The first time I traveled to the United States was in January 2011 on a month long group tour. At the end of the tour, I stepped off the bus and onto the streets of New York City.
My plan had been to stay for one week, ticking off all the major bucket list items while trying to walk my way through every neighbourhood and borough. I found myself hanging out in the East Village, eating at local spots and sipping spirits in dive bars. Underneath all the fame and glam of New York, I found something that I really adored and identified with.
With less than 24 hours until my flight back home, I extended my trip by another month. It was a wild move and a huge risk, but I was totally in love.
Leaving Australia: Making My Move To The USA
Once I finally returned to Australia, I immediately started researching how I could get a work visa to the United States. I was obsessed! Getting a work visa there is not easy and I had to jump through a whole lot of hoops. But less than six months later, I was at the US Consulate in Sydney, jumping for joy, as they handed me my 1 year J1 Working Visa.
In September 2011, I flew into New York City with the goal of “making it” as an expat in this tough city. For me that meant getting the trifecta:
- A place to live near or around the East Village
- A job that would pay enough to cover my expenses (with enough to travel and save)
- Finding an amazing and inspiring group of friends
Expat Living: The Reality Of NYC Accommodations
Accommodation in New York City can be expensive, especially in Manhattan. For my first few days, I couch surfed in Chelsea, with a host from New Jersey who would actually become one of my good friends. However, I wanted to try and find a more permanent place to live as quickly as possible.
The cheapest and easiest option that I initially found was to sublet a furnished room. This way you don’t have to worry about going through the application process, signing a lease or buying furniture.
My very first sublet was actually sharing a studio with another girl in the Flat Iron district. That’s right…we shared one big room with a double bunk bed.
I stayed there for two months and then went on to to live in the West Village, Chelsea, East Village and Murray Hill neighbourhoods.
I used Craigslist, a well-known classified advertisement website, and always managed to find rooms for less than $1,000 USD per month (which was considered extremely cheap even in 2011!). The downside to the price however, was that the apartments weren’t the greatest and I always had crazy roommates or weird neighbours. When things got too bad, I would just leave and find a new place. I never accumulated more stuff than I had arrived with so I was ready to move at any minute.
Expat Working: The Job Search Begins In NYC
After securing my accommodation, my next big step was finding a job.
Luckily, I had already collected my social security number and gone through the process of choosing a bank and setting up an account. For job searching in a foreign country, I would recommend using recruitment firms. For all the job searching that I did in the U.S.A. (and now in Canada where I currently live); I had the most responses back through recruitment firms.
I took job searching very seriously and would dedicate 6 to 8 hours per day looking online for jobs. I applied to every single recruitment agency I could find and signed up for temporary work. In the end I was registered with at least eight recruiters; however it is tougher to find work when you are on a temporary visa like I was. Companies will often prefer to hire citizens or permanent residents over someone who has a working visa, and will eventually have to leave.
Working temporary assignments however, is a great way to earn cash while you are searching for work. Although the pay rate was much less than what I was used to in Australia, I accepted every temporary assignment that I was available for.
This included jobs for a few days to a few weeks usually as an executive assistant or receptionist for a finance company. I also spent two weeks doing cold call marketing; an assignment completing an office reorganization and one night working as a coat check attendant at a law firm Christmas party.
Eventually all my hard work paid off and I was offered a contract role at a Wall Street company. I was ecstatic! For me, it was such a great achievement to have secured a job in New York City.
I felt like I was really starting to “make it” here.
Expat Social: To Finding My Support System
Along the way, I had been making a big effort to meet people by going to networking functions, meet up groups and couch surfing events. I met a lot of incredible and inspiring people, many of who I am still friends with today.
My family had initially been sad about the fact that I moved to the U.S.A., however they supported my decision and were happy to see me following my dreams. I was extremely lucky to have my father, mother and two of my brothers all come over to visit me in August 2012, and was thrilled to show them my city and introduce them to my friends.
Up until that point, my year in New York City had been one of the best in my life. I had gained so much confidence in my ability to survive in a new city and new country. It was one of the hardest decisions I had to make to leave, but my visa was coming to an end and I felt like I had accomplished everything I set out to do there.
After all, I had achieved my trifecta!
After leaving New York City, I soon moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil which was altogether a much harder challenge and intense culture shock than I had anticipated. Over the next few years, I divided my time between Brazil, Australia and the United States of America; until I moved to Vancouver, Canada on a working holiday visa in October 2015; with my boyfriend Darrell, who is American.
Who knows where we will end up next?
The experience of being abroad is so unique and it allows you to develop your skills, expand your mind and make lifelong friendship connections. I have loved my time living abroad and would recommend it to anyone.
To keep up with Chantell and Darrell on their past and upcoming adventures, check out their website Adoration4Adventure, and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
For more expat inspiration, check out Daniela’s expat story From Romania to England: Having No Regrets As An Expat.
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Loving the series so far! Nice to “meet’ like minded people out there!!
Thanks so much Julie! Really appreciate it and your re-tweets! Enjoy them all! ?
I love the states and I understand that feeling! I did a placement on a J1 visa back in 2011 and I was so heartbroken when it expired, I was practically in mourning ha. Agree it’s such a great life experience to live in different places.
It must be so hard to pack up everything and try to make a life in such a big and bustling city! I guess you did an excellent job by setting clear goals and reaching them! well done!
I’m a New Yorker who is an expat (now). I think another post about finding work and how you were able to market yourself would be interesting for a lot expats more globally struggle with adjusting their skills for a new/possibly competitive job market. Interesting read. I definitely suggest adding that there are much more reasonable places to rent outside of Manhattan. 😉
That’s awesome. NYC is a beautiful city, I’d love to live there.
Great piece. I was living and “making it” as an expat in Indonesia last year. Standard of living is really low there so the money part was never an issue but living in a new country has its set of challenges.
Keep traveling and I look forward to read your expat stories.
I love that this article is more than a story, but also has lots of great advice thrown in. Its better than your average “expat advice” list and throws in a memorable and relatable story to help prepare you for expat living!
Thanks Lauren! Glad you enjoyed it. I love how real the piece is. Such a great first hand experience!
I love being an expat, it is so different in each country you live in! To be honest, for me the making friends and connecting with others in the same situation, but also locals and people who reside their permanently is the most exciting bit. I’m not even that much of a social butterfly, but the best thing about travelling in general in my opinion is meeting people from different cultures and countries. So good!!
Thanks Anne! Yes all expat experiences are definitely all about the connections. I have so many friends over the world, as does Chantell and it shows how amazing friendship really is.
Where are you now? Would love to follow you thru Brazil, as I’ve been meaning to go there myself.
A lovely story and a real one about working hard and toughing it out to achieve your dreams! Have a lot of respect for you lady for making it to where you wanted to be!
Chantell is definitely one that worked hard to get where she is! Glad you enjoyed reading her story Alice!
Since my first trip in NYC I wandered how difficult it must be to find a home or place for long stays. Both for the costs and for the variety of NYC people. Have you written something about your flat mate/neighbors experiences? This would be very interesting!
Hi Sabrina, I just saw your comment – I haven’t written about my ex-flat mates in NYC at this point but I have been told by quite a few people that I should write a book about it ha ha. There are some seriously crazy stories I could share, let me know if you are interested and we can chat further. You can message me through my website or facebook page which you can access through the links at the bottom of the article. Thanks for the comments 🙂
I would be interested in reading those stories too! You should definitely consider a bad roommates series haha
Glad you enjoyed it Sabrina! ?