This page contains answers to questions frequently asked by Stanford Canadians. Please feel free to contribute! Disclaimer: the answers here are the collaborative effort of the Stanford Canadian community and do not represent official sources.

Are there alternatives to Cardinal Care health insurance?

Disclaimer: information here are the collaborative effort of the Stanford Canadian community and do not represent any official sources. Your own due diligence is required.

- Vaden Health Center provides basic medical services to all registered Stanford students regardless of health insurance.

Cardinal Care
- Cardinal Care provides excellent coverage and services at Stanford Medical Center (i.e., at Stanford Hospital for specialists or emergencies).
- Some departments cover half the cost of Cardinal Care (with an RA or TAship). Stanford Graduate Fellowship recipients also pay only half of the cost for Cardinal Care.

Other Insurance Options
- There are many good travel insurances from Canada that provide coverage for emergencies. One option is the Student Medical Insurance from Travel Underwriters. As of Jan 2009, the cost is $1.5/day for emergency coverage of up to a few million dollars. Talk to an insurance broker in Canada for more details.
- Major trade-offs include more paperwork (if you have to file a claim), much lower maximum coverage, deductibles, and other fees/payments.
- Similarly, there are health plans geared towards international students who primarily need coverage for emergencies, but intend to return to their home country if they need long-term medical treatment, e.g. www.psiservice.com

Last Updated 10/07/2009 by ssoneff

Bank recommendations?

On campus, you can try the Stanford Federal Credit Union which is located on the upper floor of the Tressider Union Building.

Banks in California include Bank of America, Citi Bank, Wells Fargo, and Washington Mutual (now Chase). You can find service details on their websites. There is a Wells Fargo branch located on campus on the upper floor of Tressider, and there is a Bank of America near the Stanford Shopping Mall. Getting a bank account is generally hassle-free and doesn't require an appointment at the bank. Banks (at the employee discretion) will generally open a bank account for you without an Social Security Number given two pieces of photo ID.

The bank may send you a debit card in the mail immediately after opening an account: check that this is the case, and, if not, request a debit card. A debit card may be different from an ATM card depending on the bank -- debit cards are run by Visa/Mastercard and you can use a debit card to access your account at ATMs as well as make purchases by debit or credit. ATM cards, on the other hand, are bank specific. Also get direct deposit information from the bank if you need it to get paid while you're here...

As for specific banks, this author has had good experience with Bank of America, where you can get a cash referral bonus if someone refers you! Email the mailing list for a referral.

Last updated 9/18/2009 by ssoneff

Can you explain the $10,000 USD tax-free amount in the US-Canada tax treaty?

This is for filing federal tax in the US. If you earn less than $10,000 USD/year in RAship, TAship or employee income, then you don't have to pay any federal tax in the US. However, if you earn more than $10,000 (even $10,001), you pay taxes on the full amount. This treaty article doesn't apply to scholarship income such as SGF.

How can I get a U.S. credit card or transfer credit?

New arrivals to the US may find their applications for unsecured credit cards rejected by a bank due to lack of U.S. credit history. The best avenue to acquire an unsecured credit card is to get a Canadian credit card with a bank that operates in both the U.S. and Canada. For instance, getting a Canadian AmEx credit card will allow you to transition to the U.S. AmEx card with little hassle; a CitiBank credit card is similar. In general, if a U.S. bank is able to access your Canadian credit history, they may be persuaded to issue a credit card. In addition, Capital One, Bank of Montreal, HSBC, TD, and Royal Bank have U.S. (though not Californian) branches and may also be able to issue an American card to you based on your history with them.

Royal Bank has a US subsidiary, RBC Centura, that offers a number of financial products based on your Canadian credit history. Products include online banking for both US & Canadian dollar accounts, transfers between US & Canadian accounts via online banking, credit cards, and mortgages. Note that RBC Centura is based in the the south-east U.S. (it caters to Canadians retiring in Florida!) and does not have any branches near Stanford.

If you don't have a Social Security Number (SSN) or a credit card from an international bank, your best opportunity might be to apply for a secured credit card. The bank asks you to put down a prepaid deposit (i.e. the amount of credit you need) on the card before using it, but once you have built some credit history in the U.S., you should be able to transition to an unsecured card.

Note that some banks provide a debit card from either Visa or Mastercard: this debit card is linked directly to one of your accounts, but you can use it as you would a credit card, the only difference being that the amount put on your card is debited from your account immediately. While it effectively operates as a credit card (e.g. you can use it to buy stuff on Amazon.com), you do not build up U.S. credit history by using it, as it is not a true credit card.

Last Updated 9/18/2009 by ssoneff

How do I bring my car across the border?

If you are living in California for an extended period of time, you must register your car with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). While crossing the border, you can ask U.S. customs for the paperwork which you will need for registration. If you forget, it may be possible to get the paperwork from customs at SFO airport. The DMV might also ask for paperwork specifying emission standards for the vehicle: it may be possible to acquire this information from the car company. It's important to check that your vehicle will be acceptable to the U.S. Department of Transportation: differences like seat belt configuration can prevent you from registering. Don't rely on a border guard to check for you!

If you're coming to the US as a tourist for 1 year or less, you may be able to buy "Territory Z" insurance in Canada and keep your car insured and registered in Canada.

Last Updated 9/18/2009 by ssoneff

How do I file my taxes for the US, California and Canada?

Bechtel has a good description on their website to help you with your situation. Our advice: every situation is different. Go to one of Bechtel's free consultation sessions.

In general, you'll get a free copy of GLACIER Tax prep where you'll answer questions about your residency and fill in information from forms that you get. Don't listen to your American friends who say you can use TURBO Tax: the international student's situation is different.

Last Updated 12/9/2014 by jeffho

How do I get a California driver's license?

If you have a Canadian driver's licence, you will need to exchange it for a Californian version. Before you exchange your license, you will need a Social Security Number (SSN). If you have a car and are driving, you technically need to have a California license within 10 days of arriving, but there is no way to apply for a license without a SSN, which will put you over the 10 day limit (be careful when driving past the limit!)

The California exchange procedure:

You need to provide a car for the road test. If you don't own a car, try to borrow a friend's (ensure that they have appropriate insurance coverage). The alternatives are to contact a driving school and request a review/car (could be expensive) or rent a car. Some rental car agencies do not allow cars to be used for training purposes and a DMV road test is considered training ... as such, the DMV wants a letter stating that it is all right for the applicant to use a rental car for the test.

Last Updated 9/18/2009 by ssoneff

How do I get a Social Security Number?

A Social Security Number (SSN) is the American equivalent of a Canadian Social Insurance Number (SIN).

See the I-Centre info on SSN: http://icenter.stanford.edu/quick_reference/soc_sec.html

You will need to visit a social security office to apply for a social security number (there is an office in Mountain View at 700 E El Camino Real). The application process is straightforward: bring your passport with status/visa information as well as supplementary ID (such as a birth certificate) and let the agent do the rest. There are a few things to be aware of:

Last Updated 9/27/2009 by ssoneff

How do I renew my Canadian passport in California?

1. Download application / instructions at http://www.ppt.gc.ca.

2. Get photos. Suggestions:

There is a simplified renewal process now.

Make sure you allow enough time for the renewal process. People have reported wait times of up to 2 months. While your passport is being renewed, you cannot travel outside of the US.

Last Updated 12/9/2014 by jeffho

How do I transfer money between Canada and the US?

If you just need some cash, you can withdraw U.S. currency at a bank machine using a Canadian debit card, but there are fees involved. Travelers cheques are also a good alternative, as they take only 1 business day to clear and are relatively safe to transport.

Once you have bank accounts set up, you can also look into an online currency exchange service like XE or Custom House. These companies are a foreign exchange providers for businesses and speculators, but they are happy to work with individuals and students. They offer good rates (they guarantee better than any bank) and they they don't charge any fees beyond the exchange spread. It takes a few weeks to set up an account (which is free, but involves some paperwork and security checks), and doing a transfer usually takes about a week. They can transfer the money electronically between your U.S. and Canadian bank accounts. If you're going to be sending large amounts of money reasonably often (for tuition, etc.) then this is a great way to save some money.

Wire transfers are the quickest way to transfer money, but may incur large fees for both sender and receiver. The Canadian bank may also require your authorization to make the transfer and transferring large amounts of money (over $10,000) could cause a security check that will slow down the process significantly. To set up wire transfers from your Canadian bank without going to the branch in person each time, sign a verbal/fax authorization before leaving: this gives you the power to initiate transfers from your account by either calling or faxing your contact or branch manager.

A simple, but slow, way to transfer money is to write cheque to yourself from a Canadian account denominated in US dollars -- ask at a branch for details.

Last Updated by ssoneff 12/18/2009

How do I vote in Canadian elections as an expat?

While you're living outside Canada, you can still vote in Canada provided you are a Canadian citizen who meets the following criteria:

Check out http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=vot&dir=reg/svr&document=st.... Answer all the questions and click on the final PDF. Information that you'll need:

Send the form and supporting documentation by mail or fax:

Elections Canada
257 Slater St.
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0M6
Fax: 1-888-524-1444

Alternatively, you can look up your local riding office here: http://www.elections.ca/scripts/pss/finded.aspx?L=e. Then, click "Where is my local returning office?"

For more information, check with Elections Canada and your provincial or territorial election agency's websites. They'll have full instructions on how to vote when outside Canada, and a phone number to call if you have questions. Make sure you do this as early as possible after an election is called. Your ballot will be sent to you with a return envelope and directions on how to vote. Follow the steps and drop the ballot in the mailbox. Be sure to post your mail with enough time for it to arrive before polls close in your riding. From California, that means sending the ballot 1 to 2 weeks ahead of time.

See also http://www.canuckabroad.com/forums/how-to-vote-in-the-federal-election-v...

Last Updated 4/15/2011 by nharjee
Addendum about 5-year residency requirement added 1/10/2015 by jeffho

Immigration lawyers near Stanford?

Phone recommendations?

Most campus residences have a landline phone with nation-wide calling included in the communication fees you pay.

The simplest cell phone to acquire at arrival is a pre-paid one. You can purchase one from T-Mobile on the spot from a T-Mobile store or even Walmart. You can also get a prepaid monthly plan from T-Mobile without a contract, called FlexPay (if you bring an unlocked cell phone, this works very nicely). The other major carriers with monthly mobile plan contracts are AT & T, Verizon, and Sprint. Without U.S. credit history these carriers will often require a large deposit.

Cell phone coverage on campus is not great, with T-Mobile and AT&T being poor, and Verizon somewhat better.

There are many services that allow cheap or free calling to Canada, such as Skype and Google Voice or other Internet services.

Visas: what is the difference between F-1, J-1, TN-1 and H-1B?

F-1: international student
J-1: exchange student, student with special funding or other conditions
TN-1: temporary work visa (for people with jobs)
H-1B: immigrant work visa

See the US visa website for more details.

Last updated on 9/1/2009 by ssoneff

Does Stanford have a hockey team? What about a skating rink?

Stanford has a club hockey team. For information, check out http://www.stanford.edu/group/hockey/. The team practices at a rink in Redwood City, and plays games against other PAC8 schools (see http://www.pac8hockey.com/). Currently there is no rink at Stanford, but with the anticipated Cup win by the Sharks, the interest and funding will come. There are many expats who play in unaffiliated leagues and we'd love to have a place to bring our school.

Here are a few places you can go ice skating around Stanford:

There are ice hockey leagues at the above (except Winter Lodge), and also roller hockey leagues (e.g., at SilverCreek) in the area.

Last Updated 12/9/2014 by jeffho

Is there a Tim Horton's in the Bay Area?

Since 2013, the practice facility of the San Jose Sharks (Sharks Ice) is home to Tim Horton's. It's not a full-service Tim Horton's (more of a tiny shack in an ice rink that happens to have the same name), but it has the full Timmy's signage at least.

For your coffee needs, you can always try ordering Tim Horton's grinds from Amazon. If it's donuts you crave, Maple Leaf Donuts is probably your closest bet.

Last Updated on 12/9/2014 by jeffho

Where can I find good poutine?

Little Chef Counter, located in the San Pedro market in downtown San Jose, serves poutine in a fancy way. Some of their poutines include duck confit, pork belly, but their basic one is pretty good too!

As of December 2013, Trader Joe's also serves frozen poutine , including cheese curds and gravy.

If you're up for making your own poutine, the Milk Pail Market in Mountain View sells cheese curds from the Loleta Cheese Company.

Augie's smoked meat also periodically has pop-up locations in Oakland and SF. Get on their mailing list if you're interested!

At the end of 2014, Smoke's Poutinerie also opened up shop in Berkeley.

Last Updated 1/10/2015 by jeffho