The first week in NorCal: Opening Up a Bank Account and exploring neighborhoods where we could potentially live in
On our first few days in the US, we were extremely busy with organizational stuff. As a matter of fact, from talking to friends and people on Instagram, I know that moving to another country seems to look very intriguing and admirable from the outside, at least through the tiny screen. And while I have to admit that it is fascinating, particularly if you move to your dream country, it always relies on so much work in the background that one seldom talks about. However, some things are actually crucial to be able to live and work in the new country. So, besides enjoying the Californian lifestyle and exploring our new hometown with its beaches around, there were many things to organize for us:
Social Security Number, Bank Accounts, Cell Phone Data plans, California driver’s license, an apartment, a car, among many other things. Basically, the whole life is to be set up once again.
When we arrived in the States, we were lucky enough to be provided with an agent that accompanied us and drove us around for two days. Although we were already a little bit experienced from our first move to Singapore, we were grateful to have her dealing with appointments and scheduling them in the correct order. That’s why she asked us to meet in Daly City (in the South of San Francisco) in the early morning of our second day in the States, as we were supposed to make an appointment for Application of the Social Security Number that is essential for working and basically existing in the US. Unfortunately, though, we couldn’t make an appointment yet, as we hadn’t been in the country for more than two weeks. A rule that apparently had just been implemented due to Covid.
Since we did need the Social Security Number to buy/finance a car, this topic had to be temporarily suspended, too. However, we still had our rental car at this point which was not only convenient but actually essential to be able to drive all the distances that were needed.
Opening Up a Bank Account
Luckily, we had our agent who would swiftly change plans and organize us instead of an appointment at a local bank that we could apply at for a bank account without the Social Security Number. But, unfortunately, according to her, this pretty much reduced our options to Bank of America and Bank of the West. And since Bank of America had a total shutdown on that day, we went to Bank of the West, where we spent the next two hours applying for a bank account.
Edit: With a few months down in the US, I have to say that I cannot recommend Bank of the West in the long term. While it was convenient that they would let us open up a bank account without Social Security Number, we have constantly been facing troubles and issues with our cards and accounts up until now and seriously considering moving to another bank already. While I don’t know if Bank of America would have been any better, I know that they certainly have more ATMs to withdraw money. It is a crucial advantage, especially in the beginning, when you are not as familiar with the city, its environment, the nearest bank outlets/ATMs, and generally the way of living and spending.
Exploring Neighborhoods in San Francisco
Afterward, the agent was nice enough to drive us through San Francisco and show us all neighborhoods she found we should consider moving to based on what we had told her earlier about our lifestyle and our requirements. This is again a very individual decision to make, but I am happy to share which neighborhood she showed us anyway:
Noe Valley – Cute little neighborhood, a few local coffee shops and restaurants centrally located around the anchor Street (24th).
Castro – a neighborhood similar to Berlin-Schöneberg, with lots of rainbow decoration everywhere, the lavish Castro Theatre, and the GLBT Historic Museum. There are also a few homey restaurants, barista coffee bars, and adult shops.
Mission Dolores – very hip little sister of Dolores district (that’s unfortunately known for its saturation of homeless people) with Valencia Street lots of vibrant restaurants, dive bars, and cute little boutiques and coffee shops as well as hip brands (Everlane, Taylor Stitch)
Cole Valley / Haight-Ashbury – Birthplace of the 1960s counterculture movement and up to this date very hip, lively, and diverse with vintage clothing boutiques, record shops, and book stores, lots of dive bars, and casual, eclectic restaurants.
Pacific Heights / Cow’s Hollow – Similar vibrant and hip neighborhoods, though more upscale and posh than Mission Dolores with impressive Victorian houses and sweeping views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Pacific Heights’s Filmore Street is a lively hub with high-end fashion boutiques and cafes, while Cow Hollow’s Union Street is full of chic fashion boutiques, pilates studios, and beauty salons. Virtually no homeless people.
Marina – Very scenic neighborhood north of Pacific Heights that is known for its upbeat bars and restaurants. A giant grassy park in the middle has running and bike paths and expansive views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz.
North Beach / South Beach – Two neighborhoods at the bay, separated through the Bay Bridge and the Ferry Building. While North Beach is more Italian influenced, with lots of authentic trattorias and coffee shops, South Beach is home to Oracle Park and many big brands’ headquarters (Mozilla Firefox) while remaining an urban feel.
SOMA – “South of Market Street”, the name already suggests the neighborhood’s proximity to the sketchy Market street and Tenderloin District right above. It is supposed to be upscale, trendy, and lively, but Covid has certainly left its marks, as the area was pretty much dead, with plenty of temporarily closed shops and restaurants and virtually no one on the streets. However, SOMA encompasses Mission Bay and South Beach, as well as the Design District, which I explain separately. Considering them all as one, it certainly has its perks as a neighborhood to live in, with close proximity to sports games and music festivals and warehouse-style restaurants and being pretty much sunny all year round it technically had all the perks we were looking in for a neighborhood to live in…
Mission Bay / Dogpatch / Design District – Very new and upcoming neighborhoods with more brand’s headquarters (Uber, Adobe) and an industrial feeling with lots of warehouses, ports, and sweeping Bay views plus the recently reopened Chase Center, home of the Golden State Warriors.
Potrero Hill – A family-friendly, more upscale neighborhood that is known to be always sunny as it is located on the hills. There are bars and restaurants around the anchor street (18th) though it’s less busy and vibrant than Pacific Heights.
If you are a little familiar with San Francisco, you are likely to realize that we basically only saw neighborhoods in the northeastern part of San Francisco. There was a reason for this, as those neighborhoods were supposed to be less foggy and therefore more sunny with the fog-level decreasing from North-West to South-East and from lower levels to hills e.g. the Marina (in the North, ground level) is foggier than Potrero Hill (in the South-East, on hills). And if you know me, you know I LOVE the sun and would always opt for a bright, friendly neighborhood rather than a foggy, depressing vibe.
Exploring Neighborhoods in Oakland / Alameda County
Since Daniel technically works in Alameda, we were also open to exploring Oakland and Alameda County as options to live in. Frankly, Oakland has not the best reputation, and we hadn’t heard of Alameda before at all. Still, we had a precious day in the area with our agent on hand and found a few places we could seriously see ourselves living in.
We first met in Temescal, an upcoming and vibrant neighborhood (despite being one of the oldest too) in Oakland known for its urban-suburban mix feel and a liberal community, with plenty of bars and barista coffee shops (hey there!). Our agent had arranged a visit to an actual apartment complex to give us an impression of floor sizes, value for money, and facilities that generally come with apartment complexes in the area. The Logan is very new, with a modern design and an impressive entrance hall with a 25,000 Sqfeet rooftop overlooking the bay and San Francisco. I particularly liked the vegetable farm on the roof, which is very sustainable and so Bay Area. Unfortunately, the very kind Community Manager told us that the apartment complex was booked out for at least another six months. What a shame, it did meet all our needs and beyond.
Lake Merrit & Adams Point, Oakland
After that, the agent drove us through Oakland and pointed at different neighborhoods she saw us potentially feeling comfortable at. While the environs around Lake Merrit seemed attractive, and I particularly liked Adams Point from what I could see, we pretty much decided that we didn’t feel the vibe with Oakland. That has nothing to do with Oakland and its bad reputation but was our personal gut feeling.
That’s why we had some spare time to drive to Piedmont (a small city surrounded by Oakland, with beautiful, massive mansions and beautiful tree-lined roads) and Montclair, where I once again was positively surprised by America’s coffee brewers (Highwire Coffee Roasters!!!)
All in all, you see that our first days in the US were not at all sunshine and beaches, but rather organizing essential things for our life here and exploring the area, which was surprisingly large and time-consuming. Nevertheless, it was fun and exciting to learn so much about San Francisco and the East Bay in 48 hours, and it did help us a lot with our decision on where to move… but here is a slight hint: It will be in San Francisco city, that’s for sure.
Until next time!