Grad Visa Spotlight: Thomas’ Essential Guide To Living In NYC

When we help students obtain their US Grad Visa, we’re not interested in waving goodbye to them once the plane leaves the runway at Dublin Airport and that be it! The Grad Visa is such a huge opportunity and experience for our graduates that we love hearing about how they’ve settled in, what their highlights have been  and most importantly what wisdom they can share for future participants.

With this in mind let us hand you over to Thomas Burke, who escaped the ‘boredom’ of Cork behind for what’s been an anything but dull 9 months in New York City…

‘I specifically remember sitting at a desk in my full-time job in Cork and finally deciding that I needed a change…

I was earning a good salary, had a beautiful apartment and had a great bunch of colleagues and friends. So what’s problem, right? I just wasn’t being challenged, monotony was setting in and life was getting if I’m being honest, extremely boring. I finally decided to take the plunge and move to New York (you should have seen my parents reactions!). After living here for nine months now, one thing I can say for sure is that New York is most certainly not boring! I now have an internship at the Irish Arts Center where I help organize different events throughout the city, promoting Irish arts, music and culture. 

New York is difficult to explain to other people if they haven’t experienced the city themselves. There is a buzz that goes with just walking down the street, the collective sights and sounds forming a unique atmosphere. Integrating yourself into the city can be very daunting at first.

7 Top Tips For Your First Months in New York

  1. New York is ridiculously expensive. Period. Save, save and save some more before you arrive.
  2. The first 3-5 months are absolutely manic. You’ll be excited, scared, angry, confused and exhausted all at the same time.
  3. Get your phone sorted immediately. T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon are all good options. Get your SIM card sorted before you go via USIT’s agents.
  4. Set up an American bank account straight away. Chase Bank and Bank of America are the most popular as they have the most branches throughout the city.
  5. Buy a subway MetroCard. The subway is by far the cheapest option to get around and you will use it more than you think.
  6. Always try and have a small bit of cash on you. You never know when you might need it.
  7. You will do a lot of walking here so proper walking shoes are a necessity.


Getting Accommodation Is A Slog, But A Great Learning Curve

Shortly after you arrive, you will inevitably be looking for somewhere to live. You can only live on a friend’s couch/floor/mattress for so long and trust me, it gets tiring VERY quickly. Looking for an apartment in NYC is an incredibly intimidating and disheartening experience at first and I felt out of depth throughout the entire process.

However, getting your own place first should be your number one priority. Everything else will follow and I always tell people, everything clicked once I found an apartment. I now live in Astoria, Queens with two other Irish guys and we are having a blast!

Apartment hunting in NYC takes lots of time, perseverance and courage. 

Top Tips For Finding Your Place

  1. Connect with people! Trust me, there are tons of Irish people here. You never know who might have a spare room or know of an apartment.
  2. If you find a place that you even remotely like, just take it. Literally, in less than 24 hours, it will be gone.
  3. Be aware, using a broker will likely cost a fee, one month’s rent and one month’s deposit before obtaining your apartment.
  4. Look in neighboring boroughs such as Queens or Brooklyn. 
  5. Facebook is a good platform to use. “Gypsy Housing NYC” is the main page I used and which eventually helped me get my apartment now.
  6. Don’t get too disheartened. Keep plugging away and something will come up!

Getting Used To The Subway

One aspect of New York you have to get used to is the subway. It has its own rules and regulations which you adapt to over time. People act differently; they are too tired, stressed, hot, impatient and irritated to act normally. Here are some subway tips which I have learned over time…

  1. Its $31 for a weekly unlimited subway ticket. This is your friend! It’s $2.75 per ride normally so it’s great value and you will get your use out of it, trust me.
  2. Always check before you go underground whether that platform is for uptown or downtown trains. There’s nothing worse than getting on a train and realizing you’re going in the wrong direction.
  3. When a train stops at a platform, let everybody off first! It genuinely makes the process go faster.
  4. Use earphones when on the train! You don’t want some guy blaring Drake in your face when all you want to do is sleep.
  5. Don’t hog two seats! Seats are like gold dust, especially on long journeys. Don’t be annoying and take up more than one.
  6. This one goes without saying but ALWAYS keep an eye on your belongings. The subway isn’t the safest place in the world so keep your wits about you.

Thomas NYC 3

Think Your Smartphone Is Crucial in Ireland? Wait until you get to NYC!

New York is a modern city and I use my phone for everything. If your phone is broke/old/dying before you come here, get a new one. Seriously…. You’ll need it. Below are a few essential apps I use day to day:

  1. Google Maps – I actually use this app without even thinking about it. I still get lost in this city and it’s very unsettling if you don’t have access to it.
  2. Uber/Lyft – An amazing alternative to regular cabs. You can get picked up and dropped off anywhere for a flat rate.
  3. NYC Subway – Provides a full map of the subway maps with arrival times and information on each stop.
  4. Bank Online App – Very handy for checking your balance, depositing checks and viewing bank statements.
  5. Yelp – Great for getting first-hand experience on restaurants, bars, concerts, events, etc. I use it a lot and it very rarely lets me down.
  6. Stubhub – A wonderful app for getting last minute tickets to events of any kind. Very reliable.
  7. Venmo – Probably my favorite app of all. Great for sharing payments among people such as rent, bills and bar/restaurant checks.
  8. Camera – It goes without saying but you will take A LOT of photos in this city. Take and share them, it’s all a part of the experience.

What To Explore Once New York Feels Like Home

NYC (2)

I like to think that I’ve successfully integrated myself into this city. It’s something I’m very proud of. I’m always learning and every day is a new experience. It’s inevitable you will have a bad experience here and there and that is part of living here. Below are some general pieces of advice I would give after living here for nine months:

  1. Go to Central Park as much as you can. It’s my favorite place in the city and there is always something happening here.
  2. Master the art of packing. New York is huge and coming back home for lunch or a break is just not feasible. Pack a backpack with some essentials.
  3. Watch out for Yellow Taxi drivers. If they know you are new to the city, they may take you a longer way. Be careful!
  4. You’ve got to keep up or else you’ll get knocked, kicked, trampled or shoved. If you’re on your phone, you’re a main target!
  5. If you enjoy coffee, you will drink it all the time here. There’s coffee shops on every corner.
  6. New York has an astonishing amount of restaurants so go out and try it all!
  7. You’ll make friends but not see them for weeks. People are busy working different schedules and it’s just the way of life here. Don’t take it personally!

Would I recommend moving here? Absolutely! It takes a while to get used to and the first few months are undoubtedly tough but eventually it all comes together.

I said at the start of this piece that I came here because I was bored. I can safely say that’s no longer the case and I know I never will be. If you’re even half thinking about coming here, just do it. I understand the reservations and doubts but you will not be sorry!

If you have any questions, you can email me at or get me on Instagram or Yelp!

Massive thanks to Thomas for sharing with us (and now you) some priceless tips for getting used to life in NYC. Feeling inspired to go? There’s less than 300 Grad Visas left for 2016 so get in touch with or give us a call on (01) 602 1747.


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