For Visa Holders
Most supermarkets have “Member reward cards”. Stores and pharmacies do, too. They’re free. Get them for special discounts.
A Costco membership is useful for bulk item purchase. Click here for information about purchasing a Costco Membership. Items there are considerably cheaper than at the supermarket, but you must purchase in larger quantities. They sell household items and fresh food at excellent prices.
Cars and Driving
If you buy a car, you must get car insurance.
Generally speaking, if you are over 18 and do not become a resident of California, you may use your foreign driver license as long as it is valid in your home country. For authoritative information about foreign licenses, please refer to California Vehicle Code sections §12502 and §12505.
You may nevertheless wish to obtain a California driver license. One of its advantages is that it reduces the cost of car insurance. It also removes any question about the validity of your foreign license if you are stopped for a moving violation or are involved in an accident.
The State of California does not recognize an International Driving Permit as a valid drivers license. It is useful, however, in conjunction with your foreign driver license, if that license is not in English.
If you need to provide paperwork to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the DMV office located near the USC University Park campus is best, because they are familiar with foreign licenses. For the driving test itself, choose the DMV office nearest your home. Become familiar with the test route ahead of time.
No matter how good a driver you are, you might fail the driving test on your first try. Make sure you understand the evaluation criteria first. Useful videos are:
Consider getting AAA membership. It provides you with car breakdown support throughout the US. Information about AAA membership can be found here.
If you are planning to send your kids to public school, make sure you rent a home or an apartment in an area served by a good school.
Renting an Apartment
When renting an apartment, you will often be asked to provide a deposit, to ensure you return the place in good condition. This deposit must be returned to you within 21 days of when you leave, after the cost for repairs of damage you caused are deducted. Such costs must be documented. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development has a website with information about California tenants rights: https://www.hud.gov/states/california/renting/tenantrights. Many other websites discuss tenants’ rights.
The City of Santa Monica has fairly strict rent control laws that many apartments in the city fall under. If you rent an apartment in Santa Monica, check the information about rent control on this site: http://www.smgov.net/departments/rentcontrol. Among other things, it may list the maximum allowable rent for your apartment.
You may also register the condition of your apartment with the Santa Monica board when you move in. This may save you trouble when you move out, if there’s a dispute between you and your landlord about any damage they claim you have caused.
Apply for a social security number (SSN). You will need the social security number for payroll, to open a bank account and to avoid having to provide deposits for services, such as water and electricity. Internet service may be very difficult to get without a SSN. For more information, please visit the Social Security Administration website.
Other Things to Consider
Open a bank account and apply for a credit card. Many of the on-line merchants require a credit card with a billing address in the US.
If you’re planning to be in the US for a longer time, consider subscribing to Amazon Prime. It provides free shipping on many items and has other benefits. For more information, please visit the Amazon Prime Membership Benefits web page.
If you like the outdoors, consider buying an America the Beautiful Annual National Parks Pass.
Get an American SIM card for your cell phone. Check on-line for plans. There are family plans that will cover all phones owned by members of your family.