Where ever you live and what-ever you think of ‘Americans’, it cannot be denied that the chance to live and work in America is an exciting opportunity that would be difficult for anybody to turn down.
Such an opportunity was presented to my family nearly two years ago. Now, as we look back at the way our lives in the UK were too casually discarded, and stress again at the difficulties we had building new lives in North America, we feel a duty to pass on our experiences as a warning to anyone following in our path.
Although I had enjoyed many work related visits to Connecticut, the major influence of American people and culture had, for the rest of the family at least, come from the television. This is, of course, an extremely misleading and distorted channel for information. I am sure that there was a time when the box in the corner (or now more likely on the wall) was an informative and serious source of knowledge. Those days are long gone in our generation of dumbed-down quick-moving entertainment. It seems that no-one under the age of thirty wants to dwell on an idea for longer than ten seconds without the interlude of a joke or an explosion. America does not have jokes – it has slapstick; it does not have explosions – unless, some would have it, specifically arranged by the government.
So the first piece of advice is a scouting visit for all concerned to see what it is really like. This will, I assure you, both dispel wrong notions and delight in new experiences. You will find that Americans are not loud and arrogant, as you may have come to think from those sit-coms; but friendly individuals who work hard and play hard. If you can do the same then they will welcome you most heartily.
This initial adventure should be designed for two purposes: firstly to have a jolly good time but also more seriously as a reconnaissance of the area you expect to make your new home. It is important to see some of the sights and so make the visit a ‘holiday to remember’, but you should also travel; eat and stay in the local towns. Wherever you currently call home will have areas that you would not want to live in – and America is no different. You may want to have a second scouting visit, if possible, to find a home to rent so that it will be waiting for you when you arrive.
If it is at all possible you should arrange to have a relocation officer. This will not always be available to you, but we came across people who had a much easier transfer because of the assistance of a local representative.
As early as possible in the organization of the move, you must start the process of obtaining the American visas. Due to many reasons, our visas arrived just one week before we were due to travel and this caused us no end of problems. If you can get them sorted early then it will reduce the stress on arrival substantially.
Our lack of visas meant that we could not book flights or removals or even sell our cars in a controlled manner. These all, in particular, cost us significantly due to late fees and desperate sales. Being able to plan your last few months in sure knowledge of your move will vastly decrease the stress and anxiety from that we had to endure.
If you own your home then part of your plan includes the decision of what to do with it. Should you sell or rent it out? We are by no means financial experts, and so we can only tell of our own experience, but it has worked well for us in obtaining a long term tenant. This was the beginning of the recession and we had attempted to sell our house for a full year prior to our American opportunity being presented to us. The prices had dropped dramatically and so we would have been selling at a time of great loss of equity.
If you can obtain your visas early then you can carry out the task which will absolutely change your experience of the new country – you can obtain a Social Security Number.
These nine digits are your key to unlock a multitude of doors and without it you almost do not exist. If you arrive on American soil without this number then you will have to live an expensive and dreadfully frustrating life until the obligatory weeks of waiting for your allocation are over.
Without this number you cannot rent or buy a house. You cannot get paid for your work and certainly not obtain medical insurance. You cannot lease or buy a car and so you have the extensive car hire costs to contend with. You cannot have a phone (other than pay-as-you-go) or arrange for an internet connection. You cannot set up a television service either, but not such a bad thing perhaps as the family will be forced to actually talk to each other.
We had to basically pay upfront for everything by existing on the cash we had brought with us and the use of our English credit cards. The banks had great fun continually cancelling our cards due to ‘potential fraud’, however much we protested.
Whatever you do, do not bring your local currency as there are no facilities for currency exchange. We were astounded to find that there are no travel agencies or exchange bureaus and we had to laugh when we asked the bank to change money – they said they would have to send it away and it could take up to five weeks before we could receive the equivalent in dollars.
With the arrival of our Social Security Number we were finally able to lease a car and we then had the fun of arranging insurance. It is essential you take evidence of no claims with you and obtain insurance within thirty days of arrival in America. We were stung badly by our delay such that we are paying many hundreds of dollars per month which takes a significant chuck out of our income.
Another thing that you can arrange if you obtain your visas early is for the work permit for your spouse. Our visas included the ability for us to apply for a work permit but we did not appreciate that it would cost us so much or that it would still take so long.
The above can really be summarized quite simply in the advice to start your plans to move to America early and arrange as much as possible before you travel. When you obtain your visas then immediately apply for a social security number and a work permit for your spouse. Arrive with these documents and the proof of no-claims on your vehicle insurance. With these and hopefully a home waiting for you to move into, then you will be much more able to enjoy the adventure of new experiences in the land of ‘yes we can’.
Guest Post Author
For more information about our experiences with relocating a family of 4 and a dog from the UK to America come read our blog at: