Thursday, February 28, 2008

Cost Of Living in Silicon Valley #3

Transportation, which out here means "going somewhere by car", is the next key thing to resolve. Even if you can find a place to live that is that 5 minutes easy bike ride from the office then you'll still need a car to do the weekly shopping, visit friends or even buy a newspaper and a pint of milk. The only exception might be if you live and work in San Francisco where you could manage quite well without one, but frankly that's about the only exception.

Good news: buying cars is much cheaper here than in Europe, and likely elsewhere in the world too. Bad news: insuring them isn't, especially as insurance companies treat new immigrants as though they've never caressed a steering wheel in their lives (what, you mean that's not normal? Huh ... who knew?) For even a modest family car, expect to spend up to $1,000 for six months initial fully-comprehensive cover, depending on your age and chosen location. Yes, you read that right. Sure, you can get it cheaper than that, especially if you are driving something older and you carry more of that risk yourself. However, be aware that anything related to car accidents can become very expensive, very fast, and that just for repairs. If lawyers & medical bills get involved then just run for the hills screaming because hell-on-earth is right on your heels. You've been warned!

Thanks to the wonders of WWW-goodness, you can buy a car over the Internet. We bought a pick-up truck that way, via Cars Direct, and the experience was utterly painless. Sure, you pay $500 in there somewhere to give them a margin but they, in turn, negotiate a good deal with, well, the dealer! (And even if you don't use them to actually do the deal, at least you have a benchmark price to take to Steven's Creek, or wherever else you go car shopping, you can use to start the haggling process.)

Prices? $15,000 to $20,000 will get you a perfectly respectable commute car or family runabout. But before you do the happy dance on that price, don't forget to add on all the other costs involved: purchase tax at 8.25%, CA registration fees ($300 to $400), delivery costs if new ($700) and even paperwork fees just for "drawing up" the standard forms they'll make you sign at length and in triplicate. If leasing is more your thing, figure on $300 to $400 per month before tax depending on the vehicle, mileage, lease term, your credit rating etc.

Oh yes, credit rating. Because you are clearly a perfidious foreigner, be prepared for the run-around until they can find some way to run a credit check. Waste no time: as soon as you leave the airport, get a credit card. If possible, do so before you take the bus to the rental lot. Trust me - cash is no longer king but rather a minor serf located in some out-of-the-way corner of the land where he's viewed with deep suspicion. (I was lucky: I moved here on an inter-company transfer and my employer was able to help with an introduction to a bank in order to get a checking account & credit card sorted. Priceless.)

Petrol is currently around $3.40 per (US) gallon, and believe me when I say you'll drive more miles doing next-to-nothing than you would believe possible. I don't do much more than commute, a 20 mile drive each way, yet still rack up close to 15,000 miles per annum.

So that's about it for cars, other than to say that if you are married then obviously just double everything above because both of you will need a way of getting around!

Lastly, we'll take a quick look at what sort of income you might expect in order to offset all those pesky expenses.

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