I’m Rebecca Shine – I live in Manhattan with my husband and 2 year old daughter. We are expecting our second child in October.
We took the plunge and moved to Manhattan, from London, when my husband was offered a transfer with his work. He had been employed by the London office for a few years and then received a call about the opportunity to transfer to NY.
We jumped at the chance since we had spent numerous long weekends in the city and had always said it would be an amazing place to live. Luckily it has turned out that way! We have been here 3 years now and have literally settled where we first landed; in Soho. We recently bought an apartment in the building where we were renting and our daughter was born here in the city, so it’s feeling pretty much like home at the moment.What challenges did you face during the move?
This is an interesting question! At the time it was like a big adventure. We had no children so we were literally flying by the seat of our pants and feeling our way in the dark. My husband’s company arranged for the shipping of all our goods and provided us with temporary accommodation. The rest was left up to us. We had to find a broker who would find us a long term apartment, work out the health care insurance system once I was pregnant (I hardly knew what an OGB was since we don’t get to see them in the UK on the NHS unless via a GP referral.) We had to try and understand and make sense of everything from cell phone deals to broker fees to NY State ID and driving licenses. In hindsight it was a steep learning curve and a valuable one.
How did you find somewhere to live?
We were lucky in that we knew the city well and had already decided to live downtown, preferably in Soho or The Village. We were given temporary accommodation in Nolita for a month which gave us a chance to sample the neighborhood.
We luckily found a good broker (on Craig’s List!) who listened to our requirements and found us an apartment in an old (in NY terms!) converted grammar school in Soho to rent long term. It worked out well as we are still in the building now and love it. The whole process was a trial in terms of providing all the paperwork needed within the time frame to secure the apartment so they would take it off the market. Especially in terms of the 3 months down payment and the 15% broker fee. Quite a shock! Not having a credit score in the US makes thing very hard although they did manage to do some kind of international credit check on us and secure the information they needed.
Are there many expats in the area?
Our neighborhood is full of expats and so many of them are from the UK! I belong to a mother’s group downtown and I would hazard a guess at 20% – 30% of the 1500 members being expats. New York is such a transient city which makes it easy to meet people as so many people, if they are not expats, are new to the city at some point or another and make an effort to be sociable and to network in order to meet like minded friends.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
Our building is very friendly and is a real mix of expats, native New Yorkers and Americans from other cities. Some have kids, some have been living here for decades and others are just passing through for 6 months to a year. It’s a fairly small building, only 40 apartments, so unlike some in the city with hundreds of apartments we generally know everyone in the building at least to chat with and pass the time of day. I always find it interesting to see older New Yorkers who have most probably been living in the city all their lives; maybe 80 years or longer. The changes they have seen will be phenomenal, like any city I imagine, but somehow there seems to be something more mysterious and magical about the decades that pass in New York and the changes the city has gone through in terms of popular culture, counter culture, politics and of course, 9/11.
What do you like about life where you are?
Downtown Manhattan is so very cosmopolitan. During summer there is such an outdoor Parisian-esque feel to the city. You can wander from one neighborhood to the next, crossing over borders without even realizing, taking in the different cafes, bars and boutiques, wandering through the parks and you feel as though you are living in a series of villages rather than a large metropolis. The neon lights of midtown can often seem a million miles away for downtowners. Everything we need in Manhattan is on our doorstep and if it isn’t then it can be ordered online to appear on our doorstep, often within minutes. I love that the high street retail scene which is so prominent in the UK doesn’t exist to such an extent in New York. Here the independent retailer may not still be king as he was all those years ago but he still has a major role in comparison to a city like London. There is far more variety when it comes to food, fashion and music culture and there are endless activities and recreational resources for adults and kids without having to travel outside of the borough. In winter the mountains upstate offer skiing and in summer the local beaches and Long Island offer a great city escape.
What do you dislike about expat life?
The only thing that takes up more of my time than I would like it to is paperwork and home admin. Living as an expat with properties in 2 countries and in a way part of our life still in the UK means double the paperwork for tax, immigration, landlord / tenant issues in the UK, insurances – I assure you the list is endless and I won’t bore myself by going through it. On top of that I think the US has more paperwork anyway than the UK. Unless I just didn’t ever keep on top of it in the UK which is very possible!
What advice would you give anyone going through the same process?
I would say do all the research thoroughly before embarking upon the move. With a city like NY you know you want to move and it doesn’t require much thought but there is plenty research you can do to make the process simpler. I recently set up my own company, Off The Sidewalk, with two expat friends. We wanted to package up everything we had learnt about relocating to New York and make it available to people moving to the city from all countries. The 3 of us experienced a very steep learning curve when we relocated and as enjoyable as it was we feel we can make other people’s move that bit smoother; especially if they have a young family with them. We offer key relocation information via our website and bi-weekly blog at www.offthesidewalk.com. We also have an online networking group where people can ask any questions and we organize monthly socials where expats can network and meet new friends. For anyone with more specific needs, usually families, we offer a “settling in service” whereby they can start with a Skype call from their home country and progress on to a meeting here in the city when they arrive so we can help them with all the things we struggled with such as apartment hunting, pre school applications, neighborhood search, ID, health insurance, pediatricians, setting up utilities, cell phone contracts and so on.
What are your plans for the future?
We will stay in Manhattan as long as we can, or as long as we are happy here. It is indefinite and we keep an open mind and just enjoy our time in the city.
More information on Off The Sidewalk
www.offthesidewalk.com is a definitive relocation guide and networking platform for expats moving to New York. The website includes detailed instructions on how to approach the endless paperwork and housekeeping documentation that expats are faced with when moving stateside. There is also a bi-weekly blog to inform expats of the best places to 'see and be seen' in the city, with relevant stories, updates and information, from which beaches to hit in the summer to best places to do grocery shopping and favorite hang outs to eat ice cream. For those who feel they need more than online information and advice, OTS provides a bespoke 'settling in service' to insure expats and their families acclimatize smoothly and successfully.