How To Survive California As An Immigrant

How To Survive California As An Immigrant

The Ultimate Guide for New Immigrants: Navigating Life in California

My move from Canada to Los Angeles, California was a new adventure for me, but I had little knowledge about what to expect. I wish I had someone to guide me on critical matters such as processing vital documents, shopping, and exploring the city's sights. That's why I've compiled a list of essential things to know when starting a new life in California. Let's go!

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What To Know Before Moving To California

If you're planning to move to California, there are a few things you should know to make your transition as smooth as possible. Here's a guide on how to adapt to life in California as an immigrant.

1. How to Get a Driver's License in California

In California, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is where you can apply for or renew your driver's license and register or renew your vehicle. Living without a car in California can be quite challenging, as the transportation system is not well-planned and efficient. While technically possible, it may not be the most practical choice.

Here’s A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Get a Driver's License in California

To save time, always book appointments online. Keep in mind that the office can get quite busy, so plan to spend the entire day there. If you're looking to obtain a driver's license in California, this guide is for you! Here are the steps:

  • First, obtain your instruction permit.
  • Complete the online form for a California driver's license or ID card application.
  • Print the online form. Remember not to sign the form until you visit a DMV field office and are assisted by a DMV employee.

  • Second, visit a DMV office and schedule an appointment
  • Bring your identification card or proof of identity and residency
  • Pay the application fee
  • Pass the vision exam, take a photo, and get your thumbprint taken

  • Third, Familiarize yourself with the California Driver Handbook
  • When you’re ready schedule an appointment for your driving examination online.
  • Take the California written/online test at the office.

  • Fourth, when you're ready Schedule your Behind-the-Wheel drive test online
  • Remember to bring valid proof of insurance and vehicle registration on exam day.
  • The examiner will accompany you in the car for 20-30 minutes.

  • After passing the driving test, you will receive a temporary driver's license that is valid for 60 days.
  • You can expect to receive your official driver's license in the mail within three to four weeks.
  • For more information: California Driver's Handbook

Once you complete this process, everything else can be accomplished at the DMV Online Portal, including renewing your driver's license, updating your address, renewing your vehicle license, and more.

2. Navigating Traffic in California

If you're planning on relocating to California, it's important to be prepared for the traffic situation in the state. Heavy traffic can be expected in downtown areas of Los Angeles and on weekends. To avoid delays, plan ahead and allow extra time for your travels. If you're traveling with others, consider carpooling and take advantage of carpool lanes. Always stay alert on the road, especially during peak traffic hours, and be patient while commuting.

3. How and Where to Apply for US Passport for the First Time

To apply for your first US passport, you'll need to visit the nearest USPS office. Remember to schedule an appointment online to make the process smoother. While the process is generally quick, it's crucial to have a professional photo taken and printed correctly. Avoid taking a photo at a printing kiosk or the passport office as the quality may not be up to standard. For the right photo size and quality, Walmart is an excellent option to consider.

Five easy steps to get your US passport for the First Time:

  • Fill out Form DS-11 found at, and print it, but do not sign it yet.
  • Gather all required documents including your naturalization certificate, identification ID, 2x2 passport-size picture, and DS-11 form.
  • Schedule a passport appointment with USPS using the Retail Customer Appointment Scheduler to avoid waiting in line.
  • Sign the DS-11 form in front of the passport officer.
  • Pay the passport fees, which include a total amount of $165 for the application fee and processing fee, and an additional $60 for expedited service. Passport processing takes around 4-6 weeks.
  • Remember to sign your passport upon receiving it and make a photocopy for your records. For more information, visit 

4. Health and Dental Insurance Assistance

Living in California can come with a hefty price tag due to high taxes and a high cost of living. However, there are opportunities for government assistance such as Medi-Cal and WIC that can help alleviate some of the financial strain. If you're eligible, anyone can apply for government assistance, including Medi-Cal and WIC. There are income limits per household, but as a new immigrant in California, these two options might be worth considering – whether you're starting out with or without your family.

If you're moving to California, it's essential to have health and dental insurance coverage. Paying out of pocket can be costly, and taxes in California are high. Investing in insurance to cover your health and dental expenses is a smart move for long-term savings.

Starting out can be difficult, especially when it comes to obtaining insurance. Luckily, there are options available to help. Medi-Cal insurance supports families that require financial assistance. It offers health and dental insurance and provides free or low-cost coverage to California residents who qualify. If your income exceeds the Medi-Cal limit, you may be eligible to purchase health insurance through Covered California.

5. Assistance for Pregnant Women and Parents through WIC and CCRC

Moving to a new country can be a challenging experience, especially if you are pregnant or have young children and require nutritional assistance. Luckily, California provides support in the form of The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). This program is government-funded and offers nutritional aid to pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, as well as families with children up to the age of five. In addition, 
the CCRC assists with child support by offering free childcare services for your child.

  • Visit CCRC to apply for free childcare for your child and verify your eligibility.

6. Weather in California

California's climate is generally warm and sunny year-round, with occasional cloudy days during the cold months. The northern and eastern mountainous regions of the state experience four seasons.

  • Rainfall: A Rare Occurrence
It's not uncommon to go several months without any rain in California. However, it is possible for rain to fall during the period of November through March.

  • Mild Winter: Snows In The Mountains
It starts in December to March, with January being the coldest month. While it doesn't snow in California, the mountains are blanketed in snow, providing ideal opportunities for snow hikes and skiing.

  • Spring: Best Season for Mild Weather
From March through May, you can enjoy the perfect weather – not too cold or hot.

  • Summer: Tourist Trends in the State
The summer dry season, which occurs between May and October, is the warmest time of year. The hottest months, July and August, are particularly popular with tourists. Also, watch out for heat waves.

  • Fall: Best Time to See Stunning Foliage
September through November is the perfect time to witness magnificent foliage in the mountains and take part in California's grape harvest season.

7. California Tax Rates: Sales Tax and Income Tax

If you're in Los Angeles, California, the sales tax rate is 9.5% which includes both the state, county, and city sales tax rates. Moreover, California boasts the highest state income tax rate, with a maximum of 13.3%.

8. High Cost of Living

Living expenses, particularly in major cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, can be quite high. However, there are still plenty of places to find affordable food and clothing and make ends meet.

9. Affordable Shopping Destinations for Clothes in California

Living in California can be expensive, but there are still plenty of places to find affordable clothing. Here are some excellent stores to check out:
  • Ross Dress for Less: With a broad range of clothing options at deeply discounted prices, Ross is an excellent choice. You can find name-brand clothing for a fraction of the cost at other retailers. T.J. Maxx is quite similar to Ross, offering discounted clothing from well-known brands.
  • Target: Target is a well-known retail chain that offers affordability with many of its products priced lower than competitors.
  • Walmart: For affordable clothing options, Walmart is also worth considering.
  • Thrift stores: Thrift stores provide secondhand clothing that can be a goldmine of affordable clothing options. You never know what treasures you might uncover, and the prices are unbeatable.

10. Affordable Grocery Shopping Options in California

Here are budget-friendly grocery stores in California:
  • Vallarta: This store chain specializes in offering products from Mexico and Latin America, including fresh produce, meat, and seafood, as well as Mexican and Latin American food items. They often have great deals on seasonal items like fresh tamales during the holidays.
  • Super King: This store chain focuses on offering products from different cultures and countries. They have a wide selection of fresh produce, meat, and seafood, as well as international food items, with generally lower prices than regular supermarkets.
  • Food for Less is a popular supermarket chain that is known for providing affordable prices for fresh produce household items to personal care products.
  • For Filipinos, there’s Seafood City where you’ll find Filipino-cooked foods, merchandise and more.

For other merchandise:
  • Consider checking out the 99 cents and Dollar Tree, where you can find a wide selection of household items, party supplies, and even snacks for just a dollar.
  • Daiso for kawaii merchandise like cute and affordable home decor items, there are also plenty of school stationaries that are perfect for students of all ages. I have a special fondness for this store, even from my time living in Singapore. Also, Japanese products are known for their durability.
  • Amazon is an online retailer which offers a vast selection of products at competitive prices. Check out our Amazon storefront for our favorite travel and hiking equipment recommendations.

11. Discovering California's Must-Try Foods

California has a diverse population, with many cultures and languages. Expect exceptional and diverse food culture, boasting various cuisines from around the globe. If you're a foodie you’re going to love the Golden State, check out some of these must-try dishes:

  • In-N-Out Burger: A popular iconic burger joint that's a favorite amongst locals and tourists alike. Don't miss the chance to taste what everyone is raving about!
  • Authentic Mexican Food: California is known for its authentic Mexican cuisine, particularly street tacos, which are widely regarded as the best in the United States.
  • Avocado Dishes: Avocado can be found in almost every dish in California, from sandwiches to burgers.
  • Mai Tai Cocktail: Invented in California, the Mai Tai cocktail is a refreshing drink that's perfect for a warm summer day.
  • California Roll: The California Roll is a sushi roll that was invented in California. Try it in the place where it all began.
  • For Filipino food lovers, Seafood City is a must-visit. Here you'll find the world-renowned fast food chain, Jollibee, serving up their signature sweet spaghetti and spicy chicken dishes.

How To Survive California As An Immigrant

12. Exciting Activities and Festivities in California

California is known for its lively atmosphere and abundance of activities. Some of our favorite yearly events, include the Renaissance Faire, which transports you back in time with its live performances, food and drink, and unique vendors. Additionally, we recommend participating in a variety of fun runs such as the Bubble Run, Spartan, and Tough Mudder to get your blood pumping!

There's always something happening in California, no matter the month:
  • January: Ring in the new year with the Rose Bowl Parade and football game, a Southern California tradition.
  • April: Enjoy the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, a must-see event for music lovers held every April.
  • June: Celebrate the LGBTQ Pride at the LA Pride Festival and Parade, the largest event of its kind in the world.
  • July: Anime lovers won't want to miss the Anime Expo in Downtown Los Angeles. For smaller Anime Conventions: Check out the Pasadena Anime Convention 
  • July: San Diego Comic-Con is an event is the largest comics and pop culture convention in the US. 
  • September: Join surfers from around the world for California Surfing Day, the official celebration of the state's beloved sport.
  • October: Take advantage of the Pumpkin Patches and Fall Festivals.

13. The Best of Southern California

Now that you've settled in California, it's time to embark on an adventure and acquaint yourself with the Golden State. With so many places to visit, foods to sample, hiking trails to conquer, and exciting destinations to uncover, there's no shortage of activities to engage in, this list is specially made for those residing in Southern California.

Exciting Getaways near Los Angeles

For a quick escape from the city, consider Solvang and Big Bear – a great option not too far from LA. If you're up for a longer drive, venture out to South Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lake for an unforgettable experience. 

If you're in the mood for adventure and want to explore a new state, Arizona is a great option. Don't miss out on visiting the Grand Canyon National Park, where you'll see breathtaking rock formations in a variety of colors, ranging from red and orange to yellow and green. The colorful canyon walls are a sight to behold.

14. Exploring the Beaches of California

California is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. With its long coastline, there are plenty of options for beach lovers to choose from. Here are some of the best beaches you can enjoy in California:

  • Santa Monica Beach: located in Los Angeles, this beach is known for its iconic pier, lively atmosphere, and stunning sunsets.
  • Laguna Beach: situated in Orange County, this beach is famous for its crystal-clear waters, tide pools, and dramatic cliffs.
  • Coronado Beach: located in San Diego, this beach offers visitors a wide expanse of pristine sand, gentle waves, and stunning views of the Hotel Del Coronado.
  • Pfeiffer Beach: situated in Big Sur, this beach is known for its purple sand, rock formations, and stunning sunsets.
  • Manhattan Beach: located in Los Angeles County, this beach is popular among surfers for its consistent waves, and for its beach volleyball courts
  • La Jolla: located in San Diego, California, kayaking in La Jolla gives you a chance to explore the stunning marine life and rugged coastline that this place is famous for.
  • Zuma Beach: one of the most popular beaches in Southern California, located in Malibu. It is known for its long and wide stretch of sand, making it a perfect spot for sunbathing and beach sports.

No matter which beach you choose to visit in California, you can expect to be surrounded by natural beauty, clear waters, and a relaxed atmosphere, just try to avoid the weekend. So, pack your sunscreen and get ready to enjoy the sunny California beaches! Remember to use Coral Reef Sunscreen to protect yourself and the ocean.

15. Discover Your Paradise In California

If you're passionate about nature, you've struck gold! California is home to some of the most awe-inspiring national parks in the United States. Whether you're an avid hiker, camper, or rock climber, there's an adventure waiting for you. With a grand total of nine parks, California has the highest number of national parks in the country, each with its own unique charm and character. Here's a list of all the parks you can explore:
  • Channel Islands National Park is renowned for its stunning coastal scenery, diverse marine life, and abundant hiking trails.
  • Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the contiguous United States, boasting dramatic desert landscapes, soaring peaks, and colorful canyons.
  • Joshua Tree National Park is famous for its otherworldly rock formations and the Joshua trees.
  • Kings Canyon National Park is a hiker's paradise, featuring towering granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and pristine forests.
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the few places in the world where visitors can witness all four types of volcanoes.
  • Pinnacles National Park is known for its unique rock formations, challenging hiking trails, and diverse wildlife, including the endangered California condor.
  • Redwood National and State Parks are home to some of the tallest trees on earth, including the iconic coast redwoods.
  • Sequoia National Park is best known for its giant sequoia trees, including the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree on the planet by volume.

I hope this ultimate guide will help you transition and move to California more smoothly. Welcome to the Golden State - we're glad to have you here!

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