How to emigrate to the US. PART 2: Things that don’t require an SSN: Banks, renting, and utilities

This is a continuation of HOW TO EMIGRATE TO THE US (FROM CANADA WITH AN ENGINEERING DEGREE).  This post will assume you have already obtained your TN visa.  I’ll talk about the challenges obtained with settling in.  Getting an SSN takes 2-4 weeks; 4 weeks if you have a name so long that it won’t fit in form (THANKS PARENTS.).

  • Things that don’t require an SSN
    • Opening a bank account
    • Renting a place
    • Opening a utilities account
      • Electricity
      • Internet
  • Things that require an SSN
    • Getting paid
    • Health / Vision insurance
    • Drivers licence
    • Car licence plate
    • Credit card

Opening a bank account

Like most accounts that don’t require an SSN, you need 2 pieces of ID.  I brought my passport and drivers licence and opened an account over lunch.  I was late back to work because it took about an hour longer to process due to my ‘resident-alien’ status.  I opened an account at Chase (which many people recommended I avoid) because it was the closest bank.  I’ve already started looking at savings and retirement funds, but I might be jumping the gun because I should probably pay off my debt first.

Renting a place

Renting a place also does not require a SSN, just 2 forms of ID.  They do a background screen, which may potentially take longer because they pull up your records from other countries.  I looked at a total of about 15 different apartments.  Despite everyone thinking Detroit is dirt cheap, rent in desirable neighbourhoods is still considerably high.  Here is a list of different neighbourhoods I had considered living in:

  • Troy: $675-$1100/mo.  The nice apartments were 1BR, 700sqft, newly renovated, carpet floors, new appliances and hella expensive.  The cheaper places were literally walking distance from work.  It was a decent place, but I wanted a place with wooden floors.
  • Madison Heights  (1BR apartments in low, low, and highrise apartments) $700-800.  My co-workers advised against living in Madison heights because they think it isn’t a nice neighbourhood.  I honestly can’t really tell the difference.  There are a few Chinese and Vietnamese stores located on John R Road.
  • Royal Oak is supposedly the happening place in Detroit.  They have a walkable downtown area with nice sidewalks and streetlamps.  Most young professionals are moving into that area, and thus it was really hard to find a vacant apartment.  Most places had 2-3 month waiting lists.  I had found a craiglist ad to roomate with 2 other engineers in a 3 bedroom 1 bathroom house for $500.  I probably would have stayed here if the house owner didn’t have a cat.
  • Southfield. $500-600 for 1BR.  This was the pricepoint that I was trying to aim for, but Southfield is considered one of the rougher neighbourhoods in Detroit.  Most of the locals recommend living north of 8 Mile Road.
    • Fun fact:  8 Mile Road has a TON of strip clubs on it. I drove on it at night, and only the streetlights on the South side light up.
  • Ferndale is supposedly the ‘hipster area’ of Detroit.  I walked around the area yesterday, and I like it.
    • Fun fact:  Ferndale was the first city in Michigan to have an openly gay Mayor.
  • Downtown (Eastern Market). $700-$900.  I had considered getting a studio apartment in the same building as Fiona.  The building had recently been purchased by a Canadian real estate company and was undergoing renovation.  I thought the place was really nice, but the commute was a bit long (22 minutes without traffic).  During rush hour, it would be 30-40 minutes.
  • Clawson.  This is the place I decided to live in.  It’s only a 5 minute drive to work, a 10 minute drive to Royal Oak, and is considered one of the nicer neighbourhoods in Metro Detroit.  At $750, I’m renting a ‘houselet’ – a 1 bedroom house.  It’s more akin to a 1 bedroom townhouse.  I don’t believe anything like this in Toronto exists.

In the end, I learned what I really was looking for in an apartment.  It doesn’t have to be large; I was OK with a 480sqft studio apartment.  However, I wanted wood floors because they are easy to clean and won’t flare up my allergies.  A nice bathtub was a MUST.  New kitchen appliances were optional.  I would prefer a 2nd floor apartment (I feel safer there?), but will compromise with a first floor.  I wanted my commute to be less than 20 mins.  I wanted all this for under $800/mo.

Electricity and Internet

So far, I’ve opened 2 utilities accounts: electricity and internet.  Electricity is handled by DTE energy, one of Detroit’s biggest employers.  Internet is handled by COMCAST, apparently one of the USA’s most evil corporations.  I didn’t have an SSN number, so I had to drive to midtown Detroit to the DTE office to open an account.  Along the way, I saw this:

The sign says:  Shay's candy shack.  Not sketch at all!
The sign says: Shay’s candy shack. Not sketch at all!


It was surprisingly easy to open an account at Comcast.  However, it seems like they are really big and don’t communicate much between divisions.  I opened an account and scheduled for someone to come install the cable.  I had a second person call me and ask if anyone was still living there, because there was still and account associated with the address.  They also said that I could install the cable myself by picking it up from one of their stores.  Just as I was about to go pick up the modem, a third person called and told me that it was required that I get the cable installed.  I’m thankful I listen to the last person, because the cable guy took about 90 minutes and a lot of swearing to get my internet up and running.

I’m that much closer to being an American.  Just kidding.  I’m going to permanently be a resident alien.

Detroit is pretty nice when you look at it from Windsor.
Detroit is pretty nice when you look at it from Windsor.

Detroit: Day 1/(possibly infinity)

First impressions

There aren’t as many streetlights as there are in Toronto.  Driving around in the dark, is well…dark.

Ever hear of a Michigan left?  Sometimes you cannot make a left hand turn, so they replace it with a legal U-turn followed by a right hand turn.  I guess it makes linear traffic flow better, at the cost of less space efficiency.  The GPS also has no idea what to call these roads, so it just refers to them as ‘road’.

Michigan left. It’s called a Michigan left because this seems to be the only place where it is implemented.

Mundane tasks

I arrived in Troy around 1PM today and immediately went to the doctors office to do a drug screen.  This place looks like it does mostly physiotherapy related activities.  On the form, there was a box specifically for drug screening, so I assume they do it quite often.  There were a lot of blue collar workers at the office, and a few people who I suspected really did do a lot of drugs.  I overheard a young guy say that he was there for the ‘hair test’, and that he worked for GM.

My drug screen only consisted of a urine sample.  I was surprised that they didn’t also do a hair test, because the GM young guy said that he was here for a ‘hair test’.  Is GM stricter on drugs?  Did he get busted?

I then proceeded to the Somerset Collection Mall to try and buy a phone.  It’s very nice, and extremely upscale.  Somewhat comparable to Yorkdale, except Yorkdale is much flashier.  They have conveyor belts to bring to between the different sections of the mall.

2014-10-02 15.43.46
This is a horrible picture of downtown Troy, taken from the Somerset mall bridge

This mall isn’t anywhere near as busy as Yorkdale, likely because: (i) it doesn’t have any low-end stores, (ii) it only sells clothing/accessories/furniture, (iii) it isn’t connected to a subway station which attracts hordes of bubbletea-craving preteen girls.

I had problems finding a cellphone here.  They had an Apple Store and Windows Store, but I just wanted a T-mobile/Verison/Sprint  They just had designer clothes, and fancy furniture.

I saw a few Asian couples there.  Heard some Korean, and some Mandarin . I’m not alone.

2014-10-02 15.46.50
This mall is as nice, as it is dead.

I hopped over to the Oakland mall, which the GPS predicts is 10 minutes away.  It took close to 30 minutes in rush hour traffic to get there.  Horray, city of driving.

I bought a Nexus 5 from a TMobile dealer.  They have a $50 unlimited everything plan with no contract, so I bought the phone and prepaid for 1 month of service.  Having a phone has made my life significantly easier.  Prior to that I was lurking around Starbucks to leach their free wifi.

I’m staying at an air BNB, by a woman who teaches kindergarten in downtown Detroit.  She says it really takes a special kind of person to teach that group.  I like her.  She’s really hospitable.

I misread an ad saying there is a Salsa night in Royal Oak.   Apparently, it’s Wednesday night at Woody’s diner.  There are actually quite a few salsa clubs in that area.  I drove around the area and got a feel for the place.  I like it much better than Troy.  It has sort of a Danforth/Uptown Waterloo feel.  It has a medium density of midrange shops, good number of bars and restaurants, and SIDEWALKS WITH STREET LIGHTING.  I’ve heard that all the yuppies are flocking to the area.  Since I’m going to be a yuppie, I might just jump on the bandwagon and get a place there too.

It was raining, so no pictures 🙁

How to emigrate to the US (from Canada with an Engineering degree)

I gather from the title, that this post will only be useful for a handful of people.  However, the people immediately surrounding me are mostly engineers, so instructions on how to get a job in the US might be useful.

Since Canada, the US and Mexico are under NAFTA, people with special skills can obtain TN (Trade NAFTA) visa to work in other countries.  Specifically, there is a list of degrees (which includes librarians) which will allow you to do this.  If you have that degree, and and offer of employment, you can walk up to the border and just apply.  Interestingly, if you were a licenced member of PEO (Professional Engineers of Ontario), but did not hold an engineering degree, you could apply for a TN visa.

UWaterloo has a large number of co-ops going to the US to work.  This is their list of items required to obtain a TN visa.  I’ve added some additional notes from the official TN NAFTA website as well.

Items required to apply for the TN-1 visa:

  1. You must have your degree (hard copy in your hand).   Read:  bring your diploma.
  2. Offer letter from your U.S.A employer listing the job title from the Approved Occupation List.  The letter is a letter from your prospective employer detailing items such as the professional capacity in which you will work in the United States, the purpose of your employment, the nature of the company, your length of stay, and your educational qualifications.
  3. Your Résumé.
  4. Completed application form and an I-94 card.
  5.  $50
  6. Proof of citizenship (passport)
  7. Your university transcripts.  My diploma just says “Bachelor of Applied Science”.  The boarder guard doesn’t know what this means, and would prefer “Bachelor of Applied Science in Materials Engineering”.  I emailed them my transcripts from my phone to clear things up.

I’ll be using this list myself, so this is probably going to be a working blog post.

Update:  2014/10/2

To get a offer letter from your USA employer, you may need to complete a drug screen.  Thus, prior to the drug screen you cannot get a TN visa.  I decided to go to a clinic close to work, and they say they take 24-48h to send the results to the employer.