Working abroad in the US can be one of the most exciting experiences of your life, but can also come with some fairly serious challenges.
If you’re one of the adventurous souls that has moved to the US from abroad to work, what will you have to deal with? To save you from having to ask around on Microsoft Lync, Sametime or whatever workplace messaging service you've got, we had some fellow expats weigh in.
1. You probably won’t have a credit score
For some interesting reasons, you likely won’t be able to port your credit internationally, even though you’ve got an awesome job that more than covers your bills.
“To my surprise, I arrived in the country and was informed I had 0 credit score so if I wanted a credit card I needed to prepay the balance.”
As one expat found out, if you want a credit card you’ll only be able to get a prepaid one from whatever bank you choose, which you should start as soon as possible (and the higher the prepaid amount/limit, the better). If you make sure you fully pay off your balance each month, you’ll be well on your way to getting inundated with credit card offers with higher limits and better benefits.
You can also check your credit score for free once a year with each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion (so really once every four months).
2. No credit means it’s tricky to get a data plan
Most carriers check your credit score in order to provide a data plan. No credit score = no data. Prepaid is an option, but not all phone carriers will give even prepaid plans to international folks.
“It’s worth noting that if you’re foreign most mobile phone companies won’t give you a data plan even if it’s prepaid! T-Mobile is the only exception so I am forever loyal to them.”
You can read about some of your options here.
3. You’ll probably have to wait for your things
No matter the relocation service, if your things come over by ship it will take a while. IKEA (and even Craigslist) are your friends in the meantime.
“Emulating a squatters living quarters while waiting for furniture to ship between countries and realizing Australia is really the end of the earth.”
And not knowing what's going on when you plan to move can make things tricky.
“We get part of a shipping container as part of the relocation. We were living right in the heart of the Little Italy. We had no idea but we had scheduled the movers to come by on the opening day of a festival. Absolute nightmare. Poor guys had to park 3 blocks away and carry all the boxes through the crowd. They deserved a medal.”
4. You will probably need a driver’s license
The relative lack of solid public transport in most American cities means you’ll need to be able to drive. When you first arrive you’ll be able to use a foreign driver’s license as long as it’s in English (if it’s not you’ll need to get an International Driver’s Permit), but typically when you become a resident of a state you’ll need to get a driver’s license for whatever state you’re living in. In New York for instance, you would have 30 days after you’ve lived in an apartment or house for 90 days.
Fortunately, for virtually any expat this is easier than wherever you came from - and if you have a foreign license, some states won’t even require that you take a test! Regardless, the US driving test is surprisingly simple, and having a license opens some awesome doors (read on!).
So now that you’ve got a data plan, driver’s license, and (at least some of) your belongings, what should you do to take advantage of living in America?
The rest of this list will make sure you get the most out of your time:
5. Live and breathe American sports
Professional, Semi-pro, College, it doesn’t matter. Whichever city you end up in will have some kind of sporting presence. The major metro areas will often have multiple pro teams, as well as major college sporting programs. If you haven’t heard of March Madness yet, you are missing out. Even if you don’t like watching the games, the tailgates, barbecues, office brackets and associated get-togethers are well worth attending.
6. Drive around for fun, anywhere and everywhere
The United States is an incredibly diverse country, both geographically and culturally. There is more to the US than NYC, LA or Vegas. No matter where you end up living, it’s well worth it to rent a car (if you don’t already have one) and road trip. Simply following the highways will get you to a lot of incredible places you might not otherwise visit, like Charlottesville, VA, Yosemite, CA, or Sedona, AZ, (among many, many others) all within a day or weekend of major metro areas.
You also don't have to rely on Google maps anymore - Google has a much better alternative for roadtripping called Waze that works spectacularly in the States.
7. Eat... a lot
There are over 600,000 restaurants in the US, so if you want to try them all you’re going to have to get started yesterday (don’t actually try this, it’s impossible mathematically). Try all the burger rivals and decide which is best! Five Guys? Shake Shack? In-N-Out? You tell me!
Don’t forget to taste all the different cuisines and influences the US of A has to offer like New England (lobster rolls?), Southern (fried chicken?), Creole Cajun (maque choux, jambalaya?), Tex-Mex (anything with cheese on it?), or Barbecue (really the godfather of them all). Even better, most restaurants will let you split the check. Yes, you read that correctly. Going out for dinner with friends has never been easier.
8. Take advantage of your proximity to Canada, Cuba, the Bahamas
A lot of really cool places you’ve always wanted to visit are now potential weekend vacation destinations! The entire Caribbean and all of it’s unbelievable beaches are less than a few hours flight if you are near the east coast of the States.
To the South, Mexico and the rest of Central America have a huge variety of holiday options, and to the North Canada, with its cosmopolitan metro areas and breathtaking country, is simply a must visit. If you’ve been flying around to clients and racking up frequent flier miles, you might even be able to fly to one of these destinations for free (or close to)!
9. Crack an invite to some American holidays
Step 1: Make some American friends, preferably of the type that loves holidays.
Step 2: Make it clear you have no plans for Thanksgiving.
Step 3: Get invited to an awesome weekend of food, drinks, and more football than you could conceivably handle. Beyond overeating, getting involved in a classic family holiday is a cool way to learn about the culture of American families.
Ah, and here’s a bonus: you now probably have bank accounts in at least two different countries - use TransferWise for your international money transfers.
With TransferWise, you get the real, mid-market rate (the one you see on Reuters or Google) and are charged a low, transparent fee. Millions of people just like you have already used TransferWise to save money on international transfers. Saving money on international transfers means more cash for all the food you’ll be eating.
Try it yourself using the calculator below!