Leaving blighty for the colonies


There have been a lot of goings on in Benjamin land. I got married, started a bio-informatics degree and found out that I'm moving to the States. My new wife landed a really good job in Washington D.C. and asked me to tag along, so of course I said yes.

Leaving London is a cliche blog, writing topic it seems. People go on about how London is really expensive, overcrowded and all the rest. For me it's somewhat different. Leaving the London Hackspace and St John Ambulance has left me disconnected from what is going on in this town. I figure a change is needed and this is a good opportunity for new adventure.

Moving to America is a tricky business and no mistake. My wife gets it a lot harder with mountains of paperwork. Her H1 Visa makes it work for her but she as basically allowed to stay in the USA only at the whim of her employer. As a spouse, I get to apply for an H-4 Visa and this is somewhat easier. There are a few online forms to fill in that culminate in a trip to the nearest embassy. For me, that is the large, fortress like building in London.

The trick is to get there early! The queue forms whilst it's still dark (though it was winter when I turned up). You need some paperwork, some photos (the specific US sized passport ones - get them from Liverpool Street Station!), passport and some supportive documents. The invitation letter you are sent is needed and it helps to have a copy of your spouse's visa printed out.

You stand outside in a queue getting cold but once you head through security, you sit down in a large waiting room with promotional materials. A top tip for technical types - don't bring a laptop! They won't let you take it in but they do have a deal with the nearby starbucks which will hold your laptop for you. I'd basically not bother.

The first counter you are called to does the basic checking. There are about 20+ counters and I didn't have to wait very long. They then send you to a second set of counters of which there are much fewer. It was at this point I thought I'd end up having to answer all the probing questions but actually there was very little to do. They took my passport and said it would be sent back to me in a couple of weeks. I paid a little extra online to have it sent in the post.

With the Visa I'm pretty much set but here's the problem - I'm not allowed to earn money except passively. This is a legacy of 1950s America I think. It is possible to upgrade one's visa so I can be employed too but this only occurs if your spouse on the H1 is "on the way" to getting a greencard. This is probably, the plan.

The wife and I have an underground hacking lair that I've spoken about in other posts. The problem in shipping it is twofold: dodgy items and electricals. The latter is fairly obvious. American plugs are different (and inferior to British ones!) and American voltage is 110v. That means a new soldering iron, a new desk lamp and a whole load of new plug adaptors.

The 'dodgy' bit is a bit more difficult. The wife makes jewellery which means precious metals and toxic chemicals. The latter just can't go on a plane and it also can't be shipped. The shipping is an interesting one. Shipping companies are fine but customs are less forgiving. If there is anything odd looking, the whole shipment gets taken apart and you are charged for the privilege. Not only that but things will get damaged.

Batteries have proven to be an issue as well. Lithium Ion batteries mut be under a certain size and must go on a plane as carry on luggage. Apparently, the classic, sealed, 12v lead acid battery can also be carried in your checked baggage. Things like tools and similar are fine to go in a sea shipment as they are fairly normal. Dodgy looking electronics are probably not the best thing to see.

From a technical and science point, America has a lot to offer. Silicon Valley is one thing, but NYC has a lot going for it. Washington D.C. has schmoocon, a small but fiesty hackspace and a branch of Toool. Also there is DEFCON, HOPE, PAX and Toorcamp - enough to keep me busy for a while.

The elephant in the room is politics. I've steered away from politics on my blog, largely because technical things are more fun and what people want to hear I think, but technology hasn't been apolitical for a while now, and while I don't like that, one can't bury one's head in the sand about such things. I suspect there will be more tales about the state of the USA as I see it, in the future.

There is a lot more afoot that I have planned for this site and projects going forward. Given the previous paragraph I will be diplomatic - we are living in interesting times :)