This document is unofficial and not endorsed by my school or employers.
We’re not lawyers, tax specialists nor do we purport to have any real knowledge.
This is a collection of things we wished we knew when we went away on our first co-op terms in the US. We hope it helps you out. Many things contained in this document were gained through mistakes and conversations with older students.
If you are a past intern and have thoughts/ideas to add to this document, let me know. Even better submit a pull request. I’ll note you if you want to be noted.
For many, the JobMine process is familiar so we won’t speak about that. You probably know how to get a job.
Something to note is that many companies in the US (particularly California) are much more laid back and don’t care if you wear a suit or not. Depends on the company. We suit up for Morgan Stanley but not Facebook.
CECS says not to do US in your first year. Even if you only have 4 months of school under your belt, there is no actual restriction for going in first year. Some of us have done it without trouble successfully.
Ask the pay in the interview. There is no reason not too. If they give you some ’competitive pay’ ask them in an email before you accept their offer. ’Competitive pay’ can range from $25/hr - $45/hr with or without housing and plane tickets.
Ask if they offer any help in terms of relocation.
Many companies offer a housing stipend (a bit of money, often taxable). Some will put you up in subsidized or free housing (Amazon, Apple etc).
Ask if they cover flight. If you are going to San Francisco, $500-750 round trip after tax as a guide. New York is a lot cheaper.
Some people prefer spending a few days in a hotel at their company’s expense as they wrap-up apartment search (as making housing decisions while still in Canada can be risky).
Sometimes stipends are large, sometimes they are not. If you’re not sure, assume that your stipend will be taxed at ~26% in California. We’ve heard you can get much of it back if you save your receipts, something to look into.
We recommend working at a place that covers some part of your housing, unless you have the financial ability to not care.
Some companies have cool perks like food, bikes, transit passes, happy hour, snacks, game rooms, pool tables, ping pong, fooseball, etc.
It’s worth checking out.
Once you have your offer, email your recruiter to get all the details about pay and start date. Its useful for the visa.
CECS and CDS/AIPT (now Cultural Vistas) will guide you through the process.
Have a second (or third) copy of all travel documents:
Don’t call it a job or say you are working! The J1 visa status is not meant for “working”, but rather for “training” in the United States. Remember, you’re just a poor little intern training in the United States!
Some prefer keeping all the above as a digital copy in my Dropbox/Google Docs so they have instant access to them just in case I lose anything.
If you are a US citizen, some of the above do not apply to you. Make sure you have your US passport, health insurance card, and boarding pass.
Apply for your SSN as soon as you have been in the US for at least 10 days. It takes 10 days for SEVIS to sync up with the SSA’s database of people eligible to apply for a social security number. Yes, you have to wait for them to copy by hand and deliver the data by pidgeon. If you apply early, they’ll lie to you that it will be okay if you do it, but it will not work and you will just have to try again later.
Some people have entered the US ahead of time by driving to Buffalo or Detroit. They enter on their J1 to to get the SEVIS wait process started as well as get a cell phone or bank account. Keep in mind that the immigration center in Buffalo can take an hour and a half.
Not as long of a wait to get into the office (not as much security screening), but took longer for the card to arrive.
Long wait just to get into the building (outdoor wait due to security screening), but card arrived in 2 business days (was promised two weeks).
No security screening outdoors, short waiting time and very friendly service. Application process took less than 10 minutes and card arrived in 2 weeks as promised.
As with everything else, your mileage may vary.
You’ll want to start your search early.
Check out the area specific section for more info.
It’s easier (and cheaper) to find a place for 3 or 4 people than it is to for a single person for a 4-month lease.
Contact your company and try to get emails of other Waterloo students going down the same time as you.
Contact them and ask them to meet up somewhere in Waterloo for dinner. It gives everyone a great opportunity to meet each other, get a feel for who would be a good roommate for your style.
Vacation Rentals or Corporate Housing work well for our 4-month terms. Some websites I’ve used are:
Airbnb Sublets – monthly vacation rentals
Airbnb – nightly vacation rentals
Vacation Rentals by Owner – vacation rentals
AMSI – corporate housing
Corporate Housing by Owner – corporate housing
PadMapper – Craigslist & Kijiji listings on a map
Unless you’re one of those crazy people who wanders around for wifi (I’m looking at you Deepinder), you’ll want to get cell service.
If you just want a phone that makes phone calls and texts (weirdo) you can get some cheap pay as you go phone. Stephen has a BOOST prepaid phone which he uses for when people come to visit him and hasn’t had any trouble with it.
Getting data for your smartphone is a lot easier than a BlackBerry. If you have an unlocked phone, it’s really easy. You can get a plan with a sim card, pop it in, and walk out of the store Facebooking up a storm.
T-Mobile has monthly 4G plans that range from $30/mo - $70/mo. Note: the plans offer data at ‘up to’ 4G speeds. Xenia found her data a little slow, and especially unreliable in moving vehicles, but overall it was good enough for email/FB/Twitter. T-mobile will remind you monthly through text messages to renew your plan. If you choose not to renew, your plan is automatically converted to a pay-as-you-go plan, and you pay for calls/texts with any leftover balance in your T-mobile account. Your phone number will expire 3 months after renewal, so you can keep it until next co-op, if you are returning to the US.
AT&T might also offer good options for pay-as-you-go plans.
Simple mobile is also very good if you don’t care about data speeds. They have a fixed price, pay up front, no hidden fees. We’ve never had problems with the voice or texting service. They have unlimited to 52 countries for $10 extra. (but you don’t need it if you just call Canada - read on) They limit you to about 120kbps (yes, kilobits) with the $40 plan. You can get more with the $60 plan, but it’s not much better in San Francisco because of the limitations of their network, and they might throttle you anyway. If you choose these guys, you might have to change your phone’s APN settings to get data. Look at the instructions on their website.
In the past some groups were able to get a reduced rate by getting a family plan.
Sometimes, locations that sell packages for prepaid plans only have normal SIM cards that aren’t compatible with newer smartphones which require micro-SIMs. However, normal SIM cards are actually the same as micro-SIM cards, just with a larger plastic surface which can be cut off.
To turn the SIM into a micro-SIM, either find a store that cuts SIM cards, or DIY. There are tutorials online that teach you how to cut it, either with a scissors (risky) or a cutter you can get off Amazon for less than $5.
Straight Talk is an option if data speeds are a concern. They have unlimited calling, texting and data for $45 a month without a contract. There is also a plan for unlimited calling to select international countries for $60 a month also with unlimited texting and data. Note that the unlimited isn’t 100% unlimited, if you use more than 80-100MB a day you will likely get kicked off. They operate as a AT&T/T-Mobile reseller so you will get the benefits of AT&T’s network, e.g 4G data without doing business with them.
To get service you must order a micro-SIM or SIM card from their store along with a one month or three month plan. The card is roughly $15 and it takes 3 days to ship. If your GSM phone can operate on AT&T, e.g. iPhone and most GSM phones, you should order an AT&T compatible SIM card as they have the best GSM network in the country.
Once you have received everything you can activate your service online using the SIM Card and the plan you purchased. If you are porting a number from another carrier it takes about another day for everything to finish. They have pretty good customer service so if anything goes wrong you should call them immediately. Since they are not a big carrier most phones, e.g. iPhone, do not have the APN settings built in for data. The package you receive contains the APN settings you need. You will need to figure out how to set the settings for your phone.
There are a few options. Stephen’s a BlackBerry user who would die without BBM and Google Maps. The main problem is that people don’t like giving you data without a 1-2 year commitment. This section is only about getting your BlackBerry on the network with BIS.
He used to use T-Mobile with a weird prepaid plan but they stopped that and make you put down a deposit. He’s told that this may have changed, you may want to check this one in your state.
His one friend knows a trick with AT&T where you can get them to check your Canadian credit history. He tried it and spend an hour arguing with the staff telling them it could be done and gave up. His friend told him it takes about three hours before they will relent, uggh.
He tried SimpleMobile Winter ‘12 and had mixed feelings. Their customer support is pretty terrible, they don’t know what BIS is and they think data is data. But you can get it to work, and the service itself is fine (He thinks they actually are on T-Mobile).
Note, if you have a Rogers/AT&T phone it will likely only get EDGE not 3G.
Akshay just sticks to using Rogers’ BIS One Rate Plan - $35 for 500 MB of BIS data. Then, he uses a SIP client on it to make calls (Google Voice/Voip.ms). You don’t pay too much to Rogers, and you save on roaming costs as well. Win/win.
The reason you don’t need to pay extra for long distance to Canada is you can use Google Voice for this. Normally to use Google Voice to call Canada for free, you dial a number and then type in the number you want to call and they connect you. This is not necessary if you have an Android phone. Get the Google Voice app and it will do this for you transparently, so you can just call Canada for free and it will use Google Voice. It’s really, really nice. Note that you need to have an internet connection to take advantage of the automated Google Voice proxying.
You’ll want to do this as soon as you can, you can do this without an SSN. Bring your passport and drivers license as well as your student card. Most banks will give you a free checking account if you are a student.
Note: Some banks have a savings account. You may not want one for several reasons:
Choosing a Bank is up to you and your preferences. Stephen suggests you stick to one of:
If you are in NY Chase is the one to open. There are so many Chase branches and ATMs. Several people have been told that Chase is pretty conservative when it comes to giving credit cards to “new Americans”.
Bank of America is pretty good in the SF/Bay Area. Chase is OK there too. They also have many branches there - and they are very nice!
BoA and Chase have ATMs that scan cheques instead of using envelopes. Others might have this too.
Wells Fargo is known for being super nice. Wells Fargo has been seen by at least one person as being tougher for a CC.
You will not need a SSN to open an account at the three listed banks. They will need your J-1 Visa for filling in your bank details, so bring your passport and visa. You don’t even need a permanent address. Some have had luck with using their hotel’s or their company’s.
Stephen’s always kept a US bank account open. It’s super useful to have. If you come back to the US again you’re all setup. If you travel you can get cash easy. If you want to buy stuff online it’s great.
Eric says that keeping your bank account open is also great for getting credit in the future.
Some people want to close their account to avoid bank fees. Most banks (BoA, Chase, Wells Fargo) offer a student account for 5 years from when you sign up. Bring your student ID card. They don’t require any minimum activity other than some nominal balance.
Alternatively, BOA offers an eBanking Checking account that is free if you choose online eStatements and only use self-service options (ATMs, no tellers) for deposits/withdrawals. You can even deposit checks through their mobile app.
Some savings accounts have fees.
You should bring money down to start with, it will help with deposits and first/last month rent.
You may also want a simple way to access your funds in Canada without a huge fee. Note, xe.com will likely get you a better rate. But the following method is very flexible. This method worked out pretty well for Prashanth:
One thing that many try to do right away is get a credit card.
Getting credit in the US can be tricky. Especially if you are under 21.
Keep in mind that instead of Interac for debit cards, all American debit cards (also known as “check cards”) are actually VISA/MasterCard cards. You can use them anywhere you would use a credit card except the money comes out of your account immediately.
You can get a Secured Credit card where you put a deposit ($300 - $500) into a special account and that amount becomes your credit limit. Something to look into. You don’t get this deposit back until ~2 years later, so keep that in mind. The bank reps say that it is a good way to get a good credit rating though, if you need that in the near future.
Sometimes you can get BoA or TD America to look up your Canadian credit history. TD Ameritrade and BoA has a Canadian credit check form. Really tough if you are under 21.
Eric would like to stress the importance of getting a credit card and building credit history in the States. It’s expecially useful if you plan to move to the US after you graduate.
There are some things to consider when dealing with credit cards. Particularly not using all of your available credit. Many say you should use less than 30% of your credit to maintain a good score.
Eric says the following about BoA’s credit policy:
BoA credit card policy is to not tell you what the maximum credit limit you can get. You have to request a number and then they’ll negotiate via phone. My suggestion is once you have about a month or two of usage on your credit card, you request a large credit increase online (usually double what your limit currently is). Then in about 30 minutes you can call 866 506 5068 (direct line to a credit department agent) to negotiate an increase. Results vary widely on this one.
This worked for an 18 year old guy with two credit cards in good standing back in Canada. Apply for the card at the branch in person. When asked for your information, inform them that you would like to request a Canadian credit bureau check to augment your US credit bureau reports (especially important if it’s your first work term in the States). If the representative is knowledgeable, they will process the credit card application normally and then will ask you to call a number (or call for you on your behalf) about 24-48 hours later (excluding weekends). If not, here’s the number you can call: 1-888-503-6092. They’ll ask for your Canadian SIN number and your last address in Canada. YMMV.
One surefire way of getting a credit card fairly soon would be to apply for a Capital One credit card that’s directly targeted for people with no credit history/newcomers. Beware this card is free for the first year, but costs around $30 per year after that.
There are a lot of ways to bring your hard earned dough back to Canada.
Some really creative ways:
Some more tame ways:
If you end up with American funds in Canada, Stephen recommends opening a US dollar account and convert it over time so you don’t get bit by the exchange rate. You can use xe.com even with a USD account in Canada.
Stephen also keeps some USD funds in a USD TD account in Canada so he can get small bills and sell USD to family without a spread.
Stephen sucks at playing the market so he just transfer money over ~$1k at a time to try and even out my loss/gain. Stephen and Chris love xe.com’s bid system. With xe, you can make a trade right away or set a transaction to occur once the rate hits some desired value.
Keep in mind that some banks charge different spreads depending on how much you transfer. $1,100 worked best for Stephen.
Spreads are not always fixed, weekends can cost more so be careful.
Stephen’s favourite method is still xe.com.
Disclaimer: No author of this document knows anything about taxes, accounting, or even arithmetic. Do not rely on this document. Speak to a professional.
You will owe taxes in the US, which will likely be deducted directly from your paycheques. When you file your return, you may end up receiving much of that back (50% is not unreasonable). You will first file your US returns before filing your Canadian returns, where you may end up paying a bit to Canada as well.
If you situation is uncomplicated, you can try to file your returns yourself. Someone wrote an Unofficial Waterloo Intern Tax Guide that will walk you through all the forms you need and answer most questions that come up. The author of that document was as thorough as he could, but if you have any concerns, you should seek a professional.
Some people have had luck with this free government program.
CECS has some information on taxes. Stephen used “Peter Cuttini” (contact info on Waterloo site) for his 2011 taxes. He’s heard good things about him for co-op students. (Around $300). Stephen was not very impressed with the work and will be likely doing them himself for 2012. He did them in 2011 and found them not much harder than discussing with your accountant.
H&R Block will also do it for around $300.
Amazon gives free shipping for 1 month through Prime. Get one intern to signup at a time so you can have free shipping all work term. Even better is Amazon Student, which gives you free 6 months of Prime and subsidizes Prime at $39/year after that.
Woot.com is awesome
Waterloo holds alumni events which are often open to students.
CECS runs a photo contest every term, one for US co-ops and one for international co-ops. They encourage you to take pictures with other Waterloo co-ops and of the places you visit. They do have the right to use it for promotional purposes. You get a certificate for participation as well as money for the top 3 winners. It’s a good way to share your experiences and you might be up for some money for grabs.
Daily deal sites like Groupon, Living Social and Amazon Local are good sources for activities that you might not know exist in your area.
Learn how to do some basic conversions from metric to imperial so you can make conversation about the weather (fahrenheit), order ham from the deli (ounces), drive without speeding (miles), etc.
I’ve been to three main areas and will focus on info for those. If you are an intern and have more info let me know.
In-N-Out burger is a must try. Checkout the Animal Style burger on their secret menu.
Many people like Chipotle
Eric found USAA very useful for car rentals.
Tips when actually renting:
Paramount/SFO Housing has decent pricing (Park or Herbert). The internet is slow. They are older buildings, and note that there are no kitchen facilities to use in Herbert.
Pacific Tradewinds is highly recommended by one intern who is adventurous and enjoyed living in hostel-like acommodations.
If you would rather live in a more student-populated area, Berkeley is an option. The commute to the downtown area is 15-20 min, but is worth it if you want to meet people your age.
Yosemite National Park * Upper Yosemite falls is a long hike (4 hours) but its well worth the views. Fairly popular route. Bring water and good shoes and be prepared to be tired. * If you’re willing to spend two days hiking, you can hike the famous half dome.
Hawaii (you will need at least four days to a week) * One thing about Hawaii is you need to pick which island(s) you want to see. They each specialize in different things. * in Oahu: * Surfing * Jet skiing! You can drive up to 70-75km/h on these jet skis, and its right next to the military airbase -so you can often see and hear F22 raptors flying over your head. Makes for a pretty awesome experience * Beautiful view of Honolulu and the surrounding ocean: about a 20-30 minute hike up. * on Big island: * Playing with molten lava! The national park on the island is alright, but this tour company actual takes you out to the lava fields and lets you get up close to molten lava. You can even poke it with a stick if you want. One of the highlights of Eric’s Hawaii trip. * Driving an ATV in the Hawaiian forest - A pretty fun ATV driving adventure, and you get to see a couple of awesome waterfalls as well
Checkout the Valley Fair Mall and Santana Row. Valley Fair Mall is a typical mall with everything that you expect in a Canadian Mall. Da’ Anza and Stevens Creek has plenty of eatery’s around. If you haven’t tried California Pizza Kitchen, you have to go immediately. If you want to go clubbing you have to hit up SF or Mountain View.
Foster City - Sand Cove Apartments is a good apartment complex and they are very helpful with setting up housing for people out of the country. They do flexible leasing and month to month rentals. In the past, QuinStreet co-ops have lived at the other properties owned by the parent company (Woodmont, who seem to own a lot of land around here).
Mountain View - Central Park at Whisman Station is a good apartment complex and they are very helpful with setting up housing for people out of the country. 20 minute walk from Caltrain. Not that convent for transit. Safeway is about 2 miles away.
Mountain View - AvalonBay is okay if you have 1 person in the living room. ~$2600 a month for 2 bedroom, unfurnished. Very close to the CalTrain; very close to Castro Street (restaurants) and it’s a 15 minute bike ride through a biking trail to Google/LinkedIn. They have 3 pools and a gym.
Brooklyn (Bay Ridge) - 328 91st Street, Brooklyn (close to the subway). The landlord is Annette Sobczynski (718-974-0368, firstname.lastname@example.org). Multiple furnished apartments.
2011S - Stephen - It was fully furnished for $1900/month, 2 bedrooms, large kitchen and a pullout bed in the living room. Stayed for 1 month while looking for apartments in Manhattan.
If you want a broker in Manhattan, you can contact John Spalding. The fee is low for NY ($1000), and he tries really hard to get you into a place you’ll like.
There are so many places to eat in NYC, try new stuff!
Halcart at 53rd and 6th is to die for. Make sure you go to the right one. Get the hot sauce. There will be a line, it’s worth it.
Pizza - In NY it’s a different kind of food. It’s also highly contentious which place is best.
Grimaldi’s is usually number 1 or 2 on most lists. It will be packed. Go on a weeknight. You will stand outside for 20-45 minutes or more. On Saturday expect over an hour. You can do take out which will be a bit faster. Eat it under the Brooklyn bridge!
Lombardi’s is really good and in Manhattan. The wait is more reasonable.
Fat Cat is a nice bar and has lots of pool tables, ping-pong tables and even scrabble. Prices are decent. Also allows people under 21 in before a certain time.
Dallas BBQ is really good and has awesome prices.
Carmines is family style (gigantic plates) Italian food and really tasty. Pretty busy.