Having recently been through the process, I've managed to come out the other-side with some some advice for anyone taking this on.
- To start out, the link for making appointments at the Australian Consulate is VisaPoint. I found it was remarkably well hidden.
- Upon entering the country, it's quite likely the immigration officer won't be that familiar with the E3 Visa. I'd recommend you watch them and very politely correct anything you think wrong, in my case my Visa was incorrectly entered as E3-Dependent along with my wife (proving that the system doesn't actually keep referential integrity between an E3 and an E3D holders).
- You can not get paid before receiving a social security number. You can not apply for a social security number within about 10 days of entering the country, as there is a lag between immigration and social security systems. Once you apply it will take a few weeks for the card, but you can probably go back to the office with sufficient ID within two days and receive a print-out of the number. You can call the office you filed with first and they can tell you if it's worth coming in to try it. In the absolute worst case, if things screw-up, you could be in for a long wait. Your company may be able to loan you money if things get desperate.
- If anything really stuffs up you'll have to enter the US immigration services, which is no fun. If this happens to you in the Bay Area go straight to the San Francisco office; the San Jose office doesn't have deferred inspections so you'll probably just have to go there anyway.
- Your dependent on the E3D Visa will need to fill out an I-765 work authorisation form. This will take up to 3 months to process; you can find out the approximate queue time here. The form doesn't appear to have been updated for E3D; I would strongly recommend getting a lawyer to file it for you so you don't stuff it up. Budget about $400. After this has been processed, the dependent will then need to file for a SSN before they can be paid.
- Tax is a black-art. In California expect to pay something like 20-25% federal, 10% state and up to 7% more for Medicare and social security. Expect another $80/month for health insurance.
- You can get a bank account without a SSN easily. A good way to transfer money is OzForex, but watch out for fees on the US side (you may have to do wire-transfers which cost about $10 a go, though some banks have bill-pay). The country still runs on cheques for some reason.
- You can rent without a SSN, but it will cost you. Budget for 2 months extra rent as deposits and paying ahead.
- A car lease is probably a good way to go. Finance will usually look at your visa and only give you a two-year loan, and with no credit that will be at a very high interest rate. In California you can get a 2 year lease on a base model new car (sticker price ~$17,000) drive-away for a down-payment of about $2500 and then $250/month plus taxes. Insurance will be about $120/month on-top of that. The beauty is you just give it back when you go home. For long holiday trips SUV rental may contribute to global warming, but is a very comfortable way to see the country.
- In California you'll need to book in for a driving test to get a license; you can't do this in a rental car but some local driving schools offer a short introduction course and then let you use their car for the test.
- If you're living in temporary accommodation without great facilities Dream Dinners is a good way to easily get some meals together.
- In the Bay Area, Yelp is an awesome resource.
- Comcast make Telstra look like a well-run, efficient and customer focused organisation!
Feel free to drop me a line if you're thinking of taking an opportunity and have any questions.