January 26th 2017
Moving to any new city is tough. New York City is one of the biggest and most vibrant cities in the world, but also one of the most trickiest to navigate and adjust to. Here’s my tips on how to set yourself up in NYC.
Yesterday, I was interviewed by Cushion’s Talking Shop blog about my experiences of why and how I moved to New York. I spoke about my particular experience of how I did it, but there are plenty of tips and tricks that wasn't covered in the article that I wanted to share.
Preparing to move
- Don’t bring too much, 2 to 3 suitcases of clothes and personal mementos will do. It’s expensive to ship things and takes weeks to arrive. Also New York apartments are small so what might fit in your current home may not here.
- Most apartments in NYC are empty when you rent them. We didn’t even have a mattress to sleep on when we arrived so we scheduled a Casper mattress to arrive for a particular day and time. They’re expensive mattresses but worth it and it saves you a trip to Ikea on the first day. Here’s a referral code that gives you $50 off too. It'll at least give you somewhere to sleep when you land.
The first weeks
- The United States absolutely loves bureaucratic paperwork. You'll be surprised how many forms are not online and have to be filled out in person on paper.
- If possible, get your Social Security Number as soon as possible, as a lot of forms prefer you having it such as banks and mobile contracts.
- We were lucky with rental as our aprartment is subsidized by NYU (my wife’s employer) but be aware of deposits that could be up to 3–6 months in advance. Apparently landlords with more properties are more flexible because it’s less of a risk so you can get that down.
- When you move it’s tempting to use your passport for ID — try and get a drivers license (or a “non-drivers drivers license” if you don’t drive) from the DMV as soon as possible. The DMV is hell on earth but if you lose your passport, you’re screwed. You can use a foreign drivers license as age identification but always good to have an alternative. There’s a card called IDNYC that’s easier to get than going to the DMV but you can’t use it for age verification in bars.
- For furniture, we sold everything and bought everything again in NYC — Craigslist have ‘clearance sales’ where people who are moving out of the city sell all their furniture. You lose a bit of money selling then reselling but it’s less expensive than shipping.
- For larger furniture, you may need transportation, we used TaskRabbit to get a guy with a truck (note: a truck is usually an open topped American-style truck rather than a white van man, so weather is important for that!)
- Bed Bath and Beyond is great for cheap kitchen and bedroom items. There’s a huge store near Madison Square Gardens worth checking out. The Container Store is great too (it sells containers of course) and it’s opposite.
- The Ikea ferry from near Wall St is definitely worth getting if you’re going to Ikea. It goes past Statue of Liberty which is cool, it’s $5 but refundable once you’ve bought things at Ikea. There’s also a shuttle bus from Brooklyn too. Don’t walk from the subway there as it’s fairly rough for around 10 mins walk between the station and Ikea.
- Buy any new electronics (TV, etc) from Amazon, it’s very cheap in the US for electronics, for instance a TV in the UK that would cost $600 is around $400 in the US. Amazon Prime is worth it if you have a reception desk in your apartment block.
Oh look, a photo of New York. Photo by William Wachter.
- A monthly Metrocard is a wise investment if you commute. It costs around $120 for a 30 day pass. You’ll use the subways and buses a lot more than you think, especially in the first month. It’s also a lot cheaper and quieter than the London Underground.
- Taxi-wise, Uber and Lyft are popular in NYC and they’re relatively cheap than ordering in European countries. I don't really use taxis that much as the public transport is usually good enough.
- A lot of locations are defined by their cross streets, so rather than saying you live at 725 5th Avenue, you'd say you live at 56th and 5th (Street then Avenue). Even below Houston St (pronounced 'How-stan') where the Manhattan grid stops, you'd use cross-streets for locations, e.g. 72 Allen St is Allen and Grand as it’s on the corner of Grand St.
- A good rule of thumb for navigating the Manhattan grid is it takes 1 min to walk between two streets (e.g. East 13th and 14th Streets) and 3 mins to walk between avenues (e.g. 5th and 6th Avenues). So to get from 56th and 5th to 50th and 6th, it'd be around 9 minutes walking (6 streets, one avenue).
Day to day
- For groceries, use Trader Joes. Other supermarkets are a lot more expensive. TJs don’t deliver so you might need to travel. If you’re lazy, Fresh Direct do deliver and they'll give you some money off as a first time user.
- It’s tempting to go out and eat every night, and I know a lot of people who do, including one person who hasn’t used his kitchen in 2 years, but resist the urge as it gets expensive quickly!
- Most people get health insurance with their employer but if you don’t there’s sites like Oscar which let you buy it yourself. It’s disgustingly expensive to get covered (around $400/month for basic coverage) which is may shock you if you’re used to a national health service like any First World country should have.
- With this lack of a safety net, there’s more homeless and mentally ill people who can’t get treated due a lack of free government services. I’ve been harassed several times but you learn to be stoic about it.
- If you’re from Europe, you may notice a distinct lack of holidays in your work contract. This is because American bosses don’t really believe in taking time off. My wife’s contract states zero days holiday a year for instance. However your manager may be more flexible and there’s more public (or bank) holidays in the year. Also, don’t expect any maternity or paternity leave…
- Politically NY is a liberal city. It’s only once you go out into New Jersey, Staten Island or upstate New York that you’ll encounter crazy conservatives (not saying all conservatives are crazy here). There’s a wider spread of left-wing/liberal opinion in NYC but the average NYC liberal is more conservative than an European liberal.
Food and drink
- Foursquare is popular in NYC if you want to find good places to eat and drink. Anything over a 8.0 is v good but sometimes there’s some gems that are lower rated that aren’t as cool/hipster/Scandi-vibe — e.g. the local dive bars, so don’t use it as gospel.
- Cuisine is different in the US (of course) so don’t be surprised if you start missing your previous favourites. For example, Indian food is only okay in NY for instance — just replace your habit with copious amounts of amazing Mexican food.
- Tipping is something you just get used to very quickly. 20% for restaurants, taxis and haircuts. $1 per drink at a bar.
- Happy hours are a good way to save money. A lot of bars do big discounts up until 8pm weekdays, and some even do Saturdays too. $3 beers taste better than $8 beers.
- A US pint (473ml) is smaller than a UK pint (568ml), so an $8 beer may be even more expensive than you realize. However, wines and spirits are less careful measured — it’s not unusual to get a huge glass full of wine and a very strong liquor drink for relatively cheap.
- Due to a crazy state law, you can buy beer at most stores but not wine or spirits — you have to go to a liquor store if you want anything stronger than 6% alcohol.
The Flatiron Building. Photo by Jason Briscoe.
- Sports are a big thing in the US. Go and see some basketball at the Brooklyn Nets (cheaper than the New York Knicks), it’s a lot of fun even if you don’t particularly like sports — get cheap tickets on Stubhub a day or two before a match. We’ve seen matches for $6 per person and it’s great fun.
- If you’re a soccer/football fan, watching NYCFC is a fun experience but don’t expect the highest quality of football. It’s a family-friendly experience compared to European football (less angry men, more children), so the atmosphere is a lot quieter but it’s still fun to see a football match squeezed on to the NY Yankees baseball pitch.
- If you’re into your English Premier League, you’re in luck as if you get cable TV, most of the matches are live on TV at fairly watchable times — mainly weekend mornings — so you can watch football then go about your day. And mostly surprisingly of all, the coverage is incredibly good.
Being in America
- You might not pick up the American accent but you’ll start picking up the American phrases. You’ll save “have a nice day” so many times, it’ll feel like a native New Yorker soon. If you’re British English, Americans don’t say “half past three” for instance, they say “three thirty”. Also saying “oh” for zero is not a thing in the US — this tripped me up when reading out numbers over the phone.
- Most Americans won’t know where you’re from unless your accent is something from the movies or television. If you’re from Northern England like me for instance, expect to get asked if you’re Irish, Scottish or Australian — this is because most Americans assume all English people sound like Hugh Grant or Helena Bonham Carter. Also don’t expect Americans to know the city you’re from — in American distance terms, Manchester could be a suburb of London.
- Making friends with Americans is an interesting experience. In the UK, people are apathetic for a while until they like you. In the US, people are friendly instantly which makes you think that they’re being faux-friendly and your paranoia kicks in… does that person actually like you or are they being service-level friendly? The answer is usually yes, they are being friendly, and that’s because they’re not pessimistic jerks like the British.
The biggest thing we found is the rollercoaster ride of emotions. The first month is very exciting as you’re in a new city. The second month is quite depressing as you’ve left all your friends and family behind. It normalises after a few months. Meetup.com is good for meeting new people (it’s surprisingly hard to make friends outside of work once you hit a particular age!). Keeping in touch with friends back home is a lot easier now with Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp. Do it regularly to keep more connected.