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The Student Immigrant Journey

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Your Smart Phone Is Your First Best Friend in the USA

By Sandhya Ramachandran

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'Get your head out of your phone!' - is something NOT recommended if you are new to the USA because all of the country's deals and services can be tapped in the palm of your hands. Here's 4 ways in which your phone will make your life so much easier, but first:

Phone Plans: A Short Confusing Story

You will be thrown off by how expensive your phone bill is. The explanation is the large area of America means more infrastructure, which reflects in prices. Most important thing to know here is the concept of Family Plans. These would work like your average 'post paid plan' in India and your amount significantly reduces when you have 5 or 6 people in your Plan. Many a friendship starts on the foundation of shared phone plans (and then services like Netflix).

In a lot of countries, the device is always separate from the phone plan, which is not the case here. Prepaid carriers exist but aren't advertised to the same extent. They are common only in certain pockets and although they are cheaper, nationwide coverage is not a given. Some brands that come to mind are Boost Mobile, Cricket and MetroPCS. They are the closest thing to the concept of prepaid that one has in countries like India. You don't ever handle a SIM card here, as compared to India where there's still phones with a dual SIM and you manually change things up!

Tom's Guide is the spot to understand this mind boggling concept. He's on top of it and you'll realize that reading up online tends to be more useful than customer service 99% of the time.

1. International Love 

This is a no brainer but you are going to need that phone to send ironic Snaps to friends in the homeland. While 4G LTE is pretty great, most service providers offer a not so economic deal when it comes to phone calls overseas. VOIP is the best bet. It will allow you to use Whatsapp, Skype, Viber, and Facetime (unless your fam is in the Middle East where it's banned). However, if the internet connection of the other party is weak, consider a Reliance phone, Skype credit (not the cheapest), CallingCards.com, Black Wireless or buy any calling card from your nearest grocery store. Difference isn't much, just a matter of cents. There's some scratching and dialing of a long code required but the credit lasts for a long time. Also, sending voice notes back & forth might be a good idea. It forces listening on both ends and you do away with the ritual of yelling HELLO 10 times!

2. Ride Share: Food & Transport

You know this because today some form of ride, if not Uber, share exists in all the major cities worldwide. In America, Lyft is the other big competitor.  Curb is another emerging service, purely for taxi services. Uber Eats, Postmates, Foodler, Seamless, Doordash, GrubHub, Eat24, are just some of the apps that make ordering food a breeze. You may think the service charge is a bit much at first but when you calculate the time it takes to head out, order, eat and come back home, it doesn't seem so bad. There usually is never a free delivery option with most things and the off chance that there is, the service tax will be steep so don't waste one hour opening tabs trying to do away with those charges. THAT SAID, NEVER PAY FOR FIRST TIME USAGE! All these services offer some discount for newcomers. Either get a friend who is an existing user to send you a code or hawk this site for deals. 

3. Swipe For Retail & Services

If you don’t spend hours on Google/Amazon comparing prices, the FOMO is real when it comes to deals. Walking into a store and physically buying something is many times the least cost effective route. I once walked into a store and bought a straightener and to this day, it hurts. Most things have an app in the big cities. so let your first move be Google-ing 'is there an app for this?'. For instance if you want to move but don't have a drivers license and can't handle a UHaul rental vehicle, BuddyTruk, Lugg and GoShare are apps that will solve the problem. SlugBooks is a popular one to compare textbook prices. Barnes & Nobles is great for that first semester but pretty sure you'll prefer e-books or used ones soon. LetGo is an app to resell items, incase you are moving and need to get rid of stuff. Tbh, there's 14 other options. Jukely is like Netflix for music concerts, only available in LA though. And of course, Craigslist. For everything from selling and buying second stuff to looking for housing and jobs. You will be visiting this more than Facebook at some point.

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4. Apps-olutely Essential:

  • Yelp is the food app, to read about a restaurant before you head over. It's crazy how in the last few years I haven't ever just walked in to a spot and eaten something without reading a Yelp review, even if it's at the paying counter. 
  • Venmo is an app that you can connect to your bank account. To make small payments among acquaintances, just Venmo them instead of withdrawing cash from the ATM. Oh yes ATMs - those are not always easy to find but then there's a thing called 'cash back' in most convenience stores. This means you buy something in a store, pay with your card and then one of the options that show up on the card reading device is 'Cash Back?'. Enter amount and leave with the monies!
  • Groupon is the shit for deals in activities, events, hair services, fun classes here as well.
  • Classpass is to feel out the fitness vibes. For the flat price of $99, you get to try different workouts in different facilities every day. It's a good way of testing the waters before committing to a gym or fitness studio. 
  • GoldStar gives you great deals on concerts, events, movie screenings, food tastings, etc. Eventbrite serves the same purpose but includes seminars, and a wider range of activities.