For new employees with no rental history in the US, finding a place to live can be challenging. Apartment complexes are willing to rent to people from abroad (without a rental or credit history) as long as you pay a month's rent as a deposit (refunded at the end of the lease, given that you have established a credit history during the lease period). Most graduate students and postdocs have no problem renting an apartment, and you can have it approved online before you arrive.
Bastrop: Many Science Park employees initially reside in Bastrop due to its close proximity to campus. Below are a few of the commonly used apartment complexes in Bastrop.
- The Lodge at Lost Pines (http://www.bastroptexasapartments.com/)
- Walnut Ridge Apartments (http://www.walnutridgeapartments.net/contact.html).
- Arbors of Bastrop http://www.arborsofbastrop.com/
Austin: A large proportion of Science Park students and staff live in Austin, the vibrant capital of Texas. Apartments can be more expensive than living in Bastrop, and you will have to commute to Smithville daily. Poll your lab mates for good and not-so-good areas before you sign a lease.
Apartments are usually unfurnished but have a fully functional kitchen. Most apartment complexes also have washing facilities on site that you can pay for with coins. You can order most of your furniture online and have it delivered and set up easily. There are lots of options for either new (e.g., Sears, Ashley, Amazon) or second-hand (e.g., ebay, Craigslist) furniture. If you need a van to transport large pieces of furniture, you can rent a van or small truck from UHaul. Be careful to not buy any furniture that is infested with bed bugs; they are common in Texas and most rental agreements state that you are financially responsible for extermination if you bring infested furniture into the complex.
Some graduate schools and universities can set up your social security number in advance, but MD Anderson currently does not offer this service. Once two weeks have passed since your arrival in the US, you will need to apply for a social security number at the social security office in Austin. Bring all your immigration documents and your contract with MD Anderson. You will need this number to get a driver's license, open a bank account, for your insurance benefits and many other things. This process may take over a month, although most people get it within a few weeks. You may find yourself with your first paycheck, but no bank account to deposit it into as you are still waiting for your social security number – so plan accordingly.
The Texas Department of transportation states that “an individual can legally drive with a valid, unexpired driver license from another state or country for up to 90 days after moving to Texas.” In the meantime, bring all your visa and immigration paperwork to the drivers license office. The Bastrop Driver License Office is located at 305 Eskew St. If you come from a country other than the US, Canada, France, South Korea or Germany, you must take the knowledge and driving tests to get a Texas driver's license. If you are a US citizen you can transfer your diving history, although this may take some time. A citizen from any other country loses all their driving history when applying for their Texas driver’s license. Also, your original license will be confiscated and your Texas driver’s license will be valid for only as long as your visa is valid, which may mean that you have to re-apply yearly. J1 visa holders need to obtain a social security number before applying for a Texas driver's license; however, J2 dependents can get a license without having a social security number. You can find more information at http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/driverlicense/movingtotexas.htm.
The health insurance plan offered by MD Anderson health insurance is excellent, and you have the option to select your coverage at orientation. However, the insurance will only kick in on the first day of the month following your appointment. You will therefore have to cover yourself and all of your dependents through a different insurance plan beforehand. Luckily most regular travel insurance policies can be purchased for up to 31 days. In addition to the health insurance MD Anderson offers, you will need emergency repatriation insurance to meet the requirements for J1 visa holders. There are several insurance providers available just for this purpose. SOS international is a preferred provider, but you can find many others online. Just make sure you buy an insurance that covers you to at least the limit required by your visa type. You have to select separate insurance plans for health care, dental and vision, with dental and vision being optional as your visa requirement. Make sure you check your personal requirements carefully.
You need enough money to accommodate yourself and all of your dependents for an entire month, before you get your first paycheck. The consensus is that a single person should need approximately $2,000. However, additional expenses may include your rental deposit (typically one month's rent), furniture, and car deposit. You may also have to rent a car initially. Remember that if you bring in more than $10,000 you will have to declare it at customs. Interestingly, you do not have to declare money in your foreign accounts but that you can access with a foreign bank or credit cards, only cash or checks you are bringing in.
Once you have a social security number and Texas driver's license, it is relatively easy to open a bank account. The easiest are surprisingly small local banks. First National Bank of Bastrop is popular. However ,being with a small bank has its drawbacks, as you do not get free withdrawal abroad, or even in a state other than Texas. Again, bring all your visa and immigration documents, contract and paycheck if you have it already. After you have a bank account you can set up direct deposit, meaning that your salary is paid directly into the account.
To start a credit history you need to get a credit card (CC). You can get a "secured" CC by putting money into an account and using that money as collateral -- you would use this CC for a few months, paying it in full every month to establish a good credit history. Make sure that this account is reported to all three credit bureaus. On the website creditcards.com, you can find some CCs that can be approved for those without credit history. Some companies have ties with banks that offer their graduate students special rates on credit cards for foreigners. However, MD Anderson does not have such a service as of yet. Be careful with opening credit cards. Best strategy: Always stay within 30% of your credit limit. Never close a credit card that does not cost you fees, just destroy it after paying off your balance. Closing a credit card negatively affects your credit score.