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Five things to do if you're moving to LA | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
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Five things to do if you’re moving to LA

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.

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.

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

Los Angelinos love to talk routes | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
Differences between America & Australia, My LA story, Posts

Los Angelinos love to talk routes

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Los Angelinos love to ...

Los Angelinos love to talk “routes”

Routes.  Better known to us Aussies as which way to go.

We call them “roots” they call them “rowtes” (row as in argument not what you do in a boat).  However you say it Los Angelinos love to talk about it.  It starts every conversation when you meet up somewhere, and it will be the last conversation you will have when you part ways.

“Which way are you going…?”

“Which way did you come…?”

“Did you take the 405…?”

“Which way should we go, the 101 is busy at this time of day, is it quicker to use the side streets?”

Even recently, when an Australian friend was talking about which way her friends were going on the way from the airport to her place, she said this:

“From LAX they took the 105 to the 10 to the 101….”  Only at the end did she say “they went via Downtown.”

The sad part about that is not that she just didn’t say, “yeah, they went via Downtown,” it’s that I actually could picture the “route” (said with an American pronunciation if you will) they took.

One time when I hadn’t been here too long and went off to Disneyland for the first time my friend said, “Let me send you the best way to get down there.”

405S
105E
605S
91E
5S
Disneyland exit.

“Don’t I just plug it in my GPS and follow?”

Which way you go is a sport in LA.

And now it’s fuelled by apps like Waze (pronounced ways) that will tell you the “fastest” way to get to a given destination.

Waze has fuelled the discussion even more making it an extreme sport.

“Did you check Waze?”

“What does your Waze say?”

And Waze has a lot to answer for in the back streets of LA.  I’m too lazy and selfish to suck up my phone’s battery to use Waze.  My GPS will be just fine.  But I have to confess I’m getting suckered into the “Which route …?” discussion too.

Gotta love LA.

xx It Started in LA xx

 

Celebrity, My LA story, Posts

A normal end to the school year–with a twist of 90210

Like everyone in my neck of the woods, with school finishing in the middle of the year rather than the end, it’s busy, busy, busy. There are fairs, thank-you breakfasts, end-of-year events and of course big assignments and exams to study for.

Last weekend we had the Annual Fair, which was moved from the school grounds to a private party on Santa Monica Pier. Each school we’ve been to (with the kids) has had a Fair/Fiesta/Fete of some kind. They’ve all been good but last year we (I) was so shell-shocked laughing at the fact that my kids are having their fair on the Santa Monica Pier.

I never expected to be ever going back to LA let alone living here let alone having a private party on the blessed (pronounced bless-ed in place of a swear-word) Pier. This year we’re so LA that we’ve taken it all in our stride. Somewhat.

Cut back to my son’s school in Australia and the boys had to rock up to the Fiesta in full school uniform. While I can hear most of you that aren’t used to this thinking “WTF?” I can assure you it comes in very handy for three things:

  • Finding your son in a crowd
  • The girls finding a potential boyfriend in the crowd
  • Keeping the boys out of trouble—and if they choose to get into trouble they’re easily identified!

His Fair was fantastic. I love the excuse to hang out with my friends (may or may not sneak in a bottle of wine) and see the kids having a great time in the safety and security of the school grounds. Equally I love the scantily clothed girls hunting in packs checking out the talent—so easy to spot those strapping boys in their school uniforms. Such is the joy of single-sex schools and the lengths they’ll go to for the opportunity to meet someone of the opposite sex (yes, I am exaggerating).

My favourite thing about the Fair would have to be the silent auction. A lot of work would go into each class donating goods & services and we’d package them all up into enticing hampers. I would spend a considerable amount of time weighing up those hampers—what was in them, whether I was getting a bargain and whether or not I could use any of the contents as Christmas pressies. I was (not surprisingly) attracted by the alcohol hampers and scored many a bargain. At the end of the day I’d walk out with us all juggling a number of hampers trying to avoid doing more trips than we needed to.

I do love a 90210 silent auction though. On offer were things like Ellen tickets, tickets to the LA Kings, LA Lakers & Clippers, tickets to the American Idol final, Teen Choice Awards, lunch with Halle Berry and the opportunity to hang out with her on set and have lunch, and meet Steven Spielberg. By far the most popular prize was the chance for 12 kids to play basketball with legendary Clippers basketballer Chris Paul.  There were so many, many more amazing prizes it was hard for me to decide where to concentrate my focus.

I did very well this year. Instead of going home juggling several hampers I went home with an envelope with gift certificates and a Bass Guitar. Did I happen to mention that the guitar was Duff McKagan’s from Guns n Roses? No? Yes, as a matter of fact it’s true.

Proud owner of Duff McKagan's bass #myreality #itstartedinla #gunsnroses

A post shared by It Started in LA 🌴 Gwenny John (@itstartedinla) on

 

My gift certificates were for four tickets to see Rod Stewart in Vegas (as well as a photo opp & Meet & Greet—which seems really silly seeing as I’ve already met him and didn’t have to pay for the privilege but at least this way I get to take a few guilt-free selfies). That wasn’t all, four tickets to see Britney Spears and two night’s accommodation including F&B credit and Spa credit. Score. Yep, quite the haul indeed.

I say that we’re taking Fairs on Santa Monica Pier in our stride, we are, somewhat.  But we do have to stop and pinch ourselves and shrug our shoulders and think how on earth did we land here?  Seriously, the chance to bid on amazing experiences and events that simply aren’t available to everyone—especially for most people who live outside our bubble is not something we should ever take for granted.

“That” moment for us the other night was seeing the one and only Sandra Bullock just hanging out like a normal person (yep, new bestie material). For my son that moment was when he was on the Rollercoaster with her. Only in LA could you be riding a rollercoaster on Santa Monica Pier with Sandra Bullock. Hashtag Living the Dream.

The Californian High School Swim Season

I have to say I love how swimming is done here in the US. While I love, love, love the atmosphere, school spirit and passion that goes into swimming at my kids’ schools in Australia (especially the private boys schools) I’m forced to reflect that it’s somewhat elite. And in a strange way, it’s College level here.

Back home in Australia my son had to qualify to be in the swim team where they would compete in one bigger-than-Ben-Hur event. There are a lot of fast swimmers in my son’s school—most of whom qualify to compete at state level—and his times may or may not earn him a place on the team.

Here in the US my son had a swim meet each week, a tri-comp where three schools competed in individual events and relays. The events were broken up into girls and boys, Junior Varsity and Varsity. Everyone got to participate and compete on his or her level. They got to win, lose and get disqualified. They also got the opportunity to qualify for the CIF (which is basically all the private and public schools in California) for a mega meet to finish off the league season.

My son made it to CIF and his relay team made it to the finals.  I got a kick out of lots of things–nothing more than eavesdropping all day on other parents’ conversations–but the main one was them playing the national anthem before the finals.  The Amercians’ reverence and patriotism is certainly one to be admired.

Hats off & hands on your heart for the National Anthem

Hats off & hands on your heart for the National Anthem

 

The atmosphere and venue are second to none in Australia, the competition fierce but we’ll take swimming US High School style where regular, seasonal competition for your school is available.

Having said that I do wish the meets were bigger and had more of the ra-ra style cheerleaders that I expected to find when we moved here. I guess that proves you can’t have it all.

Exams v Assignments

Assignments are big in Australia, exams not so much. That’s what makes it harder the older you get when you actually have to start sitting exams and you’re not used to it.

Cut back here to the US and generally all grades (in our “College Prep” school) from 6-12 sit exams. But this year there’s been a little shift, a gentle shift but a shift nonetheless.

That’s right shock horror a couple of the departments opted for a major assignment rather than an exam. I’m on the fence about this. I thought that our American experience would have them so used to exams if and when the time came to head back to the HSC (Higher School Certificate—which it is in NSW) they’d be experts and it wouldn’t be so daunting.

Alas my son in 9th Grade (a “Freshman”) has an exam for every subject except for English and my daughter in 7th Grade (she’s a “Middle Schooler” so she doesn’t have a fancy title) seems to be in the grade that they keep changing the rules for, she’s missing English and History. Last year she was supposed to start exams but they opted for only a couple of the subjects having exams. In the middle of the year she was also supposed to start exams but they opted for only exams at the end of the year. Wonder if this is the start of a trend?

So you see the end of our school year isn’t that much different to yours but it does have a 90210 twist. And that 90210 twist is what makes life that little bit exciting here.  It’s what makes the mundane bearable and the move worth it. I’m sure when we’re home in a few years we’ll look back on this time and not believe it was us.

Enjoy the rest of the week!

xx It Started in LA xx

 

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