Friday, June 3, 2011

Welcome to USA

Are you coming to USA to work? Welcome to the land of the liberty. Every country comes with its own, unique culture. There were things I learned in hard way and things people taught me before I got burnt. Your experience is not going to be same as mine, but you may find these tips useful.


  1. Keep your I-94 card safe and don't forget to return this on airport when you leave. This is your arrival and departure card.
  2. Always carry some form of identification, You never know when you may need it. You can get a temporary ID card from local Department of Motor and Vehicles. If this doesn't work for you for some reason, keeps a copy of your legal documents.
  3. SSN: This is an unique number given to you by government. So keep it safe and private. Applying SSN after couple of weeks of your arrival believes to be faster way of getting it. Speculated reason for this is, For SSN department, it may take couple of weeks to get your details from INS which is a department of the US government responsible for immigration.

Know thy land

I am a Tamil and from a small village in north central part of Tamil Nadu. When I moved from my village to big cities, there are several strange things. One of them is, how city people tell you directions. It will be some thing along these lines. go left, take right then go straight, take a “U” turn etc… . Where in my village, people would give you “directions”. I am sure most of them don't know what “Cardinal direction” means. But they use it every day.

  1. For directions people will use “Cardinal direction”. Often you will hear words like these, East, South, North, Mid West, South West.
  2. Its a very big country. Approximately three times bigger than India.
  3. There are several regions in this country,
    1. East coast, big cities like New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C. located in this coast. This is where Europeans first arrived and started settlements.
    2. West Coast, Cost of silicon valley. Cities like California, Seattle are located here. Generally pleasant weather than east coast.
    3. Midwest, known for its friendliness and cold winters. Chicago is one of the big cities in this region.
    4. South, generally means south east region. Big cities in these region, Florida, New Orleans.
  4. Distance is measured in miles here, Almost all the units are different here. See Units sections.
  5. Up usually means north. Down means south.
  6. Remember your zip code. This will be useful for lot of online shopping.


When I moved from my village to big cities in India, one of the miserable thing of city life was its strangeness. Unlike in villages, people are rarely friendly. I didn't know the name of the person who was sitting across few cubical from me for few years. First thing I noticed when I entered to US was its friendliness.

  1. People are mostly friendly and humorous.
  2. People don't care and wont judge if you grammar is poor or bad. They understand its not your first language. So don't be shy.
  3. If you are coming from a different country and you look lot different than local people, friendly smile wouldn't hurt. One strange thing with Indians though, they wouldn't smile at other Indians, I have heard many theories for this, but didn't quite understand any.
  4. Its very common to see people wishing “Have a good/nice day”, “Have a good one”, “Take it easy”.
  5. Thank you is big part of life here. They would say thank for any things others do for them, You can see this from shops, work place, movie theaters even government offices.
  6. People are very good forming queue. Indians, control the urge of line jumping.


Weather changes are noticeable here. If you don't pay attention to weather, there are good chances to get into some trouble. Tornados, thunder storm, hurricane, snow storms are big weather factors here. So start paying attention. It may seem complicated, but you will get used to it.


When British left India, Indians kept most of the British system. Americans changed lot of British system. One thing they didn't change is English units. Wiki quotes, US is the only industrialized nation which doesn't use metric system.

  1. Distance is measured in miles. 1 mile is 1.6 kilo meter. I round it to 1.5 times for sake of simplicity. So when people say 100 miles, its more than 150 kilo meters.
  2. Weather is measured in Fahrenheit not Celsius. Though its not accurate, I use this formula for quick and dirty conversion. 
    1. Fahrenheit = (2 x C) + 30
    2. Celsius = (F-30) / 2
  3. Weight is measure in pound, 1 lb is 0.45 kg. 2.2 lb is 1 kg
    1. kg = (lb/2) + (lb/2)/10  i.e. 100lb = 50 + 5 kg
    2. lb = (kg*2) + (kg*2)/10  i.e. 100kg = 200 + 20 lb
  4. Computer memory, MB is meg and GB is gig


America drives in “right” side of the road.

  1. Pedestrians get the highest priority. So always wait for them to clear the road.
  2. Rules are very simple and easy to follow. So take some effort to understand the rules. Take a look at this video series. Teaches you most of the thing about traffic rules in US. Though its of state of California, most of it is true for rest of the country.
  3. Many states allow residents to drive cars for some time with your foreign driving license. Check your DMV website to know law in your state.
  4. Many cities operate buses, you could get monthly passes for bus/train.


  1. For emergency, call 911. You will get help immediately.
  2. Incoming phone calls cost you money. Go figure.
  3. Tele communication is fairly expensive in US compare to India, where you could get 1 year of service for ~10 INR. Telecom is mostly dominated by four companies, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile. You could get prepaid phones also.
  4. I recommend getting Google Voice. It can help you save money in some ways.
  5. Remember this number 1-800-Bing. You can call this number to find out any business’s phone number. Just say they city and state and business name, it will give you phone numbers, directions etc…
  6. For International calling, you can try these services,
    1. Vonage
      1. You need high-speed internet connection.
      2. $25+ monthly charge. Its worth if you talk more than 2000 minutes per month.
      3. You can get a adapter that you can carry it anywhere or buy Vonage mobile for smart phones.
      4. Free call within US.
      5. - No SMS.
      6. - There are times, you may not get connected because high volume calls.
    2. Google Voice
      1. Free calls to US and Canada.
      2. Free SMS to US numbers.
      3. You can use with/without internet.
      4. 6 cents/minute to call India.
      5. Visual Voice Mail.
      6. - You need a US phone number to get a Google Voice number
    3. Skype
      1. You can get Skype Online number for free incoming calls. Kind of land line number.
      2. With out any subscription, ~10¢ to call India
      3. - You need internet connection.
    4. If you don't want to rely on internet, you may want to check out these plans,
      1. Reliance global call.
      2. You will find lot of cheap plans, but may face low call quality and hidden fees like connections fee, rounding fee etc…

Know your currency

  1. You wouldn't have any problem recognizing bills but coins are tricky.
  2. Generally they come in four shapes.
    1. Penny = 1 cent. Copper color is the unique identifier.  
    2. Nickel = 5 cents. Bigger than penny and dime.
    3. Dime = 10 cents. Smallest coin. Tricky to read.   
    4. Quarter = 25 cents. Mostly used coin in vending machines, washing machine etc…. Bigger than previously mentioned coins. In banks you can get roll of quarters for free.  
  3. 25 bucks means 25 dollars.
  4. Nearly all the businesses accept credit card but government offices don't. So don't need to carry large amount of cash with you.
  5. Men carry wallet and women carry purse.
  6. If you plan to stay here longer, you need credit score. This score decides your credibility. Banks and other financial institutions decide your loan, interest rate for car, house etc.. There are so many way to get this score up. Easiest ways are writing checks, paying bills on time and try to get a prepaid credit card.


  1. In many fast food restaurants, you have to go to the counter and place the order. When you do that they will ask you this, Is this order for here or to go? This means that you want to eat here or take the food and leave?
  2. Some pizza places may ask you this when you call them to place order, is this order Carry out or Delivery? This means that Are you going to come and pick this up or do you want them to deliver it?
  3. Tissue papers are called napkins.
  4. If you don't want ice in your drinks, say “no ice”. They don't understand “without ice
  5. If you are a vegetarian, you have to say “no meat” when you order.
  6. Please leave some tip. Most people work in restaurant are collage students. They could use some money.

Cooking and Food.

Its amazing how food is distributed and available in this century. Virtually you can get any thing in your Indian/regional store here.

  1. Remember it took you so many months to walk. So be patient if you are cooking for first time.
  2. Be adventures. US is a melting pot. This is big cosmopolitan country. You can get all kind food here. Try different cuisine. You never know what you like. I would recommend start with Mexican and Italian cuisine.
  3. Check out these cooking web sites.
    1. Show Me the Curry Very good site for beginners. Full of ~10 minutes videos. You can find lot of Indian recipe as well as few other cuisine recipes.Highly recommended.
    2. South Indian/Tamil cuisine
      5. தாளிக்கும் ஓசை 
      6. தூயாவின்ட சமையல் கட்டு

Strangeness I have noticed

  1. Bi-cycles are called bikes. Front breaks in left side and back breaks in right side.
  2. You insert keys into locks, ridge side facing upwards.
  3. Electric switches, move up to turn on and down to turn off.
  4. Water faucet, turn left for hot water and turn right for cold water.
  5. Electricity used in this country is 120 volt unlike 240 volt in rest of the world.
  6. Electric sockets take only flat pins not round pins.
  7. There are lot of English words spelled different here.
  8. So many different time zones in this country.
  9. In India, every state has its own language, here every state has its own law.


  1. American political party system
  2. National parks
  3. Library
  4. Domination of phone companies
  5. How to buy car?
  6. Entertainment

Some interesting blogs about USA

  1. அமேரிக்கா – I


Priya Srinivasan said...

Nice write up. But I feel you should change the format of your blog. It is very difficult to read (for me) :)

GR Marriage said...

Its a nice write up. It will be useful for the new comers. Keep adding..

GR Marriage said...

I liked it. It will be useful for the people coming in. Keep adding...

Unknown said...

Hi Senthil.. Good work.. Please resume this update..