Lived and returned: how the pandemic prevented immigrants from Russia from settling in the USA
Elena is a professional journalist. She worked as a producer on the NTV channel, collaborated with the women's publications Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire. Her husband Dmitry is a screenwriter and writes for major TV channels and online platforms. And before the appearance of children, and after the couple dreamed of living in a mild climate. The choice fell on Los Angeles, and last year Elena and Dmitry with two daughters managed to leave and settle down in the States, says the author of the channel "Tutu.ru" on "Yandex.Zen".
Within a year they rented an apartment, found a job, put the children in a garden, bought a car. This August, the eldest daughter was supposed to go to elementary school, but the pandemic forced the family to postpone the conquest of the States indefinitely.
Next - from the first person.
We have to go to Los Angeles!
Some time ago we decided to move to the USA, to the mecca of cinema - Los Angeles.
It all started with conversations in the kitchen. My husband and I fantasized and dreamed how great it would be to live near the sea or ocean, where the climate is more pleasant, where the winter is not as slushy and gray as in Moscow, where it would be great for children to grow up and study. We started from the fact that after 30 years you can afford to live by the sea and give your children a foreign education. And even if we go back, they will already know one, and maybe two, foreign languages well.
At the beginning we looked at Europe. Spain is our favorite vacation spot and at the beginning we thought about moving to Barcelona. But after much thought, we realized that in the Spanish film and television industry, we are unlikely to be able to get a job offer. Firstly, there is no language, and secondly, working in Europe is, in principle, quite difficult.
"I figured we'd go to Los Angeles!" - once said my husband, and the city of Angels has become a cherished dream for us. We looked at streets on Google maps, watched movies set in LA, looked for houses and apartments for rent.
When we seriously started talking about moving, our youngest daughter was not even six months old, and the eldest was about two years old. Two years before we made up our minds, our friend and colleague (also a TV producer) moved alone with a three-year-old child to New York. In Moscow, we worked together on television, and before that she was organizing events. In Los Angeles, we also continued to work together: she was the event coordinator, and I was the coordinator of the exhibition in the immersive park.
She was for me an example of a strong woman who does not care about anything, who goes to her dream without seeing obstacles. We often consulted with her on various preparatory issues and decided to follow her path.
In addition to tourist visas, visas to the United States are different at different prices. For instance:
- Visa for business and tourist travel (B1 / B2)
- Student visas (F, M)
- Work visas (H, L, O, P, Q, R)
- Exchange Visa (J)
- Work visa to the USA for creative people
After talking with a visa lawyer (in America, a lot or almost everything is decided through lawyers), we realized that the fastest way is to make an O-1 work visa, intended for people of creative professions: cinema, television, artists, writers, poets, musicians, screenwriters and others. To obtain this visa, you need to collect a large package of documents. Among others - letters of recommendation from past jobs, with confirmation of work experience, positive characteristics as a specialist.
Such a visa can cost about $ 6000-10, depending on the cost of a lawyer.
We decided to perceive the preparatory work as a kind of our personal project and gradually went to the goal. It took us about a year to collect documents, letters and documentation (from 2018 to 2019) and cost about 700 rubles at the rate of 000.
- $ 6000 - lawyer services
- $ 1300 - expedited case review
- $ 750 - letters to the embassy
- $ 300 - visa fee for each family member
On the advice of our lawyer, we went to Madrid to obtain a visa and pass an interview. At that time, there was a high approval rate. It was necessary to fly with the children, as it was necessary to affix a visa in their passports. It is worth noting that the O-1 work visa was only in my passport. In the passport of the husband and children there were visas of a different type - "the husband of the O-1 visa holder" and "the child of the O-1 visa holder". For screenwriters like my husband, there are many more filing rules and necessary documents to prepare.
- $ 1000 - tickets to Madrid for four people
- $ 1300 - apartment rent
We were very nervous before the interview. I learned the answers to questions the consulate might ask and rehearsed with my husband to recreate the setting. Dima corrected: do not pull your hair, do not touch your face and so on.
There were problems with the registration at the American embassy. When we had already planned the trip, booked the hotel and bought tickets for the interview dates, a letter came that the interview was postponed for two weeks. We urgently wrote an answer that it was impossible, that everything was already planned, we could not change the dates, we ask you to return the old ones. They made a concession to us and postponed the recording a day earlier than planned, although we took this extra day to rest from the flight and to acclimatize with the children.
The interview was scheduled early in the morning. We arrived in Madrid late in the evening, and the next morning we had to be at the appointed place. It seemed impossible with children, but the girls helped us, turned out to be very collected.
In general, there are many advantages to traveling with children. At the consulate, for example, they put us on the waiting line faster, and there were only two people in front of me. After a few questions and my answers, I heard the coveted: "Your visa is approved."
The passports remained at the consulate for a week, and they had to be picked up at the post office, noted earlier in the application form that you fill out to register at the consulate.
Moving is a good way to get rid of unnecessary things.
Sooner or later, everyone is held hostage to things that have been accumulating for years in an apartment or in a country house. The closets are overflowing, you can't enter the pantry, but it's a pity to throw everything away. In the process of moving, we quickly dealt with the box syndrome.
We had 5 large suitcases and 2 children's suitcases with us. Everything. This is really all we took. We got together with the thought that all the necessary things were in the suitcase, and that we might need to buy in a new place.
As it turned out, all the things that we got rid of before moving were really unnecessary. The rule has been confirmed: if you do not put on a thing for a year, then you do not really need it. Some valuable things that they decided not to take (snowboard, skis, etc.) were sent to the warehouse.
We had the required amount for living in the USA at the rate of 5-10 thousand dollars per month. If you now thought that this is a lot, now I will tell you about the prices and cost of housing.
- $ 12-13 - minimum income per hour in Los Angeles (for companies with a staff of up to 25 people and from 25 people)
- $ 150 - a grocery basket per week for a family of four
- $ 50-150 - family trip to a cafe
How much does an apartment cost in Los Angeles
Americans measure apartments by bedroom: a one-bedroom apartment (in our version it is a good two-bedroom apartment), an apartment with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and so on. So, a small apartment on the outskirts of the district costs from $ 1300 - this is without utility bills and the Internet, which cost about $ 200-300 per month.
- $ 1300-4000 - monthly rent for an apartment in Los Angeles, depending on the number of bedrooms and area
- $ 150 - payment for water and electricity per month
- $ 40-150 - monthly gas fee depending on the season
Is it difficult to rent a house in Los Angeles
In an amicable way, you need to look for housing in advance, negotiate with landlords, show salary documents, fill out applications to be considered as prospective tenants (and in many places such a questionnaire will be paid). There is a long line for good apartments, and it is not a fact that you will be chosen, even if you have money in your account and a good high-paying job.
But, leaving for Madrid for a visa, we were not yet sure of a positive result, so we did not look for an apartment in advance. However, the flight to the United States was planned two weeks after Madrid, and after the approval of the visa, we began to look for apartments by acquaintances and in Russian-speaking groups. Found my husband in one day, sent a friendly American realtor there, and she gave us a video tour of the apartment. We quickly booked an apartment and transferred the prepayment, thinking that we would stay there for a month, and then on the spot we would find what we liked best.
There are large apartment complexes in Los Angeles, where the tenant has everything: a gym, a swimming pool, meeting rooms, places to work and various recreation areas, free coffee and all kinds of fairs and festivals on site. But at the same time, there are many rules: somewhere you cannot invite more than 7 people to visit, you cannot make noise after 23.00 and there are many different prohibitions. As a rule, prices in such complexes are much higher. So, for example, in the city of Glendale (which is also part of Los Angeles County) "one-room" can cost about $ 2500 per month. For comparison, a good two-bedroom home can be rented for $ 3000-4000.
As a result, we rented an apartment with two bedrooms for our large family, which in Russian terms is a three-room apartment with a kitchen and two bathrooms. The rent for the apartment was $ 2900 per month. At the same time, it was necessary to wash and dry things in the laundry; in our complex, residents were not allowed to put washing machines at home.
- $ 2900 - Renting a two-bedroom apartment without washing machine
- $ 90 - Internet per month
- $ 50 - mobile communication
We asked this question first of all. My husband is a screenwriter and he works remotely, plus he had a lot of tasks from his company in Los Angeles. For example, visiting the American Film Market and talking to producers from major American and foreign studios. I also had a remote job: I wrote for Russian women's websites. With this job, I went to the States.
In Los Angeles, after a month of searching, I managed to find a job as an exhibition coordinator in an immersive park. The job was interesting, and the unusual experience of managing and negotiating in English made it even more important for me and my professional experience.
The immersive park hosted not only its own exhibitions, but also concerts, corporate parties, meetings, and spiritual practices. I was fortunate enough to work for a full four months, until everyone around started talking about the coronavirus. Our park closed because it was primarily banned from public events. I still had deleted tasks, which I did in quarantine, which began in the United States in mid-March 2020.
Kindergarten in Los Angeles
Since we did not come to rest, but to live and work, we needed to find a kindergarten for our daughters. The minimum cost of the garden was $ 1000 per child without meals. We managed to find a garden near our apartment. First went the eldest daughter Maya, a month later the younger Vera joined her.
At first it was scary: worried about the child. This is stress - after all, no one speaks Russian, and the daughter needs to somehow explain herself, play with the children, ask to go to the toilet or explain that she is thirsty. About a month later, the eldest daughter could already say something simple - say hello, say goodbye, sing American songs, ask for water and more. They say that children adapt quickly, but all my friends and teachers in the American kindergarten advised to speak their native language at home, as children not only quickly learn English, but also quickly forget their native language.
Not having grandmothers around was a big problem. My husband and I worked and tried to organize our daily life, we had to look for a nanny. Through friends, we found wonderful Russian-speaking nannies, with whom we occasionally left our children. A Russian nanny cost us $ 20 an hour.
- $ 1000 - the minimum cost of a kindergarten for one child
- $ 20 - babysitting services per hour
Los Angeles is not a city for pedestrians
In Los Angeles, everything is at a distance to be covered by car. The first time we moved by taxi: Uber is very common in the city. But to go by taxi, you need to take child seats with you; without them, drivers often refuse to carry children.
Before moving, we sold our car in Moscow and set aside this money to buy a car in Los Angeles. A friend of ours recommended us a Russian-speaking manager at a local Toyota showroom who helped us complete the deal.
We leased a new car - this is an installment plan without interest. The initial payment was $ 3000, the subsequent monthly payment was $ 335, and the insurance was $ 100 per month.
- $ 40 - full tank of gas
Parking lots are paid almost everywhere, and fines for traffic violations are high. For example, a friend accidentally drove on a red, and she received a $ 500 fine.
Medicine and insurance
Medical services in the United States are tightly tied to insurance companies, so it is necessary to have insurance. The enrollment period runs for three and a half months a year - from October 15 to January 31. The rest of the time, you can buy an insurance plan only under certain circumstances.
Insurance is an expensive pleasure, ideally the employer should pay for it. If you buy yourself, you have to fork out: the plan for a family of 4 can exceed a thousand dollars. And that doesn't mean you don't have to pay to see a doctor. The insurance simply lowers the cost of treatment and protects against the huge bills the clinic can charge if serious treatment is needed.
In America, the services of insurance brokers are common, which help you choose the best plan. Ours helped reduce the cost of a family insurance plan from $ 1000 to $ 500 a month.
- $ 300 - monthly medical insurance for one
- $ 500-1000 - family health insurance
- $ 60 - visit to a therapist with insurance
- $ 150-300 - visit to a therapist without insurance
Dentistry is insured separately.
First news about coronavirus
For the first time, talk about coronavirus in Los Angeles began in February 2020. At the work email, we received messages from visitors asking them to clarify the situation, whether the concerts would be canceled, what the probability of getting sick at the event was, why we hadn't closed at all.
In mid-March, the mayor of the city introduced quarantine. This meant wearing masks in shops and public places, but no one was forced to stay at home. It was allowed to take walks, go hiking, visit the beaches. At first it was more like a resort state - every day we went to the ocean with the children. My mother also flew in, and instead of two weeks of rest, she spent more than two months in quarantine with us, because her return flight was canceled.
We panicked when acquaintances began to tell us that Americans buy boards and nails to nail down windows to avoid looting. I was more frightened by the line at the gun store: just an ordinary line, like in a grocery store, only for weapons - nothing unusual!
Americans panicked when the news began reporting the increased cases. A difficult epidemiological situation began in New York and a shortage of food in major American food chains. First of all, it was difficult to get toilet paper, then non-perishable food, disinfectants, water. There was a queue to the shops, in which you could spend about an hour. At first, the shelves really turned out to be empty, but this was due to the increased demand from buyers, and not a shortage. Later, all the products were returned to the shelves, and there were queues so that there were no crowds in the stores.
But we practically did not stand in lines. Firstly, there was a wonderful Mexican store not far from our house, which had fresh fruits and vegetables, cereals, chocolate, sweets, meat and more. It has never been crowded, it also remained during the pandemic.
Second, we went to the Russian grocery stores Odessa Grocery and New York Deli, which were located in the West Hollywood area. There was no queue, no panic, only the products that we are used to: buckwheat, pickles, gingerbread, dryers.
On the subject: Why do immigrants return home
Are we flying back ?!
After sitting in this mode for 3 months, we realized that in the States it is unlikely that something will open quickly. My work was closed until December at least, because in California they are more strict about the terms of quarantine than in the rest of America. Even now, when almost all the States have opened and, for example, cinemas have begun to operate, California is still under quarantine.
Our eldest daughter, who was supposed to go to elementary school in August, would not be able to do this now: all educational institutions in Los Angeles are still closed, and the authorities do not plan to reopen them anytime soon.
Initially, we planned to fly to Moscow for 2-3 weeks to spend the summer holidays here, but under the circumstances we realized that it would be more comfortable and calm for us and the children to wait out the quarantine in Moscow.
We had some savings left for several months, but nevertheless, we began to monitor export flights. Mostly they flew from New York, and we had little idea how to get to them at all. It was necessary to fly from Los Angeles to New York, and on the Internet every now and then creepy stories surfaced, of how people came to the airport and could not get on the plane.
Therefore, having seen the first and only outbound flight from Los Angeles, we quickly decided that we needed to get on it, and checked in with the State Services. They took all the essentials to Moscow, left some things in the States, in a friend's garage: several boxes of clothes, scooters, bicycles. Of course, due to the pandemic, we spent money, but returned home with money. We worked, so we managed to keep our savings.
Immediately after we left, a wave of protests erupted in California against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement. We realized that returning to Moscow was the right decision. At the moment we are waiting for the end of the epidemic, after which we will think in which direction to move on.
Do we miss America?
When you find yourself on the beach in Malibu or on the pier in Santa Monica, you think that you would give everything to watch it every day. But a person quickly gets used to everything and begins to pay attention to other things. It is true that now everyone is scolding Los Angeles - or rather, what this city has become recently. It's hard to get into Downtown without stepping on the tent of the homeless. There's a whole Skidrow area where most of the homeless in LA congregate. Once I drove down a street where the sidewalks were completely covered with a tent city, and there was mud all around. This is what I don’t miss.
But I miss the friends that we have made during our life in the USA, the sun that rises on schedule, the sociable people. I miss the condescending attitude of Americans towards children.
America today is not easy: the country is very hard on the pandemic. I hope that soon all this will end, and we will again have the opportunity to return to the luxurious beaches of the "golden" state.
Original column published on the blog. "Tutu.ru" on "Yandex.Zen"
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