Five things we’ve learnt about setting up home in the US (and three myths we’ve dispelled)

Today is our 2-week American-niversary.

Time is a funny thing as I simultaneously feel like we’ve been here 5 minutes and also 5 years.

I think deep down a part of me truly believes that we’re just on a super long holiday. The other part of me feels like we’re home.

Whether the last two weeks have been a blur or a snail pace, there’s no denying that we have learnt A LOT! And a lot of the things we learnt are things that go against a lot of the advice we were given before we arrived.

So, I’ve put it into a nice neat list and hopefully some of these things will make anyone who is moving over here feel a lot less overwhelmed at the thought of the hoops you have to jump through.

  1. Advice  – you have to file to get your social security number the day you arrive.

What we found – you don’t. You actually can’t. You have to wait at least 10 days for the system to be updated with your info. So you can relax on that front for the first week or so – and trust me, you have so much to be getting on with, that’s a massive relief.

2. Advice – you can’t open a bank account until you have your social security number

What we found – not true. You can! Not all banks will, but most will. We ended up banking with HSBC, but you really do have a lot of choice. And you will need this account as this is the land of the cheque. See point 3

3. As per the above, in the US, cheques rule and wire transfers are seen as ‘what!?!’ I kid you not. For a land that is so advanced, you would think that this would be a no-brainer. UK banks can transfer funds between phone contacts, for god’s sake! But no, everything is cheque. This doesn’t apply for online purchases (see point 6) etc, but for any payment to a person, they need a cheque. Our realtor didn’t believe us when we said that this was alien to Brits and so actually googled it.

*I’m going to include this conversation because it really tickled me.*

We had a  face-to face meeting with our landlords (I think they were a bit nervous because we were foreigners and didn’t have a ‘checking account’, and we were making outlandish suggestions like “we could always transfer you the money electronically”). And this is what our realtor said to reassure them (please say this in your head in an American accent and I’ve tried to emphasise exactly as he did)…

“They do NOT have cheque books in the UK. I’m SERIOUS. I GOOGLED it. By 2018, they are getting rid of. All. Chequebooks. I know, right *shakes his head*

4. Advice – you’ll have to wait a while to get a car on lease.

What we found – not true. We were able to get a car by producing the following documents; Visa paperwork, letter of employment, proof of address (our lease, in this example), and a letter from the social security office to show that we had applied for it. It wasn’t the easiest, but it was pretty darn straightforward.

5. Driving rules. Not only do these differ from the UK, they differ from state to state. My favourite example being that you can’t turn right on red. This makes sense; if its a red light, you can’t turn. Simple. Like in the UK, right? Wrong! That is the rule everywhere except New Jersey (where I live) where you CAN turn right on red as long as no cars are coming and as long as there is no sign above saying “No right on red”. I’ve just downloaded my New Jersey driving manual. I haven’t even looked at a driving license yet – I just know that I have to have one in the next few months. Or at the very least, within the year.

6. It is next to impossible to purchase anything online with a card that has a billing address in the UK. Change your address now! Their systems start to assume that you want to ship internationally, even though you put your shipping address in the US in, your payments get declined, it doesn’t recognise the post code – it all gets very complicated, and confusing. Just change your billing address.

So, there we are. I’m sure we’ll learn heaps more over the next few weeks, but these were the things that I was freaking out over before we arrived. And whilst it’s a relief that all was easier than we first felt, I would have dearly loved to have known this beforehand.




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