SF Air

Places to visit

In the following places to visit are provided… These are not all located in the Bay area, but I just provide the list of them sorted differently.

Museums

Technology

Other

Military

Art and Fine Arts

Places

San Francisco

SF Bay Area

Pacific Coast

North California

East California

LA & San Diego

Other references

Food

Food is the basic thing you need for your life. But be prepared, because your European taste could be shocked, if trying to eat in a wrong place. In fact in Europe you get good food almost everywhere. Continental food is better than British, French is better then German, but still, you can find what you want, and it is affordable. This rule does not hold for US in general. It does hold for California, as it seems to me, but you have to be patient.

Basically, there are exactly three ways, how you can get food: you can go out and eat in a restaurant, you can buy prepared food and eat it at home or, finally, you can buy some ingredients and prepare your food yourself.

Buying ingredients or prepared food

Places to buy food

General, you can go to these stores to buy food. Be prepared, that they are not very cheap, but you get things comparable to European food.

  • Whole Food Market (very eco ingredients, sells good prepared food too)
  • Trader’s Joe (eco-style ingredients)
  • Safeway (standard food market, make sure to get the Safeway card for free and receive good offers)
  • Milk Pail European Market (good for fresh fruits and vegetables and some European specialties)
  • Oat Meal Market (good for fresh fruits and vegetables and some European specialties)

Places NOT to buy food

This is the negative list, telling where you should not buy food. Either it is too expensive, strange quality or something very unusual to an European taste.

  • Walmart
  • Target

Going out and having food

I gathered my experiences in visiting restaurants and other places and am sharing it with you. Never go to McDonalds or to Burger King – it is disgusting in EU and even more digusting in US.

American / Other

Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes
A nice vegetarian all-you-can eat place.
625 Coleman Avenue
San Jose, CA-95110

Japanese

TGI Sushi
big delicios sushi and japan pop
100 W Hamilton Ave
Campbell, CA-95008
(408) 871-0123
TGI Sushi
big delicios sushi and japan pop
903 E Duane Ave
Sunnyvale, CA-94087
(408) 737-7183

Italian

La Pizzeria
good pizzas & pasta
373 E Campbell Ave
Campbell, CA-95008
Castro Street, Mountain View, near the Cal Train

Thai

Sabieng Thai Cuisine
1218 Mission Street
Santa Cruz, CA-95060

Schedule for J1-Visa visitors

The schedule gives you a general idea of the order in which you should proceed. So really urgent things are marked. (For more details on that documents see Legal section)

  • Your alien status / I-94 etc. (as soon as possible)
  • Checkout your your taxes W4/DE-4
  • Create a Bank Account
  • Apply for the SSN (10 days after arrival)
  • California Driver’s License (pretty urgent, as soon you get your SSN)

Forms, Numbers and other Legal Stuff

Bureacracy in US is not the same as in Europe, but it still exists. The biggest problem I faced was the difficulties to get the information about what you need. There are several problems in place:

  • you get a 200 pages book about the topic and have to find out that 190 pages does not apply to you, or only make sence if you are a permanent US resident.
  • you find out that the 200 pages book allows you to save one dollar a year
  • the information is provided primarily for US american (see SSN page for example)
  • the information provided is not sufficient
  • you do not know what is important and how things are running
  • assumptions from Europe does not hold

W4

Form W4 is the name of the federal tax form, used by the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to determine the correct ammount of tax withholding, to be deducted from emplyees wages. The US tax system allows you to pay taxes monthly, or annually. The money you payed possibly to much will be returned to you in the end of the tax period (calculation based on your martial and income status). On the other hand, you can adjust you tax payments to your status and end the year with almost no real calculation needed.

In Form W-4 you claim the allowance not to pay parts of the income tax. For each Form W-4 allowance taken, the amount of money withheld as Federal income tax is reduced. This, in turn, reduces any tax refund for which you may be eligible. It the game of money today, or money in the end of the year. When firstly arrived, the initial W-4 claim allowance is set up to 0, which means that you will usually (having only one job) pay too much taxes, and these will be returned in the end of the year. As soon as especially in the beginning of your rellocation period you need any cent you can earn it is worth to recalculation your W-4 according to your real status. For this purposes the so-calles IRS Witholding Calculator is available.

The reason for the quick review of the W-4 is the fact that it takes time until it is applied at payroll department of you company.

Social Security Number

The Social Security Number (SSN) is the most important number in the US. These numbers are primarily intended to identify participants in the federal government’s social security program, which provides retirement and disability benefits to workers and their families. Now these are used for identification and other administrative purposes. Mostly everyone who is willing to identify you, requests for the SSN. No European has one, so it is important to get one as soon as possible. Still, the request for the SSN is possible 10 days after the entry in to the country. Social Security Numbers are issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA). You will require certain documents for the application, depending on your Visa or Waiver status. You have to apply for the SSN in person. There are two SSA available in the South Bay Area:

Mountain View

Address: ( google map)

 700 East El Camino, Suite 350
 Mountain View
 CA 94040

Office Hours:

 Monday - Friday 9:00 am to 4:00 pm

Phone:

 (650) 961-5324

Redwood City

Address: google map

 601 Allerton Street, Second floor
 Redwood City
 CA 94063

Office hours:

 Monday - Friday 9 am to 4:00 pm

Phone:

 (650) 363-0665

Further Information

Personal Experience

I applied for the SSN in SSA office in Mountain View. With my J-1 visa I needed the DS-2019, your I-94 card (the white arrival/departure card stapled in your passport) and passport when I applied. Even if the office opens at 9:00 and you should be before nine there if you do not want to wait. Otherwise plan an hour for the application process. After the application it takes 14 days, until you get the card sent per mail. Consider this during the search of the appartment. Eventually, you will not be able to apply for California Driver’s License without an SSN.

California driver’s license

The laws

If you are a visitor in California over 18 and have a valid drivers license from your home state or country, you may drive in this state without getting a California drivers license as long as your home state license remains valid.

If you are an international student or scholar, and intend to drive, you must get a California drivers license (at least an interim license) within 10 days.

This seems to be difficult to perform, because you can not have your SSN after 10 days (You can apply for it only after 10 days in the country). Probably, you should apply for the license as soon as you have your SSN.

Application process

  • Visit a DMV office ( San Jose, Los Gatos, Santa Clara, Fremont or Redwood City).
  • Complete application DL-44 that will be given to you, while waiting
  • Provide your SSN
  • Verify your birthdate and legeal presence
  • Pass a vision test
  • Pay the application fee ( see here)
  • Give a thumb print
  • Have the picture taken
  • Pass a traffic laws and sign test
  • Schedule an appointment for the driving test
  • Pass the driving test

Visiting DMV office

I followed the instructions and scheduled an appointment over the Internet at San Jose DMV. I got an appointment in two weeks. Then I wen next morning to the DMV in Redwood City and have been served without any appointment. In fact the DL-44 has been given to mee and I was not quite ready with filling it out, as my number has been called.

You should have you passport, with a valid visa/I-94, your SSN and your home land driver license with you. Be also prepared to pay 28$ by debit card or cash. The vision exam is quite simple, you just have to read the letters behind the DMV staff member. After that you proceed to the other counter, where you give the thumb print and have your picture taken. After that you get a question sheet with 36 questions and a pencil to fill it out. You can choose the language in which you pass the written test (they have around 10 languages).

You should to be prepared at home for this part. The primary source of the information is of course the law, but there is a California Drivers Handbook. I read it in the evening before the test and it took me two hours. You should watch the DMV videos on Youtube, run some sample tests on the DMV website. There is also a Flash-based test on the DMV site, which gives you differnt questions if you run it several times. As far as I know you have three attempts to pass the exam and you pass if you have less then five errors from 36, which is not difficult.

After you pass your written test, you will be issued an interim drivers license, which allows you to drive a car with your home country drivers license. Now you can schedule the driving test (also done in DMV).

Driving test

In order to pass the driving test you will require a car insured on your name. The car should be full functional (regarding the lights, signal lights, braking lights), becuase the examinator will verify this before the exam. You should also know how to use the parking brake, the windscreen wisher, the defrozer and you low / high beam lights. The emegerncy signs (with the left arm out of the opened window) should also be understood. The driving test goes around half an hour. You should shopw two things: that you are controlling the veihcle well and that you drive safe. Especially the second part is tricky if you are experienced, because you drive safe, but do this without showing it to onyone. So try to remember everything you learned in your home country about safety. Looks overthe shoulder should be definitive, not just denoted. The stops on the stop signs should be for three seconds (and not a California stop-and-go, how my examiner told me :-) ). And of course you should drive according the traffic laws.

Differences in Laws

Here is a short list of things that I noticed to be differnt in CA then in Europe.

  • You are permitted to pass on the right on freeways in CA (which is forbidden in EU)
  • You are allowed to cross one double solid line if you turn into the street or go into the private entrance (Will be terrible feed in EU)
  • Parking on the hill has specialities regarding the direction, in which your wheels must show. With a curb, they should show towards the curb downhill and towards the street uphil. Without the curb – just straight, along the street. In any case, you must set the parking brake.
  • There are so-called Car Pool Lanes on the freeways, highways and some express roads. The car pool lanes are denoted by a white diamond, painted on the lane. Depending on the car pool lane (stated on the sign) you are allowed to drive it only in certain time (usually rush hours) if you are alone in the car. There should be at least one (sometimes two) other person in the car to be able to drive in the car pool lane in the designated time. In other time you can use the lane as usual.

References