Documentation:Science Co-op/USA - Berkeley, California

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Helpful Tips For Co-op Students Going to Berkeley, CA

Purpose: This document was created to help you prepare the necessary documents and funds
BEFORE your departure to Berkeley, CA. This information may help to prevent some difficulties with
paperwork and make it an easier transition for you.


Introduction

Berkeley Hills.jpg

I am currently working for the Expression Technology group at Bayer HealthCare in Berkeley, California. So far, I have completed just over 4 of my 12 months here and am thoroughly enjoying my time here. The Bay Area is an amazing place to live. Between Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco there are endless things to do on any given day. And if you somehow manage to get bored of that, the Marin county, Sierras, Yosemite, Redwoods, and heaps of other amazing places are a half day’s drive away. It is sunny nearly every day. People are as friendly as, if not more than, in Vancouver. Overall, if you have a chance to work down here, grab it.

Finances

Exchange Rate

The American dollar is generally very near to the Canadian dollar. Currently (11/14/12) $1 CAN = $0.9959 US.

Canadian Bank Account

Before I left Vancouver, I visited my local BMO branch to set a few things up that make remote banking more convenient.

  • I set my parents up with Power of Attorney and some other documents (ask someone at your local branch), which basically allows them to cash cheques for me and act on my behalf while I am away. I highly recommend doing this. It doesn’t take long and will save you a lot of phone calls to the bank.
  • I set up an American chequing account and got an American Mastercard through my Canadian bank. Doing this allows you to bypass a lot of extra fees associated with using credit cards internationally, as well as the fees charged to you for depositing international cheques.

American Bank Account

One of the first things that I did when I moved to Berkeley was to set up an American bank account. There are many banks to choose from here. I went with the Bank of America because they have lots of ATMs and branches all over the country. They also acknowledged me as a student, which allowed me to open my accounts free of charge. Make sure to bring several pieces of ID when you go to do it. You don’t need a set residential address when you set up the account. I had my first documents mailed to the hotel where I was staying.


I was not able to get a credit card through B of A because I do not have a credit history in the States. I think, though, that you can get a special type of credit card by laying down a refundable deposit with the bank.

Transferring Money Internationally

There are a few ways of doing this and none of them are ideal. You would think that transferring money internationally would be totally straightforward with online banking as popular as it is, but alas, it is not. I mailed about 20 signed but blank cheques for my American bank account to my parents in Vancouver. When I need money in my Canadian bank account (and later when I want to bring my money with me to Canada) I have her deposit one with a specified amount into either my American or Canadian chequing account. There is a small fee for depositing it into Canadian funds, whereas if you deposit into the American account there is no fee and the money is not vulnerable to unfavorable exchange rates.


Insurance

Make sure that you are fully covered for international medical expenses for the entire time you are here whether that is through a private plan, family plan, or AMS plan. If your private or family plan provides ample coverage for you, I would advise opting out of the AMS medical coverage plan as you will save yourself around $300. You can do that through the AMS website – it is relatively straight-forward. Bring a physical and digital copy of your plan with you.


Housing

I found a place to live on Craigslist. It was not all that easy – many people won’t reply to your messages – but as long as you are patient and have short-term accommodation set up for your arrival, no worries. Allow 1-2 weeks to find a place to live. Best to try to time it near the beginning of the month.


There aren’t really any sketchy areas in Berkeley, although some are nicer than others. The higher up in the hills or the closer you are to downtown Berkeley, the more expensive. Temescal and Oakland are cool places to live, too, but avoid West Oakland. If you can, try to get a place near one of the many grocery stores in Berkeley (Trader Joe’s, Berkeley Bowl (so good!), etc).


Rent is relatively expensive here because you pay for location and quality of life. Expect to pay between $600-$900per month on a decent room for yourself in a shared home.


Transit

The transit system in the Bay Area is pretty extensive. The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is the best way to get to and from SF and around the East Bay – it is the equivalent of the Vancouver skytrain system. My work gives me a commuter cheque that I use to put credit on a Clipper Card, which is basically a reloadable transit pass that you can use on the BART and the local bus systems. It is super convenient and you save a little money on fares with it.

Berkeley is very bike friendly, with lots of bike routes and bike racks. I don’t have a car here and rarely take the bus around Berkeley because biking is just so convenient (and fun). If you find a place to live in the Berkeley hills, you will either suffer on a daily basis biking home or will need to buy a vehicle.


Document Preparation

I am a dual citizen so am not familiar with the Visa process.

I would advise that you photocopy/scan any important documents before you leave. Leave a copy with your family, and a copy on your hard drive.

Bring your offer letter with you when you cross the border.


Additional Advice

Go to a Giants’ game. Surf in Pacifica. Eat from gourmet food trucks whenever you get the chance. Go to First Fridays art murmur street party in Oakland. Go to one of the many music festivals. Hike in Point Reyes. Explore Yosemite, Redwoods, and as many other National Parks as possible. Sail under the Golden Gate bridge. Go on a bar crawl in the Mission. Hike the Berkeley Hills to burn off steam. Drink local craft beer. Eat Mexican food. Eat Thai food. Eat Ethiopian food. Snowboard/ski the Sierras. Read Jack Kerouac and Jack London. Go to farmers’ markets. Learn to windsurf at the Berkeley marina (Cal Sailing Club). Drive along the coastal highway 1. The list goes on and on as the opportunities here really are endless. Imagine Vancouver, but bigger, older, more diverse, more eventful, and less rainy.


Good luck!