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Table of Contents

Introduction

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.

Contributors

License

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada


Jobs

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.

CECA 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.

Pay

Ask the pay in the interview. There is no reason not to. 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.

The Intern Project has a recent blog post about ‘average’ pay rates, whatever that means.

Relocation

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 flights. If you are going to San Francisco, use $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 is risky).

Sometimes stipends are large, sometimes they are not. If you’re not sure, assume 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.

Perks

Some companies have cool perks like food, bikes, transit passes, happy hour, snacks, game rooms, pool tables, ping pong, foosball, etc.

It’s worth checking out.


Paperwork

J-1 Visa

Once you have your offer, email your recruiter to get all the details about pay, start date, and if they’re using Cultural Vistas as a visa sponsor. Its useful for the visa.

CECA and Cultural Vistas will guide you through the process.

Note: It is possible to extend your visa up to one year total if you are staying at the same company. However, you will not be able to work for a different employer in a consecutive term unless you applied for the visa before you leave for the US.

Before You Go

Have a second (or third) copy of all travel documents:

  1. DS-2019
  2. Passport
  3. Training Plan
  4. SEVIS fee receipt
  5. Resume (for customs, weird eh)
  6. Map surrounding hotel/apartment
  7. Boarding pass
  8. Proof of cash-on-hand (for customs, you may need to prove you have $2000 or more)

Don’t call it a job or say you are working! The J-1 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 they 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.

I-94’s are are online / supposed to be online. Sometimes, you’ll get the stamp in your passport, and will know you did it right. Depending where you land, they may or may not have instituted online-only I-94’s.

If you are on a connection flight it doesn’t hurt to ask the person at the gate waiting area to double-check your connection flight. Amir found out he would miss his connection flight – Delta airlines reroute his flight for free and he was bumped to first class and also got to San Francisco earlier than he would’ve even without the delay.

Getting your SSN

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 pigeon. 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 J-1 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.

A couple notes for those with name that contain hyphens (like Amir’s) but go by a shorter version (Amir is short for Amir-Reza). My training plan had “Amir-Reza”, while my I-94 has “Amir”, while my passport has “Amir Reza”. When applying for my SSN, I ran into some issues since each document had a slightly different variation, but the lady at the counter was nice enough to do it anyway. Bottom line: Always use your full name (exclude hyphens since hyphens are not used in government registries) when applying for, as well dealing with any documents you’ll need for your SSN.

Ensure your full name is on the mailbox that the Social Security Card will be delivered to. If your full name is not on the mailbox, USPS will return your card back to the Social Security Administration processing centre to be shredded.

Once you receive your SSN, it is important to let your bank know, so you start building a credit score in the U.S.

SSN Application

  1. Fill in form SS-5 available at the Social Security Administration’s website.
  2. Bring forms and documentation to your local SSA office.

OR

  1. Show up, fill out the form while waiting. There’s a good chance that they’ll have a pile of those forms for you and you have to wait a long time anyway.

SSA Offices

San Francisco - Chinatown

Go early and still expect to be there for at least 2 hours. They will check your bag on the way in, but no additional security. Make sure you are paying attention to when your number is called because of how busy it is. Card arrival time was all over the place. Some people got it as early as 1 week, while others waited 2-3 weeks.

San Francisco - SoMa

Get there when it opens (9 AM), bring all your paperwork and you’ll be out of there in an hour. There is security on the way in. It takes about 2 weeks to get the card.

Mountain View

Not as long of a wait to get into the office (not as much security screening), but took longer for the card to arrive. Tends to be less of a wait in the morning, arrive 30 minutes before it opens.

San Jose - Downtown

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).

Austin

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.

Boston / Cambridge

No security screening outdoors, ID check as you enter. Short waiting time and friendly service. Application process took 15 minutes and card arrived in 3 business days (was promised two weeks).

As with everything else, your mileage may vary.


Housing

You’ll want to start your search early.

Check out the area specific section for more info.

Roommates

It’s easier (and cheaper) to find a place for 3 or 4 people than it is 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.

The University typically sends out a spreadsheet of all students going to your area, grouped by employer. This is great, but takes a while to get started.

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 you.

Apartment Hunting Tips

  • Paying a deposit is common
  • Don’t pay a deposit of any kind to see an apartment
  • Utilities included is less common than Waterloo
  • 4-month leases are harder to come by than Waterloo
  • Paying the first months rent in full by certified check is common
  • Bring enough money for first month’s rent and security
  • Cashing a Canadian cheque in the US takes a long time (even if it’s a USD account)–cash is recommended
  • Sometimes you can get your stipend ahead of time if you already have an American bank account. Note that if you get your stipend in December for a winter work term, you’ll have to do taxes during your work term for the stipend money.
  • Use CECA’s hot housing leads
  • Ask your company to ask current interns where they are living and any recommendations they have. Better yet, try to contact them directly so you can get other tips about events, activities, food in the area.
  • Check the Area Specific notes for specific recommendations
  • There are “hotels” with weekly rates lower than renting an apartment
  • Some places are very low tech, so, if looking for a hotel, you are best off walking around the area and asking every hotel about their rates.

Vacation Rentals or Corporate Housing work well for our 4-month terms. Some websites we’ve used successfully are:

  • Airbnb Sublets – monthly vacation rentals

  • Airbnb – nightly vacation rentals

    • Good for when you’re unable to move in for a couple of days, especially in the SF Bay Area. Typically cheaper than a hotel. Use common sense and good judgment, always read the reviews.
  • Vacation Rentals by Owner – vacation rentals

  • AMSI – corporate housing

  • Corporate Housing by Owner – corporate housing

  • PadMapper – Craigslist & Kijiji listings on a map

Cell Service

Unless you’re one of those crazy people who wanders around for Wi-Fi (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.

Smartphones

In the past some groups were able to get a reduced rate by getting a family and friends plan.

T-Mobile has monthly 4G plans that range from $30/mo - $70/mo, offering 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 your next co-op term, if you are returning to the US.

To save money on various taxes for his pre-paid T-Mobile plan, Rickey used CallingMart.

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.

T-Mobile’s Hidden Plan

Gary writes in with this tip:

T-Mobile offers a sort of “hidden” $30/month plan. It has unlimited text and data and 100 minutes of talk. You get 5GB of data a month at 4G speeds and drop to 2G speeds (~56kb/s) if you go over the limit. To get this plan you MUST purchase an unactivated SIM card. You can pick up a T-Mobile “SIM kit” with an unactivated SIM from either a Walgreens (most convenient since they are literally everywhere), a Best Buy or a Wal-Mart; simply look in the electronics section. The SIM kit should cost $10. Note that this only works if you own an unlocked phone (of course if you have a locked phone you can simply purchase an unlock code online for as little as $10 although you might need to check if your phone works on T-Mobile’s band).

The kit will direct you online where you can activate the card as well as choose the plan. The plan will only show up if you do it this way. You cannot find this plan in T-Mobile stores. The SIM kits come in micro, mini, and regular sizes.

Micro/Mini-SIM cards

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

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.

BlackBerry

Getting data for your smartphone is a lot easier with 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.

Amir unlocked his BlackBerry 9900 phone for a couple dollars then bought the $50/mo T-Mobile pre-paid plan. $10 for the new SIM, and it has Unlimited Text/Unlimited Talk/500MB Data. The data is actually unlimited, but the first 500MB is 4G while anything after is throttled at 2G but with no extra cost. Incoming calls and texts from Canada are free, but outgoing is not (ask people to text you, then call them using Google Talk). All in all he paid for everything under $220 (including tax) for the 4 months, up-front.

BIS

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.

Long distance

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 does this transparently, so you can directly 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.


Money

Banks

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:

  • There may be a minimum balance after 6 months
  • Having interest income in the US can complicate taxes (not an expert)
  • Some savings accounts require fees which may end up being more than the interest on your account

Choosing a bank is up to you and your preferences. Stephen suggests you stick to one of:

  • Chase
  • Bank of America
  • Wells Fargo

Kevin suggests you use TD Bank, especially if ATMs are convenient for where you live / work. TD Bank hours are generally better than any other American banks (they are open late on weekdays and for several hours on weekends).

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.

Chase offers Disney debit cards with everything from Mickey Mouse to Disney princesses on them. Josh enjoyed this option.

Chase’s mobile app can also deposit cheques for you using the phone’s camera. Josh worked with the person who built this at Chase. It is very secure.

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 four 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. Once you do receive your SSN, it is a good idea to update this with your bank in order to build a credit rating in America.

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, TD) 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.

Starting Money

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:

  1. Open a U.S Bank Account with your Canadian Bank (Prashanth used TD but recommend RBC, RBC has a US branch as well though none in California)
  2. Transfer some money to this account to last you for a few weeks in US
  3. Get a US Dollar Credit Card from Canada and use this for initial spending. If you are not eligible, you can ask your parents to open it for you and a get a credit card in your name. You can use this card until you have money in your US account.
  4. Open a US Bank account in either Chase, BOA, Wells Fargo.

Credit Cards

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 especially useful if you plan to move to the US after you graduate.

Shale would like to stress the importance of linking your bank accounts to your SSN, once it arrives. You likely will not build a credit history until this happens.

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.

Bank of America - Canadian Credit Check

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.

Kevin was in the same situation and followed the same process at TD Bank with similar results.

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.

Bringing Money Back

There are a lot of ways to bring your hard earned dough back to Canada.

The main thing to keep in mind is that while some broker may not charge a “fee” the rate they offer may be several pips from mid-market rates.

What Stephen Does

Here’s what Stephen thinks is the way most people will want to bring their money back: xe.com

  • xe.com generally (spreads are not fixed) has a good rate. About 1.5% off of the rate posted by Google.
  • You do need to validate your identity, they will probably ask to scan your ID.
  • The actual transfer does take a while, less than a week. (Depending on your bank)
  • Use the Bid feature. You can set a transaction to occur when the rate hits some desired value.
  • Don’t trade on weekends. Weekends have less volume and a higher 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.

Some Creative Ways

  • Capital One Credit Card - I heard that they eat the 1% MasterCard / Visa network fee.
  • Bring it in cash across the border (if it’s over 10k you need to declare it. it’s a lot in $20’s, Stephen doesn’t do this anymore).
  • Mailing it by UPS/FedEx insured (got this from a TD Canada banker)
  • Buying equity on a cross listed item and selling it on a Canadian exchange (best rate I hear, but sounds tricky). This is called Norbert’s Gambit.
  • Using your family member who works at a bank and gets currency exchanged at cost (We’re told this is the best possible)

What Kevin Does If you are with TD Canada and TD Bank, they will transfer

your money between countries. For Kevin, this involved a five-minute phone call and a 2 business day wait. You can either open an American dollar account in TD Canada or have them exchange your money for CAD and deposit it in your Canadian checking account. It may be a good idea to use a USD account at TD Canada, then exchange money when the exchange rate is better.

TD insists that there are no fees for this service, but it may be the case that they charge somewhere between 0.5% and 1.5% depending on the amount transferred. YMMV.

Not Recommend Ways

  • Wire transfer (mad fees)
  • Cash a check (takes 20-30 days for the first I hear). Keep in mind, bank currency rates are generally terrible. usually 2.5%, Stephen doesn’t do this any more)

Miscellaneous

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.

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.

Taxes

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.

CECA 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.

If you are traveling on a Canadian Passport to the US to visit (not J-1), you are likely on a B-2 visa. This tidbit is useful if you travel to the US for pleasure after the completion of your J-1.


Miscellaneous

  • Amazon gives free shipping for 1 month through Prime. Get one intern to sign up 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. Shale ships everything to his office. Carrying a box home is much less painful than going to the postal office to pick up a missed package.

  • Woot.com is awesome

  • Waterloo holds alumni events, Facebook Page which are often open to students.

  • CECA 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.

    • Shortcut for estimating from F to C: (weather in F - 30) / 2 = weather in C. This will be off by 1 or 2 degrees, but works well for situations like figuring out what to wear in the morning.
  • Meetups are a great way to learn new things and meet new people. See meetup.com for more details on specific groups.


Area Specific Notes

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.

California (General)

  • 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.

    • The website will make it seem like its for active-duty military or veterans, but everyone with an SSN is eligible for the shopping discounts. Not eligible for the insurance, however.
    • Car rental benefits are here
    • The main thing is that the underage fee is waived for all car companies (which saves a heck of a lot of money) and there’s a discount (usually 10%) woven into there as well. You can also get these without going through USAA but USAA has the benefit of combining the two into one discount code. Hertz in particular allows for two discount codes, so you can often layer the discounts on and save a lot.
    • Being part of USAA also means you get free club gold membership into Hertz, which lets you build points for stuff like free day rentals, weekend rentals, etc.
    • Being with USAA is also helps if you are under 20 and want to rent a car.
  • There’s a very good list of concerts that is automatically updated every week (ish) from a mailing list. It’s simple and comprehensive. Found here.

  • Tips when actually renting:

    • Insurance is usually peddled with the car rental at the counter (eg. liability, loss damage insurance, collision). If you have car insurance in Canada either on your own or with your parents, they may cover this already (be sure to have a copy of it on you when you drive).
    • Go for the smallest car (sub-compact rental). You may want a larger vehicle at the start, but you can often ask for a free upgrade at the counter and they’ll give you one. You can get a Civic, Corolla, Jetta or sometimes even a VW Passat/other full size sedan just by asking.
    • Some rental companies will often pick you up from where you are living/working and drive you to their rental location.
    • For Hertz, try and layer the discounts (CDP and PC codes). You can get cheap rates like 50 dollars (tax included) for a 3 day weekend car rental. It makes for some awesome road trips
    • Avoid renting cars from airports unless necessary - they tack on a bunch of dumb charges that you can’t waive (eg. airport concession fee, terminal fees, etc.). They also don’t give free upgrades unless forced to via discount codes.

San Francisco

  • Since SF is a city, prices are pretty high.
  • It’s very tough to find housing in the city, especially for cheap.
  • Stuff is slanted. They’re not exaggerating in movies and pictures, the hills are steep. You know that scene in The Princess Diaries where she’s pushing her scooter up the hill? We know you watched it - that’s not a cheap scooter, those hills are vicious.
  • Bring a very good pair of walking shoes or buy them when you get there; especially if you have flat feet or any other leg or foot issues. As mentioned before, the hills are vicious and the easiest way to get around the city is to walk places.
  • Get a Safeway Card, it’s free and literally saved me over $100. Also, tell them you’ll fill it out later and you’re in a hurry. That way you get the discounts, but they don’t have your personal information.
  • There are some beautiful parts (check out the Presidio near the Golden Gate Bridge), some crazy parts (Haight-Ashbury has things you never imagined existed. Everyone is high.), and some very sketchy parts (Stay out of the Tenderloin, especially at night. We repeat, stay out of the Tenderloin at night.) Familiarize yourself with the neighbourhoods and use common sense.
  • Fun fact - it has the lowest proportion of children of any major city in the US!

Transportation

  • MUNI is the basic transit service, there are buses, streetcars, cable cars (streetcars that go up steep hills, $6/ride and in tourist areas) and subways as well. The busses are almost never on time. If you can take a streetcar, take that instead.
  • BART is a high-speed subway-ish system that goes around the more city-like parts of the Bay Area and hits more major destinations. BART from the airport to SF is super clean and ~$8.
  • Caltrain is a light-rail system that goes through all of Silicon Valley for under $10. If you’ve heard of the GO train in the GTA, it’s similar. They do often check tickets though, and you need to buy them before you board.
  • Clipper Card is a free card you can get and load with money which can be used on all of these transit systems seamlessly. Get one.
  • For larger road trips, rent a Zipcar (car sharing service). 5 people in a car only end up paying $15 each, don’t need to pay for gas.
  • Uber: popular and stylish alternative to taxis. You get a private driver and payment is hassle free–they’ll automatically charge the credit card you have on file (including tip). UberX is the cheapest option when ordering a ride, and if you have a large group it can be cheaper to order multiple UberX vehicles instead of a SUV. You can request an Uber via SMS, or from their iPhone or Android app. The seats are extremely comfortable.

Airports

  • An airport shuttle is a good alternative to taxies and BART, especially if you have a lot of luggage. For only $16 they will drop you off in front of almost any hotel. I used GO Lorrie’s Airport Shuttle to get to Park Hotel.
  • From Palo Alto, the KX Bus leaves from the bus area at the Palo Alto Caltrain station. It’s cheaper than taking the Caltrain to SFO.
  • Some people prefer Super Shuttle. From a hotel, they cost ~$25 for the first person. After the initial person, the cost goes down to ~$10 per person for the next people.
  • Others like getting an Uber from the airport. It is a $65 flat fee to/from the airport.
  • If you are flying Delta, the curbside luggage check at SFO is free, and they can print you a boarding pass. This means you don’t need to carry your luggage that much further, and it usually has a much shorter line.
  • Unless you live nearby, It is almost never worth flying to/from Oakland.

Housing

  • 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.

    • 2010F - Stephen has stayed at the Park. Liked it, would recommend
  • Pacific Tradewinds is highly recommended by one intern who is adventurous and enjoyed living in hostel-like accommodations.

    • 2012W - Recommended by an intern. It’s feels very home-y and undoubtedly a great place to meet technical folks and entrepreneurs.
  • 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.

Food

  • If you are looking for cheap, delicious meals, head over to Chinatown. Big boxes of dim sum for ~$4, bubble tea is only ~$2 (they call it boba)
  • If you want a burrito, most places in the Mission are dirt cheap and give you an amazing Burrito. Josh’s favourite is El Farolito at 24th and Mission (Cash Only).

Bay Area

  • Still expensive
  • Get a Safeway Card, it’s free and literally saved me over $100
  • Learn to love the Caltrain
  • Caltrain isn’t like the GO, they check your tickets all the time
  • Go to Gilroy Premium Outlet Mall in Gilroy, it’s amazing and has great deals. It’s worth a trip after your first paycheque.
  • Pizza Hut is not as fancy in the US. It will blow your coworkers’ minds if you tell them that Pizza Hut is a sit down restaurant with waiters

Activities

  • Helicopter Flying Yes you get to control the helicopter. No license or classes required. Ask for the introductory flight lesson.
  • Aerobatic Flying Yes you get to fly the plane and make it do loops and stuff. No license or classes required. Look for the gift certificate for aerobatic flying.
  • Skydiving - Eric says it’s much better than the one near Toronto (he’s done both). This one you fall for a full minute and you land on the beach. Try and time for an hour or so before sunset. He says it’s awesome skydiving onto a beach while the sun sets.
  • Paintballing - They usually have good Groupon deals.
  • Skeet shooting - no license or classes required.
  • Computer History Museum You can easily spend a whole day here.
  • Planet Granite for those who want to indoor rock climb
  • Stanford football game - Eric says they’re just like the movies!

Trips

  • 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.

  • Las Vegas

    • Cirque de Soleil shows are a must.
    • Grand Canyon if you have a day or two. Drive out is about 4 hours each way however so be warned.
    • Hoover Dam has a nice indoor tour where you get to see the generators and water tunnels. Also a beautiful sight.
    • Casinos and restaurants of course on the strip.
  • 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:
    • 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.
  • If you need gear, Stanford outdoor gear has awesome stuff. REI and others will rent camping gear too.

Cupertino

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.

Malls/Shopping
Restaurants
Beaches

Housing

  • 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).

    • 2010W - Stephen - Liked it, very close to the old QuinStreet buildings. 2 Bedroom 2 Bath $1909/mo.
  • 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.

    • 2012W - Stephen - We pay $2700/mo unfurnished plus utilities for 3 bedrooms. Clean and very nice. Less than 20 minute bike ride to Google.
  • 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.

    • 2012F - Viktor - Expect to not get your deposit of $750 back because they need to “clean” the place and they charged us $600 for no reason (something’s really messed up with their internal communications). The pool is not heated. It’s a lie. It took them 2 months to sort out the fact that we weren’t supposed to pay for the first 3 days when they didn’t give us the keys. I guess they never did fix those charges. Their contract actually makes no sense if you try to read it. It’s ~20-30 pages and they try to squeeze all the money you have out of you.

San Diego

Food

  • Stephen waited in the rain for 2 hours to eat at Phil’s BBQ. The ribs are amazing.

New York City

  • Really expensive
  • Paying first and last months rent plus one month of security is super common.
  • Brokers fees are usually 1 month rent, often more than you’d like.
  • Brokers fees are super negotiable
  • More scammers here than any other place I encountered, see the place before you pay
  • Housing moves fast. We got an appointment to see a place, got on the subway right away and once we got out the place was already taken
  • Bring checks with you, that’s how you secure a place
  • Don’t live above 100th Street unless you aren’t afraid of anything
  • Manhattan Costs Money
  • Wall street area is surprisingly dead in the evening
  • Brooklyn is much cheaper, consider it
  • Middle of Brooklyn can be a little sketchier, but Bay Ridge is super beautiful
  • Get a MetroCard pass on your first day, $104/mo for unlimited travel is a great deal
  • Trader Joe’s is cheap
  • Chase bank is everywhere (also in Duane Reade)
  • Get a Duane Reade Card
  • Watch your stuff on the subway, wallet in front and all that stuff
  • Flying into LGA is cheaper, NJ transit is good, hard with two suitcases

Housing

  • Brooklyn (Bay Ridge) - 328 91st Street, Brooklyn (close to the subway). The landlord is Annette Sobczynski (718-974-0368, [email protected]). 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.

Food

  • 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.

Activities

Coopersburg, PA

  • Driving/Bus is probably the easiest and cheapest way to get into PA from ON.
  • Bank of America is near Lutron campus and are experienced with dealing with international co-ops
  • Quiet town
  • Minimum necessities close by (food, convenience, pharmacy, bank). Government related tasks (e.g. SSN application) have to be done in Allentown (20 min drive north).
  • Not much to do within walking distance. The area becomes more interesting with a car.
  • “Nearby” towns/cities include: Philly, NYC
  • Plaza near BOA has decent food (Mex, Chinese, Italian, diner) and two large grocery stores (it’s worth getting the “bonus cards”)
  • Musikfest, a popular free music festival during summer
  • Climate is similar to ON but slightly warmer on average

Austin, TX

  • Live music capital of the world, try to attend at least one live music event
  • Home to SXSW, also hosted the Formula 1 in Nov 2012
  • Don’t believe anyone who tries to intimidate you with tales of barren landscapes and cowboys. Austin is nothing like that!
  • College football is a huge deal. The colour of the Texas Longhorns (University of Texas) is burnt orange.
  • Austinites LOVE their food. When someone mentions a new food place, everyone else chimes in with opinions/makes a mental note to try it.
  • Way lower cost of living than SF, especially housing.
  • A very dog-friendly city. There are dog parks, dog-friendly restaurants and bars, even dog bakeries.
  • Very biker-friendly city too.
  • Public transport sucks. It’s impossible to get around without a car. GET A CAR.
  • Watch out for deer crossing the roads/highways further out from downtown Austin.
  • Vintage shops, thrift shops and local art along the street/bazaars make good places to shop for gifts.
  • Downtown Austin is where the University of Texas is. West Lake is the richest area in Austin, and also where Bazaarvoice is located.
  • Weather can get up to 40 Celsius (110 F) in the summer, and drops to 30 Celsius around mid-Sept. Even in December, weather might be something crazy like 23 Celsius.
  • If it ever snows in the winter, nobody dares to drive and no one goes to work.
  • Shopping carts are also known as ‘baskets’, or ‘buggies’. Use at own risk.

Transport

  • Get a car, or a friend with one. If you don’t live downtown, it’s impossible to get anywhere without driving. Places in Austin are very spread out. Ask your company to subsidize/sponsor one, or give you a transport stipend. If you are under 21, make sure you get this straightened out beforehand, because car rental companies are iffy about car insurance, so you might not qualify for rental.
  • If you don’t have a car, be prepared to spend a ton of money cabbing, even for trivial things like groceries. Ask Xenia for details about living by the 360 highway in West Lake (there is nothing there).
  • Yellow Cab Taxi Austin has a mobile app that you can use to get a cab. It’s nice if you have no clue what your exact location is, just use the app and GPS it. Bonus: you don’t have to speak to the operator and repeat your personal details over and over again. You also get to track your cab as it arrives and they will send you an email when your cab is 0.4 miles away. Note: the waiting time for cabs is 20 minutes on average.
  • Public transport (buses - Capital Metro) only exists near downtown and many people have negative opinions about it. Still, if you are spending the whole day downtown and don’t want to walk or cab, it is a viable option. Xenia used it once during the Formula 1 weekend and it did its job.
  • Austin is home to Mellow Johnny’s and is a very bike-friendly place. People often bike along the 360 highway, and there are nice trails in the local parks. Bear in mind there are some very hilly and sloped areas so figure out if you are capable of biking those paths before getting a bike.
  • Whether biking or driving, WATCH OUT FOR DEER, especially on a highway. They can cause a lot of damage. Actually, watch out for them when walking to work too (true story).

Food

  • Tex-Mex (Texas-Mexican) is amazing and very common in Austin. When eating Tex-Mex, remember to get queso, because melted cheese! Good place are Chuy’s, Torchy’s, Trudy’s.
  • Texas BBQ: try Rudy’s, Salt Lick, County Line, Franklin’s, Iron Works. Texas BBQ is a must-try! Marbled beef brisket, mm. Ask your colleagues about their favourite places too, they will likely all have different opinions. And then you can try every single place.
  • Food trucks are delicious and a very different experience. Some delicious ones are: Peached Tortilla (Vietnamese/Mex fusion), Chilantro (Korean/American fusion), Be More Pacific, Mighty Cone. Some food trucks are always moving around, with different schedules and location, so track them down online, or you might get lucky and find them at an event/music festival. Other food trucks stay in ‘food truck parks’, where there are a bunch of food trucks along with some seating areas, completely outdoors. There is one right along South Congress, very strongly recommended.
  • The Oasis: overlooks Lake Travis, go there for a beautiful view. Tourists like to go during sunset.
  • Hopdoddy: Fantastic burgers.
  • Sway: Thai fusion. Expensive, but so delicious. Dishes are served to share. Try the drinking vinegar too.
  • Uchi (Tyson Cole), or Uchiko (Paul Qui). Japanese fusion, dishes are served to share. Very expensive, chef’s tasting for 2 can go up to $250, consists of 10 dishes with dessert. Best meal of my life!
  • South Congress: Magnolia Cafe (24/7 diner), South Congress Cafe, Homeslice (gourmet pizza), food trucks.
  • Other places: Foreign and Domestic, Barley Swine, La Condensa, East Side Pie, Contego, Taverna, Mandola’s Italian Market, Phil’s Ice House.

Shopping

  • SoCo (South Congress). A street of one-of-a-kind, mostly local vintage/thrift shops. You can also find roadside stalls selling local art/crafts. There’s also a big bazaar that goes on in the evening of First Thursday (of every month). If you’re hunting for a pair of cowboy boots, Allen’s Boots is cowboy boot heaven. You might also find a gem of a vintage pair hidden in nearby shops.
  • The Domain: outdoor mall, home to an Apple AND Microsoft store. Austin Cake Balls is also here, try the red velvet! The Domain is a huge mall with more high-end, branded stores. They do have some affordable shops though, the first H&M in Austin opened at the Domain in 2012. It takes forever to walk from one end to another and there are two ‘halves’ to this mall separated by Macy’s. Do some planning before you go here.
  • Barton Creek Mall: indoor mall, full of typical stores, makes for good shopping.
  • The Arboretum: Another outdoor mall, located near The Domain.
  • North Cross Mall: Chaparral Ice Skating rink is located here, and you can get a discount on entry price if you check in with Yelp.

Activities

  • These accounts on Twitter are all relevant to news/music/food in Austin. CultureMap Austin and do512 have good daily feeds on events.
  • Alamo Drafthouse: watch a movie while having a full meal and a beer. Ninja-like waiters take your order (written) at the beginning of the movie, and serve your food in 30 minutes or so. The Alamo Drafthouses also do replays of old movies and special screenings for holidays, etc.
  • Take a segway tour around downtown!
  • Music festivals: SXSW, ACL, Fun Fun Fun Fest, and a ton of others. Live concerts too!
  • 6th Street: a street of clubs and bars. East 6th is also dubbed ‘dirty six’, West 6th is where the classier places are. There are some under-21 places, one of them is ‘The Library’. A lot of the bars always have live bands playing.
  • University of Texas (UT). Attend a football game and soak in the Longhorn spirit.
  • Go water biking. If you play it smart, you can make it during sunset and watch the bats (population of 1.5mil) streaming out from underneath the Congress bridge.
  • Armadillo Art Bazaar: occurs before Christmas, fantastic for gift-shopping.
  • Ice skate on the roof of Whole Foods during ‘winter’.
  • Go jet skiing! Watch out for deals for other outdoor activities on LivingSocial/Groupon/Amazon Local, you can get up to 50% off on activities like paddle boating, kayaking, etc.
  • Visit a shooting range.
  • Volunteer at Dance International in exchange for Ballroom dancing lessons for the whole term.
  • Visit San Antonio: the Riverwalk is a very touristy place, but it’s gorgeous and worth a visit.
  • Ride a horse or something.

Chicago, IL

  • Welcome to the Midwest! Chicago is the only city that matters around here.
  • Climate similar to Toronto, being on the shore of Lake Michigan. Not very windy. (“Windy City” nickname is from politics, not weather)
  • Lots of good info on r/chicago
  • Avoid Jackson SSN office like the plague. Go to the one on 1233 W Adams instead.

Transportation

  • CTA is really convenient. Unlike the TTC, your transfer does not have to be in a continuous direction of travel. You can take anything you like within the transfer window (i.e. free roundtrip).
  • If you take the train at 3 or 4am, then you are literally walking into the homeless’ house. Try sit close to the train conductor and always stay awake.
  • Beware of Ventra double-charging. Ventra uses standard RFID technology as your credit card, so your transit fare may be charged to the wrong card if you slap your entire wallet on the machine.
  • Metra is commuter rail, often only run during weekday rush hours (like most GO Trains). It’s also more expensive than CTA.
  • Pace is the regional bus service that goes to the suburbs.
  • Divvy is the bike-sharing program, like Toronto’s Bixi.
  • Chicago drivers are among the worst in America. Be careful.
  • Taxis are easy to come by in Downtown/Loop. Sketchiness vary. Try not to use credit cards on taxis because your credit card info may get stolen. If you do attempt to use credit card, some may tell you that the machine is down, which more often than not is a lie.

Food

  • Near North Side has a lot of food options. Although a lot of them are fancy restaurants, there are also many affordable ones. Giordano’s and Portillo’s were wonderful.
  • There are a lot of good restaurants in Chinatown. Take the Red line to Cermak-Chinatown. Along S Archer Ave, you will find Lao Sze Chuan’s real Fuqi feipian, and Ming-Shun’s kickass dim sum. There are too many good ones to list here.
  • Around Millenium Park, there is Wildberry for good brunch and Mariano’s for cheap (relative to the loop) food.
  • Good Vietnamese food in Uptown / Argyle area.
  • Take the Pink Line to 18th (Pilsen) to eat great Hispanic/Mexican food. (Do not go after dark)

Safety

  • Some areas of the city are not safe. Always be aware of your surroundings, and take appropriate measures to protect yourself. Use common sense.
  • Crime data is available on Chicago Tribune and Chicago Police Department.
Avoid:
  • West of Western Avenue if you are south of North Ave.
  • South of I-55 Stevenson (Lakefront, Hyde Park/Jackson Park, IIT Campus, uChicago Campus, and U.S. Cellular Field are OK during the day; take Jackson Park Express to Hyde Park area). Despite claims that Bronzeville is gentrifying, it is still quite sketchy.
  • CTA trains south of Roosevelt or Cermak-Chinatown, especially at night.
  • Note that those are just guidelines, as there are no definite boundaries between a “bad” and a “good” area. Use your best judgement.

Housing

  • The usual websites will do. If you speak Chinese, check out CSSA-IIT or Chinese of Chicago for housing. Most are near Chinatown, IIT, UIC, or Loyola.
  • Try to target your research on the North and North West of Chicago, for safety reasons. Stay close to the ‘L’. Here are some nice neighbourhoods you’d want to stay in:
*Lincoln Park
*Bucktown
*Wicker Park (Not West Wicker Park)
*Ukrainian Village
*East Village
*Noble Square
*Logan Square
*Near North Side (Expensive) 
*South Loop 
*Lakeview
  • The price for a rent in those neighbourhoods is between 500$ and a 1000$/month, for a shared apartment with your own room. Normally the rooms are not furnished, so always ask details.
  • Also, in every case, you will have to pay two rents the first month, one for your rent and one for the deposit.
  • Demographic data is available on NY Times.

Activities

  • Many events throughout the year. Check Reddit, Yelp, Timeout, etc
  • Lakefront Trail is beautiful.
  • Lots of parks near the lake that you can explore.
  • Wicker Park is hipster central. Boystown is gay people zone, also very hipster.
  • Bunch of theaters.
  • Amazing architecture everywhere, many Frank Lloyd Wright buildings here
  • Museums are everywhere as well. Make sure you give them your Chicago ZIP code, and ask for Chicago resident discount. The biggest ones are Museum of Science & Industry, Art Institute, and Field Museum. (Note to Torontonians: ROM is bigger than Field Museum)

Full-Time

When you finish your degree, you may wish to pursue full-time employment with an employer in the US. Some may which to take a return offer to their final term employer or try some other companies.

Negotiation

Always negotiate. For many of us it’s hard to negotiate, first the offers are often quite lucrative. It can seem like more than we deserve. But if you don’t negotiate you can be leaving a lot of money on the table.

If having more money to save for a house or family isn’t enough of a motivator, there are other reasons to negotiate.

Part of the problem with negotiating a salary is the information imbalance. Recruiters know the going rate for a Software Engineer from Waterloo. So ask your friends and classmates from upper years to share their offer details if they are comfortable. We tend to treat salary as taboo. This makes sense most of the time, but for our first full-time job we are all in generally the same boat. So don’t be afraid to ask a friend, they will often be happy to help.

Recruiters are really good at negotiation and scaring people into accepting. Stephen has had friends that just took the first offer given over the phone and friends who have given into the pressure of an ‘exploding offer.’ Joel Spolsky of StackOverflow fame has written a nice article on exploding offers.

Turns out, that while the recruiter may pressure you with a deadline, they will happily extend it. If the company decided to make you an offer, they are probably pretty serious about trying to hire you. They’ll let you take a few weeks if you give them a good reason. Stephen’s friends pushed back return offers for over 3 months.

The easiest way to negotiate is to have other competing offers. Once you get the details of a companies offer, tell them what the other companies offered you. Don’t lie, often they will ask you to forward the offer letter for verification.

Many recruiters get a bonus or have their bonus tied to the number of new hires they sign. This means that they are somewhat on your side when it comes to making you happy. However, they are handling a lot of other candidates so don’t waste their time. Be direct and clear with what you want. Don’t make them guess. And be polite, obviously.

When it gets towards the end of the negotiation, and you know which company you prefer, let the recruiter know that you will sign today if x number is y (20,000 RSUs).

Some numbers are harder to negotiate than others. At least in 2014, salary was hard to negotiate for a lot of the larger companies for many people. The easiest to change seemed to be signing bonus, equity and relocation bonus.

Some benefits to consider:

  • 401k
  • Annual bonuses (mostly large companies)
  • Vacation time

Some resources other resources about negotiation:

  • Getting To Yes This book doesn’t cover employment negotiation specifically, but negotiation in general. This book is especially helpful for those who don’t wish to negotiate like a used car salesperson.

Stock Options

These can be really tricky.

Resources:

401(k)

If you may ever return to Canada later in life, you should checkout this stuff.

Visas

General Resources:

TN

If you are a Canadian citizen, your employer will likely set you up with a TN visa. This is a pretty easy process. You will apply at the border so leave some extra time (15 minutes for the actual application and an hour for the extra wait). Stephen knows someone who missed their flight due to the wait for secondary.

If you are crossing by land, Stephen knows someone who couldn’t get their TN simply because the guard who processes TNs wasn’t there. Not sure if this is common, but something to look into.

Resources:

H1-B

A common visa for non-Canadians.

Miscellaneous

Driver’s License

If you have a G in Ontario, Stephen has heard that you can take a written test in California to get a full license. However, the California DMV seems to say otherwise.