I’ve haven’t lived in the USA (yet…) but I have lots of friends who have. They love it, but they sure had a tough time relocating. Getting a credit card without a social security number, filing mind-bogglingly complicated tax returns, sorting visas, blah blah blah. There a lot of things to know before moving to the USA.
Here’s a checklist of things to know before moving to the USA, which I put together in collaboration the team at CreditStacks. CreditStacks is a US-based premium Mastercard that unlike many US credit card companies, is friendly to relocating professionals with no US credit history¹.
But first off – this isn’t a legal document, nor is it intended to offer legal advice. There are lots of things to know before moving to the USA and every case is different, so do consult with the relevant US state department if you’re unsure.
1. MOVING TO THE USA WITHOUT A JOB IS POSSIBLE, BUT IT ISN’T EASY
You’ll need a visa to move to the US. Permanent visas are granted based on family, investments, studies or employment. If you don’t have a job, you’ll need to be accompanying someone who is.
If you’re moving to the USA with your company, they should sponsor your application.
Job hunters: beware of scams. Jobs which require any form of payment in advance are not real jobs, they’re scams! Multi Level Marketing (MLMs) that survive on recruiting new participants rather than retail sales are pyramid schemes and they’re illegal.
If a job posting asks for payment for visas, training materials, administration fees, coaching or anything else in advance it’s most likely a scam. The Federal Trade Commission has more information on job scams and work at home schemes in the US.
2. YOU DON’T NECESSARILY NEED A GREEN CARD
If you’re moving to the USA and working you’ll need an employment related visa, a work permit OR a Green Card. An employer related visa allows you to work for a specific employer only, whereas a Green Card offers permanent residency.
If you do want to proceed with a Green Card, you’ll need a US citizen to sponsor your application. The whole process can take months or even years, depending on the type of immigration.
If your employer is applying on your behalf they’ll need to push your case. They’ll need show that you offer skills that are in short supply in the US (such as scientific, medical or technical). There is a quota of Green Cards issued per year and competition is tough.
3. YOU’LL NO DOUBT NEED A LOT OF PAPERWORK
Check with your employer and immigration lawyer, but chances are you’ll need to bring the following from your home country to the US. If they’re not in English you might need to get these documents translated and apostilled too. And be sure to pack all your important documents with you in your hand luggage. Here’s a checklist of documents you may need:
- Passport (with at least six months validity) and if relevant your ID card
- Visa documents
- Signed work contract and CV
- Marriage / divorce certificate and all your dependent’s documentation too (children’s birth certificates etc) as relevant
- Academic certificates
- Medical insurance policies
- Bank statements and investment documents
- Driving license (international license if available)
- Medical certificates and history, vaccination records
- Religious certificates e.g. baptism records as relevant
4. MOVING TO THE USA MIGHT MEAN LESS HOLIDAY
Under US law, employers aren’t obliged to offer any paid annual leave. The average worker is granted ten days paid vacation
As for public holidays, employers can choose whether or not federal holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day and Veterans Day actually mean a day off work.
While Christmas and New Year’s Day are holidays, other religious holidays like Good Friday, Yom Kippur and Eid al-Fitr are decided on a case by case basis.
It’s really down to the state and the individual employer, so check before you move over if you’re unsure.
5. THE WORK CULTURE IS VERY FOCUSED
For outsiders, US work culture might seem like extreme work work work, but it’s really down to the individual employer.
Unlike other countries there’s no law setting the maximum hours of work per week. On average a full time employee works 8.5 hours per day, or 44 hours per week. While in parts of Scandinavia working long hours might be frowned upon as a sign that you’re not working efficiently, in the US it might just be par for the course.
Some cultures might find the average American style of working quite individualistic. Getting employees to work together as a team is a strong focus in the US, whereas in other cultures it might just be expected. Of course it varies from company to company, but in New York the work culture is generally very global and very competitive.
It’s also perhaps true that while some European nations can be quite direct in terms of evaluation, in the US appraisals tend to focus more on the praise and gently highlight areas of development.
As for family life, there’s no legal minimum paid leave for new parents. Instead it’s up to individual employers to award leave as they see it.
It’s also worth noting that there are lots of chambers of commerce dotted across the country. The Chicago based French-American Chamber of Commerce is one such example. They are great places to network, connect and ask questions about the US work lifestyle. You can contact them in advance of your move to get the ball rolling.
6. THE COST OF LIVING VARIES A LOT
Real Estate. With the exception of hubs like LA, New York and San Francisco, real estate tends to be quite affordable in comparison to other developed nations. If you’re happy to live outside the city you may be pleasantly surprised how far your dollar will go.
Of course it varies, even within a city or state. In New York for example you can reckon of upwards of $6,000 USD per month for a two bedroom apartment in the Upper East Side or Upper West Side, and still around $3,500 USD for the equivalent in Queens.
Shopping. Grocery costs vary so much from the city to rural areas. In big cities fresh produce has to be transported from the farms and this costs money. There are some wonderful stores like Whole Foods Market, but they don’t come cheap. Trader Joe’s is another popular choice and costs less.
There are also some great grocery delivery services. In fact almost everything can be delivered to your door. In New York Amazon Fresh is a really convenient option.
Clothes, electrical goods and gadgets are favorably priced compared to other countries too.
Transport. Regarding transport, it’s more common to drive everywhere, but in the big cities public transport can get pricey. In New York a monthly subway card will set you back $100 USD and trains to the suburbs much more.
Education. In terms of education, there are state and private schools. A lot of parents chose to move out to the suburbs when their children grow up as the quality of education is often (but not always) better in the quieter parts of town.
Check with your broker or relocation agent to get an idea of the quality of the individual schools and their fees. Check online for the school ratings; there are lots of comparison websites, www.insideschools.org is one such example in New York.
7. MEDICAL INSURANCE IS A MUST
If you’re coming from a country with state sponsored healthcare, the US medical system can be quite a shock.
Medical procedures and prescriptions could cost a lot more than in your home country. Healthcare costs for even a single hospital stay in the US can be very expensive.
In the UK prescriptions are free for pregnant women, children, senior citizens and many others, otherwise there is a set fee of £9.00 GBP per item. Meanwhile in the USA, drug prices are not regulated by the government and prescriptions are some of the most expensive in the world. While medical insurance might cover part of the cost, the average American still finds themselves out of pocket. According to a recent survey, on average US residents spend $1,200 on prescriptions drugs per year.
Even obtaining health insurance to help cover these costs can be complex and expensive. One survey put the cost of medical insurance for those not qualifying for government subsidies at $440 USD per month per person and $1,168 USD per family. Employer-sponsored health insurance is available, but not to everyone. Green card holders may be able to obtain medical insurance via the ACA Marketplace (a.k.a. Obamacare) if employer sponsored health insurance isn’t available to them.
It’s a complex, case by case issue. Consequently, it’s vital to understand your options before you move.
8. YOU CAN GET A CREDIT CARD AS A FOREIGNER
The US credit industry has a bit of a chicken or egg problem. This affects anyone who is new to credit, including newcomers to the US.
When moving to the USA, you start over from zero, credit-wise. This matters because your credit score is a very big deal here. It’s the key to smooth business dealings and saving money over time. But your fastest, most direct path to building credit in the US, a credit card, isn’t easy to come by if you don’t have credit to begin with. How are you supposed to build credit if lack of credit disqualifies you from getting a credit card in the first place?
Don’t be discouraged – just find a credit card company that is friendly to expats. CreditStacks is a different kind of credit card company. They look at applicants as more than just a credit score. They evaluate applicants based on potential, not just credit history – by looking at factors like past and current employment, for example. You can even apply up to 60 days before you start a new job in the US, or before you have an SSN.²
If you qualify for a CreditStacks credit card, you’ll receive a premium Mastercard with all the perks, a high credit limit, and low interest rate. Your credit card will be waiting on your desk when you start your new job, and you’ll be able to start building credit immediately, with every transaction.
For more information on how to apply³ for CreditStacks, see the end of this post.
9. AMERICAN LIFESTYLE IS UNIQUE
The US is huge. Climate, culture and lifestyle varies so much from state to state. To give you an idea, you could fit the whole UK into Alaska state seven times over. There are lots of things to know before moving to the USA and they vary so much depending on where you’re living.
In general however, most Americans tend to use cash less than EU nationals. And as for public transport, we rely more on cars, ride shares and taxis than trains.
It’s also true that prescriptions drugs are easier to come by than in other countries. While European friends might recommend a dose of yoga or early bath and bed, we Americans perhaps rely on prescription based drugs a little more.
Americans tend to wear their heart on their sleeves more than in the UK too. In general US lifestyle is far less stiff upper lip and much more sentimental and open. While people are often very busy in the major cities, you might well find it easier to make friends here.
As for the media, American news focuses a lot on America. News is often not just local, but hyper local. Whereas European media will discuss international news or at least major events in neighboring countries, in the US news often focuses much more on the very local.
The lifestyle also varies widely from city to rural areas. Like any move abroad, to help settle in faster it can be a good idea to mirror the type of location you’re living in. So if you’re coming from a bustling capital, you might prefer to be based in a city, while if you’re fan of the quiet life, then perhaps consider moving to a more peaceful area or the suburbs.
10. US LAW IS DIFFERENT, AND IT VARIES FROM STATE TO STATE
In many states you’re legally obliged to maintain your driveway or entrance way. If it gets covered in snow or slippery leaves, be sure to clear it as you’re liable for any accidents.
Most rented properties do not allow you to make extra copies of keys. If you lose a key, chances are you’ll have to replace the locks yourself.
It’s illegal to overtake a school bus which has stopped to drop off children. Wait patiently or risk a fine.
Did you move to the US? If you have any more tips, leave me a comment below!
CreditStacks is a different kind of credit card company that evaluates applicants based on potential, not just credit history. Especially helpful for expats who arrive in the U.S. without a local credit history¹, the premium CreditStacks Mastercard empowers qualified, new-to-credit applicants to start building credit from day one.
¹If applicant has been living in the US for more than one year at time of application, SSN must be provided and application review will include a credit check.
²SSN is required within 60 days of card activation. Card can only be activated from within the US. Applicants who have been living in the US for one year or more must provide SSN at time of application and undergo a credit check.