EB1, here we come!

Wednesday 3 June 2015 - Three years in and the verdict?

Three years after arriving in the US we're settled in our own house, kids are at daycare and school, my self employment is going well, and my wife's employment is going... okay. It's a nice location, a little remote which has its good points and bad points, fantastic sunsets over the mountains, and hot, dry weather most of the time.

However, we're not realy happy. Not sad, not annoyed, not upset, just not living the kind of life we thought we would have. Life in the US is very much work, work, work, and that really takes a toll. Taxes are relatively low yet we never seem to have much money - it all goes on healthcare, food, fuel, taxes, electricity, cable,... We've really cut back and are starting to slowly save, but just can't seem to stem the flow to a point where we can enjoy the money. I feel sorry for the kids too, because we have to work so much. Theoretically my wife does three 12.5 hour shifts a week, nights. But what usually happens is she leaves for work at 6:30pm and arrives back home at 9am or even later - because she is overwork during her normal shift, which means she has paperwork to do after her shift. True, she's paid for the extra hours, but it's tough only seeing your kids for maybe an hour per day as they would have already gone to school/daycare by the time she comes home. Even that hour is spent with her getting ready for work and eating dinner. Then it's the sleeping and adjusting back to days on her days off.

So we had a long talk last night where I started by asking if she was happy in the US. Her answer was no, followed by a flood of tears. The answer wasn't a surprise: the strength of the reaction was. And I'd already made my mind up that enough was enough, had dropped hints, but last night was the first time I'd asked directly. So at least we're in agreement.

The plan now, since we're 3 years into a green card, is to stay for 2 more years or until such time as we have citizenship. That gives the kids an opportunity to return to the US later in life if they want to. The only real issue is that we'd have to file taxes every year, but that's a set of online forms taking maybe a day out of our lives, so not really a problem at all.

So where will we go? My wife is a Filipino, I have my own job and income which doesn't vary depending on the location, I have no strong urges to return to the UK, so the logical choice is the Philippines. Some might say "why go to a 3rd world country?". Well, it's not as simple as that. Yes, infrastructure is poor compared to the US/UK, there are some very poor areas (and also some very rich areas), but life is so much more relaxed there. I'd rather grow a fair amount of my own vegetables than go to a supermarket where their origin and life history is unknown and somewhat questionable (genetically modified, pesticides, transported hundreds of miles, etc). Their healthcare system is similar to the US but there are better safeguards for the poor - and it's extremely cheap, and efficient. Employment has significantly more safeguards for employees, such as guaranteed paid time off, minimum meal breaks, etc.

The US has been fun, I'm not denying that. I don't think we've "failed". We've tried it and simply decided it's not for us. Not everything would be fixed by moving again - but carrying on living here is certainly not going to fix anything.
Comments (2) :: Permanent Link

Sunday 31 August 2014 - Buying a house

We'd always been told we needed to have filed two years of tax returns as I'm self employed, so we hadn't even bothered applying for a mortgage until that time. Filing time is in the first few months of the calendar year so come April we were ready and armed with two tax returns. Off we go to Wells Fargo with all our paperwork including tax returns, wage slips (for the wife), anything else we can think of, and the initial outlook was good: we had a purchase price we could work with, and a piece of paper showing what we were likely capable of buying.

Off we go looking for houses. After contacting random agent #1 on the internet, we got to tour 6 houses on the first visit. We liked one enough that we actually put an offer in, or at least started the process to do so. Except there was a problem: Wells Fargo had only given us a rough estimate rather than a firm commitment (a pre-qualification). So we go back to Wells Fargo and ask for something firm: "Sure, give me a day or two". Most lenders will do this overnight. Keep that thought for the moment as I'll get back to it.

Well, that day or two went by and still no news, so we get back to the realtor and explain the situation. The seller is not happy with our situation and won't accept the offer. The realtor gets in contact with Wells Fargo. Same story. So the realtor suggests somebody she knows (ok, the realtor most likely got a kickback but we don't know anybody else so what the heck). We visit, armed with the same paperwork as we used at Wells Fargo, and an hour later not only do we have a similar figure to Wells Fargo but we have the key document - a pre-approval! Of course, the realtor is more than happy with that and submits our offer to that seller again.

The seller actually wanted $299,990 but we offered $275,000. After all, it's way overpriced in both our opinion and the realtor's, and they want to get rid of it (they were "flippers"). Anyway, a few days later it was formally rejected and countered with something like $295,000. Nah. (It was still on the market a couple of months later but I think it has either sold now, but for what amount I don't know, or removed from sale).

Onwards again and we see another half dozen houses. Number 2 was one I really liked, but it was on a dirt road - not unusual around here, but a fair distance from tarmac. Later it transpired it didn't have cable, just telephone broadband, which is a no-go for my Internet-based business. Number 3 wasn't one I especially liked - it was ok though. Number 4 was a very period style home, plantation style or something. It felt small and was most definitely rundown, despite not being that old, but the wife liked it - I hated it! The other homes were moderate. In the end we agreed on #3 despite my earlier reservations. The seller's realtor at the time had pretty much said "if you offer $260,000 the owner will take it" (it was on sale for $270,000). Given the size, proximity to a good school, age, and condition of the house, that was exactly what we offered and, of course, was immediately accepted. Would she have accepted lower anyway? Who knows. But as it turned out, assessors, surveyors, realtors, sellers, and buyers all agreed $260,000 was about the right price.

All the paperowork started arriving - and there was mounds of it! Most of the stuff from the realtor could be signed digitally online which was easy. However, the mortgage stuff tended to be "here's a form, initial in numerous places, sign at the end, and return", ad nauseum.

Meanwhile - remember Wells Fargo? - I suddenly get a letter from them congratulating me on applying for a mortgage, and would I be kind enough to send copies of my tax returns, wage slips, etc to the address shown so that they could consider me? In other words, a month after handing them copies of my tax returns, wage slips, etc, can I please send them again? Since they clearly could not be arsed to give me a mortgage, I could not be arsed to reply to them. I did get a phone call from the original agent though, and I told him we were half way through the process of buying a house, to which he seemed somewhat surprised.

Once everything had been completed, we needed one final trip to the mortgage lender's office to sign the paperwork. Luckily we were able to do this during school/daycare time as it involved a 2-hour round trip plus signing time. And there was a LOT to sign, an inch thick pile of paper. With a sigh of relief after doing that we went home...

...only to find a couple of days later that some key pieces of paper had the wrong date on them! WTF! Given the timescales we had to get this done by (escrow dates), they "kindly" (it was their fault so kind doesn't really enter into the equation) opened up their office on a Sunday so we could turn up, kids in tow, to sign the entire lot again. This time we took our time, much to their chragrin, to check everything, while our kids were not entirely well behaved or tidy with their snacks in their shiny (well, was before we came) conference room.

Not only that but the very next day an under-construction bridge over the Interstate, the Interstate that is pretty much the only road to the region besides detours that take 2 hours or more, caught fire and burned down, shutting the Interstate for 36 hours! Fortunate that we went there the day before.

Finally, towards the end of May 2014 the house was ours! But given our rented house wasn't due to be given up for another couple of weeks, we had time to move in slowly, so it's hard to say "we've been living here since X". One moderate sized U-Haul truck with just boxes was the first trip, which meant I could load and unload alone. The next trip was the biggest size U-Haul did, and we had 3 paid helpers at our rented house to help. They filled the truck like a jigsaw puzzle! The 2 paid helpers at the other end opened the truck and scratched their heads frequently trying to work out how to unload the truck! Still, that wasn't all our stuff and we had to hire yet another moderate sized U-Haul for the remainder.

Finally, we were done! But several rooms looked pretty bare as it was a much bigger house. Our queen bed looked ridiculous in the master bedroom - you could fit a king sized bed on both sides of it at the same time, and still have room to spare! And yes, despite earlier nonchalence, I did come to like the house and 3 months later, still do, despite its foibles (which all houses do, to be fair) - but that's a story for another day!
Comments (0) :: Permanent Link

Friday 7 February 2014 - It's been a long time (again)

So, what's happened? Let's start with DS and his autism. He started kindergarten and immediately there were problems. We started off by being in the classroom with him for the full school day - horribly detrimental to our working lives. But very quickly the school got in to gear and started an Individual Education Plan which identifies whether he needs special assistant, and the conclusion was (obviously) yes. The net result is that he's still in a mainstream classroom but there is now an aide in the classroom at all times. She doesn't sit with DS all the time but just generally helps out around the classroom (the teacher loves this). If DS starts getting upset, she immediately stops what she's doing and takes over - be it just talking to him in the classroom, or taking him outside for a walk to calm down, or whatever. He still has meltdowns but we've gone from 30-60 minute epic episodes to 10-15 minute upsets. A big improvement.

Back at home he also gets assistance from behavioural therapists who come for a few hours a day, a few days a week. The health insurance pays most of it; we pay $25 per session. Not cheap even so, but again it does seem to help.

DD turned two years old in October. She is both an absolute delight and a stubborn individual. The doctors want her to start wearing glasses to protect her good eye, as opposed to the normal purpose of glasses. I can sort of see their point, but I swear that I've had more incidents with glasses poking me in the eye when putting them on than if I didn't wear them!

Walnut CA is great - excellent schools, everything we need within a few miles, little traffic if you avoid the 60 freeway, close enough to airports. But it's also very expensive. Right now the 2000sqft 3-bed house we're renting is worth about $800,000 and most houses in this neighborhood are worth more. The school's catchment area only covers the wealthy areas! Oddly the rent doesn't reflect the house price - other houses in the immediate area are similarly priced, yet the rent in the next city over for a $500,000 house is virtually the same.

My work is also going well - much better than I could have hoped for. No US contracts have materialised, but then I haven't needed to look for any as I've been so busy with my UK work. It certainly makes life interesting for tax and money transfers but I think we're doing it correctly, with the help of a certain accountant recommended often on this website.

Given that I work at home, and my wife can get a job in another hospital relatively easily, we've taken the decision to move back to Victorville. We like Walnut, but we were also quite happy in Victorville. Seen both, done both, no regrets. It does mean upset for DS changing schools - something we so much wanted to avoid. But I don't see how we can continue in Walnut - or anywhere in the LA basin - without scrimping each month and living in not-so-great places, or in a small house. For comparison we can get a very nice 5-bed, 2500sqft pool home with a huge lot in Victorville or Apple Valley (immediately adjacent to VV) for $175,000. Less than half the mortgage for a far nicer house? I'll take that. It's not as if we go to many specific places that are only in LA that often. We even used to drive to Universal Studios from Victorville maybe every 4-6 weeks which is a 2-hour drive each way without too much issue.

School finishes at the end of May, which is also when our minimum term on the rental agreement runs out. So the logical thing is to move in June or July. We just need house buying and the wife's employment to harmonise!
Comments (0) :: Permanent Link

Thursday 29 August 2013 - Walnut, CA

As opposed to Walnut Creek, CA which is way up north somewhere.

DS started at Tutor Time which was walking distance away from home - ideal. In fact, DD also started. However, 2.5 weeks later, despite pointing out to the school that DS had some "issues" which we were investigatin, they decided to exclude to give him a week exclusion before banning him permanently. Rewind slightly and they'd often phoned for me to pick him up due to behavior issues. I don't deny that but they did not bother to try. The final straw came when I came to pick him up (after being summoned) only to find him having a whale of a time isolated in the play room they use on rainy days with slides, ball pits, and all kinds of fun. He later said, "I was naughty so I could play in that room Daddy!" Score: DS 1, Tutor Time -1,000,000. Idiots. I withdrew both of them immediately. His classroom was also the closest to the main front door which had no security so it was no problem for him - or other kids as I observed - to make a bolt for the front door and escape into the parking lot. When I challenged them on this, apparently there is a fire risk in having release latches at adult height on the front door. Despite the fact that thousands of facilities nationwide DO have such a thing, it clearly doesn't apply to Tutor Time, Walnut. Ok, off my soapbox now.

The wife's employment is actually a Long Term Acute Care facility. It's still ICU but it's not considered as intense as an ICU at a regular hospital - patients get referred from other hospitals rather than moved up from ER (which they don't have) or whatever. So she's not really challenged as such - well, not in a medical sense, but certainly in a personal kind of sense. She came home tonight in tears because a patient threatened to sue her for "hurting his back" (this from a 315lb patient with pre-existing back issues). The problem is, in this topsy-turvey country where money buys anything, one just never knows whether it's hot air or could actually lead to something. So she's looking for another job.

As for myself, surprisingly I'm still in self employment. I had an excellent contract from somebody I already knew; however, my previous boss found out about it (small world) and queried whether it was a conflict of interest - since I still do a fair amount of work for them. It's not but that almost doesn't matter as perception rules over facts.

It is certainly interesting being self employed. The monthly pay is not necessarily monthly, and it's certainly not similar amounts each month. And, of course, mortgage advisors stay well clear until you have at least two tax returns. That won't happen until at least January 2014.

Oh, something I mentioned previously about healthcare. We were paying about $1100 per month for individual insurance. Fortunately the wife's employment uses Kaiser (as well as Blue Shield but we were already with Kaiser) and the premiums dropped to around $400 per month. The copays and prescriptions varied slightly for each of us - now $25 for a doctor or specialist visit, and $10 per prescription item.

Back to DS. His behavior was becoming more erratic. He went to stay with a cousin overnight, whose older brother has severe autism and is quite a handful to say the least. They live around 45 minutes away from us, but despite their experience with "problematic" sons, they still chose to drive our son home at 2am because they could not handle him. We were already going through various doctors, psychologists, counselors, parenting classes, and goodness knows what else, but this really ramped things up. We went from 15 minute "he's got ADHD, nothing we can do at his age [4yrs]" appointments to 1.5 hour consultations with multiple personnel. Eventually, after trying numerous other things, we settled on some medication. Not my ideal choice but if it works...

Just a few weeks later DS started at Kindergarten. Medication or otherwise... you'll have to wait for the next installment! I hope it won't be as long as last time.
Comments (0) :: Permanent Link

Thursday 29 August 2013 - Has it really been that long?!

So I do a quick check on my previous post so I ty to avoid repeating myself. November?! Oops! So many things have changed since then.

Firstly, in late January, the wife went to sit her NCLEX. There is a trick you can pull to determine your results before they're officially out. It's a computer-based multiple guess exam which adjusts itself depending on the answers you give. Obviously it knows whether you passed or not but officially you have to wait weeks for the result. But if you try to book another test online it will either let you (you failed) or prevent you (you passed). Guess what? We couldn't book another test! A few days later her name appeared on the California Board of Nursing website as a Registered Nurse (RN). Congratulations!

Now she needs to apply for jobs. Plenty of RN jobs out there. Problem is proving herself as a non-US experienced nurse. One organization expressed an interest - a strong interest - but the HR department eventually realized she wasn't US-experienced. They were about to call the whole thing off when my wife persuaded them to at least pass on her resume to the ICU department. To their credit, the HR did as she asked - and she suddenly got a phone call to say she had the job! Turns out the medical people had seen the experience in the Philippine Heart Center and understood the significance of it, which HR had completely missed. Just goes to show that the best way to get a job is to get the attention of the ultimate boss/employer rather than the HR department.

So we did buy another car. Nothing fancy, just a 9-year old Ford Taurus. Mind you, it is quite beefy and accelerates well! I won't bore you with the detail but we tried a few at the same place we bought the Dodge Grand Caravan and came out with a warm fuzzy feeling, rather than the ripped-off feeling one sometimes feels with car dealers.

We needed to look for a new rental house nearer LA. The wife could have got a job in Victorville but it would have left me stuck if I needed to get a "proper" job. Eventually we found one in Glendale which was nice enough but the landlord just got more and more ridiculous with his demands for proof of employment. He even asked for proof of my previous employment, nearly a year ago! Even the realtor said it was a bit much. We turned down the landlord and kept looking. Through another realtor (a Filipino, almost inevitably - friends of friends) - we saw no less than 8 properties in one day, in Walnut and West Covina. Even that was whittled down from 12 properties. Number 2 on the list was the one we chose - in Walnut with an excellent school district, a great view to the south overlooking a field, a 2500sqft house, a large garden, near to lots of things. Given our lack of credit history we had to commit to 18 months and a slightly larger deposit - but it was ours. We did worry about the Sheriff's station at the bottom of the hill with police sirens but it turned out that was nothing - the trains further away were somewhat more noisy!

We move in in March 2013. We hired some movers via the U-Haul website which were to load and unload our pre-packed boxes. Kind of went okay until the driver managed to plant the towbar in the road outside our new house - doh! I watched him turn away from our drive with the intent to back in to our drive, but he went way up the drive on the opposite side, reversed too quickly, and suffered from driveways that slanted downhill towards the road that humped in the middle. Several piles of old roof tiles and other spare material later we eventually managed to unwedge the truck.

I think I'll continue the new era in a separate post!
Comments (1) :: Permanent Link

Monday 26 November 2012 - The American Dream

Seven and a half months in and what do we have? Well, firstly I'm glad we live in relatively cheap Victorville, secondly I'm glad we weren't able to buy the International AutoSource car. The simple fact is, it's costing a lot of money here. We're afloat and setting aside each money for tax, but it's not as much as I would like. I will need to make sure that every possible exemption and tax credit is on my tax form.

This isn't helped by the fact that the wife's authority to take the NCLEX test still hasn't come through. I can't remember what I said before but it took over a year for her paperwork to come from the Philippines. Now it's the California Board of Nursing who are taking weeks at a time to respond to letters. They don't answer the phone or emails. Their latest response was that they needed course numbers for her degree - well, there aren't any for some subjects. They could have asked that when they originally received the paperwork, not the second time around. So we now have to wait several more weeks until they decide to answer the response to that - and who's to know what they will say.

The studying for her NCLEX test means that our 1y1mo old daughter needs to go to kindergarten for whole days at a time, after just starting with a couple of mornings a week. This isn't cheap, but it's a necessary expense so that revising can take place in quiet. Our son will also have to spend a day or two a week extra in pre-school - more expense.

What with all this ferrying around of kids, we really need another car. But guess what. We can't afford it.

I'm working 60+ hours per week on two jobs, both at home. This means I don't really get out to see people much so I guess I'm getting a bit of cabin fever and lonely. The wife's friends tend to all be Filipinos which isn't a problem as such, except when they talk in their language - even in mixed company - it makes me feel left out even more. In fact it's actually annoying when you talk to somebody, they might respond in English, and then turn to my wife and start talking in Tagalog about the same thing. I mean, come on, you're in an English-speaking country, you're in the presence of English/Americans who only speak English, and you speak English well enough, so why lapse into a language that excludes people?

Thanksgiving was interesting. There were around a dozen of us at the wife's cousin's place. We had roast turkey and roast pork, but it was a fragmented affair with people eating at different times, and on foam plates with plastic cutlery. Not really a togethery sit down feast like I had hoped for. The event itself, fragmentation issues aside, reminded me heavily of Christmas back home, what with the Black Friday sales the next day too.

I wanted to make an English-style fruit cake from scratch. Costco sell a passable imitation but it's not quite right. But, like a lot of things, it just seems so hard to find the ingredients locally. Indian food is virtually non-existent, whether restaurants or ingredients (and the one restaurant just has food that tastes odd).

Much of the above can be helped with a move. I like Victorville, nothing particularly wrong with it. But several things happen if we moved to Fontana or nearby:
1. The wife can work in Fontana Kaiser Permanente Hospital
2. Which means our health insurance premiums go from $1100+ per month to probably a lot less than half that.
3. Houses are slightly more expensive but not massively so.
4. I'll be closer to transportation options (eg ONT-Ontario airport, and Amtrak)
5. We might be able to consider a mortgage, which will mean paying $800-$900 per month instead of $1250+ for a rental
6. If I ever need a "proper" job, I'll be closer to where the work is (Victorville has few jobs for software engineers)
7. We'll be further from one cousin but closer to two other sets. More friends nearby too.
8. The wife's income will mean I won't have to work silly hours to make ends meet.
9. More shopping options nearby.

Fingers crossed that the wife passes her exam and manages to get a job.
Comments (1) :: Permanent Link

Friday 5 October 2012 - Six month anniversary

Today I'll have been in the US for exactly 6 months. What a half year it's been! I guess you could say we're settled as we're not buying much new now, except maybe for seasonal items. Speaking of seasons, even here in Southern California up in the High Desert it does get cold at night now. This weekend may be our last for swimming - we'll see how the pool cover keeps things going without separate heat. I guess we might use the jacuzzi from time to time with a bit of gas heating though.

Yesterday was Kaira's first birthday! How time has flown from over a year ago when I was fretting over whether she'd be delivered after our visas were issued and before we went to the US (our visas came way later as it happened). She's almost walking and, when she arrived in the US 5 months ago, she had only just started crawling. It's hard to imagine how I lived without them for over 2 months - but many are away for longer, such as soldiers, so I ought to think myself lucky.

While typing this I've been investigating a parcel sent to Kaira for her birthday. According to UPS it was delivered four days ago and left "next to a pillar". Well, we don't have any pillars, and both of us were home when the alleged delivery took place - and the wife is pretty certain she was sitting in the shade out front at the time. The parcel was a couple of products ordered through Amazon so, armed with the order number (it wasn't us who ordered but my mum in the UK) I went online to chat to them. They were happy to chat to me as I knew enough about the order - they could easily have said that the person who ordered needed to chat to them. Anyway, they have rushed the delivery of one item to arrive tomorrow, with the other item coming later next week! Excellent customer service by Amazon.

We checked our car insurance policy a few days ago and found out we only had State minimums (okay, so I knew but I didn't realise the implications of this). Had we inadvertently caused damage to life, limb, or property, the insurance company would only pay out $10k - and the aggrieved party could attempt to sue us for the remainder. So our broker found a more suitable policy for us with ten times the limits - and $7 per month less on the premiums! Also now covered for uninsured drivers at the same limits. The excess stayed the same at $500. So, a lot more for slightly less!

The wife and I asked our bank about secured credit cards. This is where you put down a deposit which becomes your credit limit. After a year or so they turn it into a "proper" credit card and return your deposit, less anything you owe. As we'd been here nearly 6 months she suggested trying for an unsecured (regular) card first. It wasn't immediately denied but was manually reviewed and then declined. Back to the original plan - not unexpected really.

Last month I spent most of a week in Chicago for a rail conference and engineering course. The course is advertised as being for those new to the business but it was recommended to me as being new to the US. True, I did learn a few things but the rest was rather basic. Never mind, I made a few contacts anyway - the main purpose of the trip!

In terms of work, my former employer extended my contract by 300 hours (about 2-3 months) once, and is about to do it again. Can't complain, though I would like some US work! A former customer has also been in contact for enquiries as to some work. It would be good if I can get it but I think it may be beyond their budget.

The wife had to wait for the Philippine nursing registry to send the paperwork to the US to enable her to start nursing here. They had the application and took the money over a year ago. Over the last few months she's been desperately trying to get them to sort themselves out as they still haven't sent it. They "have a new computer system" which means everything is on hold... for a year?! Even for the Philippines, that's abysmal service. Funny how they can take the money though. Anyway, allegedly it's now been released and is winging its way over here. I'll believe it when I see it.

So, after 6 months, are we happy? I guess so! There have been some challenges, some good things, some bad things, but overall it's been good. Here's to the next 6 months and beyond!
Comments (1) :: Permanent Link

Thursday 26 July 2012 - Random ramblings

We've been here a few months now so I guess we could say we're reasonably settled and quite happy. My work, being self employed, is going to be "interesting" from time to time, ensuring I have enough income to provide for my family. But hopefully the wife's documentation will arrive from the Philippines soon and she can take the NCLEX exam to enable her to get a job as an RN for a more stable income - even if it's only part time.

A few months is also enough time to start thinking about things we miss. Oddly one thing I wasn't expecting was to miss spicy Mexican food. The box dinner kits you'd get in the UK used to be quite spicy but here it's not! And this is genuine Mexican food so I have to assume the UK version was altered to the UK taste. But Mexican food is still good here; it's just different - and mostly mild. Yes there are some spicy dishes but not many. We had an Indian last night which can be described as interesting - good quality meat but the sauces seemed to come from jars, and the naans were thin and crispy rather than the soft, doughy ones that you get in the UK. The one dish ordered spicy (ie mine!) was predictably only a medium. I guess I'm going to have to learn to cook Indian from scratch to get anything like the UK versions!

Had blood tests today as part of a routine annual physical with Kaiser. Turned up at 8am at the clinic, which does tests on a "turn up and take a number" type of basis, and got seen within 5 minutes. Went home and 2 hours later my results were posted on the web (privately!) in full detail - numbers, normal ranges, and everything. Back in the UK I had to phone between 12 and 1pm, one week after having the tests, to be told by a grumpy receptionist if it was "normal" or to see a doctor. Yes, I'm paying a lot for this, but so far it's been pretty good. Oh, except for waiting times sometimes. The pharmacy made me wait nearly an hour before telling me "actually, we don't have it. Come back tomorrow". And the wife was kept waiting for 2 hours to see her doctor who was running seriously late.

Our stuff shipped from the UK arrives on Saturday! This was after getting an email over a week ago saying I needed to pay customs charges ASAP otherwise delivery would be delayed. I paid the same day but it wasn't until a week later that they phoned to say that delivery wouldn't be for another two weeks because they were busy. I naturally got rather pissed off at this and fired off emails to Pickfords in the UK and Graebel's (the local agent) HQ. The next day I got an apology and an offer of a delivery this weekend. That's better - I just hope the stuff arrives intact!
Comments (1) :: Permanent Link

Friday 6 July 2012 - Health insurance progress update

I have health insurance! Not cheap at $730 per month but it's through Kaiser Permanente, same as the rest of the family, it's a HIPAA plan, and a $25 co-pay. Beyond that I don't know much at all - even the helpdesk wasn't able/willing to offer more information. I'll have to wait for the paperwork. Looking at their website I see there is a column for the $25 co-pay and then a column for deductible 30/1500 which is cheaper at around $530. When I find out exactly what each includes then I might switch.
Comments (1) :: Permanent Link

Friday 6 July 2012 - House sale completed

I forgot to say in my last post that the house sale was completed - just two days after exchange of contracts! The money is sitting in my UK account so I need to pay off my UK debts before transferring the remainder over to the US. Unfortunately, we bought our house at the market peak at the end of 2006 and, though the market had recovered a bit, we certainly made a loss on this house, so the profit we had was from the previous houses minus the loss on this house. What with the expenditure of coming here, that fund will be somewhat depleted too by the time it's transferred over here.

Never mind, at least now we're over the worst of it. Most of what's to come is going to be daily living expenditure and thus somewhat more stable than the turmoil of the last few months with buying, shipping, deposits, and everything else we've had to pay for. Of course, we also now only have house rental to pay, rather than a mortgage as well - a good $1700 difference.

The next big expenditure might be a car, but we'll only do that if the wife gets a job. We're not talking a brand new car but a second hand one, maybe around $5-10k, maybe a more fuel efficient "normal" car compared to the people carrier we have now. A convertible would be nice but let's take things one step at a time!
Comments (0) :: Permanent Link

Friday 6 July 2012 - Fourth of July

We've just got back from Indio, CA for a 2-night break for the 4th of July. The wife's aunt has timeshare credits she can use and this place, near Palm Springs, was chosen. In all there were five women, three 4-year old boys, two babies, and myself. I really should have realised what was coming with that combination!

It's only a 2 hour drive fortunately so quite doable in one hit, if it wasn't for the kids. Virtually all of it was on Interstate too so the cruise control was set and barely altered. Arrival at the resort was late afternoon and we sat and waited... and waited.... and waited until the rooms were ready. Quite appalling really, with no explanation as to why the rooms weren't ready well beyond the earliest check-in time. Once we got to the apartments, they were clean and okay, if somewhat cheaply furnished. For example, the counter tops in both apartments were loose/wobbly in various places, and made out of cheap plastic-coated chipboard (I think they call it powderboard here?). Never mind, it's a place to stay, and we're only there for 48 hours. A couple of nice pools, surrounded by golf courses (none of us into that), some wildlife, but not a lot else.

In the afternoon of the 4th the kids were either sleeping or watching a movie, along with most of the adults. So I took the opportunity to go for a drive. As you may have noticed from previous posts, I do like a bit of railway/railroad action so I thought I'd drive along and watch some trains. I found a road which, as it turned out, ran beside what is known as the Sunset Route between Los Angeles and Houston. I knew further along, from having been on a train, that the rails pass close to the Salton Sea, an inland giant lake, so I thought there might be photo opportunities. So I drove. And drove. And drove, but the road was between the railway and the sea, with miles of nothing inland, so nowhere to take pictures from! To make matters worse, I was getting stomach cramps. Eventually I decided it was time to turn back but there was a town up ahead called Bombay Beach - there must be a store of some sort, I thought. Sure enough, in this large trailer park, there was indeed a store which looked a little rough. I went in, bought some drink - and then decided I really needed to do something about my cramps. So I swallowed my pride and asked if there was a public restroom. There wasn't but the lady kindly allowed me to use the employee one. I was a little hesitant at first but then the cramps told me to stop being a silly sod and get on with it. Five minutes later I was feeling much better and tried to give the lady a tip but she wouldn't accept it, no matter how hard I tried! By then, she and two customers in the shop realised I wasn't local and - though initially asked if I voted Republican, to which I safely answered "I'm not eligible to vote" - asked where I was from. "From the UK" I said, forgetting until somewhat later that it was July 4th (independence from the British), but either they also forgot that particular detail, or didn't really care, and instead all wished me happy 4th of July, which I returned. So, for a rough-looking trailer park literally tens of miles from anywhere, I took a giant dump in their toilet and got wished a happy day for an event that happened hundreds of years ago against my own countryfolk! Not a bad afternoon! (Apologies for the detail but it was important to the story)

On to the celebrations. We found out that there was to be a free fireworks display in Palm Desert, and got a vague address of where to aim for. That turned out to be optimistic as they'd closed numerous roads for the celebration and omitted to erect any signs indicating where to go for the event itself! Eventually, after approaching the closure area from the other direction, we saw lines of traffic heading for a parking area so followed them in. Then we found out (only by asking) that we had to either take a road tram, joining a long line to do so, or walk to the event. We chose to wait as we had toddlers and kids, which turned out to be a good half hour wait - compared to a half mile walk. Eventually we got there. a large park type place. But again no indications of where to look for the fireworks or if there was anything else going on. But at 9pm fireworks started - were they "our" display? Who cares, as it turned out we had managed to sit in the closest corner of the park to the display! Twenty minutes of somewhat repetitive displays, culminating in a loud and bright finale, and it was all over. Time to head back again.

We decided not to bother with the tram. Despite being close to where it dropped off, already there were masses of people headed there. We weren't entirely sure if it was running - the driver of the earlier journey had said it wouldn't be running, which I assumed was a joke as people had laughed at his comment, but the wife thought otherwise. Anyway, only half a mile so we walked - with the masses of others walking! Thankfully it was all moving and even the road traffic out of the parking was moving at a good pace.

Another half hour drive back to the hotel (with DD screaming all the way) and it was all over. A cold beer was waiting in the fridge and was much appreciated by myself. So that was it for the 4th of July - not the most interesting I've had, but at least we did something American!
Comments (0) :: Permanent Link

Friday 29 June 2012 - House sold!

Firstly, health insurance (again). The Blue Shield policy for DD arrived last week, followed by a bill for $3,500. Eeek. It transpires that:
1. They hadn't bothered to take payment from the payment details provided on the application form
2. They hadn't sent us a bill for that first month
3. We were now "past due" because we hadn't been sent any details of how to pay
4. The $3,500 was therefore for two months, with the 20% premium for lack of evidence of prior cover (despite providing it).
I sent them a snottogram complaining about their shoddy business practicies and pointing out all their failings to date. I've yet to hear from them. After asking on the forum how to avoid debt collectors or a bad mark on the credit file for being "past due", it turns out I can actually cancel the policy as long as it's within 10 days of receiving it. Since Blue Shield were so pathetic at sending out the policy, it was indeed less than 10 days ago. I phoned them up again and asked about canceling... 5 minutes later, both the kids' policies were cancelled "never effective" and thus no bills to pay at all! Of course, this now meant they were uninsured so a quick purchase of inbound immigrant insurance to cover them up until July 1st was needed.

Two days later, the policy for DS arrived.

On Wednesday I got an email from my estate agents in the UK confirming that exchange of contracts had taken place. Phew! At least the buyers are legally bound to buy the house now, and I can sue the pants off them if they didn't (well, I'd get the 10% deposit I guess). There was no mention of completion date which I later understood is agreed at exchange of contracts so today (Friday) I phoned them up to find that completion had already taken place today! Hooray, at last!

Now we can go out and buy a bed and a decent TV! Okay, so we're spending the money before we've got it but at least it's guaranteed now.
Comments (0) :: Permanent Link

Saturday 16 June 2012 - Health insurance cards arrived

Blue Shield coverage started for the kids on June 1st. It's now June 15th and their cards have finally arrived today - two weeks late.

Their Kaiser Permanente coverage starts on July 1st. It's now June 15th and their cards have arrived today in the same delivery as the Blue Shit, sorry, Shield - two weeks early.

I hear good things about KP. Let's hope they continue in this way!

My reply only went back to them a few days ago so it's too early to expect a response.
Comments (0) :: Permanent Link

Tuesday 12 June 2012 - Health insurance progress

Blue Shield offered coverage to the kids for about $1.5k. Kaiser Permanente have confirmed coverage from July 1st for roundly $400 total. Time to wave goodbye to Blue Shield I think. Just this morning the wife has also had coverage confirmed, for $200, also by KP.

However, I wasn't so lucky. They declined coverage based on my pre-existing conditions. They sent a subsequent letter stating I might qualify for the KP HIPAA if I supply a Certificate of Creditable Coverage and meet all the requirements they then list. As the application was online with no room to add attachments like certificates, it seems like a deliberate delaying tactic. Also, the NHS don't supply such certificates - I just have the letter from the surgery. Neverthless I have to try so I've written them a nice letter, pointing out NHS coverage, including the letter, and that I meet the conditions they state. Let's hope that works.

The additional conditions:
1. At least 18 months of credible coverage (Yes)
2. Recent coverage must have been through a group health plan, a governmental plan (yes), church or Medi-Cal.
3. Must have elected and exhuasted COBRA (yes, as I don't qualify)
4. Recent coverage must not have been terminated due to non-payment (no payments so yes)
5. Must not be eligable for any other plan (rejected for all so far).

Fingers crossed!
Comments (0) :: Permanent Link

Friday 8 June 2012 - Health insurance (probably a recurring theme)

Blue Shield before coming to the US - denied as not a California resident
Blue Shield after coming to the US - denied as not been a California resident for 6 months
Kaiser Permanante after coming to the US - denied due to pre-existing conditions

We managed to get physical exams for each of us yesterday. What should not have taken long ended up costing twice as much as quoted and taking 3 hours. Originally the doctors said it would be $55 for each of us - fair enough. Then when we turned up with a different receptionist on duty, she was firstly surprised that we wanted a physical though she did later admit that was what the computer said. Secondly she said it would be $110 for me because of regular blood tests and $170 for the wife as she had to have a pap scan on top of the blood tests. Later we found out that the pap scan was unnecessary but I suppose it's worth checking anyway.

It's clear we're not going to get individual/family cover, at least for the parents. For the kids we're paying massive premiums (about $1600 per month total). That is supposed to come down once we send the physical exam results. They also hiked the rates due to lack of prior credible coverage, despite sending it. So we'll send it again, with the results, with the expectation that the premiums will barely differ. At least if they do drop then we'll be pleasantly surprised!

The only solution is for one of us to get a job. I'm currently tied into a contract with my previous employer in the UK, probably for another couple of months as it's limited by a total number of hours rather than a fixed end date. I can look for a part time job but up here in Victorville there aren't many. So I'd need a part time telecommute job for a software consultant that is more old school Win32 programming - very slim pickings! So the wife, currently on maternity leave, is probably going to have to go back to work.

In the UK she was an ICU nurse (critical care, a big step up from a general ward nurse). Previously she'd worked in the Philippine Heart Center which is quite prestigious. So she's well qualified, except she has to take her NCLEX exam. This is actually quite a tough exam which can't really be learnt through practice alone so she has to revise a lot. Having two kids does not make that easy! She did do a fair bit while in the Philippines though, as she had family to take care of the kids. Bear in mind that I'm working 8-10 hours a day so there's little time left for me to look after the kids.

It is possible that she could become an LVN. Again, this requires an exam, but should be easier than the NCLEX. There are two hospitals up here in Victorville where she could possibly work though it obviously depends on job openings and actually getting hired for the job. But it's one of our last hopes to get decent health insurance!

One thing that will help is that our 4.5 year old son starts pre-school next week. It's three days a week, up to 10.5 hours per day, for $90 per week. I'm told this is really cheap for the US in general, and the school has a 4 out of 5 star rating. He loved it while we were looking around. Yes, it's more money, but it's investment for the future - as in more time for the wife to revise. It's also good for him to get out of the house more and be with other people.

Change of subject. After our medicals yesterday we went to our cousin's place in Tarzana, a two hour drive from here. Coming back late evening we were alarmed to find the Satnav/GPS reporting a 1 hour delay. But we couldn't work out where the problem was! We though it was on the 134 which kind of cuts a corner, so we would instead head further south and then east on I-10 instead of I-210 - in fact it's only a few minutes' difference normally. But as soon as we did that, it recalculated and decided there was a delay of 1h30 instead! Aargh. With a bit of rummaging around Google Maps on the phone, the wife managed to find out 3 lanes of I-15 were closed in Cajon Pass. Now, we couldn't remember how many lanes there actually were - it was either 3 or 4. Perhaps the lack of "road closure" meant it was still passable but with severe delays. At 11:30pm I really didn't want to sit in a traffic jam. So we called the wife's aunt who lives in San Dimas, on I-210. At that time, it turned out we were only 10 minutes away on I-10 - once her aunt said we could stay the night, worked out where we were, we crossed 3 lanes over to exit less than a mile later to head north and to San Dimas! At her door, as I say, 10 minutes later and we had a sleeping quarters for the night instead of traffic jams. Phew! Oh, and I-15 through Cajon Pass is the ONLY way to get to Victorville without a one hour or more detour around either side of the mountains. Had we known when we left Tarzana we could have detoured immediately, heading north of the mountains and then along the top, and only got back 10-15 minutes later than using I-10/I-15 south of the mountains etc.
Comments (0) :: Permanent Link

Monday 4 June 2012 - Driving test

On Thursday I decided it was about time to take the driving test - I had another 4 weeks in which I had to take it. An appointment was available for the Monday so I took it. Turned up 10 minutes early and was processed quickly and told to wait in one of three marked bays. There seemed to be two testers and my 11:30 appointment was more like 11:45 - I was fully expecting it to be late so this wasn't bad.

First she asked for each of the turn signals, brakes, horn, windscreen wipers and emergency brake to be tested while she walked around the car. We then backed out of the space, drove around the test center building in its car park, then pulled onto the road. It sits at the end of a circle so naturally I tended to the right rather than drive straight across, but got an instant reprimand saying "California drivers don't drive like that"!

Then was a right turn, easy enough, except I hadn't noticed a pedestrian crossing the road from the far side, walking through cars stopped at the traffic lights, and wandering across my lane right in front of me. The examiner shouted at the same time as I braked but that was reprimand number two and I assumed a failure. Nevertheless she told to drive on where we did regular turns, reversing in a straight line, and nothing particularly taxing really.

Oh, there was one other thing - we were driving down a hill and traffic lights turned amber against me. Do I stop or continue? I'd only just checked in my mirrors again so I knew there was nothing behind me. So I stopped, but it was heavy braking. I explained my reasoning (about the only thing I actually said during the test apart from acknowledgements of instructions) but she said nothing.

Back at the center I got another reprimand about the pedestrian incident. She handed over a piece of paper but I couldn't immediately see what the result was. But it seemed to be a pass, however, I checked anyway - "Did you pass me?" - "No, you passed yourself". Phew!

Physical card in the mail 2-4 weeks from now.
Comments (0) :: Permanent Link

Monday 28 May 2012 - Housewarming!

Firstly a quick update on the Philippine Airlines saga. They appear to have lost interest in replying to me. So over to Lloyds TSB in the UK to sort out - they say they'll refund the money in 10-14 days and investigate on my behalf. I don't quite know whether that means the money could be re-debited from my account if they hit the same brick wall I did or what. But it's progress.

To cap it all, we visited Universal Studios last week and somehow incurred a $150 charge that we have no knowledge of. It's listed on the statement as Admission/Ticketing yet we have another transaction which were the tickets we bought, for a different amount. So that's another payment in dispute, this time with AMEX. The way they swipe your cards in the US without a PIN, signature, or zip code really bothers me now. The other day we went to a restaurant and handed over the card for payment. The receipt came back with the basic bill, as expected, and a space for the tip. I wrote the tip and grand total on the receipt, the lady took the receipt and handed back my card and basically said "you can go now". In other words, I never witnessed the full amount being charged! Fortunately it was but if it wasn't? Another dispute with the card company?

Anyway, on to happier things. Now the wife and kids are here, we decided (a month ago) that we would have a housewarming party. It also coincided with our 5th anniversary. Perfect timing! Except for the weather. Up here, 3,200ft above sea level in the high desert, the weather can be pretty extreme at times. Over the last couple of days it''s dropped from 30c to 20c in the daytime, near freezing overnight, and 40mph winds. Naturally anything not tied down in the back yard ended up in the now-cold pool! Cold as the cover blew off as well, and the combination of no cover and the wind whipping up the surface really chills the pool, from 82F down to 70F (sorry for the mix of units).

We probably had around 25 people turn up - a nice number. Not too many, and not too few. We'd cooked as usual, and people had brought food as usual. Plenty left over but that's the way of (most Filipino) parties - most people take food home afterwards too. What you don't want to be left with is a big pile of food after they've gone, and today didn't disappoint!

The pool proved a big hit. Most that attended didn't have regular access to a pool so it was much appreciated. Apparently ours is quite big as well, at 30ft long and 7-8ft deep at its deepest point. Some even left their inflatables and gear so they could come back. If that's not endorsement then I don't know what is! One pair of kids, a 14-year old girl and a 10-year old boy, spent pretty much the entire afternoon in the pool and they, in fact all the kids from babies to teens, were genuinely nice kids.

Now, where's the aloe vera for my bright red back and shoulders?
Comments (0) :: Permanent Link

Wednesday 9 May 2012 - Philippine Airlines

After filling in long forms trying to book Philippine Airlines and then the whole thing failing at the payment stage, and being told that the reservations had been automatically cancelled due to non-payment, guess what? I've been charged, yet I have no ticket, reservation number, confirmation number, or anything. Long snottagram sent to PAL. Grr.

I fully expect to be told that I have two seats booked and that to cancel will incur a fee - if indeed there would be any refund. So I am sitting in the US, with a bank account used in the UK, for a Philippine-based airline. Fun and games ahead.

Comments (1) :: Permanent Link

Tuesday 1 May 2012 - A bad day

Well, it had to happen eventually. Three and a half weeks of sunshine and smiles turned to a bitter taste in the mouth - almost literally - when the reconditioned fridge/freezer started making a high pitched death squeal late in the evening, followed by a puddle of water underneath the following morning. Yes, the fridge had died. The lights were on, it was making noises - quieter now - but it wasn't cold. Cue phone calls to the supplier - "I'll call you back". Four hours later I phone again, "Let me get to the workshop and I'll call you back within 2 hours". Four hours later again, no response. Text message sent last night. No reply. Great, that's $400 of fridge and $100 of food gone to waste. None of my friends know of any recourse to get repairs done or money back from the dealer.

Time to close this chapter and move on. This time I will buy brand new. I just hope the washer and dryer last longer - fingers crossed.

Over the last few days I've been trying to book flights to bring my family over. This is with Philippine Airlines, the only carrier to fly direct, non-stop from Manila to Los Angeles. Though I could get cheaper with other airlines, I really could do without changing planes enroute with a toddler and a baby in tow. So I fill in a massive form for the three of them, visa information and everything else, and then get to the payment stage... payment refused, "and your entire booking has been cancelled". What?! Why not hold it and ask me for a different payment method? Oh no, far too difficult. So we try again with a different card - massive form all over again, payment refused again. Aaaaaaargggghhh! The wife ended up going into a Philippine Airlines office to book it in person - successfully I hope. However, she was not able to book seats "because it's too far in advance". But you can reserve the seats online as you make the booking! "Oh but we don't know which type of plane it will be - there are three different sizes of B747-400". Actually there's only one size (that's part of what the -400 is all about). It's important that we get a bulkhead row, sitting together, otherwise we'll get split up and probably end up with the baby on our laps. Seating unresolved as of now.

So today I try to book my flight - as I'm going round trip and the family are going one way, we have to book separately. Again, payment refused, twice on different cards (one US, one UK). But in the course of my wife going to an airline office, she found out I had a reservation, just unpaid. So I phone up the LA office of the airline and explain the situation. She says she can see my reservation but I need to call back in an hour to see if the confirmation goes through. I point out that I made the reservation a few days ago so why an hour. She says she can see that I tried on April 26th - but I would still need to wait an hour! Sometimes you have to just go with the flow. So I'll call back in an hour... watch this space.
Comments (0) :: Permanent Link

Saturday 28 April 2012 - Shopping for cars

My wife and I had originally had a brand new Dodge Grand Caravan ready for us through International Auto Source but that deal fell through when I told them for the third time that I was self employed. Oh well, we didn't lose any money on the deal.

But we still liked the Caravan, though as a vehicle it seems to be a bit like Marmite - some people love it, some people hate it. We'd seen the equivalent model in the UK though the UK model was a higher spec than even the top US model. So my mission was to find a second hand model somewhere in the LA area. Unfortunately there only ever seemed to be half a dozen on the market at any one time within a 75 mile radius so there wasn't much choice.

Upon visiting my wife's cousin however, he suggested somewhere he'd seen on a local TV program. This place offered financing to those who couldn't get finance through a bank - basically the dealer would hold the "pink slip" and act as the bank. For an expat with no credit history this sounded like an option. However, he couldn't remember exactly where it was!

So we drove to the general area and had a look at one dealership which didn't really have anything that stood out. I should point out that the wife had just agreed to a similar model if a Caravan wasn't available. Anyway, this dealer knew the other dealer that was on TV and directed us to her.

We went to what we thought was the dealer but quickly realised it wasn't - however, could see it in the next block. But this dealer had a Town and Country vehicle which was similar to a Caravan - 7 seats, power sliding doors, leather seats, and $8000. We had a test drive. We smelt something burning. We got back to the dealership and opened the bonnet to find oil dripping on the hot engine. We asked if it would be fixed. Salesman scratched his chin and said "I don't know". We walked away. It might have been a simple fix, it might have been major. And if the salesman has no authority over what he was selling then there was no point in continuing.

So we walked to the next dealer. There were only 10 cars on the entire lot - it was small! But to my surprise they had a Dodge Grand Caravan SXT with bucket seats in the second row, power sliding door on the right, and DVD player in the ceiling. The only thing missing was the leather seats! At $7000 it was well within my budget - assuming I could get a little financing. It was a 2005 model with 103000 miles on the clock which isn't too bad for that age. And the condition of the vehicle and inside cabin was pretty good.

The next question was finance. I offered to put $5000 down with the remaining $3000 roughly (including tax, plates, etc) on finance. I explained the situation and she was still happy to do it! We went back to collect the necessary documentation (tenancy agreement, SSN) and came back a couple of hours later (via a tasty Mexican restaurant next door). The car had been cleaned and was positively gleaming! We went through the credit details - at 21% it wasn't cheap but frankly I'm lucky to get any credit at this stage. With a payment period of 10 months it worked out to $250 in interest - less if I paid it off earlier. That's a small price to pay for convenience like this.

The couple that ran the place were so friendly. Despite their small lot they said they sold around 20 cars a month - more than the bigger dealer on the next block. On this particular day they'd sold 3 including mine. Remember, this is a lot that only holds 12 cars maximum. They kept their costs low by not employing anybody else - not that they needed to with a lot this size. They also did all their credit in-house, compared to the boys up the road who paid a commission every time they sold a car - i.e. the car buyer pays the extra commission. Even if you had problems one month paying your bill, she said to phone them up and explain the problem and they'd work it out. Obviously if you didn't pay anything for a couple of months then she'd have the car repo'd - and she still had the pink slip until you made the final payment.

All-in-all, quite a pleasant experience buying a car, compared to the nightmare I was led to believe it would be. This is probably because I avoided the big dealers.

Oh, and the insurance was a doddle too. She recommended somebody she knew locally but I tried to explain that it's hard for expats to get cheap car insurance. There is a scheme where you pay $440 to join what is basically a club with membership benefits - and one of those benefits included cutting car insurance premiums from $2000 for 6 months down to under $1000 - well worth the money for that saving. But the broker came up with a price of $80/month plus $200 down, i.e. $680 for 6 months which was very reasonable! My wife's cousin said the coverage was decent and the price was definitely good, so we went for it. Again, avoided the big dealers and went local.

Comments (1) :: Permanent Link

<- Last Page :: Next Page ->

About Me

My attempt to get an EB1a visa for the US, a person of extraordinary ability, which gives a green card pretty much immediately, and there is no waiting period unlike most other visas.

«  October 2018  »


View my profile
Email Me


This Blog is hosted by BritishExpats.com. To report a problem with this blog, Click Here.