Finally here. It’s 6pm on a Friday. I just want to leave for the weekend already.
The american adventure has only just started but I’m already tired of being homeless. But I don’t want to come through as a complainer; everything else is going great. It’s just the settling down and looking for a normal day to day life that is beginning to bother me. There are so many things I wish I knew before getting here!
For those of you tuning in late, I was awarded this amazing Fulbright scholarship experience that has seen me fly half way across the globe to Los Angeles, USA. I’m currently enrolled in an MFA degree at the New York Film Academy in Burbank that has me really busy and hadn’t had a moment to update the blog or even my closest friends on my latest endeavours.
Classes are going exceptionally well, I am positively surprised. I’m really happy with my teachers and how they are connected to the real world and the industry. I could go on about how university and the real world usually go on parallel rails that never cross, but this is hands on experience and these guys really know how the business works. I’m also really grateful that the school gives us the opportunity to shoot at Universal Pictures’ backlot studios. We’ve already been out there a few times and it’s only been a month since we started out!
Los Angeles is a weird city for Europeans. It is huge, as in: I know countries in Europe that are actually smaller than this city. And this is an issue right away because public transportation is definitely not like what you might be used to, so a car becomes a must. Also, searching for a home becomes a problem if you don’t have one, because if your daily commute depends on you walking, you’re not going to have many options. Neighbourhoods are mainly residential, with a few big shopping venues that subdivide the city. Different areas have different inherent personalities and look & feel to them, and choosing wisely makes a huge difference from dying of boredom or having the best time of your life.
How to get out of LAX
LAX is a huge airport. Not only it’s terminals, but the traffic in the inner circle is hectic. The ways of getting in and out of it differ a lot in price range and will depend entirely on where you want to go. You can either grab a cab, an Uber (a bit cheaper than a cab if you share the ride) or a door to door shuttle service (ride shared among 5 or 6 people). The two options for Shuttles are Prime Time Shuttle and Super Shuttle and prices are about $25 for most locations in LA.
Have a Bank
First thing you’ll want to do is open a bank account. I went for a big bank for a safer coverage, but in reality my choice was determined by the traffic light that went green first. I had Chase in front and Bank of America to the left, and finally crossed the street to the latter.
Fancy a Check?
First time in my life I get to issue checks. Money transfers are expensive between different banks, so paying for rent is usually done cash or by check if your landlord’s account is not in the same bank as yours. It is weird for me that I was even instructed to pay a parking fine with a mailed check!
To transfer money from a European account, try using TransferWise. I can send invitations out if you’re interested. With a 0.5% interest it is definitely the cheapest and also quickest way I’ve found!
The second thing I managed to do right away was to obtain a prepaid american phone number at T-mobile (why T-mobile? for no reason, really). I was planning this was going to be temporary and I’d get a proper contract for my two year stay in the USA, but not having history for a credit check or a SSN (Social Security Number) for a background check means that I’m not eligible for a leasing contract of any kind… and I’ve also tried at AT&T. So, I finally renewed my T-mobile prepaid SIM card with a $40/mo fee. One thing that’s really interesting here is that SMS and calls are included, so people don’t need to use WhatsApp for instant messaging! Communication with Spanish contacts is on WhatsApp and communication with American contacts is on SMS, it’s confusing sometimes.
Visit your consulate
In LA you are going to need a car sooner rather than later. Options vary from $2000 to a private seller to $6000 at a dealer (or more!). Interestingly enough, the most common second hand cars are Chrysler Sebrings and VW Beetles! The dealer will take care of everything for you, but if you don’t want to pay taxes for the car (9% of declared price) you’ll want to go to a private owner and then declare that it cost you just $500. In this case you’ll have to take care of name change and registration at the DMV yourself (2h queues), so perhaps it is actually worth while to pay for the dealer services. For a wide range of dealers go to Van Nuys, it’s motor town in LA.
Also, beware of the car’s title when buying to a private owner. They are usually cheaper because the title is salvage, which means the car suffered some major damage in the past and was seemingly fixed, but insurance companies will charge you more due to the risk of potential problems that could arise from it. Clean title is always best.
After looking and trying 20 different cars, from private owners and dealers, I finally decided on a 2010 VW Beetle from Selective Motors in Van Nuys. Cute car that has proven to be the best option for compact parking spots so far. And you can see a lot of them around! It is actually the most common European car in LA hehe.
When looking for a home you’re probably going to go into a sublet. Why? Because if you’re a foreign student, like me, you are not entitled to have an SSN (Social Security Number)— wish somebody would’ve told me this. If you want to go for a lease, you will have to pay for a background check ($40 aprox.) that will not provide results as you’re a newcomer and not eligible for a SSN… but pay anyway. You’ll be asked to provide banking information that proves you earn at least 2.7 times the amount of a month’s rent. If this requirement is not met, you can waive it by providing information from a garantor that earns 4 times a month’s rent (which may vary from $800 a shared room, to $1600 a shared apartment or a 35m2 studio in Hollywood) and is willing to co-sign the lease with you. And this garantor has to have an American bank account, plus provide 10ml of unicorn blood. Actually, the unicorn blood is not true, American’s would ask for it in ounces, not ml.
So, I’m stuck with a sublet in a shared apartment. I’m still looking forward to lease a specific studio I’m in love with in Sunset and Vine. I’ll let you know how I managed it, when I finally do.
These are some websites you can look into for rooms:
- Sublease Hub
- Rad Pad
- West Side Rentals (paid suscription)
- Hot Pads
- Apartment Finder
While you search those pages for you future home, I’ll be writing more on home scouting in the next post. Check it out soon!
*More on different eating options in future posts.