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California for work

California for work

Old Feb 21st 2012, 10:53 am
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Question California for work

Hi All,
I am male, 30, married, with no kids (yet)
I've been going through the interview process for a technical role in Silicon Valley and am getting close to the end. If I am successful in the current step then it will be time to discuss compensation/salary - if not then I need to have an idea for the next role I apply to in that area, or perhaps it will put me off applying to anything else.

I'm not too sure of the salary. By doing research I can see that I should be on approx $150k according to my area of expertise and years experience. However, looking at similar jobs in glassdoor.com, it looks like the average for my role is around $80k. This seems very low given that top companies will pay this to newly grads, and even public sector workers in the area (police, fire etc) seem to be on well over $100k. This job is a very technical role in one of the top technology firms in the valley. Depending on how experience is calculated I have around 8 years worth. Either way, I don't know what to expect, and what is reasonable to ask for.

In the UK, I am a contractor, so my expectations are high anyway. Will I be disappointed? Given that I'm seeing contradicting information regarding salaries what information can I trust and use to my advantage?

Also, I wish to understand why even people from the UK say that Silicon Valley is expensive. $4.00/gallon vs £1.40/litre petrol for starters. Food is slightly cheaper. House prices are confusing, but generally for what you would pay in the UK, you would have a larger house in the Valley. I've heard people mention that you need around a million dollars to have a decent place in a decent area - hard to believe. I'm seeing hundreds of reasonable properties for $300K to $500K. There are also quite a few for less than $100K - wouldn't necessarily call these places prestigious, but even if you go all the way up north in the UK, you cannot find anything similar for that price.

I've been looking on a range of different sites, realtor.com, craigslist, for Palo Alto and a 20-mile radius. Most of my expenses that I pay in the UK will not exist in the States. Ie. I don't plan on driving 1000 miles per week, and even if I do, it won't cost anywhere near as much as it does here. Obviously I will have a bunch of work benefits that as I contractor I don't have in the UK. These 2 things alone will save me around £200-£300/week ~ $300-$470/week, which I'm sure will make a difference.

I'm not too sure how much deposit/down payment I will have available - it all depends on how much I need. Ie. if I need to sell my house to use to buy a house in the US, then I can, otherwise I can just rent it out. For this I guess I will need to know how accurate the monthly mortgage payments on realtor.com are.

I know that the various taxes that need to be paid are generally lower - is there some tax, or other expense that I am unaware of? If Silicon Valley is supposed to be so expensive, where is this expense, clearly I'm missing something.

So essentially, I am completely unaware of what my outgoings should be (except for a vague feeling that they will be much less) and what my incomings should be (except that it will be somewhere between $80K and $150K).
Is there some proven method that I can use to calculate what my incomings and outgoings should be, or maybe someone can give give me an idea of certain expenses that I may be unaware of?

Many Thanks.
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Old Feb 21st 2012, 11:14 am
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Default Re: California for work

Have they spoken to you about visas yet? What visa will they sponsor you for?

Has there been any chat about benefits from the company? Health insurance? How much will they pay and how much do you have to pay?

What part of Silicon Valley is the job located in / where exactly do you want to live? (hint: East Palo Alto is quite a bit different from Palo Alto, so don't get too confused by those housing listings).
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Old Feb 21st 2012, 11:22 am
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Default Re: California for work

I've been researching the ar$e out of the area over recent months and have to say that $80k does indeed sound low for what you describe. What you receive will depend entirely on your individual circumstance and Im not a techy but there was a great thread about technology salaries in the SF area over on the city data forums recently - I suggest you try there. Readin it previously, if I were to guess your salary it would be about $120k but clearly I have NO IDEA what you do or how specialist it is etc. I assume you have the visa issues in hand?

As for the expenses in the area, your houses are unlikely to be in very nice areas and particularly are unlikely to have decent schools. For me, looking to rent in the East Bay area, I will need to pay about $2,200 to have OK schools and a commute of under 1h to San Francisco... I need a 3BR house though. If you don't have to commute to SF, then you can look further out possibly and away frmo BART lines which could be why you are seeing cheaper properties - it is certainly expensive though. Living outside London, I'd never need to pay that much over here for a 3BR house in an area I am comfortable with schools that aren't bad...

Don't forget healthcare costs - that for me is the gap between US and UK tax essentially which means they are pretty much cost neutral.
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Old Feb 21st 2012, 12:02 pm
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Default Re: California for work

Hi, thanks for the reply.
I think the visa is H1B that they will sponsor me for. They have said they will handle everything.

I'm not too worried about healthcare as its all covered for me, and at least partially covered for my wife.

As for where I want to live, I will need to commute to near Palo Alto, so have been doing searches for a 20-mile radius. Transportation is covered for this particular job, but either way 20-miles for me is nothing as I'm used to a lot more. That can take me as far as Fremont, Pleasanton, perhaps Livermore which all seem very different. Or if I wanted to go closer, then along the 101 or 280.

I can see that Palo Alto East is much cheaper than Palo Alto, by about $100K, it would seem. East of the bay seems much cheaper, 3BRs with private pools at around $400K-$500K - is there a catch? This would be £700K+ at least anywhere in the UK.

Similar prices further south in San Jose, but quality seems to vary more.

I'm sure I will be spending time in SF, as its the closest places where things are happening, but not for work so I can just drive there when required.

I am currently well outside London, on the M4, so not used to £500K for a small studio flat. :-) More like £150K-£200K for a good sized (uk standard), good location 3BR.
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Old Feb 21st 2012, 12:07 pm
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Default Re: California for work

What role are you looking at? Sometimes a job title in the US is very different from the UK - ie same title, different job. $80k does sound low though, without knowing any more about your job.

If it's an H1B visa then you have to be paid the prevailing wage for that sector otherwise you don't get the visa.

A nice house on a website might appear to be good value but you really need to visit the area. Who knows what's behind the photographer, or what the crime rate is for that street, or that the traffic is so bad in that area that it takes you hours to get to and from work? http://www.city-data.com/ might help. In addition, most people recommend renting first - you are less likely to even be able to get a mortgage anyway, unless you have a huge deposit.

It's been said already but I'll say it again - healthcare. This can take a huge chunk out of your wages if the company doesn't pay it. [Edit] - ok, so the employer is covering it. But what exactly? Just the premiums? What about co-pays, deductibles etc, which can add up to thousands per year depending on the policy?

Last edited by GeoffM; Feb 21st 2012 at 12:11 pm. Reason: Writing at same time as OP replying
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Old Feb 21st 2012, 12:08 pm
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Default Re: California for work

With all due respect, you need to know exactly what your health care covers.
I have good health care cover through my husband's work and it includes separate coverage for dental, optical and prescriptions. I still pay a co pay of 20% and as a family, have a deductible of $3000 per year.
So even with good health coverage it still costs us a lot of money.
Getting sick in the US or having to have a lot of dental work done can cost you $$$$
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Old Feb 21st 2012, 2:00 pm
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Default Re: California for work

Hi,
I agree with you all that I need to have these details.
If I were in the UK I wouldn't dream of even speaking to a potential employer without knowing exactly what the exact salary/bonus/overtime/shares/benefits are. But this is not just a standard employer - think along the lines of Google, Facebook, Apple, LinkedIn, Twitter etc... None of these companies give these details up front. They mention some benefits but do not elaborate until an offer is made - that is also the first mention of salary.

Obviously I could wait until an offer is made where I will get more details, but I want to get an understanding of these figures before I get them - otherwise I may end up accepting something which I may later regret - or, if I don't get an offer and I apply for something else, I will be in the same situation as now without any more insight of expectations.

In the UK I can easily say that I need £50-60K to live just outside the greater London area with not too many assumptions. The area I'm looking at in CA is not much larger. With Worst case and Best case scenarios I should be able to get a feel of what I'm up against and will be prepared.

eg.
If my salary is the higher range (~$150K) and all healthcare costs are covered) and I have a high deposit (~$300K) what is the mortgage I can afford?
simarily....
lower range salary (~$80K) and paying for health care insurance myself, and low deposit (~$100K)

I can then play about with the figures in-between knowing what I will need to barely exist, and to live confortably, with/without risks etc.
If anyone has a link to an online calculator or a method which allows me to test out certain figures, that would be most useful.

Everyone has mentioned that paying for an illness (eg dental work) is high, but how much to pay for the cover myself? I'm assuming that will be the best option. What do people do who get ill and do not have any sort of cover?

Apart from healthcare, are there any other surprise large potential costs I need to be aware of?

Slowly, I will be able to fill in the gaps of details. The only way to get all details from all the above companies is to get offered a position from all of them. As an example, I've heard Google's process can take anywhere up to 6 months.


I will take a look at city-data.com, but I would need to have an idea of my range before as that will limit the areas I can live in, I can already see some areas that I like in terms of crime, education etc, but that comes later.

The closest match to my job title would be Systems Engineer level 3-5 taken from http://www.homefair.com/real-estate/...ator.asp....so obviously I have an idea of the salary from that, but just a little confused at finding other sources which are much lower than that site. I specialise in Linux/Unix administration and systems development. Personally I don't believe in job titles.....my current job title is "Senior Software Engineer", although I do not see myself as that in any country.
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Old Feb 21st 2012, 2:09 pm
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Default Re: California for work

Originally Posted by elop View Post
I can see that Palo Alto East is much cheaper than Palo Alto, by about $100K, it would seem. East of the bay seems much cheaper, 3BRs with private pools at around $400K-$500K - is there a catch? This would be £700K+ at least anywhere in the UK.
Once upon a time, around 15 years ago, East Palo Alto had the highest per-capita murder rate in the entire country. It's not as bad as it was, but as has already been mentioned, East Palo Alto and Palo Alto are worlds apart, even though you just have 101 running between them.

Not sure what East Bay areas you were looking at. I suppose you might find something in those price ranges in the further-out areas, but they're still pretty expensive.

Are you really planning to purchase a house in the near term? You'll have an extremely hard time getting a mortgage with no US credit history. If you're planning to pay cash, then you're ok.
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Old Feb 21st 2012, 2:38 pm
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Default Re: California for work

A couple of points (and yes, mods are working to fix the duplicate posts--my browsers is just acting up).

Google "payroll calculator" and you'll get a good idea of your take-home paycheck at the end of the month. A general rule of thumb is you take home about 65% of your gross income.

If an H1 visa your wife will be unable to work. You won't be able to start work until next October.

Health insurance, on the open market for two married 30 year olds is around $500-$800 depending on your health conditions. Figure about half of that if just her. The specifics of health care will have co-pays (amount you pay for each time you goto the doctor) or even a percentage share (insurance pays 80%, you pay 20%). That means if you have a baby, which can cost about $15,000 for a simple delivery, your share will be about $3,000. And as for people who don't have or can't afford insurance, that is a very very very long discussion....

I don't think anyone would recommend buying within the first six months of relocating. Just too many variables at play, from commute, job security, homesickness (yes, seriously) and market conditions. On top of that, your credit rating will be a big -0- zero more or less so may have a tougher time getting a mortgage and pay a higher rate.

You will likely need two cars, one for you and one for the wife. I'd say a 'trapped spouse' unable to work and unable to get out of the house is one of the most common causes of homesickness.

p.s. also check out dice.com. It's a tech job site and they have a salary survey too.

http://media.dice.com/report/2012-20...salary-survey/

Last edited by penguinsix; Feb 21st 2012 at 2:43 pm.
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Old Feb 21st 2012, 2:59 pm
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Default Re: California for work

I'd stop freaking out about house prices, don't buy one till you have a green card and the right to live here no matter what, selling isn't easy or cheap and jumping into buying could be a financial disaster if your job ends suddenly and you are left with 10 days to leave the country. Rent, then if you don't like the area or the commute, switch to another rental in a better location. Save you money, rentals you won't have to pay out for all the repairs, gardeners (usually) and upgrades.
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Old Feb 21st 2012, 3:45 pm
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Default Re: California for work

Originally Posted by elop View Post
Also, I wish to understand why even people from the UK say that Silicon Valley is expensive. $4.00/gallon vs £1.40/litre petrol for starters. Food is slightly cheaper. House prices are confusing, but generally for what you would pay in the UK, you would have a larger house in the Valley. I've heard people mention that you need around a million dollars to have a decent place in a decent area - hard to believe. I'm seeing hundreds of reasonable properties for $300K to $500K. There are also quite a few for less than $100K - wouldn't necessarily call these places prestigious, but even if you go all the way up north in the UK, you cannot find anything similar for that price.
You need to realise that you will drive a bucket load more in the US than in the UK, that there isn't realistically a decent alternative for most people and that as you will have no US driving or credit history, insurance/loans etc will be much more expensive.

Property, the problem isn't so much buying, though there is that, but the property taxes, which in decent areas with good schools can be in the tens of thousands.

Just with all things, when you look at it on the surface, with your holiday hat on, things can appear cheaper, but scratch the surface, things here aren't really any cheaper than a comparable place in the UK. Some things are less, some are more, but most are the same.

You do need to understand the benefits. Tech companies do tend to be better than most when it comes to health insurance and holiday allowance but you've got to be aware that in some states there isn't a requirement to offer any days paid off so they really do make it a big thing over here if you get more than a week kind of deal. You will get this info if you asked if they are considering you, maybe not exact details, but ball park ranges that they offer people in that level of experience.

Healthcare, there are so many threads on this topic and the wiki has loads of great info to get your head around. It is a mess and it is often a maker or breaker here.

Don't buy a house, for a start, selling it costs you a lot more here than in the UK and you really want to be renting for the first year. It'll give you an idea to figure out the kind of household lifestyle you'll be interested in, the type of commute you can deal with as well as school districts. Not to mention a chance to build up some credit history.
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Old Feb 21st 2012, 4:26 pm
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Default Re: California for work

Hi all,

penguinsix, those figures look shocking - makes me wonder how those working in McDonald's etc manage to survive, but yes, lets not get into that. I guess I can't have it both ways - some things cheaper, other things dearer.

don't worry - I'm not about to buy a house straight away. However I'm thinking about it now as its a potential future cost of living which is dependent on salary - besides health care, this is my next concern. I'll probably be in (h/m)otels for the first couple of months, followed by rent, but as the long term vision is having a house (as I do here), I need to make sure I can afford it when ready. Will be a bit silly to be dependent on a far-future promotion, which may or may not happen - I need to be prepared from the beginning.

I think I wouldn't start work until early 2013, with visa applications starting in October, but all agreements and negotiations ASAP So, still plenty of time before potentially starting, but everything else will be a rush, especially negotiations. I'm not too sure how the process works exactly...if I accept an offer today will they put a visa application through today to sit in a queue until October, or can it only be submitted in October? What I do know is that their paperwork process takes literally months so the sooner it begins the better.

The company does have 21 days paid time off (officially) + public holidays, although I'd imagine that these are difficult to get due to workloads etc. Nothing I'm personally worried about though.

One of the things that I'm worried about is the different employment regulations meaning they can get rid of me at any time for any reason. As a contractor I'm used to it and has never caused any issues, but probably something that could be dangerous as an expat. Am I right in assuming that with an H1 I will not be able to transfer to another company unless I get re-sponsored?

Bob, will I really be driving more than 1000-2000 miles per week in the US? I once did that in a single day, but was in Germany, so doesn't really count. :-) I probably won't even drive to work in the US so I can't imagine where I'd drive to for that distance. These figures have shocked the hell out of all Americans that I met. I think the UK average mileage is 12-20K miles per year, I do at least 60K miles. What is the US annual average, or at least California average?

Is anyone reading this actually a British Expat, or just potentials and natives? Interested to hear some true life horror stories from those who have perhaps taken the plunge a few years ago - or perhaps Americans in the UK?

Your comments so far have been most useful, many thanks.
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Old Feb 21st 2012, 4:31 pm
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Default Re: California for work

Originally Posted by elop View Post
Apart from healthcare, are there any other surprise large potential costs I need to be aware of?
Only other I can think of is car insurance - there's some stuff in the Wiki somewhere I think but $500-$1000 for 6 months for a fresh-off-the-boat immigrant seems a common range.

Originally Posted by elop View Post
The closest match to my job title would be Systems Engineer level 3-5 taken from http://www.homefair.com/real-estate/...ator.asp....so obviously I have an idea of the salary from that, but just a little confused at finding other sources which are much lower than that site. I specialise in Linux/Unix administration and systems development. Personally I don't believe in job titles.....my current job title is "Senior Software Engineer", although I do not see myself as that in any country.
Systems engineer... the bloke that sits in the corner, playing games, until somebody needs Outlook fixing again; average salary. Senior Software Engineer, the productive and highest paid earners. In my company anyway. That's the problem - you need to look at skills, not job title, though SSE is pretty clear. Systems engineer is somewhat more vague as it can range from the lowly "kick the router" bloke to somebody that designs IT solutions for big companies.

As an SSE in California you ought to be looking at way over $80k. If you think that your role is above that of an SSE then $80k is definitely too low!
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Old Feb 21st 2012, 4:35 pm
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Default Re: California for work

Originally Posted by elop View Post
I think I wouldn't start work until early 2013, with visa applications starting in October, but all agreements and negotiations ASAP So, still plenty of time before potentially starting, but everything else will be a rush, especially negotiations. I'm not too sure how the process works exactly...if I accept an offer today will they put a visa application through today to sit in a queue until October, or can it only be submitted in October? What I do know is that their paperwork process takes literally months so the sooner it begins the better.
H1B applications start from April 1st (or first working day after I guess) with an earliest start date of October 1st. Last year the allocation ran out in about December I think; no real way of telling which way it'll go this year. If there were visas available still then you could apply in December, for example, for a start as soon as the visa is approved. The applications themselves only take a few months I think (3-4 max?).

Originally Posted by elop View Post
Is anyone reading this actually a British Expat, or just potentials and natives? Interested to hear some true life horror stories from those who have perhaps taken the plunge a few years ago - or perhaps Americans in the UK?
Most here are British who are now in the US. Personally, I'm moving in a few weeks. I've been at it for over 18 months, learning as much as possible, yet will almost certainly still have a shock and a lot to learn when I finally go.
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Old Feb 21st 2012, 5:06 pm
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Default Re: California for work

Eat Palo Alto is the pits, I took a wrong turn a couple of weeks ago and drove through, it's a long time since I thought my car was nice.

As for house prices, we currently rent and are looking at the moment as our landlords have put the house up for sale. You can't get a 3 bed house for under 3.5 k per month, and lots of those are long term rentals with battered kitchens and dirty.

The 1m mark is right for Palo Alto and surrounding, houses that you see for 800k will sell for 1.2m with 20 bids on them.

Anything you have seen for under 300k will be a fabricated home
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