J1 Visa for Dummies

J1 visa for dumies. Source - tumblr
California. Source - Tumblr
California. Source – Tumblr 

Last summer I embarked to San Diego California with a J1 visa and I can honestly say I had the best summer of my life! California is worlds apart form Ireland – from the scenery, the day-to-day life and the laid back lifestyle. Anyone who is contemplating going to San Diego for their J1, I without a doubt know you will have the most amazing summer of your lives! So don’t hesitate on the matter, just go for it! Here I have made a rookie J1 for dummies guideline post  about what to do when you land in San Diego.

I would recommend booking your J1 with Usit as in my opinion they definitely have the routine of booking J1’s down to a T in comparison to some of the other companies. I booked  my J1 with Usit and I can honestly say that they were very helpful and very efficient in their organisation, helpful with booking flights and there were no problems. They are always available to answer your phone calls and queries.

I hope my pearls of wisdom will be helpful to some of you.

So here we go,

#1 Hostels

Okay so it probably seems like a no brainer that your going to need somewhere to stay the day you land and you all have probably assumed correctly that hotels in San Diego are very expensive. So I can not stress enough how important it is to book your hostel  as soon as possible after you book your flights, as there a very few hostels in San diego and with hundreds of Irish heading over at the end of May start of June these fill up very quickly! Also make sure you book the hostel for at least a week minimum because finding a house in San diego is not as easy as you may think, I will elaborate on this down below. The hostels in San Diego usually vary around $30 per night but if you don’t book pretty early in advance you may end up sharing rooms with complete strangers! Here are some of the main hostels in the San Diego area which I recommend,

1 – Banana Bungalows

This is hostel is by far the best and located right on Pacific Beach


2 – Rogers Hostel

This is a great hostel located right on Mission Beach


3 – California Dreams Hostel

This hostel is located between Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach


#2  The area

For J1 students you are probably going to want to live in the beach areas of San Diego, which San Diego has many! But there are some which are laid back and residential and some which have great nightlife. Pacific Beach was where I stayed and is definitely the best place to stay! It has a main strip called Garnet St which is full of clubs, bars and restaurants. Then there is Mission Beach/Mission Bay which is more picturesque then Pacific Beach but still good for clubs and bars. These are the main two areas which J1 people stay and go out in so I recommend trying here first.

Sunset at Pacific Beach Pier. Source - realestateinpacificbeach.com
Sunset at Pacific Beach Pier. Source – realestateinpacificbeach.com

Ocean Beach is also a cool place to live, it is very laid back and is home to a lot of surfers. It is quite cloudy though apparently due to all the weed that people smoke here! You can also find cheap housing in Point Loma but it is quite far out from all the action in PB and Mission Beach.

Map of San Diego
Map of San Diego

#3  Finding a home

Some people can be lucky when it comes to finding somewhere to live and others can be not so lucky. This is probably the most challenging aspect of your J1 and honestly probably your most character building out of everything you will encounter during your summer. There are a lot of holiday homes to rent for the summer months most of which you will just see signs for on their front lawns – very like the movies! But it takes a lot of negotiating and lying to the landlords about how many people are living in the house etc and most of the time there  is 8 – 10 of you’s sharing a house.

A lot of people when they find houses need more people to live with and will post it up on the San Diego J1 Facebook page but this is literally a first come first serve basis so make sure to check the Facebook everyday. This is how me and my friends found somewhere to live. Also it really helps if you have any relatives that live in America as sometimes you will be asked to provide an American guarantor. At some points it may seem impossible to find somewhere to live but just persevere, I know people that where living in hostels until July before they found a home.

Dont give up house hunting. Source - Google
Dont give up house hunting. Source – Google

#4 Job Hunting

For many of us, to be able to live in America for a summer and pay rent, buy groceries, pay for transport and support a night life, finding a job is crucial. It is quite hard to believe when you first land in your destination of choice how many other Irish students you will encounter walking around with folders and envelopes handing out their cv’s at every corner – everyone is out in the hundreds looking for jobs. And believe me we stick out like sore thumbs with are pasty skin, freckles and are overall awkwardness in comparison to the laid back native Californians.

If your college finishes up early and your heading over in May then you probably have much better chances of getting hired in the local restaurants, bars and hotels. Some good places to try are, Belmont Park, The Catamaran Hotel and some of the t-shirt printing shops around Mission beach. But if you are heading out in June you might have to think outside the box and go further out of these busy beach areas to find employment. Try La Jolla, The Gaslamp Quarter or Old Town, I found a job in a restaurant in downtown Sand Diego also known as the Gaslamp. I really enjoyed working here as it was full of tourists and was a really busy area with good shopping and great nightlife. My two other friends found jobs in restaurants in Old Town. SeaWorld in San Diego is a great place to apply online before you go as they hire many Irish during summer.

And another tip is make sure you look presentable, don’t go job hunting in your beach clothes. If you wouldn’t wear your tracksuit job hunting in Ireland then don’t do it in San Diego. So for guys definitely pack at least one shirt especially if you get interviews in fancy restaurants or hotels.

#5 The Price of Living

Some money tips. Source - Google

Okay so the price of living in California and in my personal experience in San Diego is probably just as expensive as in Ireland. Groceries are just as expensive as at home and I found that healthy food like fruit and vegetables were more expensive than convenience foods in supermarkets – weird huh?  But one thing that is great about San Diego is that Americans love their happy hour and there are great drink promotions in the cocktail bars! Restaurants are pretty good value too and there are some really cool ones around the Pacific Beach area. One of my favourites on Garnet St. was Moondoggies and during the afternoon they did great food on a $5 dollar menu called ‘five dollar dine and dash’ so make sure to check some of these places out as they can cater for the working student.

Transport is pretty good value if like me you will be travelling out of the beach areas to go to work. You can purchase a compass card (basically the equivalent to a leap card) for $7 and top it up with $5 to use unlimited transport for the day.

#6 Nightlife

The Nightlife  in San Diego is quite different to Dublin. There are not really many big nightclubs in the beach areas but more cheap cocktail bars that serve amazing two for one fish bowl margaritas in literally any flavour you like – these were a favourite among my friends and I. We went out mainly on Garnet St. which is the main street in Pacific Beach and was definitely the more lively of the beach towns. My favourite bar was Cabo Cantina – a Mexican themed cocktail bar, which had great drink promos at happy hour and serves some really nice affordable food too. There most lively and best night of the week had to be “Taco Tuesday”. There are a lot of Mexican restaurants and Mexican themed bars in San Diego – evidently because San diego is right above the Mexican boarder. Another great bar was Fred’s which also celebrated its own version of Taco Tuesday. From my experience Tuesdays and Sundays are definitely the busiest nights of the week in Pacific Beach.

After you’ve had your fish bowl margaritas and $4 tacos in Fred’s you can waddle right next door to the nightclub Typhoon Saloon. My friends and I went there every Thursday night  and was probably the most night clubbish place on Garnet St. It had pool tables and $3 vodka and orange juices –  so you really couldn’t go wrong! Jonny V’s was another great club that provided some really good organised J1 nights on Wednesdays! So theres your mid-week partying sorted – Tuesdays in Cabo Cantina, Wednesdays in Jonny V’s and Thursdays in Typhoon!

Although I must warn you that the clubs in PB and Mission Beach end at 1.30am – which isn’t all bad… you just have to get drunk earlier in the day!

#7 The Gaslamp Quarter aka ‘Downtown’

Downtown in my opinion really is the funnest place in San Diego. It has lively bars and clubs which stay open past 1.30am and has a lot of really cool restaurants and hotels – including The Hard Rock hotel which hosts a pool party every Sunday called Intervention Sundays. At Intervention they get big Dj’s to come and play at their pool parties like, Laidback Luke, Nicky Romero and Cedric Gervais to name but a few.

Source - Hardrock San Diego
Intervention Sundays at the Hard Rock hotel. Source – Hard Rock San Diego

Also for any super hero and star trek fans – downtown hosts the famous Comic Book Convention every year and it gets so into it that they translate all the street signs and bus stops into Elvish!

It costs about $30 in a taxi or you can get the bus or the trolley i.e. the luas which leaves you right at the top of 5th Ave. The atmosphere downtown really is amazing plus there are some good shopping malls too.

The Gaslamp Quarter Downtown San Diego. Source - Hard Rock Hotel
The Gaslamp Quarter Downtown San Diego. Source – Hard Rock Hotel

#8 Tijuana

Because San Diego is located right above the boarder to Mexico a lot of club promoters organise nights for J1 students to go to Mexico and have cheap drink and party on the beach during the day or go to one of their nightclubs. I would highly advise people to think twice about crossing the boarder to Tijuana as it is not as happy and all that cracked up to be as they make it appear. Firstly you are crowded onto a coach without the guarantee of a seat even though you paid $30 for your ticket! They also take your passport from you and keep it until you return to your coach that night. It doesn’t take two seconds to cross the boarder into Mexico as they have no security or passport control, but to get back into the States is at least a four hour process of waiting and queueing to get through passport control at the boarder. Being too drunk or disorderly will also affect your chances of getting back in to the country. I heard a lot of horror stories about students being left behind or being in chased in cars, so just be careful what ever you decide to do.

San Diego - Mexican boarder. Source - Google
San Diego – Mexican boarder. Source – Google

#9 Travel

There is no point being over on the West Coast of America if your not going to travel around and explore. This has got to be the best part of your J1 summer without question. If one of your friends has a full driving licence then definitely rent a car and feel the freedom, if not you can alternatively take public transport. There are unlimited amount of places to visit and so many memories to be be made!

These were some of my favourite places I visited,

1. Hollywood

Hollywood Hills. Source  - Tumblr
Hollywood Hills. Source – Tumblr









2. Las Vegas

LAs Vegas. Source - Tumblr
LAs Vegas. Source – Tumblr









3. Santa Monica

Santa Monica Pier. Source - Tumblr
Santa Monica Pier. Source – Tumblr









So there you have it…my J1 guideline for dummies! I hope some of you enjoyed reading this and found some of it useful. Feel free to ask any questions in the comment box below and I’d be happy to help!

Rose tinted glasses. Source - Tumblr
Rose tinted glasses. Source – Tumblr


1 Comment

  1. Hey! thanks for sharing this! Were you on a j-1 internship or traineeship? Were you allowed to get a job on the side?

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