HAPPY NEW YEAR! *woohoo pop bubble clink*
I haven’t done a classic ‘new year, new me’ post. Or a reflective post looking back at the ups and downs of the year before.
My 2016 had three huge standouts; I got married, I emigrated, and I lost my beautiful Nan.
I’ve already done a post about my Nan. At some point I may well do a post on how to plan a wedding… in six weeks. So that leaves emigration – which is where this whole blog started from.
Across my posts, I’ve touched across various aspects of what it means to immigrate to America – whether that be housing or getting social security numbers; finding a doctor or the nuances of supermarkets. True, they aren’t a Dummies Guide to Emigration but to be honest there are only so many words that can be used to describe ‘I signed a form. And then I signed 10 more’ before it gets dull. Instead, I’ve tried to bring to life the whole process by showing what it actually means to a family with toddler going through this life-changing experience.
So, I am going to write a reflective post, but it’s more of a ‘Damn I wish someone had told me that’ type reflection – and if this post serves to reassure someone who is about to embark on the same feat of insanity that we did last year and help them plan, or just help someone decide whether a move abroad is for them, then I will consider my good deed for the year done! (So if it does, please let me know, otherwise I’ll spend the first part of the year devising back-up good deed plans).
The first thing to know is that this post will not go into detail about all of the paperwork involved in getting over here. And there is a LOT! So much, in fact, that at one point I used it to raise my laptop up a good five inches as the desktop height it was at was hurting my neck! The reason why I’m not going to talk to you about paperwork is because, in all honesty, I know very little about what paperwork you actually need to fill in.
America’s immigration policy means that you can’t wake up one day and be like ‘I’m going to move to America’. You get to move over here for two reasons; 1) you are married to, or are the child of, an American or 2) you move over here for work. I can’t speak about whether you have a ‘family pass’ as I imagine the process is very different, however the great thing about coming over here with work is that the whole paperwork process is handled by your HR department and they will use an attorney who specialises in emigration law. You just get issued with a series of instructions to follow – things like sign here, read this, get married – and they take care of the rest
2. Oh yeah, you need to be married
We had an incredibly fun wedding booked in Vegas for this June 2017, with a beautiful party to be held when we came back. The thing is, if you (as the person who isn’t going over for a job) wishes to join your partner and move too, you have to be married to said partner at the time of the visa application – the process can’t start until you are. And so, we had to pull our wedding forward several months. The earliest we could get married after finding this out was six weeks later – therefore, six weeks later we were married (it was epic by the way and I highly recommend giving yourself no time whatsoever to think… about anything)
3. The whole American embassy getting a visa process is nothing to be worried about
It really isn’t – your dream team of HR + attorney will tell you exactly what you need to take and you just turn up with the goods. Just remember to take a bank card with you as we had a £110 fee to pay for processing, and me trying to be clever and speed through security, had left my handbag outside with Mr M. Also, if you are sorting out a visa for a child at the same time and they are under three years old, they don’t have to come into the embassy with you – thank god!
4. Know where you want to live well in advance of arriving and get yourself a realtor before you get there
Do. Your. Research. Know exactly where you want to live – check out the towns, their crime stats, their schools (if relevant), if you will be commuting how long will it take you to get to the city you’re working in – basically if it is important to you, find out. Believe it or not, we found our town by the incredibly inventive long tail search term ‘Towns that are less than an hours commute from downtown New York and that are great for families‘ and lo and behold, there was an article online called ‘Top 20 New Jersey commuter towns for families‘ on a website called NJFamily.com. Job done.
We then used an American version of Rightmove called Zillow, found some properties we liked and contacted the realtor explaining our situation. John from Sotheby’s was blimming amazing; he spent the next couple of months sending us over properties so that we could get an idea of what was available, and the day after we landed we viewed three properties with him and ended up taking the first one we saw.
This was a godsend. I’m sure companies differ, but a pretty standard support seems to be that they will ‘put you up’ for 30 days whilst you look for somewhere to live. And 30 days is a good amount of time, right? WRONG! 30 days is the shortest amount of time ever known to man if you must have somewhere for your furniture (which has been in transit for the last 10 weeks) to be delivered to. And bear in mind that you will need to have credit checks done on you before you get accepted for a rental, and the house you want may not always be available immediately. Do your work upfront for this.
5. Banking is a b*&ch!
Jeez! Okay, to be fair, it turns out that we had an absolute muppet looking after us when we set up our bank account out here and hence why we had so many problems (he’s since been fired – not because of us, I hasten to add… or at least, I don’t think so), but it was doubly compounded by the fact that the same bank in England had also given us entirely incorrect information about setting up an account in advance of moving. I won’t name the bank except to say that there aren’t that many international banks to choose from. With four letters. So, if you are dealing with said bank – or any bank, to be fair – double-triple-quadruple check that they have given you the right information. And again, research as much in advance as you can. Most banks need you to have had an account open for a minimum amount of time before you can use their international services. Also, beware of hidden caveats – often you can only benefit from the good stuff ie free international transfers, if you pay in over a certain amount annually.
However! Don’t despair – there is a great service called TransferWise and these guys offer a better exchange rate and substantially cheaper transfer fee (think £3 versus £25 with a bank) so if you do still have money in a UK account that you need to regularly access, I would recommend not fretting about finding an international bank and instead find the best bank for you, and use TransferWise for the rest.
6. You are, in effect, 18 again
Yes, you have zero credit whatsoever when you emigrate. I can’t talk about how it works elsewhere in the world, but certainly in America your credit rating is zero when you arrive, regardless of what your credit rating was in the UK. If you have racked up years of bad credit and unpaid student loans, you’re pretty much laughing. If you’ve done your best to build credit and behave impeccably it’s incredibly galling but you just have to suck that up and get over it *takes a deep breath, counts to 10*.
It’s not doom and gloom, though – they seem to be used to expats being over here, so many of the car sales garages and real estate companies will offer credit in exchange of your company coming forward as a guarantor, so make sure you ask them about this.
What this does mean, of course, is that everything costs a small fortune. Need car insurance? Sure thing – that’ll be $2,500 a year please because you have no credit history. Need a phone contract? You can’t have that, but you can do pay as you go. You’re not entitled to this interest rate, you haven’t been here long enough. You’re not entitled to this offer, you haven’t been here long enough.
The good thing is that they re-evaluate credit every six months out here, and so we are coming up to hopefully paying slightly less per month than a 17-year old who has just passed their driving test…. and had three crashes already.
7. It costs a lot of money – your disposable cash flow takes a serious dent
It is not cheap to emigrate. You may be lucky and your company may stump up some contribution to it, but that still doesn’t take into account general ‘stuff’ you’ll want to buy; Christmas decorations; decking out your cupboards with cutlery and crockery; stupid things like clocks and rugs and photo frames – stuff that you left behind because shipping costs are expensive; all new electricals because you can’t run your whole home off travel adaptors. I know, I’ve tried.
Then there are taxes. And tipping. And random things that cost a lot more; like shampoo and deodorants. Plus, the fact that you have no family over here so all of a sudden you are paying for babysitters any time you do go out, which is an instant $80-$100 straight onto your bill that night. Add to that your credit (or lack of) and you very quickly get used to spending a lot of time together in parks and other free stuff.
I can’t even moan about this – I know that Mr M has plenty of WTF moments when we can’t do some of the stuff that we used to do, but I think that this is actually very good for us. I like it.
8. Talking of shipping….
If you are going to spend money on anything, spend it on this. Get yourself a great shipping company. We had the bloody best – they’re called Green Worldwide and I can’t recommend them enough. Look for a company who will do an evaluation beforehand (these guys did it by Skype so it didn’t even inconvenience us) so that you have an accurate expectation of cost. Look for a company with a slick process – on leaving day, ours came around and they packed everything. EVERYTHING. In about 2 hours. You obviously have to do the things that you want in boxes like the smaller items and your clothes etc but they packed up our sofas, our huge 6ft mirror, and our glass-topped dining table (just to name our most delicate things).
Look for someone who will keep you updated on where your ship is and what’s going on – we used to get regular email updates on whereabouts our belongings were and how long they should be expected to take. This not only reassured you that your belongings aren’t at the bottom of the sea, but also is rather exciting – like a countdown to Christmas… if one of the risks of Christmas was that the day might never turn up.
Finally, on D-Day (delivery day) not only did they unpack everything (which was all intact – mirror and glass table and all), they also took any rubbish away that they could. But that’s not all – and this is the clincher – they helped us build our bed. Which would have taken forever just us two, and took about 20 minutes with four strong men + power tools. And when you’ve been sleeping on a mattress on a floor for three weeks, words can not describe how wonderful this is.
9. Social security numbers and the myths around this
In America, you can’t do anything without your social security number (SSN). And when you’re preparing to move out here, a lot of sources say you have to go and apply for this literally the moment you get off the plane.
You don’t. In fact, there’s no point applying until 10 days after you arrive as it takes that long for your details to get passed through to the ‘database’ from your arrival. So, again, relax. Don’t fret. Just find your local social security office so that you know where it is, and then spend the next 10 days doing other stuff…. like looking for houses. When you do go to apply, make sure you check the Social Security website for what documents you need to take with you, and always make sure that you have originals. Or else one of you will have to take a long cab back to your hotel just to get the wedding certificate that you thought your husband had brought along, when in fact it was a copy…. hypothetically, speaking.
10. Sign up with Uber. Or Lyft.
Doesn’t matter which. But until you get a car you are screwed for transport and trust me, you’ll need transport. This by far the most convenient and simple way of getting around, and if you need anything at this point, its convenience and simplicity. And maybe a large glass of wine.
11. Schools – where on earth do you start?
My advice – and please note that I can only speak from the viewpoint of a mum to a two-year old, so I don’t know what the process is for older children yet – would be to wait until you’re there to make the call on this one. You would probably rather get a feel for the school, the teaching staff, the other pupils. You would probably rather drive through the neighbourhood that the school is in. You would probably rather see your child in the environment to see how comfortable they feel.
Something to note is that, unlike in England when children start Reception at age four, kids over here don’t start Kindergarten until they’re five years old – or even Grade One when they’re six years old. Before that it’s pre-school and Pre-K and these are paid for by the parents – none of it is subsidised. It’s also really unusual to find anywhere that takes kids from younger than two-years old.
Finally, from what I can gather, it’s similar to England in that it’s a bit of a postcode lottery and where you go to school depends on where you live, so this is another thing to bear in mind when speaking to your realtor.
12. Driving driving
I haven’t yet taken my driving theory test, so this section is going to be short and sweet, suffice to say this:
You will need to take a theory test – if you have a British driving license you won’t have to take an actual ‘driving’ test (in a car park and all), but you do need to take a theory test to demonstrate that you know the rules of the road. And the rules of the road varies from state-to-state.
You have three months to apply for an American driving license and then a further 90 days to take your actual test
One thing to note – if you are the dependant on the visa (ie your other half is the reason you have a visa) you will not be able to take your test without them being there in person. I know. It’s ludicrous. You’re not ten years old. But apparently you are when it comes to driving.
Incidentally, I love, love, love the people here but, dear god, it seems like hardly anyone in NJ can drive. Across one weekend in December I saw three car crashes and what felt like 300 very near crashes. Be careful and stay safe.
13. Finally, something really important! I mean, super important!
Learn how to take a compliment.
Americans are the most complimentary nation I have ever come across. They like your shoes? They’ll stop you in the mall and tell you. They like your gym pants? They’ll pause you mid barre class and tell you. Your hair. Your lipstick. Your child. If they like it, they’ll tell you. It’s wonderful. Or at least it would be if I wasn’t British and completely inept at taking a compliment.
But Americans don’t get that. A ‘god no, I look a state’ is met with confused bewilderment. They clearly don’t think so, they wouldn’t have said it if they didn’t mean it. So they just think you’re a bit of a weirdo if you say anything other than ‘thank you’. So, just say thank you.
And that’s it, really. I mean, clearly this isn’t the be all and end all of moving abroad, but it’s what I’ve learnt in the last few months and it would have made a deal of difference to me if someone had told me this stuff.
One thing that I can say is that this has been the most scary-amazing thing I have ever done. And I would do it again and again. I love it for its weirdness, its unpredictability, its adventure, and its newness.
I love it for helping me to see how amazing my family and friends are for understanding and supporting this move – obviously, I knew they were wonderful, but nothing separates your mates from your true mates like a 3,000+ mile move.
I love it for how lucky I am to have this opportunity. And if you have this opportunity and it sounds right up your street, go for it! Do it! You won’t regret it.
Peace and love and have a happy, healthy 2017.