Our second full year in Arizona was a bit less intense than the first one, but I still feel we had a lot to learn. Chris started off contracting and was upgraded to being a full time employee, so that was a big, positive change. Even though it was the same position in many aspects, it meant yet another occasion where larges amount of bureaucracy came into play: changing health insurance yet again, Chris having to update all his logins and so on. Learning various types of unfamiliar American bureaucracy seemed to be a theme of our second year.
There were many things that I feel are probably typically teenage and young adult experiences that we experienced for the first time in our 30s in the last year. This is in part due to moving country, but also in part due to Britain hiding more bureaucracy from its average citizen than the US. For instance, we both did taxes for the first time. When I left the US, I was a dependent on my parents’ taxes since I was still a student, so I had never paid my own taxes. Chris, like most people from Britain, had never had to pay his own taxes either. Only contractors and freelancers need to fill out tax forms in Britain in most cases. If you have a salaried, ongoing job, the company will take the tax, give it directly to the government and you will never see it.
Given our situation of working at home with me as a combination of a freelance translator and a contracted annotation specialist and Chris having gone from being a contractor to a permanent employee, we had a pretty complex first pass at US taxes. It was a success though and we broke even. We got some money back from the federal government, which was nearly exactly how much we owed the state of Arizona. 🙂
We also finally used our health insurance. We have by and large been healthy, so we haven’t been to the doctor much, but we did feel we ought to have a doctor, so we did both sign up with a general doctor and an eye doctor. Like much of Western Europe, the UK has a government run health care system. It is one of the most complete in the region, in that, as with the tax, most people in the UK never see a bill. You just go to the doctor and it’s done from a financial point of view. Nothing needs to happen after. It is 100% covered by the government without anyone having to deal with health insurance or bills. This meant that getting health bills was new and a bit scary. It was scary because we had no feel for how much we were going to owe, so it was always a big surprise when the bill arrived.
We also didn’t have a good feel of which type of insurance to pick. With all the plans we looked at for any of the three jobs Chris has had in Arizona, we were given three options: cheap but you pay a lot if something happens, in the middle, or the most expensive but you don’t pay as much if something happens. It was just a slightly odd choice to make for people who had never really had to think about it before, as it is really a question of how much do you want to bet against your own health. We are still genuinely unsure of what the right answer is for us.
More than that, this choice needs to be made yearly. I had not actually realized health insurance has to be re-chosen and renewed every year. This was a very foreign concept to both of us.
There was also the issue of finding out if your doctor was in-network. All the ones around us appeared to be. It is very likely a doctor wouldn’t be in your network? This is another difference. In the UK, as the whole thing is just one unified system, so you just pick a doctor near you who is accepting patients. It is just another little layer of complexity of the system that the UK system lacks.
One final big, bureaucratic thing was Chris getting a driver’s license. Of course, this is something most people do as teenagers. He has been licensed to drive for years and years in the UK, but he needed to take the US test to get a local license. It was much easier and shorter than he expected. I think the woman who gave it knew it was mainly a formality rather than needing to really check if he could drive. It was a big relief to finally have it though and it made us feel more settled in.
There is one final slightly bureaucratic thing we still aren’t very good at, but I don’t think we will get good at it, as I think it’s on its way out. This is writing checks. The UK has a lot more direct debit than the US, so we virtually never used them in the UK. We pretty much avoid it whenever possible here and are all for direct debit whenever possible. For the few events that require a check, we try to get someone else to write them since they are totally different in the UK, and either way, we are both badly out of practice. We mainly need to write checks as a deposit to sign up Chris’s parents to stay at one of our community’s sister properties. We always get the girl working at the desk to do it, so thanks to both Ashley and Ebony. You both have lovely handwriting and have saved us having to learn this dying skill. 🙂
Our year wasn’t just coping with bureaucracy though. We discovered a few new layers of convenience. We have been Amazon Prime members since we arrived in 2016, but this year, we discovered that Amazon Prime Now had launched in the Phoenix area. This was a game changer. The beginning of the year, in particular, spoiled us rotten as it started out at a $20 minimum for 2 hour delivery of a variety of types of goods ranging from a Kirk Barbie doll (no, we didn’t buy that) to a gallon of milk to a greeting card to pack of toilet paper. We would get things like fresh berries and tomatoes delivered frequently in the summer. Now it is $35 for free delivery, so we use it a bit less, but this is still an ace service. They even started delivering wine and steak in the second half of the year. The sirloin is actually pretty good and very reasonably priced.
We also somehow managed to miss Trader Joe’s in our first year. This is a wonderful shop that filled the M&S sized whole in our lives. Both are mid-priced grocery stores that mainly sell their own brand products. Many of these products are convenience related. M&S sells more fresh things and Trader Joe’s more frozen. At first, we thought this would be less good, but Trader Joe’s seem to have cracked how to make something frozen but amazing. We are such fans that we went from just having the freezer unit above our fridge to buying two mid-sized free standing freezers. I really wish Trader Joe’s delivered. It is the only inconvenient thing about them. They are the only thing we like that we have to go more than 2 miles to get to as Chandler does not have its own. There is one near the Phoenix/Chandler border and one in Tempe.
We had a few other changes. We ditched our Verizon phone contracts. When we traveled in 2015, the signal was genuinely quite impressive, but it barely works in many parts of Chandler now, so we decided to roll the dice and try something else. This was actually much easier than I expected. On a whim, we popped into the T-mobile store and walked out with a different phone contract within about 20 minutes. It turns out they are a bit cheaper and have a rolling monthly bill rather than a big contract locking you in for ages. The signal is a bit better, so all and all, it was a good choice.
We also traveled the least far this year that have since we met. I probably hadn’t traveled this little since I was about 14. We only went to San Francisco as Chris had a business trip there. It was, admittedly, nice to fly so little. I don’t have a fear of flying, but it is an expensive, uncomfortable and inconvenient business, so it was nice to mostly not do it for a year.
Our final big change was getting kittens. We had wanted to do this pretty much since we met, but we didn’t have the space. I am under the impression that the British tend to prefer to allow their cats to be outdoor, but we finally decided to go local on that front. Americans mostly keep their cats indoors, so we just got all the cat tech that, for instance, neutralizes the scent of cat poo and makes having indoor kitties perfectly fine. We are both so glad we didn’t wait any more. Our little kittens are just great:
Long story short, we are still happy with our choice of Chandler and happy to be more settled than we were at this time last year.
We celebrated by using one of my Christmas presents from Chris, a Harry Potter concert that happened to be on the 6th. We had fourth row tickets to see the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra play Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. They aired the entire movie at the same time and lots of people came dressed up as characters from the series. I didn’t own any Harry Potter clothing, so we both went for fandom attire in general with me in my TARDIS dress and Chris in a Game of Thrones t-shirt. I did buy a totally clashing Gryffindor scarf though:
All and all, it was a great present and a great day:
Here’s the video: