It has been almost 9 years since I came to the US from India but it still seems like yesterday. Now, my cousin has come from India for a project and it brings back my thoughts. Usually, over the years I have met many Indians who come here unprepared – specially those who come through the Indian companies. I thought I would give them some tips at one place for which they would have to search for all over the place:
1. Research Your Destination: Usually when you land in the US, you will be holed up in a motel or hotel and often without a car or a public transport option. At that time, you may not even have access to the internet. So smart thing is to research your destination well before you come. You could use Yahoo Maps or Map24 or Google Maps to see which restaurants are in the vicinity. Most of the times, Pizza places (Pizzerias) and Chinese restaurants will do delivery. Note down the phone numbers and if possible their menu items that you would like to order (including the number of item on the menu).
2. Get Connected: Another issue when you come here initially is how to connect and talk to people. So, you need a calling card. For that you will run around – probably ask the hotel/motel reception or run to the nearest gas station. The smart way is to go for an internet calling card and buy it before you land here. You can use a credit card to do that. I have found Pingo to be a good option. It not only has excellent rates within the US (1.8 cents) but also for abroad (India = 7.6 cents a min). Also, if you use a credit card – you can set it at auto-renewal, so you dont need to be on the net to keep it charged all the time.
3. Personal Hygiene: In India, people follow a different hygiene regimen given the circumstances there. It is not very common for people to use deodorants as they are used here. In India, we use perfumed talcum powders and perfumes more than deos. Now, that is because India is inherently a very humid place and the deos have not been very good. Most of the deo options are more sprays. I have found that roll ons are more effective. In US, deos are a must. Also, although there are many brands of deos.. please just go for Old Spice. That is the ONLY one that really works and is one of the cheapest.
Also, make sure you have a few mints handy all the time. It is a good idea to check your breath every now and then and keep it fresh.
4. Banking: There are many options for banking and credit cards. I would suggest that one comes to the US with an International Credit Card and then look for one here. It is difficult to get a card without the credit history but once you have any history.. it is tough to stop the cards! As for the bank account, I recommend the credit unions that might be in your area or for the local banks. Look up bankrate for locating one. As for those who want their money to be transferred back and forth from India, I HIGHLY suggest Citibank as an option! Open a citibank account here and have an NRE or NRO account back home. It takes 2 minutes to send money to your NRE/NRO account from the US account (as I learnt a couple of weeks back from Nisha Smith of Houston CitiNRI). You can actually do it using a citibank ATM. It did have a way to do it online but that has been stopped for sometime because of some scams by the Mexican drug-lords (??). Anyways, ATM is a good way to do it.
5. Place to live: If you are here for a long term, you can go looking for an apartment. The best way to do it is to get a booklet from the local grocery store for apartments and then call up a realtor who specializes in apartment and ask her/him to show you around. That way you can move to an apartment without the need for a car! If you are here for just 2-5 months, then you may want month-to-month kind of an arrangements. Those are best found through Craigslist. There you should look under your city (look at the options on the right) and then look under the Housing menu option for apmts or sublets/tenmporary.
6. Food options: If you are from India the chances are that you would have two main requirements – one, spicy food and second, probably vegetarian. I recommend you go for these cuisines in that order: Mediterranean, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Italian – if you are not getting the Indian food. Also, as vegetarian you may look for Subway (veggie Delite is there and also veggie patty, which has egg ingredients in its patty – for the hard-core veggies), Quiznos (try their "Roasted Pepper Sauce" on your sub), or other sandwich places. Pizzerias are also a very good option. Remember at the sandwich places you can pretty much tailor your sandwich (or sub as it is known here).. so dont be shy to ask for some extra ingredient or take out something.
At other fast food joints – you can get vegetarian food, you just need to know what to look for. Here is a good compilation.
I also have a suggestion. You may cook in your motel/hotel room. Now, for those not living in Residence Inn type of accomodations, may go to Walmart and look for a single burner stove (something like this – cost = $5-10). You can get some beans or chick peas and some spices and onions along with tortillas/bread etc and rice and make a good meal at your motel.
7. Transportation: This is decidedly one of the biggest issues when one comes to the US. The luckiest get to New York with a Subway at walking distance. For the rest of us, its a grind! Some of the cities have some form of public transport – buses etc. It is a good idea to talk to the hotel reception and get some info on that. I did that when I came to Houston and was holed up in a hotel on I-10 middle of nowhere. I changed two buses to reach Downtown… but it was because I had chalked out the entire route talking to the bus company rep over the phone.
The first step in getting independent is buying the car. Go for a second hand car initially, or if you have money and know you are going to stick in the country for a while – then the first hand brand new one. In any case, the choices of cars should be restricted to ONLY two – Honda or Toyota – both are equally good with Honda being a little more expensive than Toyota and drive a little different. So it is a personal choice. If you are a little adventurous, then go for Nissan. That is about all! Do NOT even look at the American cars. Simply put, and there is no good way to put it so let us just get with it – Americans have never learnt how to make a car. I drive many American cars through rental companies and they ALL suck! German cars are good but expensive. No wonder you ONLY see Japanese cars in the parking lot outside a building with a bunch of Indians inside for a congregation. The only American cars are the rental ones.
Use online car sites (Edmunds is a good place) to get the price – dealer’s price (the one that dealer pays for the car). Pay just $100-250 max over that price. You can negotiate and so you should stick with your number. Also, unless there is an astrological or religious reason, I find it rather foolish to look for the "right" color in a Toyota. You buy a $16k Toyota for its performance.. NOT aesthetics! You buy a BMW or a Cadillac for aesthetics and looks. So get your priorities straight! For my negotiations, I took the print out of the entire cost structure with the cost of all the accessories for the model (Toyota Corolla) I wanted. The Dealer could not argue over that. So it was like.. my price or highway!
I will think of some more suggestions and post them. If the readers have any suggestions, please feel free to post them.
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