigrant visa, I assume meaning that you’re not going to go the USA and stay there on this visa.
Mia: Yes. You’ll read different things on various websites. But it is non-immigrant. I have also read that it’s much easier for you to transition to a green card from an O1. So it’s kind of deceiving in that you’re going over with the intention to not move permanently, but you are able to then apply for a green card if you wish.
Carlie: There’s a pathway there.
Mia: There is, yeah.
Carlie: You said you also applied for this one with your husband because you don’t have one fulltime employer – so you didn’t have a job lined up already before you moved?
Mia: No, you have to. So, with the O1 visa, you either have to have a petitioner, a company that’s going to say “I will hire you.” So it could be, say, Warner Brothers, or a particular studio or a post-production house will say “This person will work in-house for me.” And then, the other option is to have like an agent who will say “This person will be contracted to me,” and that allows Dave and I to basically freelance for multiple companies. But you need to have what’s called an [itenary], which outlines the work that you’ll be doing over a three-year period. And so, we had to basically have work prospects, so that we’re just … we are coming over here with the intention to work on these projects.
Carlie: It must be really hard, as a freelancer, to future-forecast like that and get people to vouch for you and say, “Oh yeah, we’d give her work.”
Mia: Yeah. And that’s a thing, is that yeah, you kind of already have to have established relationships, which I was … thankfully, I had, through some of the other film projects that I’ve worked with, where we had Americans on our team. And so, I was able to reach out to them and say, “Look, I’m intending to move over. Do you have projects coming up in the next three years that you would hire me for?” And so they were able to write these deal memos which basically say they would hire me for a lead role – because it can’t be a secondary role, it has to be a lead role – for this project.
The big thing with having the lawyers is they can write up all these legal documents that say they’re not legally binding. So if the studio decides to pull the film, which sometimes happens, or the schedule shifts, then you’re okay. [laughs] You’re not going to get kicked out of the country just because a few dates slip.
Carlie: Do you think you could have applied for this O1 visa without the help of lawyers?
Mia: You absolutely can, but it would take you a really long time to do all the research yourself. And the information is out there, but I really don’t recommend it, and I don’t know anyone that’s been successful in getting an O1 without hiring lawyers.
Carlie: So how long did you have to wait between applying for the visa and finding out that you were approved?
Mia: The wait should only really be two weeks to a month. But ours took a lot longer than that. I won’t go into it and I won’t name the firm that we used. But … [laughter] Be prepared. Be prepared for it to take a lot longer than you intend.
We thought we would be over there … we started the process in April. We thought we’d be there by July. We didn’t get here until November. So be prepared to spend a lot of months waiting and not knowing. And that’s the biggest thing, is the frustration of not taking on more jobs because you’re not sure if you would need to pack up and leave. Yeah, so it really should only take two weeks to a month, but it took us … yeah, about six, seven months.
Carlie: And did you have an obligation move within a certain timeframe after getting that approval?
Mia: That’s a good question. I believe you have six months to enter. The great the about the O1 is you can come back and forth. So, we can activate the O1 – fly over, maybe do a job for a month, and we could actually come back home. You don’t have to move to the States on an O1. It just permits you to work and earn US dollars over in the States.
So yeah, you have to activate it within six months. And that’s where it’s different to the green card, because the green card, when you move over, you basically have to live in the States, and you can’t be away for more than six months.
Carlie: And it makes sense too, if you are a Hollywood actor, which, I’m assuming many of them possibly choose this visa – your projects do change, and the location of them does change, so you might be going back and forth quite a lot.
Mia: Oh, I do have to say that the O1 visa, if you are an actor and you’re looking to come over on an O1 visa, see what your lawyer and your management say. Because a lot of studios now are rejecting O1 visas for actors. I think it has to do with the way payroll and contracting works with people that are on set. We’re post-production, so I think it affects us differently. Or it doesn’t affect us at all. But with people that are on location and on set, I think an O1 visa is not as popular.
Carlie: Mia, on email, before today’s interview, you mentioned that there were lots of things that helped you and your husband settle in LA fairly quickly. You said that you researched well. Tell me about some of the groundwork that you did.
Mia: Because we started the visa process in April, I had months before we actually moved over, to look at areas where we wanted to rent a house, think of possible issues that might occur if we rented a house in one area but we were travelling to work in another, how long that commute might be. So I had a lot of time to research. And there’s so many … there’s a really great group on Facebook … there’s two. There’s Aussies in LA and Australians in LA, [chuckles] so they’re very similar, but it’s so helpful, because people constantly post rooms that they might be subletting or leases that they’re leaving that they want to swap over.
So that was really handy, to know where people were living, what they were paying every month in rent, so I could really start developing a budget it my head of how much we should be saving before we come over. And I really wanted to make sure that we had at least six to nine months’ rent saved up, just in case something falls through and we weren’t able to work when we first move over. So, yeah, I feel like I was really prepared and that helped.
Carlie: If you don’t mind sharing, how much did you have as a buffer when you moved?
Mia: Australian dollars, we had about 30,000, and we knew that … because, as I said before, my husband Dave is a composer, he gets royalties every quarter. So we knew, okay, we’ve got this much to move over with, we’ve got … we also had a separate budget for the move, for the freight of some of our boxes and just initial … like air fares, just initial fees, paying for our stuff back home, moving … logistics and stuff. We had a separate budget for that. But just the budget for moving over, we thought we needed about 30,000. And then, we were thinking, okay, if we’re not working for the first nine months, at least we can rely on other forms of income, basically.
Carlie: Yeah, it’s so important to have that backup.
Mia: Yeah. The thing is, because we’re paying … we’re still working with Australian dollars and converting it, so I had to really think how much can we realistically survive on for that period of time.
Carlie: You said when you were looking at places to live, you kind of simulated, okay, where might we be going to work everyday … I hear that LA traffic is horrendous and there’s not amazing public transport.
Mia: Correct, in all of those. I do have to say that Sydney traffic is just as bad as LA. Everyone always talks about how bad it is, but Sydney is actually pretty bad. We haven’t really had that many problems ourselves. One, because we generally travel outside of peak hour times. And Dave works from home, so he doesn’t have that problem at all.
And people always say that living in LA without a car is impossible, but it absolutely is possible. Because there’s Uber, and you have Uber pool – because it’s so popular here. You can get to, like, Hollywood on a two-, three-dollar fare and share the ride with a few people, and it’s better for the environment. There’s so many people in LA driving cars, and there’s one person in the car. It’s ridiculous. So if I can kind of … I feel better not contributing to that pollution by taking an Uber. So it is possible, yeah, public transport is awful, but it is possible to live in LA without a car.
Carlie: And how did you find finding a place to live in the end? You said that you had the leads through Aussie forums. Is that how you ended up getting your place?
Mia: No, actually. I found it through [trulia.com], and the reason I really liked that site is it shows like a detailed map of the area and it also shows … there’s a walkability score, it shows local crime stats. Because I’m just a little bit paranoid, I’m always thinking about all the various ways I can die. [laughs] So, I was like, how dangerous is this area? Is it close to freeways? And so, yeah, I used that site. I knew I was arriving on the 17th of November, and I contacted all these people, and I wind up with … the first day that I arrived, like 10 inspections. Within a week I’d already signed a lease. Everyone was like, “That’s impossible! You’re not going to find a place in LA…”
Carlie: [laughs] It sounds impossible!
Mia: Yeah. But I think in the first week I was here, I looked at like 70 houses. And yeah, we were just really lucky that we found the place that we did. I also did have help from a girl, a lovely Australian girl that I found on the Aussies in LA Facebook page. And she helped me, she drove around … and she works as a real estate agent as well. So she was able to give me some tips and stuff as well, on what to look out for and what not to look out for. For example, I was looking at a lot of places in Korea Town, and she was saying you have to be careful, because they have a bedbug infestation in a lot of the apartments there. And so it might be advertised as “completely refurbished, repainted”, and she’s like, “That’s because they’ve just had to fumigate it.
So there’s websites you can go to that you can check the bedbug fumigation history, to actually see, “Oh, it’s been fumigated five times this year. There’s obviously a problem there. Don’t move there.” There’s stuff like that, that was really helpful, that I didn’t know until I actually came here.
Carlie: Yeah, stuff like that would never occur to me, to check the bedbug history of a rental.
Mia: Well, I don’t think we even have that problem in Australia. I don’t know. Because it’s such a transient city, maybe, LA, it just has that problem.
Carlie: It’s so gross.
Carlie: So, you were really working those local connections. I do wonder if you had the problem that I know so many Aussies or foreigners in general have – my experience too, when I moved to London and then to France, in that Catch-22 scenario, where you need to get a house, you need to get a phone number. You need to get work, but you need a social security number. But you need an address. But you need a local contact number. And you need to somehow get out of that circle. How did you break through really quickly?
Mia: [groans] Yeah. Well, the social security number you can apply for before you arrive here. So, you can, when you apply for your visa, get that. Unfortunately, our lawyers didn’t tell us to do that. So the very first day I arrived, I went and got my social security number, so I knew, okay, I’ve got that straightaway. And when I was applying for rental … on rental applications, I’d just let them know, “Look, I don’t have a social security number, I’m staying in an Airbnb …” I tried to give them as much information as I could. But yeah, basically, if you don’t apply for the social security number before you arrive, just try and get it as soon as you can, because that’s very important. And then, go to the DMV and get an ID, your state ID. But yeah, the thing is you can’t do that without an address. So it is tricky.
Thankfully, I did have a legitimate address to put down. But if you have a friend here, you can just ask them. And I did have a friend that … I used his address on a lot of forms, just pretending that I was going to live there. Because you can always change that stuff later.
If you know absolutely no one in the area, that’s when those Facebook groups are helpful. Because there’s so many people on there that I found that I’m like, “Oh! You’re a friend of a friend, we have this mutual friend.” And you can connect that way and find … you can very quickly find a community. And I think that’s something that really helps you feel less lost in the city, is if you start to develop those connections and feel like you have a community.
Carlie: Have you opened US bank accounts?
Mia: Yes, that’s another thing that I did within the second day that I got here. We have an Australian Citibank account. And I know … Citibank is great, because they don’t charge withdrawal fees and they don’t charge conversion fees. So I thought, okay, I’ll go to the Citibank in the US, because they already have all my information, I’ll be able to open one up really easily. But the two banks don’t actually talk to each other. [laughs]
Thankfully, Americans are so lovely. They’re so nice. And the banker that I had was really … he accepted … I probably shouldn’t be saying this, [laughs] but … he set up the account for me with a few details missing. Like my SSN hadn’t … my card hadn’t arrived, so I didn’t have a number. But I brought the letter that they had printed out for me there that had an address on it and my name, so at least I had some kind of proof that it was coming. So he opened up the account on that, but I think that was kind of breaking the rules.
Basically, everywhere I went, I brought everything with me – my passport, every single piece of paper that said anything, I brought it all with me, so that just in case they asked for something … if I was setting up an account or at the DMV or opening up a … getting the water and power linked up to my house and getting an account. I was able to just pull out stuff from my bag and go, “Yeah, will this do? Will you accept this?”
Carlie: Magical bag of admin documents.
Mia: [laughs] Yeah. I was like a woman on a mission the first week, I was just carrying all this stuff … because the biggest thing for me was Dave arrived two weeks after me, and he was bringing our cat and dog. So I couldn’t have them homeless. I had to find somewhere where the cat and dog could live. Oh, and my husband. [laughs] I had to find somewhere where my family could go. So yeah, I was really set on having everything organized.
Carlie: You really don’t do things by halves then, if you also packed up your pets. Because I know that’s not an easy process.
Mia: Yes. It’s not. It’s expensive, like I think their plane tickets cost more than ours. But you know, I can barely live a week without my dog, so yeah, we had to bring them over. There’s this company called Jet Pets that do everything for you, in terms of making sure their vaccinations are up-to-date for the destination country, and they also make sure that they’re in proper regulation carriers for the flight, and they coordinate [living …] the departure and then arrival, and make sure you’re on the same flight. And they have staff that are trained to look after them, basically. They don’t fly with them – they’re in the carriage hold, underneath.
Carlie: In the hold.
Mia: In the hold, yeah. But yeah, so I definitely recommend them, rather than trying to do all the paperwork yourself. Because if you’re trying to coordinate everything else moving over, it’s just one less thing to think about, and it’s peace of mind knowing that your babies are safe.
Carlie: Did you have to consider the process for getting your pets back to Australia when you decided to move them? Because I know Australia has very strict quarantine laws.
Mia: Yes, that’s true. Yeah, I’ve heard people have to wait like … their pets have had to wait six months to nine months coming back into Australia. I believe that’s if they originated from another country. Because our pets came from Australia and they’re living somewhere else. I believe if it comes to a time where we go back with them, it will be less difficult. I don’t think it would be the same if you brought a dog from Thailand, for example. You know, a stray dog, and … but yeah, that was a consideration …
Carlie: Yeah. They’ve got a good pedigree, yeah.
Mia: [chuckles] Yeah. But that was a consideration, because if we were thinking, “Oh, is it going to be worth it if we decide to come back to Australia in three years?” But I think in our minds, we wanted to give the move at least five years. And the pets will … whether we come back or not in that time … they’ll definitely come back with us.
Carlie: So, Mia, you had two weeks to find yourself a place for your husband and your beloved pets. How did you go? Were you successful in securing a place and moving in, in that timeframe?
Mia: Yeah. So I arrived on November 17th, and I was moved into the place just after Thanksgiving. So it was around the 25th or 26th. I’d signed the lease just a few days before. So yeah, within a week, I’d secured the place, and then within ten days, I was moved in. And straightaway, I could start ordering things. I ordered one of … just a mattress, one of those rollup mattresses that you pull out and it explodes into a bed. I got that, and then started organizing, making sure the power was going to be on, hot water … all of these essentials.
So that was kind of ready. And then, when Dave arrived on December 3rd with the pets, we had this company called [Jetta] we used … it’s called over-baggage, it’s when … you can box your items, basically, and they come over as freight. So it’s much more cost-effective and faster than shipping. So we did that for all our studio gear. So I definitely had to make sure we had a house in two weeks. Because otherwise, all this expensive gear would have had nowhere to go. [laughs]
Carlie: Is it unusual, Mia, to have found a place and moved in that quickly in LA?
Mia: Everyone t old me it was impossible, but I did it. And thankfully, actually … I shouldn’t say … the time of year I was looking, I think there are a lot of people away. And so maybe I had less competition. Sydney, I know, is really competitive. You would never be able to find a house in two weeks in Sydney.
Carlie: Lots of things go working in your favor. And as you said, you were so prepared, which I’m sure helped a lot as well.
I guess the next question is work. You said that you prepared financially to possibly not have work for the first nine months. It’s now six months in. How long is it taking you and your husband to find your feet when it comes to getting work locally?
Mia: That’s an interesting one. And it’s additionally complicated for me, because in the States, they have the unions. So, there’s non-union and unions, and a lot of the studio work is union-based, and even though I had worked on union films back home in Sydney, the physical hours weren’t done in LA. So I moved over here … and I had done the research before, and I’d spoken to the right people within these organizations, and they said, “When you move over, let’s look at that process.” But unfortunately, my hours don’t count, so I couldn’t be union. Which means I need to look for non-union work. And that’s much harder, because it’s very competitive, there’s a lot of people trying to get those jobs, and it’s much lower-paying.
So one of the things that I’ve noticed as well – I’ve had to really tailor my CV for it to really stand out. And one of the places that I have been working at, actually, I contacted them directly. I had applied through like a job website, and I thought, “Oh, god, I’m just going to get lost in this. There’s probably over a hundred people applying for this job.” So I just searched them online, found the owners’ email, contacted him directly, and he called me straightaway and said, “Can you come in tomorrow?”
So I think you need to take that extra step. Some people might be put off by that, but I think the people that’ll appreciate that directness will call you. And it paid off for me. So that was good.
And with Dave, he’s been able to do a lot of the work back in Sydney as well. And he’s been super busy. And it’s tricky for us as well, because we have to work to Sydney time. So our day will start later, at like mid-day, and go on until midnight, [laughs] basically.
Carlie: I guess the good thing about your visa – correct me if I’m wrong, but because it’s the type of one where you can go back and forth, there’s no obligation to be earning all of your income from the USA specifically?
Mia: Yes, that’s correct. We can actually go back and forth physically. We can go to Sydney, do a job there for three months, come back here, do another job. We’re not tied legally to stay here, like you would be with the green card. Because with the green card you’re a US citizen for tax purposes, whereas we’re just Australians living here, permitted to work here.
Carlie: It’s interesting that you mention the union issue and the barrier that comes with it, I guess, when it comes to finding work. Because it’s something I didn’t consider. But then I recall the writers’ strike a few years ago, and the chaos that was caused by that in Hollywood, and some of those terrible movies that came out in that time.
Carlie: And I’m guessing it’s kind of that same thing – if an industry is so heavily unionized, you kind of need to be on the right side of the fence to really benefit.
Mia: And it really has quite shocked me, the pay differences between union jobs and non-union jobs. There’s a lot of people that I’ve spoken to who work in the same field as me, who could have signed up to union years ago but just don’t want to. Either they don’t believe, necessarily, that the unions are doing a good thing, or they actually want the freedom of being able to say no to work. Because when you’re in the union, once you’re in the union, you have to pay the dues, which are quite expensive. And if you don’t …
Carlie: So, these are like union fees?
Mia: Yes, that’s right, union fees. And you have to pay them every quarter. And there’s an initial fee, and then you have to pay every quarter. And if you don’t clock a certain amount of hours within that quarter, then you risk losing the union status. And one of the biggest things that’s driving me to enter the union is to be able to access the healthcare benefits. Because that’s really one of the biggest differences between here and back home in Australia, is the healthcare system. We wanted to be able to have me in the union, so that I’m covered with healthcare benefits. And then, I can also add Dave as my dependent on that. And then, should we have kids, then that’s another consideration.
Whereas back home, you just don’t even really consider … we have such a great healthcare system, with Medicare, and leave, and also paid-for private health. Which is like an eighth of the cost of what it would be here. It’s crazy how much you have to pay for healthcare here.
Carlie: How do you get covered for healthcare at the moment?
Mia: We’re on what’s called visitors’ coverage, so there’s various insurers that you could go with, because we are on an O1 visa, we’re on a non-immigrant visa, we’re eligible for this cover. And you can take it only up to 12 months at a time. This is purely just to cover for emergencies. So if we have to … knock on wood, if we get hit in a car accident or something, then yeah, at least we’re covered for that. But we can’t go snowboarding and do extreme, fun sports, and … [laughs] we’re not covered for that.
I kind of thought, well, to not have it here would be crazy. So we need to have the insurance here. But back home, individual cover for someone our age would be maybe about 120 or 150. Here it’s about 600 a month, and that’s US dollars. So it would be a thousand dollars a month for us, to cover … to get the same coverage that we had back home. And there’s still also an excess to pay. So yes, that’s why people are so … it’s scary here. That’s why you do see so many homeless people. Because if you get into … experience some kind of misfortune, then you’re basically screwed. Because you have tens of thousands of dollars’ worth that you need to pay. So, yeah, that’s kind of a major scary difference that we’ve come across here.
Carlie: What other culture shocks have you experienced since you moved?
Mia: Hmm. I have just mentioned the homelessness. That’s something that you can’t avoid anywhere in LA. It doesn’t matter where you live. We’re in Silver Lake, which is a very trendy area, and rents are very high in this area. But you’ll still see homelessness within a couple of blocks of where we live. And that’s, I guess, one of the biggest things that you can’t ignore here. It’s a city of extremes, as in you look up at the Hollywood Hills and all the houses there …
I have to say that America … I feel like Americans are a lot friendlier, to be honest, [laughs] than Australians. I don’t know any –
Carlie: How is it possible to be friendlier than an Australian?
Mia: I think, you know what? It’s probably because I’m Australian, and they’re like … I’m a novelty at the moment, maybe that’s what that is. Oh, gosh – do you know, the biggest thing, actually, that Dave and I still have little arguments about or kind of have to quickly get our phones out and google is tipping. We still don’t know the etiquette of tipping, because it’s just not really something we do back home, unless the service was extraordinary, extraordinarily amazing, whereas here, it’s … I’m always asking Dave, “Do I have to tip that person? Is it rude to not tip that person?” I feel like I’m going to go to tip someone one day, and they’re going to be like, “Why are you tipping me?” [laughs]
Carlie: I agree. It sounds like such a minefield, because as far as I understand it, so many people in the service industry rely on your tips to build up their hourly rate, basically.
Mia: Yes, absolutely. And you have people like your Uber Eats delivery drivers – because we don’t have a car, we have our groceries delivered here. There’s this really awesome app called Instacart, and you can access all the local stores and have your groceries home-delivered. So yeah, Dave and I were thinking … there’s two people. There’s the person that does the shopping and then there’s the person that delivers. And within the app, you can give a tip. But it doesn’t specify who’s getting the tip. So we had this conundrum of do they have to split that tip? Should we be doubling this? And then I thought maybe we should give … the person that delivers to our door, maybe we should give them cash. And then, we were speaking to some people here, and they said, “Oh, no, you should never give cash.” And that’s the thing – none of these people would have healthcare. They would be contractors, I guess. So you want to be able to show your gratitude for them delivering your groceries to your house …
Carlie: Does it also mean that you have to keep a stack of change in your wallet all the time for tipping purposes or is a lot of it electronic now anyway?
Mia: It’s definitely a cash economy here. I’m finding I’m always embarrassed, because I’m like, “I don’t have enough cash to tip, and I can’t give someone my card to just tip them a few dollars.” So yeah, it’s definitely smart to hold on to all your coins and your notes. And sometimes, if I give someone a note, and the cashier gives me back a ten or a five, I’ll say, “Can I actually have this in ones?” So that we’re ready for the next time we need to tip.
Actually, something amazing that was a little bit shocking was Amazon Prime – when we first moved here and I was trying to fill the house with stuff, I would order something at 10 PM on a Tuesday night and then it would be delivered to our door at like eight on Wednesday, or within two hours sometimes. If I ordered something that morning, by after lunch, it would have arrived. And that was kind of crazy. Because [laughs] you know, that kind of disconnect between click, “I want this,” and bam! There it is. I didn’t have to leave the comfort of my home. Because there’s so much demand for it here. And then there’s the people power to do those jobs.
Carlie: You’re dealing with a country and an economy that’s … how many times bigger than Australia?
Mia: Exactly. Exactly. I mean, I have really tried to not buy too many new things. Facebook Marketplace has actually been really helpful, because LA is such a transient city, so many people are here just for a couple of months at a time, or just trying to get rid of stuff really quickly because their visas are finished and they need to leave … so that’s been really helpful in getting stuff quickly, and cheaply as well.
Carlie: Mia, if you had to rewind six months, twelve months, and do any of your moving steps again, would there be anything you would do differently?
Mia: I don’t think so. Maybe … no, I don’t think so. I mean, we haven’t encountered any issues … I did say it’s easy to get buy in LA without a car. But I feel like maybe if we’d saved a little bit more and maybe gotten a car, just because it’s so amazing here, you could drive down to the beach, you’ve got the mountains behind you, you’ve got snow fields a couple of hours away. There’s just so much to see, and I want to explore. So maybe I would have liked to have gotten a car. But it’s not really a necessity at the moment.
But in terms of preparation for coming over … you know what? Actually, there is something. I wouldn’t have taken so many freaking clothes over and packed so much. I would have let go. I would have … honestly, let go of your stuff. You’re moving overseas. Especially in a place like LA, there are so many awesome vintage stores I’ve had to avoid going in, because I still have a box of clothes I haven’t opened. I’m like, “Why did I bring this? I don’t need this much stuff!” And there’s a few things that I’ve brought over, where I’m like, “Why did I …”
I think there’s two bags of stuff that I unpacked, that I put back in bags, to take to the goodwill to donate, because I didn’t need it. So, get rid of your stuff. Get rid of more stuff before you come over. Because you don’t –
Carlie: You need less than you think.
Mia: Exactly. You need less than you think.
Carlie: And there’s Amazon Prime! [laughs]
Mia: Exactly! There’s Amazon Prime, there’s amazing vintage stores, there’s Facebook with people selling stuff constantly. I guess something that has helped me, just in terms of moving over … joining the gym that I go to I think has been really helpful in feeling at home. Because I’ve had a routine, and then there’s people that I get to see and train with every week. And I went out to dinner with them. And you kind of start feeling like you’re building a community again, like outside of work friends. You actually start developing connections here. And I think that’s important.
Carlie: You had lots of connections through Aussie forums. Have you found that the gym has opened you up to locals as well?
Mia: Yeah! And the particular gym that I go to, there’s a lot of actors and creative people that train there as well. So, for me, it’s actually been really nice to meet people that are also doing their own thing as well. There’s another sound editor that’s there as well, and I’ve been able to make some connections through her. Having a place that you can go to to train is great for yourself, but it’s also … it’s a really nice social thing as well.
Carlie: That’s it for this today. If you have any questions for Mia or want to share your own experience and tips for moving to LA, head over to expatfocus.com, where you can find the links to post in our USA forum and Facebook group. Remember to check out our other episodes covering all aspects of expat life all over the world. If you like what we do, please leave us a review, on your favorite podcasting app. And I’ll catch you next time.
End of Transcript
Expat Health Insurance Partners
Cigna has worked in international health insurance for more than 30 years. Today, Cigna has over 71 million customer relationships around the world. Looking after them is an international workforce of 31,000 people, plus a network of over 1 million hospitals, physicians, clinics and health and wellness specialists worldwide, meaning you have easy access to treatment.