Law360 (September 10, 2018, 5:39 PM EDT) — A half-dozen law firms helped out with the largest New York City transactions last week for which deeds were

I’m an Australian thinking of moving to NYC. I have a 13 year old girl and would like her to attend school there. How should I go about getting a job, visa and apartment?

Depends. What kind of field are you in? Are your skills in demand in NYC right now? Do you know anyone else in your field in the city who you can ask?

I’m an Australian who has been living in NYC for over a year now, and I get asked this constantly. I usually answer the questions from the point-of-view of a Web Designer, which may or may not be useful to you, depending on your situation.

But here goes:

Americans, though they speak English are not like Australians

Even though you’ve watched them your whole life on TV and in the movies, you’re still not going to arrive attuned to the nuances of the American workplace culture.

Holidays here are called vacations, Christmas is called The Holidays, they don’t have a four day long weekend for Easter (what are you, crazy?!), Friday pub lunch is not a concept here, and they certainly don’t get 4 weeks of annual leave and unlimited sick leave.

To be honest, you’ll be lucky to get 2 weeks of paid annual/sick leave, and don’t expect to take that all in one trip or that any unused leave will accrue into the following calendar year. Like I said Dorothy, you ‘aint in Kansas anymore!

But we are getting ahead of ourselves, before you have to worry about assimilating into the American workplace you first need to find a job. Yet another obstacle course full of potential screw-ups for the uninitiated Australian. Luckily, some brave souls have gone before you and survived to tell the tale. Listen to their advice. I wish I had.…

NYC is expensive and you need a safety net if you’re coming without a job

I was relatively lucky. I didn’t come to NYC to job hunt, rather I was on a round-the-world trip and I was offered a “practice” job interview by an Australian friend from university. My experience was serendipitous and rare.

For most Australian friends who I have seen come here job-hunting on a tourist visa the experience can be painful and protracted. You’re either going to need a wad of cash to pay for temporary accommodation ( will be your best friend on that front) or a number of very generous friends who will be willing to let you stay on their couch.

If you’re going to go the couch route, keep in mind that NYC apartments make dollhouses look like mansions. Don’t expect to arrive and stay with someone on their couch for more than few days. Even a week can really test the limits of friendship living in cramped conditions.

So that’s a place to sleep taken care of… now you just need to feed yourself, clothe yourself (in either extreme heat or bitter cold that you’ve probably never experienced before), entertain yourself, and find a bunch of people willing to interview you in the middle of a pretty ugly recession. Like I said, I was travelling. So I stayed in a very cramped mid-town hotel (the Pod) with the most woeful internet connection I’ve ever seen. That made emailing my interviewers fun. We didn’t have a kitchen so we were eating out every day, which depending on your style can run anywhere from $20 – $100/day.

I was however lucky that the employer my friend worked for was desperate for people who do what I do, and so I managed to score an interview within a few hours of him dropping my name. 48 hours after my first interview I was doing the second one, where I presented a project they asked me to do, and suddenly when I expected to hear “don’t call us, we’ll call you” I was being offered a contract and signing up for a whole other life. Others are not nearly as lucky as that. As I mentioned before, I’ve watched friends job hunt here for months on end, waiting weeks or months for people to get back to them about the next interview. All the while living on someone’s couch and watching their wad of cash rapidly decrease.

Keep in mind also, that you’re also breaching the terms of the tourist visa by job hunting while you’re in the country. So don’t go flashing signs of an imminent job hunt around when you’re entering the country at the immigration checkpoint.

The E3 visa isn’t that complicated to organize, but you need to meet the criteria and be willing to follow a convoluted bureaucratic process.

There are entire sites dedicated to the visa options available to you depending on your nationality and status. In my opinion the easiest one to get is the E3, closely followed by the H1B. Each has it’s merits and you should do some significant research into those before you decide to start suggesting them to employers.

I’ve only ever had the E3 (though I’ve been offered both the E3 and H1B by my current employer). The E3 requires a few things:

  1. That you are Australian
  2. That you have a tertiary education from an internationally recognized university
  3. That you have an employer who is willing to give you a job that requires you to use the skills acquired in the study of your university degree

Once you get it the E3 lasts for two years and is renewable indefinitely. (Although there is some debate around the likelihood of the Department of Homeland Security allowing you to enter the country repeatedly over the course of many years on such a visa).

The visa gives you the very generous status of “non-resident alien”, but you will be a resident for tax purposes. Which has a whole host of implications that are best not discussed here.

The E3 is also tied to your employer, so if you decide to switch over to a new company within the 2 year visa timeframe, you will need to apply all over again, and leave the country to have the new visa issued.

If you’re renewing with the same employer however, you can do that within the country, so long as you start the process early enough. You don’t want to go overstaying your visa, so be sure to check out the latest rules (they change constantly).

You won’t get a Social Security Number (SSN) until you have entered on your work visa, and then it will take anywhere from 4 -12 weeks.

So that means you’re going to need another nice little wad of cash to get yourself established while you wait for your SSN and first paycheck. My employer refused to pay me without my SSN. And then it took some time for me to sync up to the pay cycle. So I waited around 3 months for my first pay check.

Check? What’s that? That’s right. Most employers insist on paying you the first time using a check that they will mail to you. So not only will you wait for your SSN to arrive in the mail, then submit the number to your employer and wait for the next pay cycle to roll around, you will also have to wait for that big fat check to arrive in the mail.
And just when you think all your Christmases have finally come at once, you will go to your bank to deposit the check, only to be told that as it’s the first check deposit it will take an extra week for them to review and clear the funds.

That was the longest week of my life.

Long story short: Estimate how much it will cost you to survive here for 3 months and then double it.

They don’t have suburbs in NYC

One of my favorite questions in amongst all of the advice-about-moving-to-NYC-emails is the one about where one should choose to live. I always have to answer it with: “When you say suburbs, do you mean the 5 boroughs of NYC (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island) or the neighborhoods within them?”.

We don’t have suburbs here, we have neighborhoods. So I live in: the state of New York, in the city of New York, in the borough of Manhattan and the neighborhood of The West Village.

Ultimately, there is a neighborhood in NYC for every flavor. It really depends on where you will be working and playing, and what you want to be close to. I love living in Manhattan, I have only ever lived downtown on the West side (in 4 different apartments no less). For me it’s an easy 10 minute walk to work, and I’m right by a subway stop with 7 lines. I can get to pretty much everywhere my friends and I hang within a short subway ride or cab.

But, Manhattan can be exhausting. They call NYC the city that never sleeps, and if I had to say one borough was more of an insomniac than all the others, it is definitely Manhattan. My street is full of amazing cafes and bars, and it’s one block back from 6th avenue and the West 4 subway stop. That can be great for entertainment, but it also means I haven’t had a good night of sleep since I moved here.

The best thing I can suggest is to move here and sub-let a room in an apartment for a while. Sure you’ll have to share with people, but it’s a great way to get to know the different areas before you commit to signing a lease. Plus you might even score some friends out of your room-mate’s circles.

And yes, don’t freak out. You won’t be sharing an actual room (unless you’re really on a shoe-string budget). For some illogical reason, in America they call house-mates room-mates.

No one is going to let you sign a lease on an apartment without credit history, especially not if you are on a tourist visa. Don’t even bother trying.

Finding a place to live in NYC is one of the hardest things I have ever done. It is the ultimate test of endurance, patience and sense of humor. Before you start looking on Craigslist (which sadly is how the real estate market in NYC operates) you need to face a few facts:

  • There will always be a compromise. Always. You will never find a place that ticks every box on your list. Accept that now and save yourself some heartache (and time).
  • The standard lease term in NYC is 12 months. Some landlords will do 2 years, but they will bake your annual rent increase into the 24 month lease.
  • No one will let you sign a lease without credit history. Not even if you can pay the full 12 month lease up front. Believe me, I know lots of people who have tried.
  • Most landlords will require you to earn a yearly income that is 40x the monthly rent. If you can’t prove that, then they will accept a guarantor who is a US citizen and can prove an income that is 80x the rent.
  • You’re going to have to use a broker. Even if you scout out your apartment on Craigslist. And they will charge you 15% of your annual rent in “brokerage fees”. There is some room to negotiate on the fee, but it varies wildly depending on the time of year, current market and how desperate the broker is for a signature.
  • She who hesitates, loses. If you find “the one” you better be ready to hand over a bunch of checks (for first month, broker fee and security deposit) right there and then. Good apartments in NYC are snapped up hours after being listed. Hours.
  • If you can avoid it, don’t move here between May and October. Because original as you think you are, heading to NYC to Follow Your Dreams, so are a million other people. All during the summer. Not only are all the college students doing the annual churn of graduating and moving out of student dorms into apartments, but there are also a whole wave of freshman students right behind them fighting for dorm spaces and cheap rooms/apartments. And that’s just the students. I’m not even counting all of the other dream catchers running around enjoying the NYC summer while they look for a job and a place to live. You will save a lot of time and money if you can sign a lease in the winter. Especially if you want to move during The Holidays.
  • And lastly, don’t believe anything a broker tells you, ever. NYC Real Estate Brokers are a special breed of human, closely related to the Used Car Salesman. Be wary of them, and don’t fall for their dirty tricks. They will bait and switch you with false pictures, convince you they already have another applicant willing to pay more, take you on a walking tour of the slum holes that they can’t rent to anyone else with the slightest clue… the list is endless.

All sounds a bit ugly, right?
There’s a simple solution, and it’s really your only choice in the beginning.

Try to negotiate some temporary corporate housing with your employer, before you sign an employment contract. It is rare, but the bigger consulting and financial firms tend to offer at least a week or two.

But if you’re like the rest of us, who are told to figure it out for yourself, get onto Craigslist and find a room in a share house. Just don’t hand over any money unless you actually see the place in person, with your own eyes. And who knows, you might even make some friends out of it?

Then spend the next 6-12 months building credit history by getting a series of credit cards (and paying them off on time), so that you can eventually sign a lease for your very own place!