Today we’re having Yen Lin from Malaysia, current student at MIT tell us about her experiences and recommendations regarding money matters when coming to the US!
My name is Yen Lin and it’s an honor to be invited to guest blog for peerTransfer. I am currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Materials Science and Engineering at MIT. I was born and raised in Malaysia, which is in… You guessed right, Asia! It is almost exactly halfway around the world, to the point that it did not matter whether I was flying east or west- travel time was going to exceed 36 hours either way. I arrived here in August 2012, and yes, this is my first time in America.
Taking into consideration the nature of peerTransfer’s trade, I find it appropriate to share with you my first experience with peerTransfer. Now don’t get me wrong; this is not blatant advertisement for peerTransfer. I’ve only needed to use peerTransfer once, and that was before coming to the US. Ever since then, I’ve opened a local bank account here from which I’ve been paying my fees. Pro-tip: Do not dismiss federal credit unions for bigger banks like Chase and Bank of America. While it is true that bigger banks have more branches and ATM machines strewn around the whole nation, federal credit unions can often offer better saving rates and customer service. I have an account with MIT Federal Credit Union and my experience with them has been very satisfactory. Your needs will be in probability be somewhat different from mine. Do your research.
Paying Your Bills Before You are There
After the initial celebration of getting into MIT, there were preparations to be made, packing to be done, and inevitably, bills to be paid. It was a first for both my parents and I, making international wire transfers. There were obvious concerns: What if the money does not make it to MIT? It was a big sum of money. What if too much was subtracted from the money resulting in insufficient funds? That would require me to make a second wire transfer. Wire transfer service charges can range from $10- $50 and dealing with banks can be notoriously troublesome (I’m sure the peerTransfer site can inform you better). With my first bill came a peerTransfer leaflet. I gave the peerTransfer site a look, and let’s be honest here: the site looked impeccable. I was tempted, but my parents did not have the same amount of trust in the internet as I did. Eventually, we decided to survey a few banks, after which my mother conceded to give peerTransfer a try; no option could beat peerTransfer’s offer. Plus, peerTransfer was founded by a MIT alum – it should be safe. 2 days exactly after sending the payment, my school billing site showed my status as paid, with a comment “peerTransfer”. Suffice to say, I was satisfied. Also, I did chat with a Jorge on peerTransfer Live Help about bank service charges before going ahead with the payment. Jorge, if you are reading this, you were very helpful. Thank you! *Never underestimate the power of good customer service*
Traveling with Money
Like I mentioned earlier, I opened a US bank account after arriving here. There was the tricky matter of transporting the money however. It was settled that I should bring about $10,000 with me to the US, and my parents would wire transfer some more money when I am running low. $10,000 was a huge sum, too big a sum to lose should any misfortune occur. After all, I had 3 transit stops and long waiting times in airports. I travelled with $7,000 in a traveller’s cheque and $3,000 in cash. In retrospect, $1,000 in cash would have sufficed and have been safer. It is also worth mentioning that you have to declare the value of currency you are carrying if its aggregate amount exceeds $10,000- just a minor hitch that can set you back about 20 minutes. Just watch out if your transit time is short. Make sure to allocate a minimum of 4 hours for transit time upon your first entry to U.S. (if your first border entry isn’t your final destination). There is strict border control and really long lines. Really.
I travelled with 2 checked-in luggage (23 kg each), a backpack and a duffel bag. As my connecting flights were all on the same airline (United), my checked-in luggage was forwarded to my final destination and was not a problem until I arrived at Boston. I had a person meet me at the airport who helped with the bags. If I had a chance to repack my bags, I would have brought less body products (saline solutions, shampoo, etc) and more of the things I cannot get here, like my favorite mechanical pencils and Malaysian snacks. American stationery shops make me sad with their lack of variety and high price points. Yes, Staples, I’m looking straight at you. Thank god for Amazon. Shipping costs are a little setback though.
I love Boston and Cambridge and the fact that it’s filled with (international) college students and young professionals. I’m still getting used to the cold winter we’re experiencing here, but with all the traveling I’ve been doing I had the chance to escape it every now and then. I spent Thanksgiving in Maryland with the family of a friend of mine and I learned how to fish – check out the huge fish I caught! I’ve also just been to New York City, a very exciting and vibrant city, and I’m looking forward to spending more time traveling throughout the U.S. and share more experiences with you soon!