HOW I MADE THE MOVE TO LOS ANGELES
by Trina Hendry
My move to Los Angeles was 20 years in the making. I'm not kidding! But, as they say, timing is everything. This journey has taught me so many things - about life in general, about the challenges of moving to a new country, and most importantly, about myself.
To give meaning to all of these life lessons, let me first share how this crazy cool adventure began.
It was the winter of 2014 when the worst ice storm in decades hit Toronto. I was miserable because 1) I hate winter at the best of times; 2) my 14-year old dog, Lola, was suffering from debilitating arthritis and could barely walk due to the damp cold weather and slippery ice:; 3) the city was literally paralyzed, making it difficult to navigate and enjoy; and 4) I was in a job that made me unhappy. I always knew I wanted to live in Los Angeles, so I began putting a plan in place. By this time the following winter, Lola and I would be going for walks along the beach...or so I thought.
I began saving up as much money as I could, left the job, put my townhouse on the market...and 10 days after it sold, sadly Lola passed away. I was beyond heartbroken. She was my inspiration for making this move and finally following my dream, and now I questioned whether or not I could I do this without her. I truly didn't think I could and I contemplated taking a a trip to Thailand and Bali for a month instead so that I could heal my heart. But, the universe had other plans for me. I woke up one morning and realized that just because Lola wasn't physically with me, she, along with her brother Mika (who had crossed the rainbow bridge a few years back) would be with me every step of the way and that if there ever was a time to do this, it was now. Aside family, friends and amazing memories, I no longer had any ties to Toronto.
On January 13, 2015, I flew to LAX, picked up my rental car and found my way to the Airbnb I would call home for the next two months. I figured two months would be long enough to test the L.A. waters and figure out a plan for making this a more permanent move, if that's what I really wanted. For the next several weeks, I explored the city, sat on the beach to mend my broken heart, networked, and hatched a plan for the next phase of my life.
Moving to the U.S. can be a challenge. Canadians need an employment visa to stay for longer than six months, and visas are not as easy to come by as you might think. During those two months, I took information interviews with potential employers, met as many people as possible and did a ton of research about the types of visas available to Canadians. In the end, the path I chose was to enrol at UCLA Extension and return to the U.S. as a student in September. This would provide me with a student visa (F-1) followed by a year of Optional Practical Training (OPT)—which essentially means you are allowed to work for one year to gain U.S. work experience. So, I flew home in mid-March and began preparing for the next two years as a student in California. At the end of August, with visa paperwork in hand, I packed up my car and drove across the country along Route 66 to California, baby!
Following my OPT, I switched to another work visa and the rest, as they say, is history! Today, I live three miles from the ocean (my happy place, truly) with my senior rescue pup, Roxy Blue, and I spend my spare time exploring, and writing about, my favorite place on the planet...California. I'm truly living the California dream.
WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT LIFE
1) It’s never too late to follow your dreams.
2) If you put it out there, the universe will answer. I visualized my life in California and it happened. It wasn't smooth sailing along the way but it all worked out just as I had hoped.
3) If you want something bad enough, YOU will find a way to make it happen.
4) Life is a roller coaster. This experience wasn’t sunshine and palm trees the entire time. There were many bumps in the road, many tears and fears, many self-doubts. But I fought through it all.
5) Support comes from the most expected and unexpected places. I am so blessed to have an incredible family and network of friends who have supported me every step of the way.
6) Life does truly begin outside your comfort zone. It took me 20 years to muster up the courage to make this journey but I'm so happy I did because now I feel I'm living my best life.
7) Life should be lived without any regrets. There were moments where I was so frozen in fear that I almost backed out of this move. In talking me through it, a friend once asked me which would be worse--going for it and potentially failing or not going for it and always wondering what could have been? That answer was very clear for me. I didn't want to regret not giving it a try.
WHAT I LEARNED (AND CONFIRMED) ABOUT MYSELF
1) I have the power to shape my own destiny.
2) I am much stronger and more resilient than I ever gave myself credit for.
3) I am fearless (relatively, anyway), I am adventurous and I am a risk taker.
4) I am an independent, self-sufficient woman who can do anything she sets her mind too.
5) I am a problem-solver. And, trust me when I say, there were many problems to solve.
6) I gained a powerful confidence I never quite had before this journey.
7) I have found true happiness within myself.
WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT MOVING TO LOS ANGELES
1) It is not easy to start over in a new country or city. Period. It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.
2) Every element of your life revolves around your Social Security Number. I came to the U.S. as a student and students don’t get issued an SSN. So, imagine trying to rent an apartment, getting Wifi, gas and electricity set up, or opening up a bank account without one. I overcame these challenges by paying huge deposits, and using my passport wherever they would allow it as I.D.
3) The U.S. does not recognize Canadian credit. So, if you want to apply for a U.S. credit card, sign up for a mobile phone contract or lease a car, be prepared for this challenge. I got around all of this by applying for a secured credit card with a $300 limit, unlocking my Canadian mobile phone and signing up for a pay-as-you-go plan, and driving my car across the country so I wouldn’t have to worry about leasing a car for the time being. (Keep in mind that you can only have your car in the U.S. for a certain amount of time before you have to officially import it. And, in California, you can’t register for car insurance or California plates until your car has been imported. So, check with your insurance company before you drive it across the border.)
Within eight months of getting the credit card and paying off the balance each month, I had established some decent credit, which allowed me to get a regular credit card and a car lease, which I eventually needed because it turns out, I couldn't import my car because it didn't meet California emissions standards (something else for you to consider).
4) Los Angeles can be a lonely city and making friends takes time and effort. L.A. is a challenging place to meet people also because of its geography and traffic. People who live on the west side tend to have friends on the west side, and so forth. Lucky for me, there is a massive community of Canadians living here. Many of my friends back home introduced me to their friends living here—and that’s how it all began. Eventually, you establish friendships via the new friendships you’ve made, as well as through work, networking groups and dating. I was told that it takes about two years to really establish friendships in L.A. and this is very true.
5) Employer-sponsored visas are more difficult to obtain than ever before. Unless you are transferring to the U.S. with your current employer, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a work permit in the U.S. due to changes in immigration policies. The introduction of lotteries and stricter guidelines for visa applications makes employers very skeptical of going through the expense and very time-consuming process. I’m not saying it isn’t possible, but it has become much more challenging.
In my case, my employer wasn’t willing to sponsor a visa so when my OPT expired after a year, I had to look at other options. My advice—book a consultation with a reputable immigration lawyer and learn about all of the options available to you.
6) Your driver's license is tied to your visa. And, you have to take your driver's test all over again! You are technically supposed to apply for your California driver's licence with 10 days of arrival. I waited six months until I applied for mine, mainly because I was dreading having to do the written and driver test all over again. Your license expires when your visa expires, and can be renewed quite simply with each visa renewal.
7) You don't want to be in the U.S. without health insurance because the healthcare system is complicated and expensive. At UCLA, it was mandatory to buy into their student health insurance plan, and my employer offered different plans and different price points., so I was covered. Through this process, I learned the differences between HMO and PPO, co-pay and co-insurance, in-network and out-of-network, and more, Is your head spinning yet? Because mine sure does every time I think about it.
If you're planning to stay for a short while, an option to consider is a Canadian expat travel plan through a Canadian insurance company. And, if you take prescription medication, take note that many of the Canadian medications are not offered in the U.S. You will have to ask your doctor to recommend an equivalent or request multiple repeats and bring a large supply with you.
8) Instead of buying brand new, I chose to move all of my belongings from Toronto to L.A. It cost me about $3,000 to rent a pod and have it shipped to my door, but for me it was worth it. Having my things around me made the transition easier and I felt closer to home, as strange as that may seem.
Thanks for following my journey. If you found this post helpful and would like additional tips on how to make your California dream a reality, I’m now offering 30-minute consultations. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Note: I am not an immigration lawyer and can’t offer advice on legal matters. However, if you want general advice about making the move to, or living in, California, I’m your girl!