Top 15 Things Every Indian Who Moves to USA Must Know10:46 PM
USA is huge and even if you take every weekend as vacation,
So much to look forward to, here I am at Pictured Rocks, Michigan waiting for the cruise.
An year back, I stepped my feet into the land of explorers - United States. It was the long flight I had taken from New Delhi, and I was as every Indian, a bit cautious on how the new country would be. I knew I was moving to a new place but the name sounded unfamiliar to the places I have had heard of, to the places I used to relate US with - California, New York, Seattle. But I was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Did I like it? Hell yes! I loved it. Who doesn't like a place famous for Cheese, Beer and Harley Davidson. I am rather happy that I was here, I really got to explore the American culture.
But in my stay of one year, I have learnt a lot. Many were guided by my well-wishers, many on my own. I would be moving to New Jersey in two weeks, but I love Wisconsin including its brutal weather. This post is for those who are coming to US for the first time, and planning to stay here, hopefully for long.
So here are my 15 tips for Indians coming to US:
1. Does the lifestyle radically change?
Yes and No. Depending on which part of India have you stayed prior, the difference could be minimal or huge. If you are coming from a metropolitan city in India, you may find difference in Driving(driving is easy here compared to when driving in the chaos in India), Dishwasher(we have our kaam wali bai / housemaids in India), Washing Machine with separate drier and washer, Oven for baking(In India we rarely had ovens) or even electric cooktops at some places, Eyebrow waxing, huge Malls on the outskirts(Thankfully India also has so many malls these days).
The lifestyle might change in terms of how you arrange time here. Usually offices do get over by 6-7 and we go on a walk in the park which we rarely used to in India. Then again, we are living in a smaller place like Milwaukee which is unlike New York. I prefer Milwaukee due to welcoming people here and due to lots of empty spaces - its a city with character.
When I came to Milwaukee for the first time, it came as a surprise, every body had time, everyone would greet, and everyone would talk.. just like that! We walk on the road, someone shares their story life, we say hi to the bus driver - say have a good day, we see owners of dogs and we play with dogs. It’s courteous at the same time very friendly place.
We generally say hi to everyone on road, which by the way never happens in India because we say to people we know. Then again, I guess, Its a Midwest culture, and I have heard it doesn’t happen in busier areas of US.
I remember when my mom first came in 1999, she was ecstatic by the huge malls US has, which we back then never used to. She used to say everything about US is big.
And believe me it is! It still is. From the Capsicum to the Oranges to the Malls to the Buildings. Everything is big.
But for the most part, India has some good and bad, and US has it too!
2. Is US transportation friendly?
No. That’s why majority of people who come here own cars. We do have local buses in the city which we often take in Milwaukee, we have got passes for MCTS bus in Milwaukee, however if we need to step out even 1.5 hours outside the city, we are stuck. The only option we have is to rent a car. Greyhound and Megabus do run between cities but usually between airports with barely any stoppage in between and we have taken quite a few of them. Milwaukee to Chicago was $7 on Greyhound and Milwaukee to Cincinnati was $17, LA to Vegas was $7 like that.
However it doesn’t feel completely safe - so its highly recommended to travel with someone along specially if you are traveling by Greyhound/Megabus at night. Some sectors are good, some are not. Milwaukee to Chicago was good because its a popular and short sector, Chicago to Cincinnati wasn’t so much.. Amtrak is the train which runs in US, but is expensive.
I wish it was more transportation friendly as Europe is, but its not.
Most often its better to buy flights or rent a car than go by train.
A good way to see the city is Bike, Milwaukee has bubblr bike which is bike rental. They have many stations. We have taken monthly pass of $15 and we do bike sometimes. Its a good way to enjoy the city and at the same time , be fit. Chicago has it too, I guess every city has bike rentals.
3. How are Flights and What's to do with Visas?
I have had a lot of ridiculous experience ever since I came here which I have had never faced in India prior. Aviation unless its Southwest, sucks. I have lost my luggage twice here on different airlines, and the authorities of each airline, are so non-helpful that finding it back take days of chasing. Forget luggage, the attitude of the airlines are mostly non cooperative - if your flights get cancelled or if they have less passengers, they can shift the times, the display may or may not show it! Its very chaotic up here. So much so that, I have now started following my own golden rules:
i) After having travelled by United, American, Frontier and Southwest. I would give a big thumbs up for Southwest. United is a fairly OK airline. American and Frontier sucks. I have had ice dripping on my seat mid air in American. Many airlines in US have paid seat and paid carry on as well as check ins. Southwest has check in baggage free(which in India was already but many airlines in US doesn’t have), they give flexibility to change your tickets date/time/place which is great, but Southwest, unless seats are paid for, has a concept called first come first serve. So the seats are not written on your tickets, so the earlier you arrive, the better seat you get.
ii) I do not carry check-ins. Even if I travel for 10 days, the last time my luggage got lost in connecting flights, I decided this is it. So I never carry check in here in US, because the probability of it getting lost is in god’s hands. I would write a post on which carry on bag to buy that suffice for both domestic and international carriers(yes their dimensions are different), how can you survive with just one carry on.
iii) If you an Indian, who still haven't gotten a green card, you are those few in US for which getting a visa to a different country may have their process center far, the process may take a lot of time because US citizens / green card holders do not need visa to most countries. So when I applied for my Swiss Schengen visa, it took 1.5 months. Yes, we get Schengen very easy in India - I have even gotten them in 5-7 days.
iv) Flights to Asian countries are expensive, flights to Europe is expensive compared to when flying from India. However, if you are in US, depending on which part, flight to New Zealand, South America, Canada, Alaska and Iceland is cheaper.
v) For those complaining about queues in immigration in India, we do have queues in US too!
4. Where to shop for Food Grocery
A lot of Indians take a membership of Costco. Costco sells food and other stuff - electronics, luggage etc in bulk and cheap. If you know of any friends, who already has a card of Costco you can go with them else I guess you’d have to pay an initial amount of $100 to be a member.
From our home, Costco is very far, so we shop at Pick and Save. Pick and Save is a general grocery store where prices are average. If you wish to buy organic food, they also have a section on Organic Food. However, if you wish to buy fresh and organic food, the best bet would be Fresh Thyme, their prices are very reasonable (even more reasonable than Pick and Save) and they sell farmers grown organic food (Blueberries for 88c, Cherries for 1.5$ etc)..instead of dropping by Whole Foods which is exceptionally expensive. I used to buy once upon a time at Whole Foods, but ever since I found Fresh Thyme, I rarely go there because the veggies and food section is very expensive at Whole Foods.
The Chicken / Fish / Flour at Whole Foods however is very good so we generally get Chicken and Buckwheat Flour from Whole Foods. It’s always good to buy organic milk and eggs in the store than regular milk and eggs. Chipotle / Panera / Qdoba are popular food joints which you'll find in many places in US where you can affordably eat. I would give Mc Donald a skip here, I really don't like Mc Donald American food.
5. Walmart is not always cheap
We have a notion in our head that walmart is cheap but its not so. If you compare departments, shopping by amazon online would be cheaper and if you take a membership of prime - they have a free one day delivery too on many products. Walmart is a good place to buy furniture online but food and groceries no. We used to go to walmart a lot, but now we buy a majority from Amazon. Dollar store is a good place to buy one dollar utensils however, those utensils are what you pay for, and you mustn’t aim for longevity with those. Some worked well like spoons , storage cans etc but our knife got real bad. I guess its a mixed bag, but you could always bump into one, and get many stuff. These are however some of my suggestions with grocery:
Brita: For purifying water
Lodge Cast Iron: Instead of buying enamel coated non-stick wear which could be harmful to your health, buy Lodge they go on the stove as well as the oven.
Cooling Rack: If you have electric stove, buy cooling rack for making chapatis
Baking Soda: For cleaning electric stove.
Mixer Blender and Food Processor : Now in India most of the mixer grinder that we get are made according to the food we blend - everything goes in and works fine. Here, we have a separate blender, separate chopper, separate this and that. After much research I found two mixies that will work one is Preethi on Amazon and another is Ninja. They both work well for making Indian Food. I still haven’t gotten one due to high cost ranges from $90 - $170 but my friend has.
6.Renting a car in US - is that affordable?
Yes and No. If you own a car, renting a car might prove to be very cheap($15-25-30) from priceline as your insurance would be already covered. However, if you do not own a car, like we still don’t have one, renting a car costs us $30 + insurance costing us $100 per day which is expensive. Its best to car pool it with your friends, and go along with it, so that you could save on the journey cost.
7.Which Hotels to Book or which places to go?
Please subscribe to all the airlines, and do check Groupon. Groupon US has amazing offers such as Iceland Trip ($699) including airfares or go to this place or that place at unbelievable cost. I haven’t taken any yet, but when you’d browse through Groupon you’d know what I mean. Not all hotels in US is listed on booking.com. Just do a google or trip advisor search, and call the motels individually. In case, if you are camping in a state park, you’d have to call the state park. It works like that. I haven't used Airbnb here. The rates for hostels and motels are similar so I'd go for motels in US. We used to think that cellphone network might be working everywhere but believe me, it does not work at many places in Upper Peninsula Michigan. Its best to have GPS.
Not all places is written about much on google, so you have to heavily search or follow some blogs to know. We may be traveling to Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes Michigan, which is sand dunes by the lake and is not much written about. So, I guess you may have to search a lot online to know.
Also, picnicking as a couple to a place on a rental car(if you don't own your car) unless if you are traveling in a group may cost you more than flying to a different country. So its better actually to fly to a different country than explore the local places unless its an exceptionally beautiful place or unless you have a group to share cost with.
8. Medical Differs from India / Is expensive
Unless you have a medical insurance, medical expenses are very high in US. A normal consultation could cost you anywhere between $200 - $250 that too with prior appointment. We have our medical insurance, so a lot is already covered , but we still pay a copay of $35 per visit. But getting appointment is not very easy in a popular hospital unless you want to show to a clinic, sometimes I get dates after many days / months in Aurora Healthcare. The doctors generally are very professional and wouldn’t chitter chatter like in India or would sympathize to know what is going on, making the interpersonal correspondence very different. The doctors generally prescribe medicines which are sent to your recommended pharmacy. You can pick up your medicines from pharmacy. I would advise all the people coming from India, to get their medicines from India with the prescription if they can for fever, vomiting and general ailment. The medicine like Primulet D(used for delaying periods) is easily available over the counter in India whereas here, you’d have to take an appointment with the doctor.
9. Is US Safe?
Yes and No. I would have loved, if it was at all times, but its not. There are certain pockets in US at every place which is safe, but there are certain many pockets in US that are not. For example, Greyhound Chicago located in downtown is safe but when you walk down from Greyhound to Chinatown its not safe. Plus, I had a prior image of US, that they are devoid of poverty which is not so. So when you are walking down, you would see beggars, or people talking up to you to ask for money, my only suggestion is in all senses do not entertain. Since in US, its permissible to have guns, its better to never get in an altercation.
Even when traveling by local bus, we have heard abuses not specifically marked to a specific person, but the driver wouldn’t do a thing about it, and sometimes that scares us. There are strict rules at many places, but there are many places, where these rules are broken. However, that has never stopped me going and walking out. But be careful at night specially on deserted stretches which can be quite common owing to less population in certain areas.
Before I came here, Milwaukee had a notorious image of crime online, so much so that before coming here, I had imagined gun rage / road rash. However, the media exaggerates everything. Milwaukee is a good place to live in, yes, there are sparse incidents which happen here and there, but its not so much that it would scare you. Till now, I haven’t had faced one incident, even though I have travelled a lot here.
That’s also one of the reason why people have cars. However, unlike India, how you dress, doesn’t make much of a difference. Here no body cares.
10. Be prepared for different weather than India.
India gets cold in hill stations but India never gets cold as -21 degrees in a city. Welcome to US, where depending on where you live you may have to face brutal heat or winter. Milwaukee gets exceptionally cold during winters with winds slapping on your face and snow on your feet. But its a different experience and I still love it. Stock up on vitamin D tablets because you wouldn’t be going out much - almost everyone does it here. Stock up on jackets during thanksgiving and stock up on winter garments and inners during sale times. Know how to drive in snow clad winters - i.e knowing how to remove ice on car window with a scraper or how to drive in winters!
Me, as a cheerleader volunteer for UPAF ride
Volunteering is an amazing way to explore a city. If you are an Indian housewife, who wishes to do something productive than sitting ideally on H4 dependent visa(that most of people who come with H1 visa hubby doesn’t have a choice until Green card is applied), volunteer. Volunteer with local tourism boards, volunteer for arts, volunteer with forests. Its really easy to get into these, and is very very productive. After about 10 months of living here and getting bored, I now love my engagement with Visit Milwaukee as a volunteer. You can too, anyone can. Its just a matter of applying as a non-profit volunteer.
12) Participate in Festivals:
I don’t know about rest of US, but Milwaukee has festivals almost every weekend during summers. I have heard even Texas or Chicago has those. Some of them are paid, some of them are free. We love to go in these and would highly recommend to people. The best way to know about these festivals is check local tourism board page, they usually list upcoming events in town.
13.Indian or Pakistani Food?
Going on by what I have tried in both Chicago and Milwaukee, the Pakistani food compared to Indian food is far far better mainly because the Indian restaurant in places where I have tried, doesn’t feel so authentically Indian to taste. For example, Anmol in Milwaukee serves the best Indian-Pakistani cuisine. However I did try Indian food in Cincinnati and it was very very good. Every place has Indian grocery store(there are so many Indians who live here!) so no need to get pressure cooker etc from India(we get Hawkins pressure cooker on amazon though its a bit expensive than India but you can get chakla belan / rolling pins from India or may be you get that too on Amazon) and no need to get masalas. All masalas are easily available in Indian store even Parle - G , mehandi etc.
You would also get Indian Veggies in Indian Store which are cheaper than the US grocery store. However, I still prefer US grocery stores because they look more fresh and are more locally grown.. But if you wish to Buy Wheat Flour , Basmati Rice, Masalas, you get it way cheaper in Indian Store and worth buying. US, does have great Blueberries and Oranges and Berries and Bananas and Pineapple, but the taste of Mangoes here is sour which I do not like.
Also, I love the local vegetables here because its easy to substitute them with our Indian Vegetables. So beans can be substituted with Asparagus(which is locally available and nutritiously rich, beans are also available but not every time and everywhere) , pumpkin with squash , zucchini for torai(Ridged Gourd ) and etc. Also, since there are so many grocery stores and so many products, its good to check the ingredients before you buy. If you eat more bread during mornings, make sure to buy one without high fructose corn syrup(A lot of American products do have HFCS) which is not good health wise.
14) BedSheets Expensive, Suitcases Cheap, Makeup average, Indian Clothing Available, Services Expensive
If you have got a worn and torn suitcase, believe me you get a variety of it, in US. They are with the latest innovation , lighter, and cheaper than how we get in India. So you would get Samsonites cheaper, you would get American Tourister Cheaper, you would get a lot of it cheaper. But not every Suitcase that you see cheap is worth buying - because a lot of them do break. So buy from a well-known brand. Electronics generally are cheaper and up to date. I found bedsheets in India way cheaper than US, but trust me you can’t always carry bedsheets from India because they are heavy, but it doesn’t hurt to sneak one or two. Silverware is expensive here - so you can get it from India if you wish to..
But really how much can you get in? The cost of living is expensive to how much you are paid. You can't just compare.
Services such as haircuts, tailoring etc.. are expensive. Its best to look out for Groupon coupon (with good reviews) for services. Molly maid which caters to home cleaning (if required) is around 85$ per hour which is expensive, dry cleaning around $7-10. I use vacuum cleaner to clean my home or wet wipes.
Many 1-2 dollar hair products are not that great, get shampoos starting from $5 and up. Clothes in general are inexpensive if you shop from H&M, Macys on clearance sales and Forever21.
A lot of us, get a lot of Indian clothes for occasions. We still rely on our relatives to get one or two for us from India on our special request. Recently, I was talking to my cousins who said its a pain to get even the basic Indian Pajama or Kurti as there ain’t many Indian stores and they are expensive. Believe me they are not. It may be that you are not looking at the right place. Check online for Indian Clothes - go for Tjori, Indian Roots, Etsy, Glameve and etc. So you really don’t have to go all the way to India to get one. Keep track of Indian Festivals in your city which usually has a fair that sells Indian clothes, or shops that are there in your city. Brands like Maybelline and Revlon, are way way cheaper in India than Here. But sporting equipments are at the same cost as in India and we have more variety here because many of them go for camping and biking and etc.
15) Renting an Apartment or Home?
This is a decision that we are still making. When my hubby came here, his project was just for 6 months, but most of the apartments or homes have a lease of at least a year. That made us , take an apartment ($1400) in the downtown walkable distance from his office. Now, the problem with these projects is they keep extending it for like 3 months 3 months and it goes on. Now we are here for a year. A couple of our friends who has a car, lives 20 minutes far from Milwaukee and has gotten a huge home with a garden for $1100 / 2 bhk on a lease of a year.
Before you rent an apartment, make sure its not very old or doesn't have bed beg problems. Take it in a good locality. Here in US, we have heard from several friends that bed bugs do happen. Since rooms are generally centrally air-conditioned make sure your mattresses and your bed remains clean at all times.
Milwaukee is still comparatively cheaper. We would be moving to Weehawken, New Jersey which is a boat away from New York in 15 days, and we have heard the studio apartment start from $2300 which for us, is looking like very expensive but the home component in our salaries would be changed too! I really wanted to have a big home with the garden but I guess I have already missed the boat unless I land again back in Midwest or a remote place that offers that.
Or unless we have a car or unless we are willing to drive everyday for work!
So, all in all, as I complete my stay. I would love to say, that India is no longer what once was because its a fast growing economy and US has got its own pros and cons. Although staying here definitely is a matter of choice because if I am to be asked, I would any day prefer Europe / Canada more. I have never stayed in Europe but have travelled quite often, and I love the look and feel of the countryside Europe has and the ease of traveling across. Then again, may be its me, because I love countryside more than cities.
US whereas, is a place which is more multicultural and more receptive to you (I haven't faced racism here which is awesome) and there are plenty of nice places to travel to. You would find it in ways similar to India but very different too..And that's why so many people settle here.
But to those Indians who behave like Firangis when they go back, and try to prove that this world is better in front of their own peer Indians, lets just be honest,
You may have missed the developing India to be able to compare!
When I came to US for first time, I missed the chaos India has compared to silence US gives. In the same way, someone returning/going India first time would miss silence more and hence we are different.
I love US, and I love India too, and I wouldn't complain. They both are doing good in separate ways.
Let's just say , they both have their own journeys.