Fairlane moved to California a little less than six years ago. She wants others who immigrate to have an easier time.
Even before I moved to California, I thought I knew enough about the US to know my way around. I do speak English, after all. I still have a Filipino accent, but my English is clear enough that I can communicate with ease.
I thought settling in would be easy, but I was wrong. Except for the language part, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Being a visitor in California is way different than living here. So if you want to move to Los Angeles or elsewhere in California, here are 10 things you need to know that I wish someone had told me.
1. Getting a job is easy; having a career is a different story.
It's true—it is easy to get a job here. If all you want is to get by, you can practically walk around downtown and most likely get handed a job within a week. There’s always a caregiving agency looking for a sitter or a caregiver. But what about getting a job that will set you on a career path you really want? That’s a different story.
Rarely does anyone come here and say they would like to be a clerk or a server. There’s nothing bad about those jobs. God knows California, of all places, needs them. But if you are a marketing professional or a teacher, for instance, it won’t be easy.
2. A nursing degree from your country won’t get you a green card.
Firstly, you should consult a lawyer based in California. Since I'm not a lawyer, I'll keep my advice brief. US-educated nurses, or at least those with an existing green card, are prioritized during hiring. If someone is recruiting for nurses in California, you might want to think twice about going for it. I don't know if this is true of other states, but that's the way it is in California.
Unless you have a technical skill, the work you did in your country might not matter here at all. You have to start at the bottom. The state of California is extremely strict when it comes to licensing, accreditation, and schooling. For this reason, you will probably have to accept a minimum wage job—if you find a paid position at all—for a year before getting a dollar increase.
3. You need two jobs.
If you are supporting someone back home, wherever that home may be, you will need two jobs to sustain yourself and them. If you are processing your green card, you will need a lawyer, and lawyers aren’t cheap. Subtract that from the money you have to send back home.
Let me be clear: If you are starting out, you can survive with one job. Many survive with one job. But that’s it, just survival.
There are exceptions, of course. You can get lucky and earn $100,000 a year, but that would be exceptional. More realistically, you’ll probably end up with a minimum wage job. If you don’t spend money on decent medical insurance, a retirement plan, a pension plan, or a car, then you can survive on minimum wage with one job.
4. Health insurance is expensive.
Here, your health is expensive; a doctor’s visit can cost you $200. Imagine if you have a more serious medical need. That's why you need a health insurance plan, which could cost you $100 to $600 a month. If you get a job that covers your health insurance, great! But that’s unlikely in your first year.
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Yes, you can get in and out of a hospital without spending anything, but remember that in the US, the government can track your every move. In 2019, Trump stated that people who avail too many government benefits and are applying for a green card will most likely not get approved.
There are those who just don’t get medical insurance. Personally, I didn’t want to take the risk. I am a pretty healthy person, but I don’t have relatives here who can help if a medical emergency ever happens. I certainly didn’t want to be a burden to my friends or borrow money, so I had to make sure that if a medical emergency happened, I wouldn’t have to think about it. That hiked up my cost of living.
5. You need to invest in yourself.
There are ways to cut your living expenses, sure. Renting a room away from the city is one way. And you can forego getting a retirement plan or pension plan, but you have to think about what that sacrifice really means for you.
Moving away from the city, at least for me, hindered my ability to pursue career opportunities. I didn’t have a car when I moved here, so my travel time was four to five times what it would have been with a car. By living farther away, I was saving $500 a month in rent, but I may have also been losing the opportunity to get a second job that could pay me more.
How did I invest in myself?
I had to plan ahead. If all you want is to get by, you can just wing it. But that wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t leave my whole life, my family, my career, friends, and the polluted air of Manila so I could just get by. This country is too damn big and too damn lonely, and I wasn’t going to bear it just so I could get by. If all I wanted was to get by, I’d do it back home in the arms of the people I love.
I am not, in any sense, rich by US standards. But because I invested in myself, I have more flexibility to do things. I chose to spend more when I was starting out so that I could pursue opportunities that are just starting to pay off now. I chose to start a retirement plan. Other people who moved here right around the same time as I did are just about to start saving for their future, but I am five years deep. It gives me some flexibility to try new things and the peace of mind that I have something saved for a rainy day.
6. You need a car.
Well, you don’t need a car. LA's public transportation just sucks. A thirty-minute drive is easily a two-hour commute on public transit. Make that three hours if there’s an accident somewhere in LA. I don’t know why, but even with all the advanced technology in this state, LA can’t seem to get their transportation system right. This may not be as much of an issue in California's other cities, as they each have different public transit systems.
You can make do with public transportation in LA, as I did in my first two years, but it limits you. Again, if you want to pursue job opportunities, network, and experience more things, then you need a car.
7. California is not like any other state.
If you know someone from Texas or New York or Chicago or Wisconsin, whatever they say probably isn’t applicable in California.
California is the mecca of hardships. Everything is expensive. But the entire state is not Hollywood, thank god. Hollywood is just a small part of California, even though everyone thinks they are a part of it.
8. Everyone is busy.
If you are hanging around career people or people with families and two jobs, you can’t just text someone for an impromptu hang-out session. People keep a strict schedule. America is strict with time. If you tell someone you’ll be there by 5, you have to be there by 5.
Because of this, people are able to plan a rigid, time-efficient schedule. For example, you leave your first job at 5, and you get to your second job at 5:30. The schedule must be followed. There’s not a lot of flexibility, so you can’t expect people to always get you on their schedule.
9. California is not very fond of holidays.
It’s raining holidays in Asia. In the Philippines, some saint celebrates their birthday and the entire country goes on a holiday. It's nothing like that in America.
In California, we celebrate seven holidays. If you search the federal holidays, it will give you ten, but California doesn’t care. We get seven holidays.
10. You need help from others.
It doesn’t matter if you have been petitioned by your company or a relative, or if you have been here a thousand times before immigrating. You will need someone who has been living here a while to help you navigate the jungle that is California.
The law is changing and making it harder for people to get a permanent residency card, also known as a green card. I am not a lawyer and cannot give advice on how to get residency; all I know is that new measures are being set in place to make it harder than ever. You may have heard from people who have managed to get a green card in the past, but your experience will not necessarily be the same.
I would highly discourage anyone from coming here without a plan (and at least two backup plans). You also need the heart to fail, because failing is a very real possibility. But that's not to say it's impossible to succeed. You could have a solid career here, build a life, be happy, and still help people on your way. You just need to be ready to make sacrifices.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.