Living in an extremely dynamic and interesting place such as the Bay Area comes at a cost that not many postdocs are able to comfortably afford. To put this into perspective, an average apartment in Berkeley can easily cost over $3,100/month (as of February 2022 from RentCafe). As a rule of thumb, more affordable places locate to the South or Southwest of the city (rather than the North, the East or downtown). You can learn more about Berkeley neighborhoods here. It’s also a good idea to check crime reports for the neighborhoods.
To get started, look for housing on:
- Craigslis, Zillow
- UCB mailing list for furniture for sale, housemates wanted, or room/apartment available. You can subscribe by going to this link here.
- If you’re affiliated with UCB, you can get access to Cal Rentals once you have a @berkeley.edu email address. If not, contact them to see if it is possible to get access as a LBNL postdoc.
- Realtor websites such as www.rent.com
- Facebook friends
- AirBnB may as well be a good idea for a temporary place while searching for a more definitive place to call home.
For ones who have a car, commuting for ~30 minutes to an hour between the lab and home (in Hayward, El Cerrito, Richmond, Oakland, Fremont or Dublin–Pleasanton area) seems to to be the norm to get access to more spacious and affordable places to live.
Tips: Do not send money without visiting the place first, you can get scammed even on seemingly reputable websites. A good option might be to do house-sharing before finding a more definitive single occupancy accommodation. Upon joining the lab, you can request an employment verification letter (provided by Human Resources) for use as one of the rental verification paperwork required by the landlords. This is especially helpful for international postdocs who have not built a credit score.
In general, a check, which is provided by your bank (free of charge only when you open a new checking account), is used to order your bank to pay a specific amount of money from your checking account to a given person whose name the check is issued. For check writing tips, you can visit this page. No social security number is required to open a checking and/or saving account with a debit card. However, it is required to get a credit card.
Having a credit card is totally optional, but oftentimes, it is helpful to secure a loan, buy a car, build a credit history and financial credibility. For tips on how credit cards work, how to choose one, how important a credit score is and how to manage credit cards, go here. Healthy credit is important. Some banks provide a free credit report with a standard FICO score once a year. FICO is the most common credit score used by lenders and creditors. You can also sign up for a free online account on Credit Karma to keep track of your credit history and score. Note that these scores should not be taken as definitely as Credit Karma uses a different scoring model so their scores may vary slightly from FICO scores. To learn more, go here.
Commuting to Berkeley Lab
- Free Lab shuttle that only runs during the week. Bikes accepted. Check shuttle status on TripShot app.
- Bicycling – helmet mandatory on campus
- AC Transit
- Personal car/scooter/motorcycle
- Razor scooter
- Uber pool or Lyft line or Lyft monthly pass
Applying for a Driver’s license at the State of California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Driver’s license can be also used as a photo ID and proof of being over 21.
- El Cerrito DMV is less crowded than Oakland Claremont.
- Make an appointment way in advance.
- Practice the written test at least once before you go take it at the DMV.
- Make sure you have someone above 25 years of age with a US-issued driver’s license accompanying you to your behind-the-wheel test. You also need proof of car insurance and registration.
- For rental cars, make sure you have the right paperwork → check your credit card for rental insurance benefits.
Renew your license
You can renew your driver license at the DMV. You need to bring an ID (passport), proof of legal residence (DS2019 for J1 Visa), proof of legal entry (I-94) and a proof of residence (bills or lease). Bring a copy and an original. They will probably take a new picture.
If you don’t receive anything in one month, you need to call the DMV legal presence office at Sacramento: (916) 657-7445 option 4. They are in general very busy. Try to call early in the morning (they open at 8am) and you can tape 1 when you get on the line so they will call you back. It happens a lot that your application get suck for any reason, even if you provide all your documents. If you need to fax documents, ask the person first name and write it down on the document so they can recognize it.
Tips: Renting cars are usually cheaper from a foreigner website (for the same company). If you book it from a European website, insurance is already included. You can also use a peer-to-peer car sharing service such as Getaround.
THINGs to do in the bay area
Pretty much all sort of activities from outdoors to indoors
- Rock climbing
- Breweries, wineries
- Museums – MoMA, California Academy of Sciences
- Music, concerts, festivals