Wambui Shares Tips for Anyone Moving to Seattle, Washington, USA

Mwangi’s note: Why on Earth they would confuse the world by having a place called Washington D.C. and then an entirely separate State called “Washington” I don’t know, but anyway enjoy this guest post from an old friend of mine, Wambui.

icon for podpress  Guest Post Introduction - Wambui from Seattle, Washington [1:25m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Mwangi asked me:

“What advice would you give someone that is coming to Seattle, WA.?”

Well carry an umbrella and a jacket. It rains often. You’ll need it. The weather here changes in a minute and most of the time it changes to rain. I’ve been here 3 years now and I am still not accustomed to how much it rains.


Get your geography right:

Seattle is in Washington State. Not to be confused with Washington DC. DC is in the East. Washington State is the Northwest. Seattle, WA = Northwest.

Get your documentation right

It is important to make sure you visit the necessary government offices as soon as you possible can to get yourself not started on the right path. Get an id card. Get a bank account. Get a social security card if you are allowed to get one. It really is much easier to get a head if you do things legally. Don’t over stay your visa and use your visa for the right purpose i.e don’t come on a visitor visa and then attempt to become a student or worker without getting a permit to do so.

Seattle is somewhat tolerant. But once people know you are not originally from here they ask questions. These questions are usually to find out your intention of being in Seattle and the US. Seattleites know their basic immigration stuff – they know about visas and how they work – they are not afraid to ask how long your visa is for and what you plan on doing next(using the word next is their polite way of saying when it expires) . They are also big on following the law… No easy shortcuts or hookups.

Get your money right:

Understand the value of money. Seattle is not considered a super expensive city, but it is definitely not on the cheap list. It’s very easy to get caught up in the Seattle’s art and culinary scenes. Its easy to spend in small doses here, However those small doses add up when you look at your balance and realize that the ten dollars (plus tip because it is expected and customary here) you spent eating out every week adds up to 100 bucks. Please live within your means. It’s a common problem with African immigrants here in Seattle attempting to show people that they aren’t “poor”. It really isn’t cool because most people can see through the façade. If you can’t afford it, don’ t do it.

Get yourself right:

You need to get in the mind frame of “me, myself and I”. Family isn’t always there to help and even if they are they may not be willing to help you. Friends come and go. So know who you are and where you are going.
You also need to have your emotions in check. Its gets lonely, it gets depressing, it gets hard, people question you and who you are. This is where self confidence comes in. You need to be confident in who you are. You’ll meet people out there who aren’t cool with who you are and the way you look or the way you dress.

Also you need to be happy with what you have at the moment. Always work for better things. But don’t ever let anyone get you down. One has to learn to feel good about themselves and the current position they are in while still working for something better.

Seattle is a huge melting pot when it comes to culture. People are from all over. However one needs to be aware that as much as it is a huge pot. People may not be open to understanding your culture or who you are. As friendly as the Seattle is it is a little cold c. Everyone says “hi” and they are excited to see you the first time around. Don’t be surprised if they meet you on the street next week don’t acknowledge you. Don’t worry though its not you. It’s just how they are. It is known as the “Seattle freeze”

Please don’t be shocked if you find people talking to you like you are inferior. A lot of people here while calling themselves tolerant are not. They will be opening to getting to meet you and having fun with you but its all superficial. They are not interested in what you are about or where you are from. As I said … don’t focus too much on this. It’s not you its just them.

Get to know the city:


You’ve got to learn how to get around. Remember, it’s just you. People can only help you for so long. Fortunately one doesn’t really need to buy a car if you live in proper Seattle. This is because Seattle has one of the best bus systems in the USA. The buses run on a regular schedule and they take you to pretty much any suburb in what is known as King County.

The faster you get to know the city, the faster it will be to get around and get things accomplished. It is especially crucial because people will always be willing to give you directions but they only know directions of places that concern them.

If you opt to get a car. Please do your research!!

My experience in Seattle that you need to know a few main streets ( Pike, Pine , Westlake, Madison, 3rd Ave, and Bell) Navigating through downtown is is a breeze once you know these.

Get your accent right:

Did you say you were from Africa? Great!

Well half of what you say will not be understood, the first few times. They’ll always tell you that they love your accent but it doesn’t mean they are understanding what you are saying. To this day, I’ve been here 3 years, I can’t really order a Hamburger at most restaurants, I have to get a friend to do it for me. Why, you ask? Well apparently the way I say it would be spelt out as “Hambagga”. Same applies for most words that end with “er”. Personally most people delight in the way I say “whatever” and they repeat it endlessly to whoever will listen. Oh and they love the way Kenyans pronounce the letters of the alphabet. Apparently we say “h” differently!

Get comp savvy:

Seattle is after all home to Microsoft and Amazon! Google and Adobe also have huge offices here. So please… don’t walk around seattle and not know how to use a computer. Or what a CPU is? It would be good too if u knew that C+ and Java are programs too because a good number of people you meet will be in IT professions.


  • By mwalimu, November 18, 2008 @ 2:13 am

    Seattle home to: add to your list Intel,
    so you clearly need to add to your languages: plain old C and assembly language :)

  • By Wambui, November 18, 2008 @ 7:07 am

    @Mwalimu: hahaha :) you wouldn’t need to know the details… knowing that it is a program is helpful… after that you can always excuse yourself from the computer geek speak!

  • By acolyte, November 19, 2008 @ 12:43 am

    A rather ground breaking post, if not for the fact that other than the weather situation the advice meted out here is rather generic and can apply to most American cities.
    There isn’t much mention if any of the best employers either at the service or professional level with which a new resident can get started at.
    No mention of the most affordable yet safe neighborhoods available.
    School districts for those who have kids not mentioned.
    Not a peep about the best and most affordable colleges.
    A whisper about the best places to see and at the best rates would be good too.
    Other than that a great post……….

  • By Mwangi, November 19, 2008 @ 12:51 am

    @acolyte: Hey bro, what’s with so much party pooping lately, you’re not even offering the alternatives now, you’re just poking holes in something without presenting the remedies.
    As always man, criticism is always welcome, but at least offer positive alternatives or maybe a rebuttal post up on your blog of what this post should have looked like – like your post on apartment hunting.
    If we are not achieving the objective of helping to improve immigrant life then show us how to do it rather than telling us how not to do it.
    Hope you are well post-election/during the recession……….

  • By acolyte, November 19, 2008 @ 3:56 am

    If you look at my comment you do see that I offered the remedies.
    If you are going to do a post about a specific area then you may as well give area specific information which I have pointed out that is missing.
    So my criticism is indeed constructive. I said why and where the article was lacking…..

  • By mwalimu, November 19, 2008 @ 4:28 am

    Aco is CLEARLY having a case of low mojo at the time of his writing :)

  • By Wambui, November 19, 2008 @ 5:08 am

    well acolyte does have a point! It wouldn’t be fair however to say what I believe is the best neighbour hood to live in as that I believe is highly dependent on one’s budget.

    If one wants to go to college as an International student its my experience that Private universities are cheaper than the public ones.

    If you take a moment to look at the question I wasn’t asked to address the issue on what places to see and what the best rates are .
    It’s Seattle though … its always pretty to look at! Pike Place market, the beaches, the arboretums. The races at pacific raceways are pretty cool. As for rates.. well that depends on ur budget!

    To succeed in Seattle, is much like succeeding in most American Cities. There is no particular method u can use to succeed in one city and not another. :)

  • By light, November 20, 2008 @ 11:53 am

    Acolyte is right……….this article is too general! Usually for an immigrant to settle in a new land, it is best to be told which county to settle in, you know we usually start out on a limited budget! then suggest areas that are easier finding jobs, safer neighborhoods, counties known for good school districts………….. and unless your state is different from mine, when did private universities start being cheaper than public ones?????

    in my state if someone was asking where to settle we know exactly which city to live in, for guys with kids, we know exactly which county will give your child a fighting chance, we know which city will give you immigrant diversity to where you can go into farmers markets and african food supply stores.

    Good article, but it would not help a person faraway trying to start a new life!

  • By Wambui, November 20, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

    I’m in a private college in seattle.
    As I did not qualify for financial aid I did my research before coming here and it was cheaper for me to go to the school I am going to than the main public university than in Seattle. 4 thousand dollars cheaper. And it still is!
    I know another Kenyan who qualified for financial aid and he picked a private school because he got a better deal with the private school. It was easier on his pocket to go to the private school! so…

  • By Carol Achieng Otieno, November 21, 2008 @ 12:30 am

    Seattle sounds a bit like the Netherlands (in terms of how the weather changes suddenly) and alot like Vancouver, B.C, Canada. It always rains there. In the Netherlands, even during Spring and Summer some people have their umbrellas in their bags and a coat incase the weather changes for the worst.
    Anyhow, it’s a pretty informative post Wambui, and probably the people who are criticizing live in the U.S, which is not fair to you because the States is so big and so very diverse. I do believe that some places can have private unis that are cheaper than public ones, anyhow that’s my belief.
    And Westerners do have a solid habit. They are so excited to encounter you the first time, then the next they’ll whizz past you like you never met. So pretty much, it happens here in Europe as well, and one gets used to this. When they do develop further interest in you and your well-being, pretty much there’s something you have that they would profit from.
    I reckon as a starting point, if one has right documentation, things are much easier as Wambui said, and then all the other stuff like which county to choose, which school to take your kids to, and blah blah blah can fall into place..
    I’m out!

  • By Simple Meditation, November 22, 2008 @ 3:44 pm

    Excellent content and style…keep up the good work!

  • By emma, December 9, 2008 @ 11:20 am

    Wambui, if your private uni was cheaper than public, wouldn’t it help the masses if you gave the name of your Uni. That would REALLY help those looking for schools up there. Your post lacks necessary details!

  • By Ciru, December 27, 2008 @ 2:40 pm

    I live in Seattle and I have to say I was rather satisfied with this post. It is difficult to direct people as to where is best to live within the city as things as minor as one’s personality play a major role on what would be ideal for a person. For example if you like to live amongst fellow Kenyans then Federal way/Tacoma is a good area. If you prefer to have a private life without too many people passing by while ‘in the area’ then the East side is the best spot for you, but is more expensive. If you like city life and money is no object then downtown Seattle/Bellevue is a good option. If you are on a tight budget then Federal Way/Tacoma is a good option. If on a budget but wiling to sacrifice a little more money for privacy then Renton/Kent area is prime. There are several other cities around Seattle one can live in such as Shoreline, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Lake Forest Park, Bothell, Kenmore, Edmonds. There is also Everett (I do not recommend living here. Just a personal bias due to high crime and trailer trash/what I prefer to think of as red necks of the west). All these cities vary greatly in population diversity, economics, job availability, ease of commute into Seattle.
    As for school districts I cannot be of much help since almost all school districts in the area are having trouble with budget deficits, closing of schools, drug/gang related issues etc. I would suggest checking out specific schools and not the districts in general. North Shore school district is supposedly amongst the best in the Seattle area yet they are trying keep all schools open by cutting down on staff and having staff share positions i.e. today you are a secretary, tomorrow librarian, next day a nurse etc. It’s ugly. It all comes down to individual schools. If you can afford it take your child to a private school.
    Best places to visit: http://www.visitseattle.org/visitors/tours/ This is a rather comprehensive site. My only personal recommendation is the Columbia Tower observation deck (recommended for Seattleites too) located at 701 5th avenue 73rd floor (corner of 5th ave and Columbia St). It offers a marvelous almost 360 degree view of Seattle and neighboring cities. The view is absolutely breath taking especially on a clear summer day.
    Quite frankly beyond this post if one has a specific question about Seattle it is best you ask it as it is nearly impossible to address all details in one post. After all Seattle is rather diverse.
    It is an awesome city to live in and I encourage all to visit at least once in this life time.

  • By Mwangi, December 27, 2008 @ 11:03 pm

    @Ciru: Thanks for that, you really went above and beyond and made this post even more practically useful.

  • By emma, December 30, 2008 @ 3:49 am

    to CIRU: Way to go! Now that is how it is done, you gave good info which helps a person know where and how to relocate over there. Not much info about colleges though but all the same GOOOD JOB!

  • By Ciru, December 30, 2008 @ 4:05 am

    @Emma: Thank you. I did not write about the colleges because I have not attended any of them and thus do not know enough to write anything helpful. Hopefully someone else who has had the opportunity will post something (no pressure Seattleites :) ).

  • By SeaTee, March 28, 2010 @ 4:20 am

    The rain comment is overblown. It drizzles alot but not a lot of downpours like Houston, TX, Lagos, Nigeria or Kingston, Jamaica. In fact, if you see a person with an umbrella, 8 times out of 10, they will be a tourist instead of a local.

  • By Bruce, May 20, 2010 @ 2:23 am

    The rain comment is overblown. It drizzles alot but not a lot of downpours like Houston, TX, Lagos, Nigeria or Kingston, Jamaica. In fact, if you see a person with an umbrella, 8 times out of 10, they will be a tourist instead of a local.

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