All Posts By


Buying a House as an Expat in LA
Moving to LA, Posts

Buying a house in LA as an expat

You secured your lease, life is going along swimmingly but you think it’s time to lay down some roots.  Here’s a guide to buying a house in LA as an expat.

LA rent is not cheap.  Essentially, unlike in Australia, LA rent is the same as the owner’s mortgage payments plus property tax. In other words, you’re not getting a bargain and all you’re doing is helping them pay off their mortgage.

We loved the house we first signed up to but after a while it got too small for us. So I started looking around, even extending our search outside the 90210 postcode, and was shocked to find there was nothing around. Even increasing our budget by $2,000 didn’t get us what we were looking for in upgrading our humble abode.

Buying a house in LA

I started scouring websites looking for houses. My dream was a mid-century modern in the hills already done (or minor jobs to be done) with a pool and view.

The next thing I needed to do was see who would lend me the money.

I worked on a budget of our current rent figuring we had a decent buy price to get a house with everything we wanted.  Cheaper than rent plus it’s ours!

Armed with this I went to our bank, Citibank, to see what they could offer me.

With a 20% deposit and a very good credit rating we could get the money we need.  Excellent.

Credit rating

Credit rating in this country is a whole ‘nother beast of a topic.  But, in short, ours wasn’t very good or excellent; it was just good.

In a nutshell, from what I could gather it’s because of the way we manage our credit cards.  You see our limit is a limit we use each month that I’ve budgeted to pay off each month.  I don’t want a higher limit because we’ll use it, we’ll spend it and eat into our savings bucket. I’m happy and comfortable with what we have. But that means we actually use the credit limit we’re given.  That’s what it’s there for right? Wrong.

The powers that be in Credit rating land think we’re a red flag because we use the credit made available to us via our credit card. They don’t look at the fact that I pay it off each month (every fortnight actually).  I made a $10k purchase on my credit card (think of all the points!) and then paid it off once I was done so I could carry on charging my stuff to it.  But you could see in that month our credit rating drop down. I mean seriously, don’t they look at the next transaction, the one where we paid it off (and I’m talking that day people that day). Stupid.

You really think I’d learn my lesson.  Please learn for me.

No loan from CitiBank #fail

So, even though we showed that we paid our rent on time every month for two plus years, we had the deposit and money to spare in the bank, based solely on our credit rating CitiBank was a no go.

I threatened to move my accounts but haven’t bothered because it’s too convenient having a branch down the road.  But they don’t know that!

I speak of them with disdain instead of admiration now though.

Finding my dream LA house

After months of searching for my perfect Mid-century modern home it became clear that most of them are fixi-ups. Now, to be clear, this is our “rent replacement house” not our “forever house”. Being a rent replacement house I didn’t want a fix-up job, one where we’d have to take six months renovating it.  Defeats the purpose.

Securing a Realtor

You can scour the websites and research houses yourself but if you engage a Realtor early on in the piece they can start looking for places for you.

You see they have broker open houses and access to a clumsy but very good tool known as the MLS.  Just by entering the parameters you want in a search engine you can get houses sent to you weekly.  And, if they see a house while they’re looking, they can arrange for you to see it.  It can take a lot of time out of the hunting process.

Buying a house as an Expat

It can be done, buying a house in LA as an Expat.  But, you just need to be aware of a couple of things.

  1. The visa. Each Bank deals with different visas in different ways. Then depending on that there may or may not be different conditions.  As an E3 visa holder we were able to borrow money like a “normal” American.
  2. Deposit.  Some of the lenders I spoke to insisted on 30% because of our expat/visa status.  We did find a bank willing to give us a loan based on 20% though so do shop around.

Mortgage Broker

One of the people you need to secure, as well as a Realtor, is a Mortgage Broker.  There are mortgage brokers who represent several banks (as they are in Australia) but beware many Mortgage Brokers I spoke to represent only the one bank. From what I gather these guys are sole operators but work with a bank. You don’t have to pay them they must get a commission from the Bank.  So it’s a bit different and a bit strange because they’re not actually shopping the market looking for the best deal for you, they’re just offering you a Mortgage.

You can also go into your local branch and ask to apply for a loan as we do in Australia.  And, there are online guys which I would say be wary of.  I started filling forms in for Quicken Loans but then when I got to the last screen cancelled out yet I got calls from all these lenders/brokers and still get the occasional email from them (got one today in fact). Not happy Jan.

Putting in an offer

I know you’re dying to know if I found my dream mid-century modern home with very little to do, a pool and a view.  In short: no. Out of left field we found a house in “the flats” which was brand new, had a beautiful floorplan and a pool.

We fell in love. We did a quick change in search looked at a number of new constructions in the area but decided this was the house for us.  It was New Year’s eve when we put an offer in and our Realtor was in Europe on holiday.

“Oh no, you absolutely must put the offer in now because there’s less chance of other active bidders at this time,” she said.

So we did.

In the US offers must be writing and you need to think carefully about contingencies at this time.  That’s where your Realtor becomes like gold.  If they’re good at what they do, with experience they come up with all the ideas and you just say yay or nay.

Not to bore you but the offer process is very boring. If you’re looking for a bargain (which we were) then there will be counter offers and counter offers before you either bow out or settle on a price–don’t forget contingencies.  For example, in one of the seller’s contingencies was reducing the settlement time. We were all for it too (we wanted to move into our house and stop paying rent) but we weren’t sure how long the mortgage would take to get through.  But that became a “thing”.

And then, some sellers will use your offer to go back to interested parties to say look, we’ve got an offer do you want to put one in too.  That’s where a quasi auction happens. (They don’t have auctions here; too complex a system I suppose to be able to deal with it but you’d think auctions otherwise would be quite successful).

Even if a house is under offer or under escrow anything can happen.  It’s not until all contingencies are dropped that they’re comfortable it’s all going to be OK.  So for them it’s a trust issue. Our agent had to put the seller at ease and let them know that we want to buy the house just as badly as he wants to sell the house and we’re doing everything in our power to make sure it happens.

Much like when you’re leasing a house, as I mention in that Blog, you need an agent who you’ve developed a good working relationship with that can go into bat for you and ensure the seller the purchase is secure.  And, as soon as you’re able to drop contingencies (like inspections and securing the money) then you’re up and running.

But, expats make Americans nervous so hook up with a Realtor that understands you and the situation. We were happy with our agent because she deals with Expats all the time and understands how the system works. A big part of it is knowing what to say.


So here there is an Escrow agency that’s used to sort through the paperwork. They co-ordinate with the Bank, their agent and your agent to settle.  Not conveyancers or lawyers like in Australia.

On the day of settlement, you don’t actually sign the mortgage at your bank, you sign it all at the Escrow’s office.

Then once the documents are all signed at Escrow the house is yours! The agent will arrange with you to meet at your house with the keys and you’re in your very own new home.

Complex system

It’s a complex system here. As I always say everything in America is an industry designed for people to be able to make a living from. You don’t pay your agent to buy your house (the commission is split 50/50 and paid for by the seller) so use one.  It might well be the only free thing you get in the US!

You don’t get a say in who you use for Escrow but they’re arbitrary anyway so it doesn’t really matter. Actually seems strange but it’s true.

Why buy?

The way I figure it even if the property doesn’t increase in value my “rent equivalent” is paying off principal AND interest. And that money is going to me, not someone else.  Interest payments are tax deductible here although there is a cap on the mortgage amount so check first. Check with your tax accountant and please don’t take my advice as financial in any way, shape or form–you’d not only be a Wally too because I’m not qualified but seriously you need to work out if it works for you.

The property tax is a bitch but the year after we bought our tax bill was much less so we figured it balanced itself out.

You see, for now at least, interest from your principal home is tax deductible.  Barry bonus but those nutbags Trump calls his party are trying to limit the amount of tax that can be claimed so watch this space.  Sounds like a socialist thing to do in my humble opinion (and you know since moving here I’ve realised I am a socialist so it’s not a dig, just fact).

Apart from all of that we’re so happy to be in our own house. If we hadn’t have bought and ended up paying more for rent it would down-right depressing.

So if you’re sick of paying rent just know it can be done.  What have you got to lose?!

Good luck!

xx It Started in LA xx

American words to Australian
Dictionary, My LA story, Posts

American words I just don’t understand

It’s not uncommon for Americans to have no idea what I’m talking about.  We have lots of slang words and I often like to use them just for laughs.  But every now and again there are some American words I just don’t understand.

And, as much as Americans love our accent we say words differently so it sometimes takes a bit for them to understand us.

(Eg. Alternate. We say al-ter-nate, Americans say alter-nate).

Ever noticed that most non-English speaking people talk with an American accent?

I think that’s why their accents aren’t foreign to us–we’re so used to hearing them.  Whether it be on TV, the movies, a Swedish person, even Canadians (sorry, couldn’t resist. Just like you can’t tell the difference between an Australian accent and a New Zealand one, I can’t tell the difference between yours).

It usually also means we know all the different words they use.


Yes, even “fanny”.  Fanny might not make Americans laugh but it always makes us Australians (and Brits etc) laugh out loud–rolling on the floor laughing out loud.

To let you in on the secret, in Australia a fanny is your vagina.  So imagine how funny it is for us when we translate your politically correct sentence, “I have a sore fanny” or “We need to take our fanny packs with us”: what pres tell is a vagina pack, dare we ask what we need it for and where do we get it?

For the 1% of Australians who might not know, and if you haven’t already worked it out, fanny to Americans is a bum.


And even rooter. There are ads for it, vans driving around with it–there are rooters everywhere. Again, our conservative American friends have a word they happily throw around that in our part of the world is a “rude word”.  If not a rude word most definitely a socially uncomfortable word for them (we don’t have a problem with it AT all).

To root is the act of having sex.  As in, “hey love, wanna root?”  Perhaps some of these Hollywood men you’ve been hearing about in the news might have used that line had they known about the act of rooting.

The rooter in America is the generic term for a drain cleaning service.  So we have business names/websites like:

Rooter Man

Team Rooter

And even Rooty Rooter. He must be a really good rooter!

Then you have every Charles-, Dick- & Harry-the-Rooter (or should I say Chuck, Archer & Parker).  All these American men publicising that they’ll come to root for you.

Speaking of rooting for you. I also know that one.  “Rooting for” is the American term for supporting your team. In a sentence, “I root for the Dodgers”. If I said I root for the Dodgers at home I’d be classed as a first class slut–some form of groupie happy to put myself out for the entire Dodgers team.

Yes, yes, our humour is very much of the gutter variety.  And we’re fine with that.

American words I just don’t understand

But there are some words that I don’t know–or don’t know the slang for might be more accurate.

At tennis my friend was coming clean that she lets her kids have their passes every so often.  We had this entire conversation with her telling me it’s bad (no it’s not), asking what I think (yeah, it’s fine) and saying they don’t do it all the time (ok, fine).

I’m looking at her thinking did I miss what the pass was for? Her kids are young, where do they need passes for? I gave a little chuckle. It’s our turn to be in on the court.  Yay, we won, off to the other side.

Then, when we got to the other side, she called me out on it. Oops! She’s so used to not understanding what I say that she recognised that blank look on my face and nervous giggle.

The “pass” was a pac (soft c–said with that American accent so the a sound is not the “ah” sound but an “a” sound that’s quick.  And so “pass” is actually short for pacifier.  As in dummy.

Oh! Yes, I know you guys say Pacifier. I just didn’t recognise “pac” I thought you were saying pass!


So a Pacifier is a Dummy in Australia. One of our friends from Shanghai’s favourite phrase of ours is “spit the dummy” which means “chuck a hissy fit” or have a little tanty (tantrum). And no, I have no idea why we call it a dummy.


While I’m at it I’ll give the Americans another favourite word of ours: bogan.

A bogan can be loosely translated as “trailer trash”. Traditionally they had an outfit which consisted of way-too-tight jeans, a flannelette shirt (flanno) and ugg boots.  Yes, ugg boots.  Only bogans actually wore ugg boots out in public, the rest of us only wore them at home.

Here is a bogan:


A family full of them actually

But then things started blurring–there were cool incredibly tight jeans, flannos were deemed respectable (depending on who wore them or how they wore them of course) and ugg boots became a thing.

And bogans also became proud of being bogans.  And so the term “cashed-up bogan” was born.  This is when a bogan did good and all of a sudden had loads of money.  They would carry on being bogans but now they had lots of money to throw around. The long-standing belief then was, well, money can’t buy you class.

Americans have bogans too. Our family calls them yogans (Yankee bogans).


I think Americans know this one but it’s one of my favourites.  We wear thongs on our feet as well. As in flip flops.

In America (& probably every other place in the world) thongs are undies.  And I know this.  But I do love calling out to the kids in public, “Don’t forget your thongs” or “Are you wearing your thongs”.

It’s important to keep a sense of humour.

So technically that was one word I don’t understand. There are more I’m sure. But that was funny and then I could share with my American audience some of the words we hold dear to our heart–and why some of your words make us laugh.

Halloween in LA

On another note I first wrote about Halloween in LA a few years ago.  I made the observation that we don’t really celebrate Halloween in Australia.  But the fact is we do.  Well many people do anyway.  It depends what neighbourhood you live in.

We get the impression we don’t celebrate it in Australia because it’s not as widespread but when you think about it not every house is dressed up and not everyone goes trick or treating here either.

It’s just more of an event here: they dress up at work, even people going about their normal business dress up.

In Australia though, we tend to dress up as “spooky” things–blood, guts and gore.  Here in the US Halloween is a giant dress up day–you can be whatever you like, it doesn’t have to be scary.  I hadn’t changed since tennis that morning so I pronounced that I was dressed as a tennis player. Tick. All fine.

Our neighbourhood decided they’d start trick or treating locally this year.  It’s a big step to be able to trick or treat in your own neighbourhood rather than going to someone else’s (which is the thing to do). We’d never think to head to someone else’s ‘hood and knock on their doors for lollies (candy).

But when houses (or streets) go all out, they go all out.  Did you catch my Instagram post where one house had a crashed 747 in their front yard? Very cool.


Lead up to Thanksgiving

And now it’s November 1 it’s time to fast forward to Thanksgiving–the longest and only four-day long weekend in the American holiday calendar.  And because of that I have to leave you now to research what we’ll do for the four-day weekend–we all need a break.

Enjoy the rest of the week as we head into the weekend. Catch you soon!

xxIt Started in LAxx


College v Uni
Differences between America & Australia, Expat tales, Moving to LA, Posts, Soapbox

Applying for College v Applying for Uni

I last left you (on this topic) when we were first understanding what the bloody hell we’d got ourselves into with our son wanting to go to College here.  We’re not up to the bit where we’re applying for college v applying for uni.

We’re doing both.

That’s mainly because of the exorbitant cost to go to College in this country. Yes that is a tone of great disdain.

You may recall I was on a little bit of a high horse (and I quote) “And I’m thinking if my son wants to go to Stanford he should bloody well be able to consider Stanford.  A College education should not just be for people who can afford it.  Right?”

Wrong.  Sort of.  Actually I was a little wrong about the cost to go to Stanford. After having toured there last summer apparently “no one actually pays full tuition for Stanford”. There are so many merit scholarships and so on that so many people who get into Stanford are eligible for that it eases the burden for the parents–and the loans for the kids.

But it’s rarely all $70k worth so when it comes down to the crunch how the bloody hell do you spare the $280k (four years at around $70k–more by next year) to send your kids (two of them so make that $560k) to get a College degree. One that will set them up perfectly only to do a Post-graduate degree for a squillion more bucks (and no we’re definitely NOT paying for that).

I digress … today I’m sitting down to chat to you about the difference between applying for College here in the US v applying for Uni back in Australia.


Applying for College

Wowsers. It’s time consuming applying for College.  We’ve had the advice that it’s a good idea to apply to somewhere between 5-8/10 Colleges–to be sure you get somewhere. In that mix you’re going to want to choose a couple you’re confident you’ll get into, a couple that you may have a shot at and a couple that are a “reach”.

Application fees

At around $80-$100 per application let’s start the [ca-ching] bank account depletion at $500. (She take a sip of wine).  And while we’re tallying my costs let’s not forget the $10 per school you’re applying to for the College Board to send your SAT score each College you’re applying to. Oh, and let’s add the (thankfully already forgotten) cost of tutors and the fee to actually sit the SAT.

Application forms

Only a few years ago most of the Colleges had their own application.  These applications tend to be pages long with short answer questions and an essay to answer.  These days many Colleges have tried to simplify the process by participating in the Common Application.

What each College will do then (although not all) is come up with their own supplementary questions unique to them and stuff they want to learn about you.

Sample questions

The common app features one essay your child has to write. They have a choice of seven topics although technically the last “question” is to write about anything you like so it’s infinite.

For those of you playing along at home here are the essay prompts.  Here are my favourites:

“Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.”

“Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?”

You’ve got 650 words. Go.

More questions

Then places like Stanford and the “UC’s” (Universities of California) have their own questions.  Stanford has these three questions.  Minimum should be 100 words and a maximum of 250 words.

  1. The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning.
  2. Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—know you better.
  3. Tell us about something that is meaningful to you, and why?

Berkeley (A UC–The UC) has eight extra questions and you need to answer four.  Each answer should be about 350 words.  Here are a couple of them:

“Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.

Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?”

It notes: “From your point of view, what do you feel makes you an excellent choice for UC? Don’t be afraid to brag a little.”


And more questions

There are also a few short, sharp questions where the answer should be no more than 50 words.  These are actually harder as you have to precise, knowledgeable and you can’t beat around the bush.  Here they are–just for fun!

“What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?

“How did you spend your last two summers?

“What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?

“What five words best describe you?

“When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch?

“Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford.

“Imagine you had an extra hour in the day — how would you spend that time?”


Application due date

Then there’s when these applications are due.  There are early decisions (EDs), restrictive early decisions, non-binding early decisions, normal application, Spring applications etc.  This decision alone is a huge one.  Early decisions are due around November 1 and you can find out as early as December whether you’re in somewhere.  That’s right–you still have a whole semester left of school but you might know you’re already in somewhere.


Remember, they would have, should have or are still doing their ACT or SAT exams.  It’s actually these scores that most Colleges look at.  That and your transcript and application.  But there’s no standardised testing so it’s hard to know if your transcript means you’re good or you suck.

So, that’s the American system.  Here’s a bit about the Australian system.


Applying for Uni

Work out the top five courses at which uni you want to go to. Eg: Business at Sydney Uni.

List them on your Preferences sheet via UAC.


Get your HSC marks and your ATAR.

You get a week to change your preferences based on your marks and whether you think you’ll get in.


Find out what offers you get a few weeks later.

Accept & pay.

OK, it’s not always as straight forward as that. Some courses require a portfolio or interview but essentially that’s it.


Pros and cons

So the US system was designed (hmmm … over engineered?) to make it easier for kids to get into a College; so it’s not so stressful to get a good mark on your ACT or SAT and basically make it fairer for everyone.  You see, kids get tutored for the ACT or SAT and those that can’t afford it don’t.  And families start so early here it’s no wonder lots of kids are stressed, over-stretched and missing out on their childhood.

The US would probably argue (and many others no doubt) that there’s too much pressure on Australian kids to get the score they need to get into the course they want to study.

Who knows which one is right.  Maybe neither? But, there’s a lot of work and a lot of extra money that goes into kids applications here in the US.  We’re not having a bar of it (well technically we are because we’re still applying) but so many people are.

I bet many of you reading this are just happy you’re not the ones having to go through this process–that you’re at the other end of it.  True.

Meanwhile, “we” continue to do question after question each weekend in the hopes of systematically and stresslessly going through the process.

She takes another gulp of wine.

xx It Started in LA xx

Securing a lease in LA
Moving to LA, Posts

Securing a lease in LA: 5 important tips

You’ve found the area you want to live in and even managed to narrow your search to a couple of house.  But now you have to secure a lease. Here are five important tips for securing a lease in LA.

As expats you may know–and understand–each country has its idiosyncrasies when it comes to credit and finance.  The US can be a tough market if you don’t know what you’re doing and if you don’t have established credit.

1. Secure a good agent–preferably one that understands expats

There are lots of agents in LA; not all of them good, not all of them bad. Securing an agent is a whole topic in itself but you need to find an agent that understands you, your family and your needs.  That’s why I recommend asking someone for recommendations then secure one with whom you have a good relationship.

There are so many houses in LA and not all of them good.  You could spend a lot of time looking at places that remind you of your uni days (like we did) so choose wisely.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because your situation is going to be a little out of left-field (even for LA) so you need to make sure your agent is not only good, but is on your side.  Find someone that’s persuasive and affable. At the end of the day they need to go into bat for you–to convince your future landlord that you’re going to be a fantastic person/family to rent to.

My agent, Caroline Fleck from Caroline Fleck Real Estate, tells the story of how one agent got aggressive with her because her client didn’t accept a tenancy for her clients. “The last thing you want is an agent who is going to argue with her fellow agent. She should have sold her clients to me to take back to my client–that’s what I’d do.”

Subscriber Adam Halen who thanked me very much for my site as it helped him with decisions to move his family to LA says the same thing.

“Kate Sutton, our agent,  ultimately had to “vouch” for us as solid, trustworthy and a credit-worthy family. Having someone go in to bat for you, as an agent, has credibility and professionalism to it.”


2.  Be ready with the cash–and lots of it!

There’s no escaping this one. At least there’s rarely any escaping this.

You’ll need three months’ deposit upfront. Rent is not always cheap in LA so that can be a lot of cash upfront.

Remember, Americans rely on that stupid credit rating to help them work out if you’re a worthy tenant of not. If you don’t have a credit history in the US show them what you’re like in your home country. Show them you have the means to pay the rent so they’re not stuck with a mortgage without the rent coming in from you to pay it.


3.  Have lots of supporting documents available

On top of the huge deposit you may also have to show an American bank account with plenty of money in it (enough to carry you through for a number of months).  Sometimes landlords accept this in lieu of the deposit.  Even in our case with an amazing landlord they wanted the cash upfront.

You may also be able to show that you have decent funds that you can call on from your home country if you need to.

Another thing that can help your case is a letter from your employer showing that you’re coming to LA with a secured job and they’ll vouch for you.  This can’t hurt so ask your employer if they’ll vouch for you IN WRITING and if you can get it, provide it–even before they ask.

The bottom line is you won’t have much credit so you need to show as much financial info as possible–just give it all to them: pay stubs, tax returns, financial statements, references, a letter from your business manager, whatever it takes.

Remember, in the US everything revolves around that stupid credit rating so if you don’t have one yet you’ve got to show that you’re worth taking a chance on.

Caroline Fleck says, “Be open, honest & upfront. The more you show the more likely they are to have faith in you.”


4.  Write a letter

Personalise your application by writing a letter to your potential landlord.  Add a photo of your family.

Ask to meet the landlord in person. Even if they’re not up for it it shows that you’re all in.

When we applied I wrote to the Landlord saying we loved the house and could picture ourselves at home in it. I said that we rented out our houses at home in Australia so we know what it’s like to entrust your home to strangers.

If you are from overseas you won’t have a credit history.  Tell them why and what your credit is like back home.  You want them to trust that you are good for the rent and you won’t leave them with a mortgage to pay and no rent coming in to pay it.

When we met our landlord he said he was so grateful for that letter and was very happy to receive it and approve our application on the back of it.

It can work!


5.  Clean up your social media

Adam Halen also recommends cleaning up your social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn etc).  Sometimes you forget that you put your life out for everyone so make sure it says you and your family are amazing and will be great tenants.  Yes, that might mean taking down the photos of your wild going away party back at your house!


A couple of extra things

Consider furnished versus unfurnished. Furnished houses cost more but some people like to furnish houses with their excess furniture.  It could also help you if you don’t want to ship all your furniture over here.  And you may need furniture while your stuff makes its way over.

If you’re furnishing the house yourself there are plenty of rental companies to get you through the three months until your furniture to arrive.

During the hunt

Look up properties not selling and ask them if they’re interested in renting for 6-12 months.

With a lease you really need to work 2-3 weeks out, sometimes a month. Much longer than that might not work.  Do sus out market before hand but it’s highly likely that house you’ve fallen in love with won’t be available in three month’s time.  So either don’t fall in love or be prepared to secure it earlier than you first though.

We ended up doing just that–with not much on the market we were happy to find a house that we’d be happy to live in for a while.

Remember! You almost always end up staying longer than you think.  We ended up staying two years rather than one.

Either way good luck. It’s a real nightmare when you first come.  It will get easier I promise you!

xx It Started in LA xx


PS: Need help narrowing down an area to live in LA? Check out this post.


Clinging to our Motherland
My LA story, Posts, Soapbox

Clinging to our motherland: US Gov and guns

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for me.  As many of you know my son is in his senior year at school.  But what does this opening sentence have to do with clinging to our motherland: US Gov and guns?

Back to School Night

Well last week we had “Back to School” night.  It’s where you go to each class the kids have in their schedule and see the teachers and get a breakdown of the class and what they’ll be studying for the year.

Master H is taking AP (Advanced Placement) US Government.  I thought nothing of it until one of the parents asks whether they’ll be discussing other systems of government.  The answer was a categoric no.  Much like the HSC in Australia the APs are taught to a curriculum guideline, the topics of which can be found in a test. That test is taken by everyone in the country taking that subject. And, a quick look at other systems isn’t covered by the syllabus–or on the test.

For those newer readers, we’re at a local private school in LA not an international one. Although, LA being LA, there are a number of expats or people who have moved to the US for one reason or another.

US Gov

I got a bit peeved by the teacher’s response. I mean he chose the subject (there were no other real choices), US Gov is US Gov right?

When I studied Legal Studies at school it was essentially studying the Australian legal system.  We covered other systems in the world but we focussed on ours.  It makes plenty of sense to understand what other countries do in order to better understand ours.

And while the answer was a categoric no she did suggest that they would weave into their discussion other systems because of the expat nature of the group. (The small class had a Canadian family, British/German, Aussies (us) and Italian. So when I eventually calmed down about how she categorically answered the question, it isn’t going to be all bad.

Expat Facebook group

Before I had a chance to calm down I posted a comment on an Expat Facebook group I belong to. I wrote:

“Here’s my gripe: couldn’t she just say there’s no time in the curriculum to discuss the other systems it’s purely a US Govt subject? That would have sufficed.

“And am I wrong to be so sad that my son will know so much more about the US system of Government and the ins and outs of the Electoral College than the Westminster system?”

I was expecting some empathy from the Aussies amongst us and some lamenting from others about the downside of Expat life where the kids often know more about the country in which they live than their homeland–their motherland.

Instead, after the Australians supported me, I was barraged with comments accusing me of trying to change the AP courses and advising me that the AP system is very strict and must be adhered to.  And this:

“With about 200 countries in the world, how could they effectively compare other systems of government while simultaneously going in-depth about the US?”

But I wasn’t asking for that … Just a bit of discussion if it fits, that’s all.  (And remember I didn’t ask the question, one of my American compatriots–in the parental sense–asked).

Potluck night

With all that behind me I went along to the Potluck night we threw for the Senior parents. We were chatting away about stuff as you do.  We were talking about what subjects our kids were doing and one of the dads said, “Are you sad that [he’s] doing US Gov and will know more about our messed up system than not your own?”

Oh my God. Hallelujah.  Thank you. Yes!

Why wasn’t one of my fellow expats able to just say/ask/empathise like this all-American dad formerly of New York and more recently living in LA?

Did someone say guns?

Well one guy did.  Made a huge statement didn’t he? We are literally walking around in disbelief.  Vegas is so close to LA, it’s in our backyard.  There’s someone you know in Vegas every week.  In fact there were people I knew in Vegas at the time and thankfully they were fine and away from the trouble.

But there’s nothing more obvious than an Australian in a gun debate. Especially in America.  I blogged about it early on when I was here for my first mass shooting. (Yep, like it’s an earthquake or hurricane, celebrity divorce or star meltdown)*.

My daughter was talking about it in school the day we woke to the news of the Vegas tragedy. One of her friends said she believed in the right to protect herself (I’m guessing she means her family not actually 15 year-old her). Miss H looked at her startled; it wasn’t something she was expecting to hear in LA amongst her friends.

Miss H said, “If there were proper gun laws then they wouldn’t have a gun in the first place would they?”

I’m happy to say I give my kids an Australian perspective when it really matters.

Australians actually have it all wrong

But actually us Australians have it all wrong.  We do. If there’s one single thing we are polar opposites with America on it’s our attitude to guns.  And never the two shall meet.  Basically, we’re like guns suck, they kill people. And Americans (not all thank-you but the ones giving you a bad rap) are like guns are so good, I get to protect myself and it’s my right to have one. So there.

Every time there’s a mass shooting in America us Australians come out like Eddie Murphy in his classic standup routine “I got an ice-cream“.

Yeah, we go

“We don’t have guns,

“You got a problem,

“We can’t afford them,

“Cause they can’t sell them,

“You have to have a licence

“And it’s really hard.”

And Americans  go, “Oh My God I’m so sorry, how do you cope?”

Then we pull out the Port Arthur story and go, “Take that!”

Then the conversation goes one of two ways.

  1. Well it’s our right to bear arms it’s in the second amendment so there. OR
  2. You know you’ve had other mass shootings don’t you? Yeah, but you never talk about them do you?

Then we get all funny (because we like to win too). We have to concede defeat. One or two situations have tragically happened (the Lindt Cafe hostage situation freaked me out).

(BTW there were three deaths including the hostage taker and 18 injured).

Yeah, all of a sudden because we let a couple of incidents slip through to the keeper in the last 21 years, that means our rules suck.  So basically it didn’t work.

“Take that Australia. We win.”

Yep. Let’s face it, when it comes to the number of psychotic mass shootings in the last (let’s just call it 10 years) you win America.

So Australia got it wrong after all.


Nightly Talk Shows

But not all Americans believe semi-automatic and automatic guns should be out there for anyone to buy. And use. And kill people.

I recorded every late night show to see how the comedians handled the latest tragedy. I follow them all on Twitter and I’ve tweeted and retweeted anything vaguely intelligent on the subject.

But, the problem with the way the situation here is that these guys are preaching to the converted. We share their posts on Facebook, we tweet them and post photos on our Instagram like the Pray Policy Change for America. They unite with the Australians, we look at each other and go “yeah, exactly”, we puff our chests out and wear a grin from ear to ear.

The same thing happened before Trump got elected. They think common sense should prevail.

But change won’t happen unless we stop preaching to the converted.  And not by preaching to the non-converts either. I don’t know how to talk to these people but somehow there’s a way. And once we work out that way, then we’ll start to see a difference.

But to start there are two ways. First is through education: get into the classrooms. It’s going to be a generational change that’s needed because it will never be a mindset change. Second, stop the bloody NRA from being allowed to donate money to bribe the politicians. Actually, just disband them. If politicians aren’t being paid to keep guns legal I will guarantee you their perspective will change.  And if it doesn’t, see step one.

And, because I’m one of those “converteds” here is a story including a video with some powerful statements from said Late Night hosts. Powerful statements that will fall on deaf ears yet again.



Curve ball … empathy. As I was writing the first part of this post I started thinking.

Immigration is such a huge topic and it’s so deeply dividing (what topic isn’t these days?) An expat is just a temporary immigrant really.

When you leave your family and friends behind, move to a new country to start a “better life” (for whatever reason) it’s pretty bloody hard to start afresh. You have to make new friends, experience different ways of doing things and assimilate into your new world.  Take a US Gov class instead of Australian Legal Studies.

Many people say America and Australia aren’t that different–they’re essentially the same right? (Well, my series on the differences between Americans and Australians show just how different they can be lots of times).

So what if you move to a country that’s nothing like your motherland? How much harder must it be then? We experienced it in China as expats but not as immigrants.

Just a thought if you’re down on people for clinging to their motherland.  Cut them some slack. They want to be in your country (OK, most of them–don’t get nitpicky on me) and they want to assimilate.  But sometimes, when you move away, the bond is stronger and the memories grow fonder and fonder.

Chin up!

xx It Started in LA xx

* Don’t forget to #prayforTori

Aussie taxes for Expats
Expat tales

Four Steps For Aussie Expats To Sort Out Their Australian Finances & Taxes

If you’re like me and think you should be more educated on your finances then this is the post for you. I invited Craig Joslin along to talk about four steps for Aussie Expats to sort out their Australian finances & taxes.

Craig is the founder of The Australian Expat Investor – dedicated to educating Aussie Expats to build their wealth while living abroad.  Check out his blog or get his free ebook (9 Painful Surprises For Australian Expats That Could Cost Thousands of Dollars) at

Over to you Craig …

Four steps for Aussie Expats to sort out their Australian finances & taxes

Moving overseas is an exciting time in anyone’s life.  For some people it means adventure, for others it’s about experiencing a new culture, or perhaps it is a career opportunity.  Whatever the reason, it is important to keep an eye on your financial and tax arrangements in Australia.  With a little bit of planning, and simply being aware of some of the tax and other financial implications of moving abroad, you could save yourself a lot of money and heartache in the long run.

In this article we provide a quick overview of 4 important steps for Aussie expats in the USA to help you sort out your finances and taxes when moving abroad.

Step 1 : Understand the Difference Between Being a Resident and Non-Resident For Tax Purposes

Your tax residency has the potential to significantly impact your overall tax liabilities, and the most important questions an Aussie expat should ask themselves is Am I An Australian Resident for Australian tax purposes? 

If you are deemed to be an Australian resident for Australian tax purposes, then you will need to declare your worldwide income to the Australian government.  Whereas if you are deemed to be a non-resident for Australian tax purposes, then the Australian government will only be interested in your Australian sourced income.

Step 2 : Determine Whether You Will Be Considered A Resident Or Non Resident For Australian Tax Purposes


The Australian Tax Office use a number of different tests to determine whether you are a resident or non resident for Australian tax purposes.  There are however no conclusive rules, and your residency will be based on the facts of your specific personal situation.


For most Aussie expats, the most relevant test is the domicile and permanent place of abode test.  Under this test, to be considered a non-resident for Australian tax purposes, you need to demonstrate you have established a permanent place of abode overseas.  This will, among other things, require you to demonstrate that you have severed your social and economic ties with Australia, plan to live overseas for at least two years, establish a permanent home overseas, and abandon your residence in Australia (ie. selling or renting out your house).


It is possible, however, that under USA law you could be considered a USA tax resident, and under Australian law you could be considered an Australian tax resident.  As a result, Australia and the USA have a tax treaty (also known as a double taxation agreement) include tie-breaker tests for tax residency.  These tie-breaker tests ensure that it is only possible for you to be considered a tax resident of one country.   The tax treaty also details taxing rights of each country over different sources of your income.


Managing your international tax affairs can be complicated and confusing.  It is important to get your tax residency determination right, so you should discuss your tax residency with your Australian tax advisor.


Step 3 : Determine Whether You Need To Lodge a Tax Return in Australia

If you are deemed to be an Australian resident for Australian tax purposes then you will be obligated to continue submitting an Australian tax return each year.


If you are deemed to be a non-resident for Australian tax purposes, then you may still need to complete an Australian tax return.  Generally speaking if you have any Australian sourced income, (eg. rental income from property in Australia, employment income, or in some circumstances dividend income) you will need to complete an Australian tax return.


Completing a tax return does not, in itself, mean you need to pay tax.  In fact, many Aussie expats living abroad with negatively geared investment properties have negative taxable income in Australia.  In these circumstances, you can generally accumulate these tax losses until the day you return to Australia and so reduce your tax liabilities at that point in time.


Step 4 : Review Your Investments

Moving overseas can result in significant changes in the tax treatment of your share and property investments, and so it is important to review your investment portfolio when moving abroad.  I cover this in quite some detail in my special report on Australian Tax Implications for Aussie Expats.  As a result, you should review the tax implications on your investments with your Australian financial advisor to ensure the arrangements you have in place remain appropriate.


Two areas that have the most complications for Aussie expats are in relation to Self Managed Super Funds and share investments.

Self Managed Superannuation Funds (SMSF)

If you have a SMSF, compliance with government legislation becomes increasingly difficult and non-compliance can be a costly mistake as your SMSF will be taxed at the highest marginal tax rate.  You should review your arrangements with your financial advisor to ensure your SMSF remains compliant with government requirements, and you may need to consider suspending all contributions to the fund whilst you are overseas, appointing a new trustee, or possibly shutting down the SMSF.

Share Investments

If you are a non-resident for Australian tax purposes, then the tax treatment of your Australian share portfolio can change quite dramatically.  Some of the issues to note if you are a non-resident for Australian tax purposes are  :

  • Your shares will be deemed to be sold at the market value on the day you become a non-resident for Australian tax purposes and you will be liable for capital gains tax on the deemed capital gain. The flip side however, is that as a non-resident for tax purposes, any further capital gain is not taxed in Australia. (Note, you can elect that your shares are not sold, however any further capital gains will be taxed in Australia)
  • You will need to pay non-resident withholding tax on your unfranked dividends, and your franked dividends will generally not be taxed in Australia.
  • If you have borrowed any money to invest in the sharemarket (eg. a margin loan) any interest costs will no longer be tax deductible in Australia.


In summary, moving overseas is a big step.  It is easy to get distracted by the urgent tasks of finding a new home, kids schooling, and a multitude of government forms and paperwork.  However, it is important to also make time to understand the taxation implications of moving overseas.  Educate yourself about the implications of moving abroad, understand how it may impact you, and then speak to your taxation or financial advisor.


To connect with Craig you can find him on the Web, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.


Disclaimer : This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute financial or taxation advice. As this information is not advice and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs you should, before acting on this information, consider its appropriateness for your circumstances. Independent advice should be obtained from an Australian financial services licensee before making investment decisions, and a registered (tax) financial advisor/accountant in relation to taxation decisions.



The Emmys

The Emmy’s (recap 2017)

Did you watch The Emmy’s yesterday? For regular followers you’ll know that I’m addicted to all the awards shows. Some sources say that viewer numbers are dwindling but there has never been a better time to be a “TV Head” (not a head of TV or network but addicted to TV) than now.

The main reason we were watching

Yes it’s true I am an Awards Show junkie so I would be glued to the TV (or there in real life) no matter what. But, this year I had extra reason to watch closely.

It Started in LA had one of its own front and centre at the Emmy’s this year.  That’s right, my son was a special guest of honour hobnobbing amongst the who’s who of TV Royalty.  I joked that we better watch closely as he may turn up in one of those regular pan-to-the-audience shots, but little did I imagine he’d feature quite heavily.  And feature (almost full-screen feature) enough to send my messages going overtime only to be drowned out by my squealing and yelling.  The camera (or was that his mum & her friends?) found him the most handsome up & coming star of this year’s awards.


The low-down

The Emmy’s seems to have got the diversity card down a lot sooner than the Oscars.  And this year was no different.  The two trends were definitely women and ethnicity.  It’s a good thing so long as it’s not staged and tokenism.  And this year it was far from it.  We can thank Shonda Rhimes as one of the pioneers and there are many more to come.

But let’s see if it keeps going.  As fabulous as it is Big Little Lies has some serious Hollywood punch behind it.  As she was making her acceptance speech you could see Reese Witherspoon would never take no for an answer.  She reminded me of her on-screen character Madeline–she is a powerhouse tough lady and a great model for our girls.But not everyone here has her friends, influence and cashola.


Hollywood has its fair share of making itself heard in terms of political views.  Watching at home I thought it was priceless that Sean Spicer made a cameo. But many didn’t.  Good on him for being able to take the piss out of himself. It wasn’t that long ago he had nothing to laugh about. I like moments where people don’t take themselves too seriously. Especially him.  While he was Press Secretary he was anything but a laugh a minute.  I hope it means he’s human after all.

Not as many Trump jokes as I thought but enough–the undertone was there and frankly that’s all you need.  I think it’s great when people who have followers can use the attention they get to highlight issues but there’s a fine line.  I’m pleased to report that fine line wasn’t crossed.  Well done!


Of course fashion is always the big topic on everyone’s lips. Hairdressers are booked out, stylists are stressed out and make-up artists and hairdressers are worth their weight in gold.

The trends were definitely glitter (featuring silver), plunging necklines (when oh when are they going to disappear I loathe them) and the wet look (hair).  For the men coloured tuxes was the way to go.

Here are my favourite looks.

Millie Bobby Brown. Age-appropriate, stunning and worn with class


Jessica Biel. On trend but actually rocked it

Issa Rae perfection in red


And here are my not-so-favourite looks. Whether I’m getting old or losing my touch but some people actually name a few of these in their best dressed.  Just goes to show taste is most definitely not something we all share.

Tracee Ellis Ross. Many liked it, sadly me not so much

Priyanka Chopra. I once thought she would wear a bedspread and she’d look amazing. I take it back

Sarah Paulsen. On trend but didn’t work for me, fine with the shoulder pads, love the back but the fit didn’t work for me




One of the big discussion pieces of the night was Sean Spicer. I’m wondering where my favourite cast of Scandal was? No sign of them and it’s their last big year.

The catwalk is not the same without the gorgeous Kerry Washington.

As for me I sent the wrong reporter in. All I got this morning was a grunt, a huge shot of coffee and mumblings about a Chem quiz at school. Life goes back to normal for my 90210 son (no pity).


Bravo Emmy’s on a job well done. It was a good watch and with so many categories, so many shows and so many people involved in the final product I think it’s great to break the Emmy’s out into a long festival.  Next year though I’d love to upgrade my status to on-site reporter.

Enjoy your week, we’re going to continue with the hangover in LA a while longer,

xx It Started in LA xx


For the more insider versions of the news here are a couple of wrap ups from the big news outlets.

Vanity Fair


healthcare in the usa
Differences between America & Australia, Soapbox

Health Insurance in the USA

Updated January 24, 2018; First published September 13, 2017

It’s time to talk about Health Insurance in the USA.  I’ve bitten my tongue for the last four years but enough’s enough and it’s time to speak up. Because it’s true what you might think: the health system in the US stinks.  It bites the big one.  It totally sux.

There are three reasons I say this.

  1.  The Health system in the US relies on your employer to sponsor you through the system–to provide a health plan for you
  2.  A lot of people in the US work for small businesses who may not be able to afford to offer great health plans (see above)
  3.   Even with great health plans, seeking medical treatment can send you broke.  Seriously.

Just let me say that this is not a how-to on medical insurance in the US.  I don’t know enough about the system to write one of those.  And, while I try to educate myself on the topic it’s so difficult to navigate and wrap your head around (read: it’s so foreign to anything we think of when it comes to health insurance) that I’m sure I’ve missed stuff.

Our health insurance

We’re lucky, Mr H works for a large firm that offers excellent health insurance.  There are a range of plans to choose from that offer different costs and benefits.  Our first few years here were pretty straight forward.  We went for our annual medical checks at no cost.  Preventative care here is highly regarded here and visits are offered at no extra charge. In other words, your insurance company pays the entire cost of the $250 visit (or thereabouts depending on your doctor).

There are in-network doctors and out-of-network doctors.  The above is true providing your doctor is in your network.  Go outside your network and your health starts to get really expensive.  In-network essentially means your doctor–or health provider–has contracted with your insurance company.

So three years have gone by and all is good.  Mr H’s company pays an extraordinary amount to cover us and we pay around about the same as we paid in Australia to cover us.  We also have a credit card that the company puts money into and we put money into (pre-tax).  This is to cover us for the co-payment we have to make on many of our health expenses.  This is usually true until you’ve spent a certain amount of money and differs from plan to plan and is dependent on your organisation and the plans they provide for you.  Unless it’s a preventative visit you generally have to make a co-payment. (I guess we call this the gap in our private medical insurance in Australia).

Essentially we were paying a fortune and Mr H’s employer was paying a fortune for 4-10 doctor’s visits a year–mainly preventative care.

Don’t get sick unless you can afford it

It’s when something happens to you that is outside the norm that health insurance really starts to suck.

For example, one of the tennis coaches at school got a brain tumour.  He was one of the lucky ones, it wasn’t cancerous and it could be treated.  I’m going to quote the story from his Go Fund Me page:

“…The difficulty now is there are only a handful of neurosurgeons qualified or willing to perform this complicated procedure. And needless to say, despite medical insurance, the costs are staggering. The one neurosurgeon able to perform the surgery has no insurance contracts and is exclusive to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, a hospital that MJ’s insurance is unable to contract with.

“So he’s forced to pay out of pocket, and essentially, up front.

“We’ve started this Go Fund Me campaign to help him pay for surgery, for his hospital stay, for the rehabilitation and recovery, and for whatever next steps lay ahead of him in the fight of his life.”

Oh my …

I don’t know how much the surgery, hospital visit and all the incidentals cost but let’s say it was around $500k, possibly a lot more.  I had blood tests at Cedars-Senai when I was seeing a specialist and it cost $5,792.55. No word of a lie.  This is nothing specifically against Cedars either–they all charge this much and it is a very good hospital.

So, his perspective is he’s lucky to be alive, he’s very happy he’s here to tell the tale and wouldn’t have life any other way.  I couldn’t agree more.

But seriously? Get sick and you’ll be paying off that debt for the rest of your life.

There are many doctors out there that don’t have insurance contracts.  That means they charge what they like and you put a claim into your insurance company after you’ve paid the bills.  Fine if it’s a couple of hundred dollars but gets difficult when we start to creep into the thousands, tens of thousands and … you get the picture.

And I get it, these doctors work hard to get to where they are.  They should be able to charge fairly for their services; we’d be lost without them. Or dead.  Yeah that.

But still.

This is where it gets more complicated

So, if that were me above firstly we’d die–where can I find that money to pay for the surgery? I’d have to sell everything and my family would be left with nowhere to live but lucky me I get to have surgery in a nice hospital for a few days.  Let alone trying to fund my son’s College bill next year.  (Plenty more on that I’m sure but here’s my entree story on that topic).

Secondly, I’d put the claim into my insurance.  Because this doctor is not in network I’m penalised.  Take a recent bill we had as a family.  Here is the breakdown of our “refund” quoting from an email I got from them:

“Total Charge $1025.00, out of network write off $626.36 (because we used a specialist out of my insurance network), coinsurance $119.60 (I don’t even know what this means but I assume I have to pay something to contribute), paid to member $279.04.  Please allow 7 to 10 business days to receive the check.”

I won’t hold my breath.  Out of network WRITE OFF?  Seriously? You’ve got to be joking right now.

And I can hear what you’re saying.  You’re saying, “well Gwen it’s pretty simple just stay in network and you’ll get more back and they won’t write off such a large chunk of your bill.”

Well yes, great point. But here’s where it gets interesting.  Many good doctors and specialists AREN’T in network so you immediately have fewer choices.  These doctors don’t want to be at the mercy of the Insurance companies so choose not to contract with them.  And many don’t have to.  To be fair, it’s also a big nightmare for them.

And I tried to find an in-network doctor but the good ones aren’t taking new patients and I’ve heard that even when you’re in it’s hard to get another appointment for weeks as they’re too busy–which is why they’re not taking new patients.

Let’s compare it to Australia shall we?

A doctor’s visit here is around $120. Go to a Medicare bulk billing doctor in Australia and the doctor gets $35? $45? and I pay nothing. Some doctors charge $60 or $80 and then I pay a smaller amount.  So who is the loser here? The Australian doctors or me?  Yep, both of us.

So, for the privilege of our $243.99 every two weeks we pay in health insurance–don’t forget the astronomical amount Mr H’s employer is also paying–I get $279.04 back for a $1025 bill.  (We also pay more for vision and dental insurance btw in case you’re playing along at home).  Oh, and we also may a Medicare tax and a Medicare Surtax each fortnight and God knows where that goes as there is no such thing as Medicare for us.

Deductibles, Out of Pockets and In network

Update: I took my daughter to our local “Urgent Care” because she had flu-like symptoms and couldn’t get out of bed. I just got the full bill back and the actual charge was $357.69 of which the insurance pays $266.20 and I pay $91.49.  These guys are in network! The caveat I think is that I haven’t met my deductible yet.

A deductible is basically the amount I pay until such time as I’ve accumulated the minimum amount set out by the insurance company at the beginning of the year.  Ours is $3,000. And for that we pay a lesser premium than a plan with no deductible.

We also have an Out of Pocket limit. So once we “meet our deductible” (pleased to meet you deductible you’re about to help my cash flow) then one lot of fees are removed and we only have to pay another lot (I’m being vague because I still don’t really know what). Even better is when we meet our Out of Pocket number (this year–2018–it’s $7,000) then we’ll pay nothing. Of course that’s if you’re in network. Remember if you’re out of network then there’s a high amount they just write off (which can be different every month) and you’re stung with a huge bill anyway.  Same if you’re dying (as per scenario above).

What’s Obamacare?

I don’t clearly know the answer to this question.  I think it’s the right for every person to have health insurance so if you’re my hairdresser who works for yourself and not covered under a family plan then you can sign up and pay for insurance yourself.  It’s not cheap and not every insurance company provides it. In fact, because health insurance packages differ from state-to-state, many states don’t have options like they might have here in California.  I don’t know enough about it though to speak to this.

What’s to repeal & replace?

You might have heard Trump is all set to “repeal and replace” Obama care.  I don’t know if this means people who work for themselves may no longer be eligible or whether they are trying to bring the costs down so more people can afford it because there is no substance to the arguments that get bantered around.

I do know that one of the arguments people were saying back to the politicians “on the hill” was vote for the insurance you would give yourselves.

I do also know that one of the most contentious points is pre-existing conditions.  This is one thing Trump wants dumped.  So for me, who has high blood pressure due to a pesky but controllable kidney issue, if I move health insurance providers then none of my expenses resulting in my existing high blood pressure would be covered.  I would have to foot the bill for all of it.  Nice and fair.  Way to go pollies.

What I don’t get

What I don’t get is why organisations need to pay for people’s health insurance in the USA.  It would be fine if everyone has access to it but they don’t.  Or at least it doesn’t seem to me that they do.  No, they don’t.

There’s no such thing as a public hospital so people who don’t have health insurance have to go to an emergency department, where they can’t be refused treatment, to be seen to.

I don’t get why doctors have to contract individually with the various health insurers.  Everyone has been up in arms about Obamacare raising the price of health insurance.  But shouldn’t we be looking over both our shoulders here? There are two other parties I can see play a part in this complex equation.

One is our health insurers–they’re setting these high prices. And then the doctors, hospitals and the health system in general.  Why is everything so much more expensive than it is at home?  Let’s not even start on the price of drugs here.  It feels like a conspiracy: everyone is partnered to “get the most effective price for people” yet what it is is a price where everyone can make a bit of money (read: bucket loads) and it’s got way way way out of hand.

I don’t get why the premiums are so god-damned high but you don’t get anything for it.

But back to point one (sort of): I really don’t get why every single American doesn’t have a right to healthcare.

My two cent’s worth

Cut everyone out and start again.  Everyone buy their own insurance capped at an acceptable market rate.  Have Medicare cover a set portion of every expense then medical insurance can pay for the gap.  If you can afford it then by all means you have the choice to go to a private practitioner and pay them for the extra privilege.  But, if I get a brain tumour and I can be saved like MJ was, don’t make my family eat dog food and live in a caravan park for the rest of our forseeable life just so I can be saved.

Oh and make insurance companies government run.  Sure the government is so hopeless that it could end up being shocking but everyone should be able to get medical attention.  Access to medical care is a right not a privilege.

If doctors and insurance companies weren’t spending so much time (which equals money) negotiating complex contracts the costs would drop.  If organisations are not having to pay for everyone’s healthcare then profits would be higher (or actually cost of goods wouldn’t need to be so high).

The Australian model has its flaws but it works.  I don’t see why the “greatest country in the world” has to have such a shit system.


So I open up my piece to edit it and send out and as I’m looking through my Huffpost I see an interesting story about Bernie Sanders and his view on healthcare.  Naturally I read the story in case I learn something more to share with you.

Well blow me over guess what? It seems Bernie Sanders agrees with me. Bernie wants a Medicare system introduced here in America similar to Australia’s.

Here’s the Washington Post’s story on it.

And check out and interview with the Huffington Post & Bernie Sanders here.

Don’t worry Republican voters it will never see the light of day.  But to me that’s a huge shame.  At least a version of it.

Meanwhile, if I keep getting $279 back for every $1025 I spend perhaps I might just consider self-insuring.  I might just come out in front.  One day when I’m bored I might do some financial modelling on that one.

Have a good rest of week,

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: If you want to contribute here’s a link to MJ’s Go Fund Me page.


Why, what and how to tip in LA
Posts, Visiting LA

How, why and what should I tip in LA?

How do I tip in LA? I know, I know, I know.  You get to America and you’re like why do I need to tip? It costs me a fortune in tips. You might not like it but there is a logic behind tipping here in the US. I saw a great article written by a fellow Aussie who lives in San Francisco, Kat, so I asked her if she could write one for me and my readers (that’s you). She’s going to give you the low-down on the how, why and what should I tip in LA.


Over to you Kat!

Aussies have a terrible reputation in Europe and the US when it comes to tipping. I can say it because I am part of the problem. Social awkward at the best of times, I can never work out who expects to be tipped, who would see it as an affront and how much (or little) to give.


Us Aussies go on holiday or move to another country without giving much thought to the mathematical intricacies that will take up our daily life. Tipping means always having cash in your wallet – a habit that I’d long grown out of by the time I moved here.


I’ve suffered through many an embarrassing tipping moment in the past 18 months. From trying to work out 20% in my head in front of the Chinese takeaway (never going to happen) while smiling and talking to the hostess to staring at the tipping bowl at the checkout in the hardware wondering what I’d be tipping for exactly.


In the hopes of recovering our Aussie pride and becoming great tippers, here’s a list of things you need to know–who expects a tip (why) and who you should tip:


Parking attendant

Do you like your car? Did you invest a significant portion of your income in it? So you probably want it to be treated nicely. Round the parking fee up to the dollar and then add another couple of bucks for good measure.



You sit inside the salon for what seems like an age. Washing, cutting, colouring, highlighting and/or blow drying. Probably talking a lot too. Those things don’t come cheap.
I wasn’t happy with the thought of adding a tip to that. But if they do a good job and you love your new do it’s customary to fork over an extra 20%.
Don’t forget the shampooist either. Tip them between $3 and $5 depending on whether they also apply your colour or toner.


Bathroom Attendant

(Seriously… You’ve seen Ferris Bueller, they’re there and they’re looking for a tip! -Gwen)

If you frequent the types of places that have attendants handing you towels and breath mints in the bathrooms, you probably don’t need to be reading this article. You can afford to part with a dollar or two. Don’t be stingy.



Before I owned a car here I relied on Uber a fair bit and I never tipped once. It just never occurred to me to tip the driver. Even though the official Uber line is that you don’t need to tip, it’s good manners to hand over 20%, especially considering how cheap the fares are.

(Ooops–I wish I didn’t read this now Kat! –Gwen)



No one likes moving and I’m guessing that you’ve hired movers because you couldn’t rope your mates in with the promise of a slab of beer. It seems you have to tip every member of the moving crew between $25 and $50 each. I know, it hurts.


Hotel Maids

When you leave the bed in a rumpled mess, duvet and towels on the floor and junk everywhere, it’s a good idea to tip the maid between $2 and $5 each day. Maybe the price difference is dependent on the mess you make?


Home Delivery

The person who sat in traffic, braved the cold, wind, rain or heat to bring you food because you were too lazy to go out and get it yourself, deserves a tip. Stop being such a tightarse and hand over 20% online while you’re ordering or have some cash ready for when they make it to your door.



I don’t understand this one. Seriously, you stand behind a bar and take the twist top off a bottle or pull a beer for me. Does that really require a tip? Yes. Give the bartender some loose change or a $1 bill. A cocktail’s going to set you back a little more though.



Sure they get paid minimum wage, which means $10.50 in LA. Imagine trying to pay your rent and bills on $10.50 an hour? That’s why they have to live off tips. So if you don’t like the food from the kitchen but the service was great, don’t penalise the waiter/waitress by withholding the tip. Give them the customary 20% and thank your lucky stars that you’re not in their shoes.


(I researched this one day, actually.  And, to make it worse, they don’t actually get that whole 20%.  First they have to “tip out” the runners and the maître d’.  So, if you’re short-changing them their 18-20% then they’re the ones that get screwed. It’s a hard way to make a living so cut them a little slack. –Gwen)


Car Wash

Not that it’s been necessary with all the rain we’ve been having, but sometimes it’s worth getting your car washed by someone else. Sling between $2 and $5 their way, depending on the kind of wash you’ve asked for.

Personal Care

Things like waxing, facials, manicures and pedicures fall under this category. Don’t just sit there and switch off, only to realise an hour later that they’ve done something you don’t actually like. Pay attention! Tipping between 15% and 20% is plenty.


(I went to the Hotel Bel Air for a facial not so long ago and they automatically added 20% so don’t be surprised when big hotels do that–they’re probably more than familiar with those of us not used to tipping. And yes, it does bring the price of that treatment right up there!–Gwen)


Those are my tips on tipping. Now give me your opinions or tell me if I’ve missed someone. 


Thanks Kat. If you like Kat’s work hop on over to her Blog and have a good read.

You can also follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

I hope you understand a little more about why you actually should tip rather than bury your head in the sand!  It’s not the person’s fault, it’s the system!

xxIt Started in LAxx


How to do an "Ask" to your school Formal
My LA story, Posts

How to do an “Ask” for a School Formal

What sort of English is that I hear you shouting at me.  How to do an “ask” for a school formal? What does that even mean?

Well, if you’re the parent of a teenager living the dream in 90210 you may well know what I mean.  If you’re the parent of a teenager living in America you may also know what I mean.  If you’re a teenager who’s Googled “How to ask a girl to my Formal?” I suggest you refer your parents to this page and keep searching.

Junior Dance

Trying to live our normal LA lives has been made easier this past week by talk of the Junior Dance at the kids’ school.

There have been movies made about them, TV Shows have featured them and all in all anyone who has vaguely been exposed to “popular culture” (read: America) knows about School Dances in America.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been out of Australia for more than three years now.  This means I’m starting to get a little out of touch with how things are done in Australia—especially as my kids left at Middle School age!  (I know, I know, how does that even happen?)

Types of Dances in the year

Typically here in the US (OK, LA) there are two major dances—Homecoming and Prom.  Homecoming is the start of the season and has something to do with the football team.  Given our school doesn’t have a football team (and its associated American ra-ra) our school doesn’t have this Dance.  Personally I think they should at least do a Homecoming of sorts in honor of our other sports teams (otherwise known as athletics teams) but then again our school isn’t a huge sport school.  Sigh.

So, after Homecoming there’s usually a Winter Formal and/or this Dance, called the Junior Dance because it’s organized by the Junior Class.  Then there’s usually one more towards the end of the year—Spring Dance—and of course, Prom.  Prom is STRICTLY for the Seniors and their dates.

Most of the time the Americans are politically correct and unless you have a boyfriend or girlfriend—or I suppose someone you “like” you go solo.  Takes all the fun out of things but the pressure too no doubt.

Ask Dance

This upcoming dance is an “ask dance”.  Clearly that means you’re encouraged to ask someone to go with you.  Of course you don’t have to ask or be asked but where’s the fun in that?

You know there’s a lot of talk about this generation and how our generation have ruined them by having to win all the time and not teaching them what failure and disappointment is all about?

Well … they have taken it to a whole new level when it comes to the “Ask”.

The “Ask” has been taken to a whole new level when it’s Prom time.  Does the term “Promposal” mean anything to you? No. My marriage proposal had nothing on these Promposals.

Step 1: The Ask ritual

There is a system, a ritual if you like, about how exactly you “ask” your prospective partner.

It starts with the ‘asker’ checking with the ‘askee’s’ friends to see if (let’s say he just to simplify this) he asks said ‘askee’ whether or not (let’s say she to simplify this once again) she would say yes.  Preferably via text.  Or Snapchat.  Worse-case scenario: in person.

This is easy if the answer is yes.

If it’s yes then he goes ahead and plans to ask her—safely proceed to step two.

Of course it’s a lot more complicated when the answer is no.  Or I’m waiting for a better offer. Actually, the answer wouldn’t be no.

What would ensue next is a lot of behind-the-scenes drama that would put any caucus vote (or Attorney-General nomination vote) to shame.  No might be: “maybe but I thought prospective-asker-2 might invite her” OR getting one of his friends to let him down gently that the answer “wouldn’t be yes”.

Yes, in my day part of this were true but it was sink or swim—you didn’t know if they were going to say yes or no.  You workshopped it ad-infinitum then went for it.

There was a case this week when a boy didn’t follow the ask ritual: shock horror.  Well, the outcome might have been a bit embarrassing because even though the girl said yes (couldn’t hurt his feelings).  But, it turns out she was being asked by another boy (who had already qualified his ask via the asking ritual).  Boy number two had to tell boy number one that actually he was planning to ask her (just hadn’t got around to it yet) so sorry he couldn’t take the girl that had said yes to him hours earlier.  But, apparently, it wasn’t in a “you stole my girl I’m going to punch you” way it was just matter of fact, “sorry mate she is already going to say yes to me”.

So, you see there’s a place for this ask ritual after all.  (Although seriously? This boy waited to ask until two days before the Formal, next time maybe he won’t wait so long—what’s with that?)

Step 2: The actual Ask aka Making the ask

Once we’re clear on whether or not the ‘askee’ will say yes the ‘asker’ goes ahead with plans to “make the ask”.  So, teenager who’s still reading this is the section relevant to you: how to do an ask for a school formal.

This can be as high-key or as low-key as the asker wants.  (Translation: high key would be elaborate & low key would be a relative simple “low-key” affair).

I’m not sure if the level of ask has anything to do with how much the asker likes the askee—and not sure my kids would cough up that sort of personal information either.

In many cases it’s pretty straight forward.  But, apparently Freshman boys still have a bit of growing up to do and found it slightly beyond some of them to work out “how” to ask their pre-vetted would-be dates.  Yes, for some boys, apparently, they felt the need to workshop not just amongst themselves but with the girls they planned to ask what they thought of their ask idea.  Seriously boys, this is why we need to communicate with our mothers.  They know a bit about these things.

Thankfully they’ll soon outgrow this.  And, with one day to go before the Formal, I think all the asks are now out of the way and they can move on with the next step—planning how they’ll get there.

Ask examples

Both my kids were “sorted” early.  My Junior-year (Year 11) son made a pact with a friend of his that they would go together—so long as he “asked” her with a proper ask.

My daughter got word that one of the Freshman (Year 9) boys was going to ask her and she swiftly gave the nod that yes she’d say yes if asked.  Not missing a beat, she was asked the very next day.  It was great because it caught her by surprise and it was a good “ask” as far as asks go.

Actually both of their asks were very cute.  My son dressed up as a Shark (did you see that episode of The Bachelor where the would-be date dressed up in a Shark outfit saying she loved Dolphins?)  With his red rose, and a poster made by one of his friends saying, “Dolphinitely come to Formal with me” he was done.  He did this at lunchtime with lots of people around so it had maximum impact, maximum effect, she wasn’t expecting it so all good.  (No pic for fear of the wrath of the son).

My daughter was asked a day earlier.  In a sign of utter cuteness, he had an Australian flag where the stars were a question mark and Formal was written on it.  Clever, pander to her love of Australia and, asking at the start of the day with all their friends around, caught her completely off guard.  Big tick.

How to ask a "date" to your Formal

Ideas on your ask for formal

Perhaps one of the cutest things apart from my two (of course) was a senior boy who asked his girlfriend with the help of a few mates.  Given the rain in LA not only was it creative but it was also very musical theatre of them.  His mates, armed with black umbrellas with the letters F-O-R-M-A-L-? on them said it all.

Ask ideas for Formal

Ask ideas for your formal

Don’t you wish that was you?

Step 3: Getting ready and how are we getting there

Now we need to move on to “will we get ready together?” and “where” and “how are we getting there?”.  Most girls like to get ready together and so, it seems, do the boys.

Really, apart from the getting ready together bit this is not much different from my Formal or Ball when i was at school.

Step 4: The actual reason this all happened in the first place

The actual dance bit.  The whole reason behind the whole ask bit in the first bit.  The whole reason for being on this Saturday night.  It can get a little overshadowed by its surrounding steps but you want to hope it’s a fun time.  That is the whole reason after all.

Step 5: After party—do we go or don’t we as Freshmen?

The unwritten rule here is that Freshmen (year 9 and the first year of high school) don’t go to the after-party.  It’s just not cool.  But that’s not to say that the after-party organizers can’t profit from the Freshmen’s desire to go.  Ticket prices are done as follows:

Freshmen: $25
Sophomores: $15
Juniors: $10
Seniors: $5

But this is 90210 so money isn’t really a deterrent.  No, It’s the message that if you’re not cool enough to pick up on it your High School career isn’t off to a great start.

But really … 14 and 15 year-olds at a party with 17 7 18 year-olds—with all the “trimmings” that goes along with that really isn’t cool for parents to let them go anyway.

Apart from the post-Formal gossip that’s it.  Monday comes around—Tuesday if there’s lots of gossip—and the drudgery of school returns. Then we’ll have to wait til the next time before there’s this much chatter around the dinner table.

One final word

When I went to my school Formal, or a Dance at a boys’ school it was perhaps a more elaborate affair reserved for Year 11 & 12.  It consisted of a sit-down dinner followed by dancing.  This was enough for us to think it was the most fun ever. (OK, that and sneaking alcohol onto the Premises).  These days the kids need “something more”.  Dancing alone is not enough.  A photo booth is no longer enough.  Now they look to also be entertained.  So I’m with them, our generation has ruined this generation with all those lavish birthday parties we threw them. When dancing all night long with your mates to great music is no longer good enough what hope in hell do these kids have?

How is it where you are?  Has Asking a date to go with you to a Dance (even if it’s just as friends) gone to a new level where you are? Has Promposal fever hit other parts of the globe?

Happy nearly weekend LA—fully weekend Southern Hemisphere!

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: If you’re still struggling with American year-level terminology this might help you.

I Want My LA Back
My LA story, Posts

It’s 2017 in LA but something’s not quite right

It’s 2017 in LA but something’s not quite right. It’s been a while since I’ve written.  And I have to confess to you straight up that I’ve been a little obsessed. 

Yes, I’ve been a little obsessed, but not with the things I should be obsessing about in LA.  For starters it’s award season: my favourite time of the year. Who’s wearing what, what Celebrities are in town and just who you might bump into going about your normal everyday business.  It’s great, too, driving around as huge Billboards as far as the eye can see are advertising TV Shows and the latest movies “For Your Consideration”.  There are “screeners” sent to everyone in SAGs or the Academy or the various other memberships around town; and the mad rush to see all the movies in time for the major award shows.  Yes, this is the time LA is alive and thriving on its Entertainment roots doing what it does its superficial best.  And I love it. Unashamedly so.

But something’s not quite right.

Friends in town

To top it off we had friends from Australia in town last weekend and you always know it’s going to be a beauty when you do.  What’s not to love? You’ve got like-minded people ready to embrace your town. We had an Awards night after-party to go to and a ticket to the highly coveted “G’day USA” (formerly known as G’day LA) Gala. Sweet: Life is Good.  This is why “It Started in LA”.

Yet something’s not quite right; there’s something hanging over us.  Something worth obsessing about.

LA weather

Then there’s the weather.  You must know LA is blessed with shoot-perfect weather (that’s shooting entertainment style not America’s blazing guns style).  Yeah, a typical LA winter starts at around 13C to 16C with the sun beating down then peaks somewhere between 18C and 23C before it cools down again at the end of the day.  This is just in time to come home, put the fire on and open a bottle of red wine.  It’s heaven.  You even manage 25C to 28C days—on the weekends if you’re lucky enough—and just might be able to crank the spa on.

But this winter has been freakishly cold, starting out at 1C last week and only peaking at about 10C—if you’re lucky.  Despite the sun being out the wind was bitterly—New York—cold.

That rain though

And wet.  LA loves to talk about the rain.  And, let me tell you, there’s been some rain. Not only has it been constant but it was heavy.  It was Sydney heavy.  We were all in a state of shock.  Of course we all know we need the rain so no one was game to whinge and bitch and moan about it but in the end, at our LA selfish best, we were saying, “enough already!”.  LA doesn’t do rain.

And, with the rain has come the mudslides.  It’s been dry here for many years and our dry, baron land got a bit of a shock.  With many of our communities built around the canyons—it couldn’t cope with all the rain sending muddy wet dirt skidding down the hills taking with it walls, fences and in some cases actual houses.

So you see there’s been quite a lot to talk about.  Quite a lot to distract “us” Los Angelinos.  Enough happening around town to ensure we are firmly locked away in our own bubble.  Relishing our bubble crying out how lucky we are to do what we do living where we do.  What a time to be alive.

But something’s not quite right.

How did you get here? Which way did you come?

And of course with the weather comes the traditional LA talk of how bad the traffic is and how LA doesn’t know how to drive in the rain (it’s true: it’s fact).  With one of the busiest links between the flats & the Valley, Laurel Canyon, blocked because of one of these landslides that’s a whole lot of “which route did you take?” talk to start every conversation.  LA Perfection right there.


Not to be outdone, it’s SuperBowl time.  We’ve got Lady Gaga doing the half-time entertainment and we’re gearing up for the ads—not only at half-time but during the whole telecast. Mr H’s company is responsible for the special effects of at least three-quarters of the ads so not only are we excited about the ads themselves but thrilled that we’re a part of it.

And in a SuperBowl trifecta each year we go to a friend’s Superbowl party which is always so much fun I often miss the ads.  (Don’t actually ask me who’s playing, or who has played; but I can tell you who’s been the half-time entertainment.  Yes, there’s a lot to look forward to.

In LA it’s always a great start to the year.  A lot to obsess about.

But something’s not quite right…

So what’s going on that with the stars aligned (pardon the pun) and all of our ducks lined up that’s interfering with what should only be a bloody good time?

You might already have guessed.  It’s actually taken over the world and because it’s so early on it’s hard to know how long this will last.  Facebook & Twitter are filled with opinion posts, and if people aren’t sharing news stories or rants they’re ranting about how they’re done with (or about to abandon) Facebook because of the number of political posts.  And let me tell you some of them are so bloody good it’s really hard NOT to share them.

Yep, there’s that word.  There’s your clue: Political.


That my friends is my obsession. This anti-news, anti binge-CNN-watching, Celeb-loving, LA-loving, superficial-loving Blogger can’t get enough of the news.  My friends, I can’t escape to my LA bubble because everyone keeps asking me what life is like with our new President.  And the world is reminding me everywhere how our new Pres is affecting me.  My. Everyday. Life.

If you’re a regular you’ll know one of my last posts was a very upbeat post about staying in the US under Trump leadership. It’s true that once I got over the hangover and utter shock of Trump being our President elect (and subsequently our actual President) I thought that campaign rhetoric might give way to the confines of the job.  You know? There was a lot of talk in my three years here about how little power the President of the United States actually has.  So slowly as she goes the Wall wouldn’t be built, our President would have to defend his first mass shooting and his popularity would be largely diminished it’s just a four-year countdown until America realises its mistakes and life goes on as usual.

Reality TV binge fest

But this is Hollywood and day after day we’re in the middle of a Reality TV binge fest of the real kind. If we miss an episode—or a day—we miss a big piece of news; a reshuffle, a new executive order, a sacking.  Alternative facts.

I really don’t want to get all political here—it’s bad enough that my time is consumed with soaking up all the various news stories, people’s shared Facebook news posts, Tweets (not the Pres’s), opinion pieces, videos and everything in between.  If CNN wasn’t so repetitive I’d be on that 24/7.  I even tuned into Fox News.

But I want my life back.  I’ve had enough.

California is not the rest of America

It’s hard to get a sense of perspective here in LA though. LA—California—is obviously largely a democratic state.  They abhor Trump. It’s like preaching to the converted. Every meeting with every friend is an update on wtf is going on.  Even my Republican friends (yes, I do have Republican friends and they happen to be very nice, intelligent people).

Yes, we participated in the Women’s March.  How could I not? How could one person with the signing of an Executive order set women back 500 years?

And what’s with these Executive Orders? Why haven’t past Presidents signed more of these in the past?  Well it seems they have.  It’s just that this one makes them count—Reality TV style.

One of my (US) friends asked a great question though.  If being President was as easy as signing Executive Orders why then didn’t Barack Obama sign one to ban guns here in the US?  Could it have been THAT simple?  Wouldn’t that have been a good way to make use of this Executive Order caper?

So…  You get the picture?  I don’t need The House of Cards or Scandal anymore. I’ve got this new Show: The Trump House.  And I’m addicted.  But I hope it doesn’t get renewed.  I can only cope with one season.  It’s intense, it’s real, it’s scary.  And I don’t know how much more of this I can take.  What a way to be educated in American politics.

A couple of links to keep your sanity

Before I go here are a few links to two cracker videos that made me chuckle.


Till next time: I want my LA Back!  I want Reality TV Hollywood style, not Reality TV (scary) reality style.

xx It Started in LA xx

Renewing my expired CA Driver's Licence | It Started in LA |
Moving to LA, Posts

Renewing my expired CA Driver’s Licence

Renewing my expired CA Driver’s Licence? (California but you know that!) Doesn’t it seem like only a few months ago I (finally) got my Californian driver’s license?

Well.  At home you can renew your license for 5 years or 10 years (5 years now if you’re over a certain age. Ugh).  Here (where, let’s face it, bureaucracy isn’t their strong point) they only give you a licence valid for the length of your Visa. Somehow though, even though my Visa is valid until next March my license was only valid until November.

I got a form in the mail telling me to fill in the blanks, provide a copy of my passport and my i94 and visa page in my passport.

Alas I never heard back and so you know what that meant?

Yup, it meant I had to go in and apply to renew my license.

Again you know what that meant don’t you? Yep, forms and queue.  Horrendous.

We were going on our road trip so it was important for me to get my license renewed.  Mr H was at home so could take over my carpool and I’d get up and join the DMV queue at 7AM (ish).

Trying to pack and get organized I needed to wash my hair.  My first instinct was to put a beanie on, suck it up and head over.  But with a bit of packing still to do, appointments banked up and precision timing required I decided the safest thing to do was to actually do my hair, pop on some eyeliner and finish the rest of my make up when I came home.

I head on down (still early enough) to join the queue.  There is always the longest queue at those DMVs it’s a nightmare.

So to share my pain with my fellow expats living in LA here you go.  Three steps to renew your Californian license.

Renewing my expired Driver’s Licence

This applies to renewing “in-between” times because it’s coinciding with your Visa date not the length of time they would have given you a license.

1.  Get in the queue early. Best to be there around 7/7:15 to get the shortest wait time.  Seriously.  If you don’t want to wait in the queue make an appointment, it saves so much time. (  Having said that sometimes you don’t have a chance as appointments can take weeks to wait for.

2.  Complete the form.  It is the same form as when you applied.  It’s called the DL44 and it must be the original form.

     Some things you’ll need to know or bring to get your temporary licence:

  •      Expired license
  •      i94
  •      Passport
  •      You’ll also need to know your Social Security number for the form (I know Americans know it by heart but I don’t).

3.  Wait your turn and they’ll process your form.

That may well be good information but here’s the number one tip I will leave you with:


Because they’re issuing you with a new license.  That means a new photo.

Oddly enough there was no fee to get you a new license.  (And on the positive how much cheaper are licenses are to get here?)

One more thing.  And this happened to my son who passed his test and hasn’t had his proper license yet (three months later).  And it happened to Mr H whose temporary license kept expiring and he had to continually follow up.  If you don’t get your license back you might need to call this number:

Legal Presence:  (916) 657 7445

I believe it might just jolt the system back into place and move your license along a bit.  That’s because our licences have to go through an extra step.  I was recommended to call the two weeks before the temporary one expires.

Good luck. You might just need it.

xx It Started in LA xx

How to raise the perfect LA Princess: five steps to follow | It Started in LA |
My LA story, Posts

How to raise the perfect LA Princess

Ever wondered how to raise the perfect LA Princess?  Have you heard of the phenomena I like to call The LA Princess?  The LA Prince exists too but in merely a shadow of their counterpart.  Let me explain.

Firstly, welcome back after a bit of work and a great Thanksgiving break.

Thanksgiving is America’s longest long weekend (they don’t take the Friday and Monday off like we do in Australia and other parts of the world). And, because they’re giving thanks, it’s time to be with family and friends so it’s the biggest weekend of the year when it comes to travel.  (Did you happen to catch this story about how busy it was on the roads in LA?)

If you’re playing along at home via Facebook and Instagram, we took a road trip to Utah.  More about the travelog in the coming days (or weeks as the case might be!).  I will just say though that it is indeed a spectacular part of the world.

Leaving behind the LA Bubble

I’ve decided that leaving LA bound for other parts of the US is good for the soul.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the LA bubble we find ourselves in.  And this is despite us trying to keep all eight feet on the ground.  It’s not until you set foot outside the bubble that you realise you’re getting sucked in.

When we lived in China we used to call them “Get-out-of-China” holidays.  This was simply because day-to-day life could be extremely difficult, constantly trying to navigate a world where the culture and the language are so so different from yours and extremely difficult to navigate.

The LA Princess Syndrome

Before I left LA I’ve been noticing the phenomenon I like to call the LA Princess syndrome.  The LA Princess is unique in so many ways.  And in other ways she is not new to you at all.

Perhaps the original LA Princess in my time was Paris Hilton (ironically went to the same school as my kids).  She has been superseded by former bestie Kim Kardashian.  And so, per the “Reality” Show, the Kardashians have  big part to play in ensuring the LA Princess is alive and well.

But you don’t have to live in LA to be an LA Princess.  From the comfort of wherever you are in the world—coupled with reality TV and Snapchat (don’t you know Instagram is for old people?! And yes I have a Snapchat account but still don’t know how to use it) you can raise an LA Princess.

Not unlike Sydney, LA is a melting pot of many cultures.  And, like Sydney, there are many wealthy people around doing incredible things.  But there is still somehow a difference. It’s difficult to put my finger on but it’s here.

I look to two friends as examples: both not from here, both wealthy with celebrity parents yet their children do not suffer from LA Princess syndrome.  They must wander what on earth they’re doing wrong.

Controversially (or not) I think the bulk of the responsibility comes from the parents.  (Shock. Horror).

Thankfully so many of my friends and their children don’t suffer from this syndrome or I might have to actually slit my wrists.  But there’s enough LA Princess syndrome going on around for me to put together a little step-by-step guide on how to turn your perfectly normal girl into an LA Princess.

How to raise the perfect LA Princess

Here are five ways you can indulge your little Princess and turn them into an LA Princess.

1.  Let her believe she’s the centre of the universe

The key is to indulge her.  Indulge her in every way imaginable.

She is the centre of the universe isn’t she? Of course she is; let her know this. Only she matters.

My daughter has been playing school tennis.  It hasn’t been without its ups and downs but I love that sport gives kids a sense of the real reality—they learn to win and lose, they learn that money doesn’t buy you everything and they learn about how to be a team player.

One Friday afternoon we were playing against another team and there were rumblings in the ranks (thankfully not on our team as they know our Coach will not stand for it).  The conversation went a little something like this:

“We’re done, are you done?

“I don’t see why we should have to stay, I mean my daughter is finished.  Can’t we just go?”

“I have so much to do and I don’t want to get stuck in the traffic.”

Yep that apple don’t fall far from the tree.

You can always tell which schools have a sense of team and which ones can’t see past themselves.  We have played a number of teams whose girls just leave once they’re done leaving the last game standing to fend for themselves.  In fact, one of the games nearly came down to a forfeit because the match was shaping up to be a tie.  If it was a tie the rules are you all get back on the court and play another set.  But, without the girls there to get back on the court they would have to forfeit.  Oops.  Lucky we won the last game and spared them a little humiliation.

Then there was the girl who came off the court wallowing in self pity.  Here’s the conversation I overheard (in your best Kardashian voice) to a teammate who also just came off the Court:

“I’m so bummed we lost. It was so close, they were the biggest cheaters, we so should’ve won. And now I won’t be MVP” (Most Valuable Player).

But for every LA Princess you come across a girl who falls far short.

There’s one girl on our team who is nowhere close to being an LA Princess.  She’s a sub who rarely gets to play.  This girl is the first to cheer on her teammates, brings the best kick-ass snack to the games, take photos and is one of the first to ask the girls how they went in their match if they came off a different court to the one she’s been watching.

Now this girl has a lot of work to do before she can even dream of being an LA Princess. Poor darling.

2.  Let her do whatever she wants

It sounds easy enough doesn’t it? Makes your job as a parent much easier and your popularity will go through the roof!  But try as I might I just can’t seem to pull it off. If I let my daughter do whatever she wants you better head for the hills.  If a 14-year-old girl gets to gallivant around town using her Uber account and credit card without her parents knowing where she is there’s no knowing what sort of trouble she’ll get into.  And then for the rest of her life she’ll think it’s OK to do what she does.  A monster is what she’d be.  Oh wait …

3.  Let her have whatever she wants

This is where I need the most work.  I have myself the ultimate consumer.  She wants everything: new fancy fast cars for us each year (at least she’s a sharer), new clothes every time she goes shopping, lots of makeup, (expensive) jewellery, eating out at the hip & happening joints all over town and let’s not forget front row seats to every must-Snapchat-from concert.  Yep, if I followed this rule we’d be out on the street with nowhere to live.  Fortunately for most 90210 parents they have the budgets to sustain this over-the-top spending.  Fortunately, too, I hasten to add, for the LA Princess.

I once had someone beg me to let my daughter go with her daughter so her daughter wouldn’t miss out on her Snapchat-worthy event. I’ve still got a lot of work to do.  That-a-way.

4.  Don’t set any boundaries.

When we first arrived I was privy to this discussion.  Hashtag priceless.

“I took all the devices off my child yesterday.  You need to learn your lesson I told her adamantly.  Then I told her if she’s good all week tomorrow I would go and buy her a new one.  Now she has two and she uses them both. I’m so proud of her.”

Yep, you tell them.  That will teach her.

Then there was the time before that where she broke her screen.  A group of three families were out.  The then-12-year-old broke her screen on her phone.  She was crying hysterically.  Mr H said, “Don’t worry you can get the screen replaced just down the road.”  The other dad chimed in, “Yes, and we just did it for our daughter, so easy and so much better than buying a new phone.”  The next day she has a brand new phone.  It’s OK though, they fixed the old phone too.  You always need more than one phone don’t you know.

Either kids are really good here but you never hear of anyone really being grounded.  They are more like the exception to the rule.

So boundaries people, no need for them either.  Raising an LA Princes is easier than you think huh?

5.  Dress her appropriately

I have to say this is perhaps one of the most important things to consider.  There are a few looks to be embraced in order to become an LA Princess.  All of them are acceptable.

The first look is the leggings (must be a brandname, eg. Lulu Lemon) with tight top.  If the top is too long you can use an elastic to tie it above the hips to one side.

The next look is the short shorts with the Brandy Melville crop top.

Finally you can wear tight jeans with a crop top.

As the girls get older, designer handbags become the norm.  (Remember I discovered this the hard way when I first arrived).  Then designer shoes with 10” heels (they can barely walk in) start to creep into the wardrobe.  And now we are entering the “jewellery-your-mother-doesn’t-even-have” phase with the Cartier love bracelet being the piece du jour.  Buy Hermes will do too.

A word of warning about this “recipe for success”

This might seem easy but it is not as straight forward as it might seem.  You might need to play around with the proportions.

For example, some LA Princesses only need to feel like they are the centre of the universe with very little of any of the other ingredients.  Others have whatever they like but still struggle to pull off the LA Princess.  Others still have seemingly everything they want yet are still not content and are looking for something more.  Others look the part but struggle to own it; to act the part.

And others want to try to raise LA Princesses but can’t quite bring themselves to follow the rules.

We’re back in our bubble now.  For a little less than a week, however, my daughter was privy to how the rest of the world lives once again.  She said life would be much easier if we didn’t live in our bubble.  But that’s it isn’t it?  To learn to live as most people do within our bubble.

She’ll be right mate.  We got this.

xx It Started in LA xx

Five reasons why I'm not leaving the US just because Trump is the President elect | It Started in LA |

Five reasons why I won’t leave the US just because Trump is the President Elect

Five reasons why I won’t leave the US just because Trump is now the President Elect

I called it after Brexit: there’s a nasty feeling in the air all over the world: fear and hatred fills us.  We’re paranoid and there’s (seemingly) nothing we can do to stop it.  Least of all vote for Donald Trump.

When we bought our house I joked that it was a bad financial decision because if Trump gets in we wouldn’t be staying in America.

My daughter is holding me to that.  She doesn’t believe she can stay in the country given what’s just happened.  What did just happen?

Well, of course, in case you’re in denial, Donald Trump is now America’s President elect.  Hard to believe for many (especially here in LA) but like it or not, just under half America voted for him. (He won through the Electoral College vote—see my previous Blog for an explanation).  The question in my mind—and many others’—is did they vote for him because they hate Hilary so much or whether it’s because they actually thought Donald Trump could be good for America? We’ll never really know.  And frankly it doesn’t really matter.

But here’s what I know.  I won’t be leaving the US because Donald Trump will be President come January 20.  And here are the

Five reasons why I won’t leave the US just because Trump is the President elect.

1.  Practicality

I can’t just decide to convince my husband to quit his job and move home just because I don’t like the guy that will lead this Country for the next four (hopefully) years. I can’t just pull the kids out of school and ship them back home because I don’t think the guy voted in to be the next President is a bigot and a bully who thinks he’s better than everyone else; who demeans women and thinks of them as little more than objects of lust–as long as you’re good looking enough.

2.  Being realistic

A lot like practicality I suppose.  I have to be realistic and accept that life just doesn’t work that way.  Does it?  I have to accept that life sets you many challenges and you have to deal with them face on rather than running away or hiding from them.

I hope I’m right when I say that there will be lots of things President elect Donald Trump says he’s going to do that he’s just not going to.  He said so many things that were sound grabs to shock, designed to fuel hate.  He’s a cowboy, he shoots from the hip and who knows (or trusts) exactly what comes out of his mouth.

3.  Give him a chance

Guess what America, you actually have no choice but to give him a chance.  He’s all you’ve got.  He’s all I’ve got.  It was a year and a half in the making in an election campaign designed to wean out the fledging candidates and come up with the two bestest, strongest candidates for the job.  If you’re not happy with that then perhaps you should speak up and change the way things are done.  (God knows it cost enough money).

And in case you’re saying it simply can’t be done; change can’t happen, I’ll give you one reason why change can absolutely happen: Donald Trump.

Watch that wall become a virtual wall: one that limits entry to those who “don’t belong”. There will be no Great Wall of Trump.

What he might do though might actually make sense.  He might make sure more investment is being made inside the US.  He might actually make sure America keeps its industries kicking along within its borders rather than kicking everyone out and encouraging manufacturing outside.  And maybe he will actually shake things up, ask lots of dumb questions designed to challenge how and why things are done certain ways in order to actually effect change.

And, I might actually get to pay less tax.  Wouldn’t that be a good thing? I have no idea where my tax dollars go: the government services here are shite to say the least and virtually none of my taxes go to those in need.  It doesn’t go back to support me and my family.  I pay for everything I need.  Everything.  From school (first through my property taxes and then through my private school fees) to medical expenses to paying for my waiter’s medical insurance in the form of another tax (applicable here and on-charged in some places in LA).

But, in the same breath I hope that the economy does get a kick start, that more people can work to enjoy a better life.  That all those people in those small towns who voted for him knew something we didn’t.  That their vote actually didn’t go to waste and he does good.  And, by the way, that they get more than the pitiful minimum wage you get here.  I hope it really is as simple as he says it is.

If these working and middle class people get the jobs and can give their families a good, comfortable life then good job.

4.  Suck it up: life sux sometimes

I say, and have said several times, sport is the biggest equaliser: you can’t buy your way into the team, you can’t bribe your way into a win.  You can’t complain to your mother or write a note to the Coach to get your own way.  It teaches the best life lessons: how to lose, how to be a gracious winner, being part of a team—you know how it goes?  (I hope).

But here we have the ultimate life lesson (for half of American voters at least).  A very painful life lesson for these guys.

You might throw all your money at a candidate, you might tweet and Instagram, use your clout to encourage others to believe what you believe.  But, at the end of the day it just doesn’t always turn out the way you hope it will.  There are others out there that you have no control over.  None whatsoever.

You can’t buy your way out of the problem; you can’t bury your head in the sand; you can’t ask your mum to write a note to whoever is in charge; you gotta suck it up.

And, hopefully, as we reflect and work out how this all happened, we learn from it.  I hope this encourages people to get up and make a difference.

In the meantime what a great life lesson: suck it up, life sux sometimes.


5.  She’ll be right mate

We have a saying in Australia—she’ll be right mate.  It’s a bit apathetic, a shrug of the shoulders and a bit of wishful thinking.  But it kind of sums up how I have to think.  In view of points one and two I have to believe it’ll be ok.

Obama tried really hard to change so many things and he found it really, really hard.  Trump might have lots of ideas and brash thoughts but he might also find it hard to enact many of them.  He can’t bully everyone into doing what he wants, he’ll have to go about change through a slow, rigorous system.  So while he’s banging his head against a brick wall (no, not the Great Wall of Trump) she’ll be right mate.


In other news, marijuana is now legal in California for recreational purposes. There may well be a state full of Democrats that will be high for the next four years.

Parting words of wisdom

Like I said, we’ve got no choice.  We’ve got to accept it and move on.  Let’s hope it either goes really well or we learn from this.  Let’s hope that next time it means we actually listen to the masses who are/were trying to tell us what they think.  We just didn’t listen (or believe) they’d win.  What do they know?  We thought we knew better.  We dissed them and made fun of them.

And in the meantime we have to stop bullies.  We need to learn to stand up to them and stop encouraging them and letting them get away with their bad behavior; that’s it simply not OK.  For some reason society wants to be friends with or accepted by the bully. We’ve really got to stick up for each other.

To my beautiful baby girl who is broken by this news.  I’m so sorry.  Life isn’t always fair.  You are smart and optimistic and you can make a difference.  I don’t think Hilary lost because she’s a woman, I think she lost because Americans didn’t want her to be President.  You can be whatever you want to be and I encourage you to go for it; this is not a setback for you.  I’m sure of it.

Well that got very serious didn’t it?  The afternoon is creeping up on me.  Might take me a few days to follow my own advice.  Keep calm and have a cocktail.

Keep Calm & Drink Cocktails

Keep Calm & Drink Cocktails

And, in the meantime, I can’t wait to see what the next series of The House of Cards brings.

God Bless ‘Murica.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: Our visas are due for renewal next year. Let’s hope we get to do two more years–maybe we’ll be forced to leave because of the stricter immigration laws. That will be ironic to say the least.

Election Fever hits America. With one day to go it will all be over soon. Please. | It Started in LA |
Differences between America & Australia, My LA story, Posts

Election fever hits America

Election fever hits America.  In a big way.  It’s been ONE & A HALF years in the making and “the day” is almost upon us.

It’s Monday morning here in LA and the nation is abuzz with election fever: people are going to the polls early which means the talk about going to vote must be working.

This isn’t a political Blog, I’m not political but being in America for our first election and there are so many observations I’ve made.  This election has played a big part of our daily life here: you can’t escape it.

Some of my observations are unique to America, others are themes emerging in a troubling world.

Here are five things this Aussie girl in LA has noticed over the last year and a half.

1.  The money

For God’s sake America.  Wake up and smell the coffee.  You abandoned the sovereign to create a better world.  You rejected all things of the Mother Land because you wanted better.  And you created a monster.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: curtail the money spending.  If you don’t have it, cut back; you can’t afford it.

I’ve mentioned the amount of money spent on those lengthy campaigns.  I’ve talked about those Conventions and how the balloons at the Democratic Convention alone would be enough to feed & house LA’s homeless (unsubstantiated but don’t let truth get in the way of a good argument).  Last night we were researching what happens on Wednesday, the day after the election and we got this story.

This struck me:

“Once either Clinton or Trump has been declared winner the new president-elect will be … given a multi-million dollar budget.

In 2008, Barack Obama was said to have employed a 450-person team at a cost of $12 million. Of that, $5.2 million as reportedly paid for by the US Government, with the remaining $6.8 million coming from private sources.”

I get that it takes money to do these things, and that people cost money, blah, blah, blah.  It just seems to be like a sh*t load of money they don’t actually have.

And can we talk for a minute about the big-time donors lining the politicians pockets, eg the NRA. I’m not saying any new here but, they’re doing that for their own gain and not for the greater good.  All that money.  Feed the homeless, help the refugees, feed the world and all that.  Ouch.  Just ouch.

2.  The media

I hate to say this but Donald Trump is right: the media is against him.  It’s not half obvious.  With the exception of Fox News (which I refuse to watch) no one is on Donald Trump’s side.

Don’t get me wrong, I get it.  But still.  There is no such thing as unbiased reporting in this country.  But in lots of ways that unbiased reporting has failed: there are still all those bloody Trump supporters out there, so loyal and so one-eyed that they fail to see anything the media is trying to tell them.

Yes, the media is having a field day with record viewers following the greatest circus on earth.  I’ll be so grateful when it’s over. I’m even looking forward to Viagra ads in place of the political ads. Prop this Prop that.  Vote.  Vote for me, vote for her, don’t vote for them.  It’s when I’m grateful other countries like Australia only have a short election cycle.

3.  The pride Americans take in announcing who they vote for

No one keeps who they vote for a secret.  It’s all out there for everyone to see and debate.  They’re so proud of who they vote for, which party they follow.

In contrast few people really talk about who they vote for in Australia.  It’s certainly not widely known, nor is it typically dinner party conversation.  It can be assumed and guessed about but not always qualified.

I don’t know who Mr H votes for.  For as long as I’ve known him he’s always told us he’s voted for the Donkey. (In Australia it’s compulsory to vote; if you don’t you get fined. People who don’t want to vote properly incorrectly fill in their voting form and that is known as a Donkey vote).  He swears he doesn’t by the way but I’ll never know.

4.  The system is so bloody complicated

My son is studying US History this year so has been able to explain some of the concepts and history behind the way this system works.  I love that he can do that as it helps to understand so much without being my “we’re so much better in Australia” diatribe.

I’ve just heard about the Electoral College having the final say.  So this group of “mainly-middle-aged-men” to the people and “a fair representation of the people” officially, meets to vote on who should be President and Vice-President.

Here’s a good video from the History Channel to illustrate:

So, I’ve learnt about the nomination process, Conventions, caucuses and Primaries and now I’ve been introduced to the Electoral College.

Wondering if the Electoral College actually votes in someone other than the people’s vote?  Me too. In 2000, for example, Al Gore got more votes than George W Bush but George W got the Electoral College vote.  Guess who was President?

Oh god no. Please don’t …

5.  The heroes and the villains

This morning I woke up to one of my favourite Blogs in the world’s Facebook post with this interview:

I have given my American friends such a hard time about these elections.  But what about this guy?  This guy who I’ve found the day before the election.  Good on you mate.  You are absolutely what America stands for, why Americans are such a pain in the ass–because they are so damned patriotic and believe–only because we are envious of you.  There are loads of people like you but, like you, we’ve seen the ugly.  Fuelled by Trump and the media we are seeing far too much of ugly America.  If you are as you say, and this happened as you said, you are not.

You are a hero.

So who are the villains?

Well that’s easy: Donald Trump.  Donald Trump is a bully.  He is bigly awful.  Full stop.  Period.  Go away Donald Trump; you’re bringing out the worst in your followers.  You are bringing us back decades.  Nothing you say has substance and nothing you do is inspiring.

The day after the night before

What will you be doing on Wednesday? My son and his friends were pondering what a weird day Wednesday will be: the aftermath.  I couldn’t agree more.  But these guys aren’t President straight away. Obama still has time to “finish doing what he set out to do” and come January 20, 2017 at noon the new President and Vice-President will be sworn in.

So there’ll still be plenty of time for the media to ease their way out of it gently.  Please let go, please move on.

In the meantime good luck world.

Good Luck America.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: There is a petition to shorten America’s election cycle. If you agree with Sheryl Crowe that it needs some help click here and have your say.

PPS: If Trump gets in do you think that Wall will be strong enough to fight the stampede out of the US? The mind boggles.

Headline image by Lipton sale (talk) – self-made, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Five things to do if you're moving to LA | It Started in LA |
Moving to LA, Posts

Five things to do if you’re moving to LA

Updated January 30, 2018 with more info on Public schools

So you’ve just found out you’re moving to LA.  LA can be such a daunting beast—it’s big, there’s lots of traffic and one end of town is completely different to the other.  So, what do you have to do if you know you’re making the move and how do you navigate the process.

Five things to do if you’re moving to LA

1.   Pick your Location

It’s a toss up whether you pick your location first or pick your schools first.  If you have kids then it may be a bit of both.

If you don’t have kids then it’s easy: location, location, location.  I’d start with areas in and around work.  Think neighbouring communities, the actual community or communities that are easily accessed via one of the major freeways.

We wanted something close to Mr H’s work so it wasn’t a huge commute and then we wanted something that would be close to school.

So we looked at every area in between.  We found two houses, within 15 minutes of each other—one closer to the school we hoped to get into and the other closer to Mr H’s work—and we let fate decide which one we’d end up living in.  As it turns out we ended up in the house closest to school.  We were really lucky as it also turned out a number of the kids friends (whose parents became my friends) also lived in the area.

For you choosing location might have everything to do with choosing schools: especially if you’ve chosen to send your kids to public school (see below).

I’ve outlined the “main” areas to live in LA in this post a year or so ago; it talks through my journey scoping out locations. Its aim is to provide an overview of where to start.

Like I say, it’s best for all concerned if you’re as close to work and school as you can possibly be if you want to avoid spending all your time in your car.  Having said that some people make a lifestyle decision to commute.  Go figure but they do.  Test the traffic patterns, especially in peak hours.  The bummer about LA is it’s a sprawling acropolis and it’s hard to get around at the best of times, let alone peak times.  During peak hours it took me just under half an hour to get home from school drop off; outside that it’s less than 10 minutes.

Once you’ve chosen your location then you need to find somewhere to live.  I’ll be linking this to a post coming up on house-hunting and tips to secure a lease without a credit rating so stay tuned.

2.   Choose your Schools

If you have kids then you know this is vital.

Your first choice is whether you’re going to private or public school.  There are also in-between schools like religious ones or Charter schools.

Despite popular movies like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off not everyone goes to public school.  In fact, the LA Unified School District lacks money and as a result the quality of schools can be hit and miss.

Some areas offer great houses and great schools (Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach and Pasadena South for example) but the high rents could still lock you out.

When we did the sums on Santa Monica for example we decided it was cheaper to pay for private school than pay the higher rent required to live in the zone.  (Schools are funded by property taxes and most landlords pass on the property tax expenses in your rent—they’re not paying for your kids to go to school in a good area, they’re just going to make the money off it!).

Public school

If you’ve decided to go to public school then you’ve most likely chosen your area based on its reputation for having good schools.  You can always check a school’s rating on the Great Schools website.  And most house listings show the schools nearby with their rating—it’s that important over here.

Here is a list of the School Districts in LA. This is so important as–per above–where you choose to live will almost surely be locked into the schools.

School Districts in Los Angeles

District Type Grade Span Schools Students
South Pasadena Unified UNIFIED K-12 5 4,588
Beverly Hills Unified UNIFIED K-12 6 4,585
Las Virgenes Unified School District UNIFIED PK-12 15 11,319
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District UNIFIED PK-12 17 11,468
Sbe – New West Charter Middle UNKNOWN 6-11 338
Glendale Unified School District UNIFIED K-12 33 26,228
Bonita Unified UNIFIED K-12 13 9,870
Burbank Unified School District UNIFIED K-12 21 16,670
Culver City Unified UNIFIED K-12 9 6,816
Newhall ELEMENTARY K-6 10 6,941
William S. Hart Union High SECONDARY K-12 16 26,449
Wiseburn Unified UNIFIED K-12 8 3,626
Long Beach Unified School District UNIFIED PK-12 87 83,691
Los Angeles Unified Rocp UNKNOWN PK-8, 10-12
Los Angeles Unified School District UNIFIED PK-12 993 659,639
Lennox ELEMENTARY K-12 7 7,107
Pasadena Unified UNIFIED PK-12 31 19,802
Inglewood Unified School District UNIFIED K-12 19 14,279
Sbe – Ingenium Charter UNKNOWN 6-8 255
Centinela Valley Union High SECONDARY 9-12 5 6,547
Sbe – Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory Of North America UNKNOWN K-12
Sbe – Today’s Fresh Start Charter UNKNOWN K-8 605


If you’re braving the world of public schools and you’re in the LAUSD you’ll need to look at things called Magnets or Magnet Schools. This is where they put on special programs and allow kids from around the district to apply. But be warned, it’s equally competitive and there are actually such things as magnet points which to a stranger to the system can be so so confusing!  So getting in can be, ahem, a bitch so be prepared to put in the deep, deep research. Here’s an article I found to help understand the chances of actually getting in!

If you’re going to go the public school route you may need to consider paying a consultant to help you through. It’s still cheaper than private school!

Private school

Private school is not so easy, they’re often oversubscribed and can be hard to get into.  I was surprised that they can be even harder to get into than they can at home.  Many of the private schools are College Preparatory schools which in a nutshell means high in academics and may not be the place for your poor gorgeous spunky kid with learning issues.

There is probably one major difference between admission at school here and Australia.

You can only apply the year before the school year you want to enter.  So, as soon as the new school year starts admissions teams start holding open days to showcase their schools.  Applications are then due by end of the year (please don’t take my word for it—check this—and each school can be different).

At a nominated date in March you are told whether your child has been accepted or waitlisted.  You then have around two weeks to accept or reject your offer.  All the schools have the same date so you have to choose.

The problem for an expat family lies in the fact that we never know when we’re going to be moving.  Imagine we only found out in early May so as my story goes I had to wake up at 4am every day for a week ringing Admissions Directors pitching our family to see if they could let us in outside their traditional admissions cycle.  Each time I think back I think how lucky we were.

The other step you’ll have to take is to take an entrance exam.  For most LA private schools it’s a test called the ISEE.  The Catholic schools have a different test and I believe this is mainly for High School.

So here’s the thing: Americans get tutors for this test and put their kids through the ringer to exceed in it.  It’s a competition and he who has the most resources to throw at their kids can generally win (unless their kids aren’t test takers or smart and then they better hope they have heaps of money to bribe the schools in donations).  It’s a cynical but true story folks; be very afraid.  But, having said that my kids had a day’s notice they had to sit it (story in the linked blog) and they did it.  Thank God we were going in under extreme circumstances and didn’t have to compete with the masses!

The piece I linked above also has with a shortlist of private schools in LA.  There’s also a link to the differences in schools between Australia and LA that you might find interesting.  It still baffles me once and a while.

3.   Open bank accounts

It might sound simple but it’s not altogether that straight forward. You will first need a US address and perhaps if you’re an Expat a letter from your employer.

We started with a Citibank account in Australia which made it so much easier to open up accounts in the US.  Once Mr H’s pay was deposited into his account we were able to get credit cards with a decent credit limit.  Also we’re able to transfer money between our Citibank accounts in Australia and here in the US without fees.  Be careful though as I’ve recently heard others say they don’t have this feature on their accounts despite being Gold customers.

You can also open up accounts with your local US banks with a greater ATM network and perhaps even more branches.  We haven’t been inconvenienced by our Citibank account at all.  Well only the once in getting a mortgage but that’s another story.

Here’s a great reference for Expats wanting to open accounts in the US. Thanks to Bright Lights of America.

4.  Sort out your credit

Oh my God. This is the BIG one.  Credit is the biggest nightmare for young people and for established families like mine moving to the US.  Everything hinges on it: your lease, a mortgage, credit cards, even opening up a bank account.  I know, go figure! The system is so fundamentally flawed but you have no choice but to play the game.

It will be virtually impossible to get a credit card as you have no credit history.  See my blog post (coming) on tips to getting your credit history up and running quick smart.  Get yourself a prepaid credit card or Amex, you’re using your own cash but it helps to establish your credit history.  Also try getting a couple of store cards.  If you do this buy a couple of small things on it and pay them off straight away.  This will build more credit.

Opening up electricity, gas and Cable/Internet accounts may also prove tricky.  Well not tricky so much as two things will happen—they’ll charge you a higher price (to them you’re a greater credit risk—yep seriously if you’re poor or struggling you pay more how is that even fair?) and they’ll most likely get you to put down a cash deposit.

5.   Get a car

With no credit it’s pretty hard to get a car without paying cash.  We managed to get a lease for the duration of our visa through BMW Finance.  They were able to say that we were previous owners of BMW and with Mr H’s letter of offer use that to secure the lease.  He arrived a couple of months before me and once I arrived it was much easier for me to get the second lease.

Another loyal reader of this Blog said his wife was able to get one car lease under her visa deal.  To get around it her and her husband applied for two leases simultaneously through two different manufacturers.  That way, when they were running the reports there was no record of the other lease.  Quite brilliant.  It worked for them so it could work for you too.

Long-term rentals are also possible.  But, beware, they are obviously considerably more expensive than a regular lease or possibly even buying the car.

My two cents worth

Take all the extra expenses into account when negotiating your move with your employer.  Or, if you’re doing the sums take into account bringing money into the US, the extra deposits you’ll have to pay and virtually living on cash as you establish yourself in the US’s highly flawed (yes I know I’ve said that before) credit system.

It will take you a good six to 12 months.  But once you get the hang of it it will get easier.  Hopefully for your sake it will be easier then when we made the move.

xx It Started in LA xx

%d bloggers like this: