Congratulations, you just got entry to school, or a job in America. Let the dream to riches begin. America truly is the land of opportunity.
This is the most important area to line up before you get to America. The US medical system, for lack of a better term, is broken when compared to health care internationally. No matter where you are from, medical healthcare in the US is more expensive and less available. Do not even spend 1 minute in America without adequate health insurance. Routine medical procedures can cost tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in America, all you would need is a car crash in the taxi from the airport to severely impact your life, and likely bankrupt you.
If you are admitted into a hospital in America without health insurance, the doctors will do the minimum necessary to keep you alive, but not much else.
If you are traveling to the US for work, your employer will offer a healthcare plan. Ensure that you are covered on day 1 of landing. If not, you will need to purchase some bridging insurance to get you through to the first day of work. The following links can provide you some quotes for short term insurance;
If you are a student in the US, your school should be able to provide health insurance options. As with those arriving for work, if you are not covered by your School’s health insurance option when you land, you should purchase short term health insurance to last until school begins;
If your school does not provide adequate health insurance, then you can get quotes below;
Be very careful about using travel insurance when you land in the US to work or study. Most (if not all) travel insurance plans exclude travel for work or study. If you needed to make a significant claim, the insurance company is highly likely to investigate, and could deny a claim when they discover you came to America to work or study. Paying for insurance that may deny a claim is a waste of money.
Rent somewhere to live
You will need to live somewhere, and the costs of hotels can add up fast. When you first move to a city, I highly recommend finding a monthly furnished rental to get until you find your bearings, and understand your city. Please note that real estate in America is very cheap when compared to most of the world, so as an outsider you could get stuck overpaying unless you have a good understanding of the market rent.
Most cities in America are not dominated by real estate agents in the rental sector. You will often hear that you should use a realtor/agent/broker, since it is “free”. It is never free, the landlord pays for it, and this means you can either negotiate the rent down slightly without one, or you will get a more attractive renewal in year 2, if they didn’t have to pay a month’s rent to a realtor to find you.
The following websites are the best for finding rentals;
Be very careful about scams in the rental industry. Never pay anything before you see an apartment. It is common in America for a landlord to ask for you to pay an application fee of $20-$40, which covers running a credit, criminal, and eviction check on you. It will be easiest to deal with an individual landlord (rather than a big company), since you won’t have any credit. Dress well, present yourself well, and many small landlords will give you a chance to rent for them, perhaps with a slightly larger deposit.
If you are typically a good tenant (pay rent on time, don’t have complaints from neighbors, and are not high maintenance to your landlord), then a small time landlord will typically give you a better lease renewal each year. Small landlords have never raised my rent, while large apartment companies will raise rent every year, and sometimes the raises can be large. A big company doesn’t care too much if you move, whereas an individual landlord knows the value of a good tenant, and will fight to keep you.
Get a Social Security Card
For some, you were able to tick a box on your immigration forms, and the government will automatically send you a social security card. It is difficult to operate in America without a social security number (SSN), so you want to apply and get one as soon as possible. If you did not check the social checkbox on your immigration forms, you get to experience a US government office. America is the greatest capitalist country in the world, however government services are a different story. It will likely be quite sterile, and unfriendly. Which is a rare experience in this country, as Americans are typically outgoing and very friendly.
You can find the location of your local Social Security Administration here.
Apply for a driver’s license or state ID card
Driver’s licenses are state based, and each state has their own rules. Some may recognize your home country driver’s license, other states will require you to do a written and driving test. If you don’t want to have a driving test, then apply for a state ID card which looks like a driver’s license, but you would need to continue to drive using your home country license.
It is very important to have state identification. This will enable you to lock up your passport at home, and carry identification on you. If you lose your US driver’s license or State ID card, it is easy to replace. However a lost or stolen passport means a new passport from your embassy, then replacing any visas in the passport. An expensive, stressful process. Lock your passport up, and get a local ID.
You can use the following website to see details of driver’s license in your state;
Open a bank account
You will need a local bank account. Even if you will not be making money in America, using your home bank account permanently will get expensive with bank fees. You need an address to open a bank account, but not a social security number. You can open a bank account before you get your social security number (SSN).
Many US banks will let you open an account with;
- Valid Identification (US Drivers Licenses, US ID Card, or passport).
- Proof of an address (utility bill, lease, etc)
- Funds to deposit (Can often be as little as $10)
The USA has a lot of banks to choose from. Many are local to cities, or even local to parts of a city. It can be easiest to work with a bank who has many branches in your town or city, and is available when you travel, or if you moved. The largest banks that are available in most of the country are below;
All banks offer accounts without monthly account keeping fees. Depending on the bank you will need either to keep a minimum balance, or have direct deposit. Direct deposit means having your employer deposit your salary periodically (at least once a month).
Begin building credit by opening a credit card
In the USA, your credit rating is tracked by what is called a Credit Score. A few different versions of the credit score exist, but the most common is called the FICO Credit Score. Your credit score is connected to your social security number, and you will start with an effective score of 0, since you have no credit. You will be judged on your credit score in the following situations;
- Applying for a Credit Card
- Applying for a Mortgage
- Applying for a Car financing
- Applying for a Personal loan
- Applying for a rental property
- Applying for mobile phone / cellphone service
- Connecting utilities (electricity, gas, cable)
- Applying for a job
Your credit score from back home doesn’t mean anything in America, so you should work on building your credit score as soon as possible. It can be difficult to get the first credit card approved, the easiest way for foreigners is;
- American Express – If you have an Amex at home, American Express will in many cases approve you for a card in America using your payment history of your American Express from another country.
- Secured Credit Card – A secured credit card is where you deposit funds with the bank (typically $500 or $1000), and the bank gives you a credit card with a limit of your deposit. The credit card will operate the same as any other, and you cannot access the deposit (ie, so the bank is taking no risk with you). As the bank reports your credit card balance each month to the credit bureau, you will build a credit score, enabling you to apply for a real credit card after 6-12 months. At that time you can close the secured credit card and get your deposit back.
Cell Phone / Mobile Phone
The US have 4 large core cell phone companies. These companies build their own phone network that your phone would run on. All the large 4 cell phone companies allow you to both purchase a phone and pay it off over a 24 month contract, or bring your own phone. Bringing your own phone and using pre-paid service is always cheaper than financing a phone.
You may have some difficulty financing a phone when you first land (until you have built your credit score). The cell phone companies are;
There are a huge number of mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). These companies don’t own the phone network, they re-sell the companies above’s networks often at a discounted rate. An MVNO effectively buys network capacity in bulk at a discount, and re-sells it. Most MVNO cannot give you the latest phone, but are typically contract free, and much cheaper to bring your own phone to. Examples of MVNO include;
- Straight Talk
- Cricket Wireless
It is easiest to pick what major phone network provider your phone will work on, and the choose an MVNO to save money monthly using your phone.
AT&T is the most likely network your phone will work on ,as AT&T uses technology that is most similar to the rest of the world. AT&T typically provides the second best phone service, behind only Verizon. A cheaper way to use AT&T phone network is to choose an AT&T MVNO such as straight talk.
The technical information to see whether your phone will work on AT&T is below;
Network: GSM, UMTS, HSPA+
3G Bands: 2, 5
4G LTE Bands: 2,4,12,17
3G Frequencies: 850, 1900
4G LTE Frequencies: 700 bc, 1700 abcde, 1900
Verizon generally has the best phone reception in most of the US. However they are also the most expensive provider, your monthly bill could be $100. Verizon uses CDMA technology to supplement LTE technology. CDMA is not used is very many countries, so your home phone may not work on Verizon. Some phones like Galaxy S series and iPhone are made to work on all networks, so if your home phone is unlocked, it may work on Verizon.
The technical information to see whether your phone will work on Verizon is below;
3G Bands: 0, 1
4G LTE Bands: 2,4,13
3G Frequencies: 850, 1900
4G LTE Frequencies: 700 c, 1700 f, 1900
T-Mobile may support your phone from home. T-Mobile is generally the cheapest phone network, however outside of the large cities, they often do not have very good cellphone service. I tried using T-Mobile when I moved to Chicago, and my phone was without any service in some places in the center of downtown. If T-Mobile service works where you are, it is a great cheap option;
The technical information to see whether your phone will work on T-Mobile is below;
Network: GSM, UMTS, HSPA+
3G Bands: 2, 4
4G LTE Bands: 2,4,12
3G Frequencies: 1700/2100, 1900
4G LTE Frequencies: 700 a, 1700 def, 1900
Sprint uses similar technology to Verizon, so it is likely your home phone will not work with Sprint. Sprint is a lot cheaper than Verizon, but the cell phone service is not as strong.
The technical information to see whether your phone will work on Sprint is below;
3G Bands: 1, 10
4G LTE Bands: 25, 26, 41
3G Frequencies: 800, 1900
4G LTE Frequencies: 850, 1900g, 2500