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UK- Palo Alto: What I've learnt 1 month in

UK- Palo Alto: What I've learnt 1 month in

Old Apr 29th 2018, 10:43 pm
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Default UK- Palo Alto: What I've learnt 1 month in

Hi, we moved from UK to Palo Alto in March. We got relocated with my husband's company on an L1 visa.

So, we've here a month now and I thought I'd post about how things are going so far and a few important things for anyone thinking about moving or in the process of moving to this area. Just things that I wish I'd known ahead of time or things I've learnt since arriving here, hopefully it's helpful to someone!

SCHOOLS
We have three kids aged 3-11. That covers, or will cover, Elementary School (age 5-11, or K-5, which is the equivalent to Reception-Year 6 in UK), Middle School (age 11-13, or Grade 6-8) and Senior School beyond that.
You cannot sort out a school place prior to your arrival in the country and securing a residence. Schools are allocated to a catchment similar to UK. Once you have arrived and have an address you can go to the schools office (here it's the PAUSD office) and register your child/children. You will need proof of address, passports, visa information etc and they will assign a school to you (hopefully your local but that is dependent on spaces, our older two are in a school which is a 15 minute drive away).

Most importantly, your kids will need to get a test for TB and a test or proof (medical records or doctor's letter) that they have had chicken pox (varicella). You can do that in the UK beforehand but we did both here at our local CVS walk-in pharmacy. It's expensive but luckily we could claim back via my husband's company. It's a really good idea to get copies of all your family GP & Dental records.

We couldn't do anything on our medical cover because we didn't have SSN (social security) numbers at this point. You have to go to a Social Security Office with all your documentation in order to be assigned an SSN number and then your SSN card is mailed to you, which takes about a week. You can just turn up, take a number ticket and wait your turn. It took about two hours for us, but I've been told that is an unusually long wait.

RENT
In Palo Alto and surrounding neighborhoods, expect to pay upwards of $5-6k a month for a 3 bed place. And they will most likely not be too big and not be high spec or even recently decorated. I was really surprised what was on offer for the money. It's mind-blowing!
Property here moves FAST, especially in Summer so you need to be ready to sign a contract the day you see something. My husband and I came out a month before we moved, spent two days looking at places and signed a contract less than a hour before we had to leave for the airport. You won't have any credit history, so you'll need your employment contract with salary details.

CREDIT
Getting anything on credit will be more expensive because of the lack of credit history. Sucks, but just how it is. Here it's very common for people to not have a credit history because there's such a large expat community of professionals, so you'll be able to get lease agreements on cars for example, but they'll be at a higher rate. You need to build up your credit score. We've been advised to pay for things on credit card, but never exceed 50% of the card max and make sure you never miss a payment!

DRIVING
Not too bad at all. I was terrified, having never driven an automatic, wrong side of the road and most cars here resemble small tanks! But lanes are wide, parking bays big and there's always plenty of parking. You're supposed to book in to transfer to a California license within two weeks but it's very relaxed here. I've just done my theory test (you can download free apps for practice, test's relatively easy) and we're booked in a few weeks time for the practical. You will need your own vehicle for the practical and someone with a full California license must drive you!
Key Rules of the road as a beginner:
1. You can turn right on red (so long as there is not a sign prohibiting it and pedestrians always have right of way)
2. You must fully stop at every stop sign, and there are a lot. Typically first to the stop line at junctions gets priority)
3. The lights take aaaaages to change. I mean it, like forever. Especially when turning left.
4. Pedestrians have right of way at all times, even if not on a crossing.
5. You have to parallel park in the direction of traffic. You'll get a ticket if you're facing the wrong way.

GROCERIES
It's not like back home, you cannot get everything in one store. Shopping is a tedious and lengthy experience. But the selection and the fruit and veg and meat available is amazing.
The popular shops in price order from needing a new mortgage to relatively reasonable...
1. Whole Foods (I have not braved this yet)
2. Safeway (not like Safeway back home! Great fruit and veg and general supermarkety stuff) Be prepared, it's expensive. I nearly died first time. GO TO HELP DESK AND PICK UP A SAFEWAY LOYALTY CARD. It knocks about 30% off the ticket price per item.
3. Trader Joe's - this is where everyone gets their fruit and veg and is reasonably priced.
4. Costco - sign up for a costco card. This is where everyone gets their meat. You'll probably end up BBQ'ing 2 or 3 times a week and the meat is great quality and priced well for the quality and size.
5. Walmart. They do brand labels like cereal, tinned goods, washing powder etc etc for much lower than anywhere else but their fresh goods are pretty dire.

I think that's about it! Other than to say, so far me and the family are loving it here (even though the cost of living is astronomical). The weather is great, the people are so friendly and most people here have been in the 'new kid' position so they're really eager to help you.

Sorry for the mega long post!
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Old Apr 30th 2018, 2:50 am
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Default Re: UK- Palo Alto: What I've learnt 1 month in

Good post. Sounds like things are working out for you.

Regarding the SSN and medical - my insurance company has it, but I never give it to anyone else. They all ask for it and I always decline to provide it. They rarely argue, and I always win that argument anyway.

Credit card. You’ll hear a lot of opinions. One of mine is that you should probably drop that “50% max” down to 20 or 30 once you start to get credit. 50% will likely hinder your ability to increase your credit score at some point soon. And pay the card in full every month. Paying interest on your credit card will not improve your score.
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Old Apr 30th 2018, 4:02 am
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Default Re: UK- Palo Alto: What I've learnt 1 month in

Originally Posted by AdobePinon View Post
Good post. Sounds like things are working out for you.

Regarding the SSN and medical - my insurance company has it, but I never give it to anyone else. They all ask for it and I always decline to provide it. They rarely argue, and I always win that argument anyway.

Credit card. You’ll hear a lot of opinions. One of mine is that you should probably drop that “50% max” down to 20 or 30 once you start to get credit. 50% will likely hinder your ability to increase your credit score at some point soon. And pay the card in full every month. Paying interest on your credit card will not improve your score.
Thank you! I've heard that staying below the 30% mark on the credit card is better so that's what we're aiming for. Plus leasing 2 cars at the moment.

Getting used to everything a bit at a time! Haven't needed the doctors yet, but that will be the next step!
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Old Apr 30th 2018, 7:14 am
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Default Re: UK- Palo Alto: What I've learnt 1 month in

Originally Posted by AdobePinon View Post
Credit card. You’ll hear a lot of opinions. One of mine is that you should probably drop that “50% max” down to 20 or 30 once you start to get credit. 50% will likely hinder your ability to increase your credit score at some point soon. And pay the card in full every month. Paying interest on your credit card will not improve your score.
With regards to this not using more than 20/30/50% of your credit card balance... I assume its ok to spend say 30% of it, go online and make an interim payment mid month and then crack on and spend 30% again before the month is up? Its therefore never having a balance of more then say 30% which is key?

When I move I am not taking a lot with me and just buying most things when I get there so will be doing a lot of spending and therefor want to make the most of CC rewards and the opportunity to start building my rating.
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Old Apr 30th 2018, 7:30 am
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Default Re: UK- Palo Alto: What I've learnt 1 month in

Originally Posted by Gf_121 View Post
With regards to this not using more than 20/30/50% of your credit card balance... I assume its ok to spend say 30% of it, go online and make an interim payment mid month and then crack on and spend 30% again before the month is up? Its therefore never having a balance of more then say 30% which is key?

When I move I am not taking a lot with me and just buying most things when I get there so will be doing a lot of spending and therefor want to make the most of CC rewards and the opportunity to start building my rating.
You're on the right track. Utilization is calculated and submitted to the credit bureaus on your statement day. Until then you can make payments as you go. So in theory you can cycle your credit limit multiple times each month, then pay off in full a few days before statement day and come out with a 0% utilization.

That said, it's a lot of faffing around for a few measly rewards.
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Old Apr 30th 2018, 7:32 am
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Default Re: UK- Palo Alto: What I've learnt 1 month in

I also follow AdobePinon's advice regarding ssns. I've been asked at the eye doctor for it and the dentist. I guess it makes things easier with submitting to insurance, but it's not required.
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Old Apr 30th 2018, 4:03 pm
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Default Re: UK- Palo Alto: What I've learnt 1 month in

Good observations, and your rent is astronomical (equivalent here for a nice 3-bed apartment would be about $2k). A couple of minor things:

Originally Posted by LisaH1981 View Post
1. You can turn right on red (so long as there is not a sign prohibiting it and pedestrians always have right of way)
A red traffic light arrow (as opposed to a circle) also means no turning that way on red (whether pointing left or right). Not common here (the right arrow); signs are more common but I do know one... just one.

Originally Posted by LisaH1981 View Post
5. Walmart. They do brand labels like cereal, tinned goods, washing powder etc etc for much lower than anywhere else but their fresh goods are pretty dire.
Just be aware that some brand stuff is specifically made for Walmart and is not the same as their brand elsewhere.

Last edited by GeoffM; Apr 30th 2018 at 5:39 pm. Reason: Spelling
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Old Apr 30th 2018, 5:06 pm
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Default Re: UK- Palo Alto: What I've learnt 1 month in

That rent amount is ridiculous....I take it your both doctors 😁 Here in Florida it's about 1,800 for a nice 3 bed apt or 2,500 for a decent 3/4 bed house(with pool).
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Old Apr 30th 2018, 5:52 pm
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Default Re: UK- Palo Alto: What I've learnt 1 month in

Originally Posted by AndyMan74 View Post
That rent amount is ridiculous....I take it your both doctors 😁 Here in Florida it's about 1,800 for a nice 3 bed apt or 2,500 for a decent 3/4 bed house(with pool).
But who wants to live in Florida besides Canadians and Brits and the odd US retiree?
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Old Apr 30th 2018, 5:57 pm
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Default Re: UK- Palo Alto: What I've learnt 1 month in

Originally Posted by Rete View Post
But who wants to live in Florida besides Canadians and Brits and the odd US retiree?
It's a shame Florida isn't just Brits, Canadians and retiree's as it would be a better place for it.
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Old Apr 30th 2018, 6:20 pm
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Default Re: UK- Palo Alto: What I've learnt 1 month in

Originally Posted by AndyMan74 View Post
That rent amount is ridiculous....I take it your both doctors 😁 Here in Florida it's about 1,800 for a nice 3 bed apt or 2,500 for a decent 3/4 bed house(with pool).
Yep, it's amazingly expensive. Everything here seems to be...apart from gas! But I guess it's like anywhere, I could say the same about London, which is where I'm from. If you want to live in Central London, you'll have to pay through the nose for it, if you want to live in the suburbs, it's much more reasonable and you get much more for your money. And if you're prepared to live way out of the cities, you can get a mansion for the same money. 🤷‍♀️
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Old Apr 30th 2018, 6:21 pm
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Default Re: UK- Palo Alto: What I've learnt 1 month in

Originally Posted by GeoffM View Post
Good observations, and your rent is astronomical (equivalent here for a nice 3-bed apartment would be about $2k). A couple of minor things:



A red traffic light arrow (as opposed to a circle) also means no turning that way on red (whether pointing left or right). Not common here (the right arrow); signs are more common but I do know one... just one.



Just be aware that some brand stuff is specifically made for Walmart and is not the same as their brand elsewhere.
👍 Thanks! 😊
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Old Apr 30th 2018, 6:48 pm
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Default Re: UK- Palo Alto: What I've learnt 1 month in

Originally Posted by LisaH1981 View Post
Yep, it's amazingly expensive. Everything here seems to be...apart from gas!
Gas is a lot more expensive here than most other parts of the US.
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Old Apr 30th 2018, 7:09 pm
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Default Re: UK- Palo Alto: What I've learnt 1 month in

Originally Posted by Giantaxe View Post
Gas is a lot more expensive here than most other parts of the US.
But much much cheaper than in the UK
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Old Apr 30th 2018, 7:24 pm
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Default Re: UK- Palo Alto: What I've learnt 1 month in

Originally Posted by LisaH1981 View Post
Yep, it's amazingly expensive. Everything here seems to be...apart from gas! But I guess it's like anywhere, I could say the same about London, which is where I'm from. If you want to live in Central London, you'll have to pay through the nose for it, if you want to live in the suburbs, it's much more reasonable and you get much more for your money. And if you're prepared to live way out of the cities, you can get a mansion for the same money. 🤷‍♀️
I'm glad its going to plan for you despite the expense 👍 London has been a law upon to it's self for many years now and the bubble keeps on growing.

Last edited by AndyMan74; Apr 30th 2018 at 7:27 pm.
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