A comprehensive guide to moving to the US

Moving to the US, woman at airport

Once you’ve decided on moving to the US, it’s time to start planning and getting organised. But there are a million questions to ask and things to consider.

Frankly, it can be more than a little daunting and result in a ‘To Do’ list that would make Martha Stewart’s eyes water.

Half the battle is knowing where to start and what you need to get done before you leave and after you arrive in the US.

You can begin with this post on the basics, or get an overview right here.

Just remember, moving to the US is meant to be an adventure, so try not to get too bogged down in the small stuff.

MOVING TO THE US: WHERE TO LIVE?

There’s no denying that the US is a popular destination for aspiring expats and migrants.

Coupled with the fact that some cities are more popular than others for Americans themselves, it can be pricey to live in some states.

US money

Now’s the time to narrow down the cities you want to live in the most. The cost of living will play a huge factor in this decision, and you can find out more information on US city cost of living here.

Then think about lifestyle, the average wage offered to those in your field and other factors important to you.

It’s better to have a few options on your list because sometimes the job hunt can be brutal.

FIND A JOB IN THE US

Many visa types require you to have a job and for your employer to sponsor you to live in the country for a certain amount of time.

That means you’ve got to find an employer willing to shell out some serious cash (in some cases) to bring you over.

Finding a job to move to the US

The best way to do that when you’re job hunting from another country is to use the internet. Create profiles on a few of these US job websites and make sure you have a LinkedIn profile.

Once you find some job ads that suit your skills, use these tips before you fill out any applications or write cover letters.

Remember that you’ll be competing with others who are thinking about moving to the US, so stand out from the crowd.

CHOOSING AN AIRLINE

While the price of your flight might weigh heavily in the pro/con list of the airline you choose there are other things to consider.

Study luggage allowances carefully. Some airlines allow more baggage than others, and can come in handy when you’re moving to the US.

Luggage with bear

You’ll want to take as much as possible with you on the plane, to cut down the cost of shipping extra items.

I went with Virgin America back in 2015 and was allowed two pieces of 20kg luggage as well as hand luggage. It made a huge difference.

TIE UP LOSE ENDS AT HOME

There are lots of bits and pieces that you should take care of before you leave.

Health Insurance

If you’ve got health insurance, don’t be so quick to cancel it. Some providers will allow you to put your membership on hold for up to two years.

It won’t cost you anything extra and it’s a good safety net in case you end up coming home sooner than you’d originally planned.

As long as you meet the insurer’s requirements, such as holding health insurance in the US for the duration of your stay, you’ll be able to take up your policy again without having to go through waiting periods.

As always, read the fine print and make sure you understand the terms and conditions.

Direct Debits

Go over your bank statements for the past year and write a list of all of your direct debits.

You’re not going to need that gym membership, clothes subscription or fruit and veg delivery once you’re overseas.

Make sure you go through the proper process of cancelling them all. Some gyms require notice in writing before you stop payments or you’ll continue to be charged.

Voting

If you’re an Australian citizen you’ll need to vote in all federal, state and local elections for six years after moving to the US.

Visit the Australian Electoral Commission‘s page for Australians living overseas for more details on registering to postal vote.

Once you have an address in the US, you can ask for all ballots to be mailed to you and avoid those pesky fines.

You can apply up to three months before leaving or three years after moving to the US. Otherwise, there’s a form on the website that allows you to remove yourself from the roll altogether.

Tax

My least favourite word probably. It can be confusing and downright annoying at times, especially if you have to file in two countries.

The US tax year is identical to a calendar year and there are a few other differences that you’ll need to be familiar with before moving to the US.

Get the lowdown on 3 tax issues that every Aussie expat in the US needs to know.

Finding an accountant overseas, who knows the ins and outs of both the US and Australian systems can be tough as well. Here are some tips on what to look for in an accountant.

Remember that there are new rules that require you to continue paying off your Australian HECS/HELP debt (student loans) even if you’re not earning money there. Find the details here.

DRIVING IN THE US

Don’t waste your money on an International Driver’s License unless your license is written in a language other than English.

Different states have different rules about whether you can drive on an internationally-issued licence, and for how long. Check with the Department of Motor Vehicles in your state to be sure.

Driving in the US

I’ve moved to California, specifically San Francisco, so my experiences and the links below pertain to driving here.

Road Rules

You’ve driven in one country, so why should driving in the US be any different? Trust me, it is. The locals do things a little strangely.

If you’re jumping straight behind the wheel of a rental car once you arrive, you’re going to want to know a few things first.

They’re all listed out nice and neatly for you here, including traps and pitfalls of car rental that you’ll want to avoid.

Getting a Driver’s Licence

In California you have ten days after your arrival to get a US driver’s licence. Otherwise you’re seen as driving without a licence, regardless of whether you have an international one or not.

Jumping through the hoops of doing a written test then a driving test can be a little confusing. I’ve written about the entire process and everything you’ll need to bring with you at the above links.

SETTING UP YOUR PLACE

You know where to go to buy everything in your home country. But here in the US there are so many stores with strange names that you’ve never heard of. No matter how many American movies you’ve seen.

US Stores for Clothes

So how do you know where to get everything you need to set up your place? You could start on Amazon, since it seems it sells and delivers just about anything you could ever want.

Or you could check out this rundown of US stores and start to get  acclimatised early.

SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER

You’re going to quickly realise that in the US, a Social Security Number (SSN) is like gold.

It’s used for everything from proving your identity to allowing you to sign up for utilities. Some visa’s don’t allow you to have one but most do.

Here’s a quick guide to getting yourself a Social Security Number.

BUILDING CREDIT HISTORY

Once you’ve got an SSN it’s time to start building your credit history.

You start from scratch in the US, which means you have no history and companies have zero reason to trust that you’ll pay them.

So it’s best to  start building that history as soon as you arrive. There are a bunch of easy ways to build your credit score that add up eventually and could have you with a credit score in six months.

MOVING TO THE US

This should be enough to get you started and moving in the right direction. Good luck with your move and if you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments.

Welcome to America!

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