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I’m doing my PhD in Europe but I’m researching my opportunities for doing a postdoc in the US. There is a reasonable amount of job postings in my field, so I hope I’d have a decent chance of obtaining one. My concern, however, is purely financial. I have a wife and two children and am wondering whether such an endeavor is realistic or if it would put us on the brink of economic collapse.

I am for this reason interested in the experiences of others who pursued postdoc positions by relocating with a family.

  • Despite the position being temporary, is it more common that partners find jobs, too? I imagine that because of hiring processes, it wouldn’t be strange if the partner started working mid-way through, at which point one may already know that another relocation is coming up in 1-2 years. For what it’s worth, my wife has a MSc in the same field as I’m in and there’s typically a large demand for people like us, so securing a job shouldn’t be too hard (barring the paperwork, which would probably be a major issue in itself).
  • How do people do this, like really? At times I feel this is insurmountable, because AFAIK the typical postdoc salary is not enough to support an entire family. Yet, I’m far from the first PhD student with a family.
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    In the US, it can be quite difficult for a spouse to find a job with an employer who is willing to sponsor the spouse for an employment-based visa, particularly if that employment is outside of academia where there is a yearly quota on the number of H-1B visas. I wouldn't discount the difficulty of this. – Brian Borchers Nov 5 '17 at 16:55
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    To expand on Brian Borchers comment: Under US immigration law, which hasn't been significantly updated since the 1960s, your spouse will not automatically have permission to work in the US. If they wish to work, they need separate permission, which may be hard to obtain. – Alexander Woo Nov 5 '17 at 17:04
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    I have seen grad students support a family on a grad student salary. They were from developing countries and used to a much lower standard of living, so they managed. Unless you're in an expensive city, raising a family on a postdoc salary is doable as long as you live reasonably economically. – Alexander Woo Nov 5 '17 at 17:07
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    It sounds like you're aware of this, but please keep in mind that cost of living varies enormously in different parts of the United States. It's certainly possible to support a family on a postdoc salary in Eugene, Oregon, for example (the beautiful town I live in); in Berkeley, CA, as a contrasting example the median apartment price is 4x higher (!). – Raghu Parthasarathy Nov 5 '17 at 17:39
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    @hejseb Refer to the official doc, it's more accurate and up-to-date. See this page, she'll need to fill a I-765, it costs $485 (cf. p. 15), and it takes (if I read correctly) 90 days. But day care for your kids will likely be your biggest problem anyway. – Clément Nov 6 '17 at 5:25
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I moved from France to the US to do a 1 year-post-doc in Computer Science, with my wife and our two children (3mo and 2yo at the time), so I guess my situation is very close to yours.

I was paid ~$50.000 / year, didn't pay taxes the first year (because of the tax treaty between France and the US), didn't have a car, and lived in a reasonably cheap community (cost of living index ~ 105, for instance, the rent was $800 / month for a very small flat, furnished and including internet, water, some other utilities. It didn't had a washing machine, for instance, so it was a bit rough with two children). We were not rich, but it was completely doable. It was a bit risky, but we managed to live entirely on my salary, something we couldn't have done in France, so I would think that our situation was rather correct.

Here's what we learned:

  • Don't expect your wife to bring an income. Day care is rare and costly (it really varies, but $500 / child / month seems to be a minimum for a "full day" care), and she probably won't have the right to work before a couple of months anyway. Getting a work permit while on a J2 requires to fill a I-765, pay ~$500, be patient (up to 3 months), and it comes with restrictions (you can't leave the country while your record is examined, if I remember correctly).
  • Moving is super expensive. Plane ticket + buying basic housewares + rent deposit, etc. is really costly, especially if the dollar is high when you move. The exchange rate can vary greatly, so that's difficult to assess. Of course, you'll be paid at the end of your first month of employment, so you'll have to have some provisions on top of that. Also, you won't be able to bring everything in three suitcase, so there will be some buying to do, and clothes, if the weather isn't the same as where you currently live.
  • People can be really supportive. We were moving as a family, and everyone, from the PI to my future colleagues (that I never met) to our landlords and even neighbours, brought something, gave us basic silverware, etc. You have to be lucky, but Americans often are willing to help, and have a couple of extra stuff that they'd be willing to share with you.
  • Check your health care. Your children might be sick due to the travel, the time change, etc. In fact, you should plan that they will be sick, and check how well you're covered before being employed / during the first month of employment. Our health care took a month to kick in, we had to pay for a basic care for our son, bim, $1.000 (yes, health is expensive here).
  • Papers everywhere. Be organized, a new start requires a lot of papers. Moving in an another country is pretty much starting from scratch: you'll have to open a bank account, get a Social Security Number, get a phone, subscribe to Internet, fill in tons of paperwork for the embassy, your new employer, etc. It is doable, but can be really complex (since your situation will be more complex that the average American), so you have to be super organized.

Of course, it makes more sense to start such an adventure for a 2 years (or more) post-doc.

But moving with kids (in young age) is fun: they'll grasp the new culture super easily, they'll make friends, they'll help you to make friends, they'll make people chatty, and they will break any sense of isolation you could have by moving to a foreign country.

Actual experience may vary: the USA is a vast country, and the salary range, as well as the cost of living, vary greatly. I'm not a super hero, but with the support of your family, you can make it. Tons of people did it in the past ;-)

  • Great post. This was exactly what I was after. I’ll leave it open a while longer to see if there are more stories like this out there. – hejseb Nov 6 '17 at 6:33
  • Thanks. I'm happy to discute further those questions, feel free to comment if you need more details. – Clément Nov 6 '17 at 6:50
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    One thing to check on: some universities offer day care. It is usually very high quality and has a wait list. Sometimes you can get a discount based on your income. We don't get a discount and pay $900 per child per month at a non-university day care now. Previously we paid $1200 per child. – Dawn Nov 6 '17 at 17:13
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    Try to negotiate a relocation allowance, that will reduce the burden of "moving is super expensive." (Universities do offer relocation allowances. Albeit, they might not advertise. Maybe ask HR.) – user2768 Nov 7 '17 at 9:07
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I've moved to Denmark (capital region) from Finland with family (one spouse, one child). A bit shorter distance and probably less of a cultural gap. I'm a postdoc.

Housing and everything else here is expensive, but we don't eat out or buy many things, so we are doing fine. Starting out would not have been possible without sufficient savings, since apartments typically require one to six months of rent as a deposit and pre-paid rent. Only I am earning money. Note that this depends heavily on the area to which you are locating, and on how careful your family is with spending their money.

My spouse is not currently employed, but she also does not have a high education. Your university is likely to offer some sort of help - around here the university offers some free courses for finding employment, for example.

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I moved from the UK to the US to do a 4-year-post-doc in Computer Science. After 2 years, I quitted. I just started a new job in industry a few months ago.

I was paid $80.000 at the first year, a bit more in the second year, but not too much. Roughly, I received $5000 month after tax (federal and state), and health insurance etc.

  • I chose the cheapest insurance option. It was practically useless for me, because its in-network clinics were all in a different state, where the main campus of the university is located.
  • I paid $2000 per month, excluded the bills, for an old one-bedroom flat, built in the 50s. There were risk of lead poisoning when staying in the flat. The agent asked me to sign an agreement that I would not sue them if this would occurred to me. One often can only rent a studio with this price (sky-rocket every year), but I wanted a flat since I had a kid at that time (2 now).
  • I paid $1800 per month for the daycare of my toddler. In the second year, my son got bigger, so I only paid $1500 per month now.
  • I spent the rest on food, car insurance, bills etc. We do not eat out. I bring food from home for lunch. We never go to cinema, never travel etc. We just maintain a basic life.
  • I don't know how much I saved per month (if at all), but my balance hasn't changed in 2 years.

I really loved my research. My postdoc advisor was kind and wonderful, driving me to find an apartment when I first came to the US, giving me advices about kid, daycare etc etc. My advisor were the most talented person I had chance to work with (ACM distinguished scientist); thank to their guidances, I was very productive, and published several good papers. I had 2 more years on my contract, but funding was never a problem in my old group, so I could stay as long as I wanted. However, I had to quit.

The reason was simple: I have a second child this year. The daycare cost for an infant starts from $2000. That meant I needed an addition $24000 after tax each year. Only a (boring) engineering job in industry can help me to cover this cost.

  • You history is definitely interesting. How old was your child when you moved ? You write "Only a (boring) engineering job in industry can help me to cover this cost": well, the cost of living in the US can really vary greatly. With $80.000 / year, there are parts of the US where you can support an entire family without too much trouble. – Clément Nov 6 '17 at 18:39
  • Very interesting to hear about your experience (although of course I’m sorry it didn’t work out in the end for you). Would you mind revealing what part of the US this was so I can get a sense for the cost of living compared to other places? – hejseb Nov 6 '17 at 19:13
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    @Clément My first child was 18 months when I moved to the US. I tried to have him potty trained as soon as possible, thanks to that the cost reduced a lot in the second year. hejseb: I'm in the Silicon Valley. – qsp Nov 6 '17 at 19:54
  • @hejseb Americans love cost of living comparators. I have no idea how accurate they are, but you can find tons of them. As an example – Clément Nov 6 '17 at 19:57
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    What's missing from your vignette is -- why were your children in day care? Was your spouse bringing in any money? Was your spouse going to school? // I think the take-home message of this post is, don't go to Silicon Valley where housing costs an arm and a leg. – aparente001 Nov 7 '17 at 5:15

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