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Imagine this. 

You’ve been dreaming about moving to New York for the last few years. Eventually the time is right, the money is saved, the visa is approved, the flight tickets are bought, you’re ready to go and then BOOM, a global pandemic happens. 

Well, that’s what happened to me. 

Covid-In-New-York-Deirdre

I was due to leave Dublin and fly to New York on the 15th of March. For weeks before that, I was saving as much as possible, with a target of $3,000. Saving turned out to be easy enough, once I made little sacrifices like less nights out with friends, less clothes shopping, less take-aways. Keeping my financial target always in the back of my mind, kept me on track. 

The week before leaving, America seemed to be doing fine. The Paddy’s day parade was still on (that was my indicator if things were OK). Then within the space of 4 days, everything changed. 

On the 12th of March, Trump banned all flights from Europe. Unfortunately for me, my flight was going through Lisbon. So the next day I bought a new ticket, this time going through London. Sorted, right? Wrong! Two days before my new flight, Trump banned all travel from the UK and Ireland from midnight of the 16th. My flight was getting me in at 8pm. I took it as a sign from the universe that I was meant to go. 

I was dead set on moving, even with the Coronavirus looming. I couldn’t really not go, to be honest. I had quit my job, moved out of my house, paid a lot of non-refundable Visa fees, put a deposit down on a new apartment, said goodbye to everyone… in my mind, there was no turning back. I was so hell bent on getting into America, that I never fully considered what kind of America I was moving into. 

Cut to two weeks later, I’m sitting in an empty apartment in Queens, staring at rejection emails and dwindling job alerts thinking, did I make a huge mistake? I had that thought a lot, for the first few weeks of living here. I was watching the unemployment rate soar at record speed. I was listening to the death toll number rise. I was hearing the ambulances outside transporting thousands of sick people to over-crowded hospitals. I couldn’t even get a social security number because all the offices closed the day after I arrived! Needless to say, I was scared. Homesick, anxious, losing hope and scared. 

But things slowly started to get better. After many calls and much pleading with the social security office in Queens, I managed to get my SS number. After many job applications, Indeed searches, resume-rewrites and virtual interviews, I got a job. Once I had that sense of financial security back, I started to relax and the move suddenly felt real. Up until then, I felt like I was living in a glass box, where I could see New York, but I couldn’t touch it. Now I feel like I can touch it a little, just with gloves and hand sanitizer at the ready. 

Pandemic or no pandemic, moving countries is tough. Now that I’m feeling more settled, I have to deal with the regular obstacles that those who move to the States for the first time experience.

Transferring money, for example, turned out to be a little trickier than expected. I had the option to do a wire transfer from my Irish account to my shiny new American account. This was cool because “wiring” the money made me feel like I was in a spy movie, but bad because wire transfers charge fees to both accounts (sending and receiving). I could have used an online transfer company, like XE or Moneygram, but again they would have charged fees. (If you go to finder.com you can compare companies to find the cheapest exchange rate or fastest transfer time). What I found to be the best option was using the Revolut app. Revolut offers fee-free currency exchanges and international transfers. I transferred my money into my Revolut account, changed it into dollars and then transferred it to my US account. No fees, no extra charges and it processed very quickly. 

I’ve also had to get used to the cost of living here. New York is expensive, that’s no surprise to anyone. A significant portion of my budget goes to rent, but that is nothing new to me. Rent in Dublin is quite expensive, especially if you want to live near the city centre. Public transport also costs about the same as Dublin, around 2.75 in both cities for one trip (the transport system in New York crushes Dublin though). Groceries are more expensive in New York. The first time I went to the supermarket I bought bread, ham, butter and cheese and it came to $18. Excuse me? In Ireland that would have been around €11.  

Which brings me to the next new thing I had to deal with, adding tax. In Ireland, tax is already added to the goods. Here, I am forced to do percentages in my head when I’m buying shampoo. I’m sorry but buying shampoo should be a maths-free experience. The tax system in America is confusing and I don’t have the patience to try and work it out so instead I just tell myself every time I buy a non-essential item, this will be a little bit more expensive than stated. 

As a twenty-something, another important factor for me to consider in my cost of living expenses is nightlife. Apparently, it’s expensive to go out in New York, but I wouldn’t know anything about that 😞. On the bright side, given all these lockdown restrictions that are in place, I’m definitely spending less and saving more. 

That’s one thing this experience has taught me; the importance of saving. The money I saved before leaving for America ended up being a huge help. It gave me a financial foundation to build upon while I looked for employment. Furthermore, this experience has made me (and the world) realize that the future is never 100% certain. We never know what kind of obstacles might lie ahead. In that way, it’s extremely important to save money so that if something happens that shakes our feelings of financial security, we are prepared for it. We have a safety net set up, ready to tide us over while we sort things out. 

In the meantime, the city that never sleeps is having a snooze, and I will patiently wait for the day that she is ready to wake up. What a great day that’s going to be!