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Last Updated: Friday, March 27, 2009

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Moving to the USA from the UK is a dramatic statement of independence. There are many reasons to come to the US, including the age-old sayings of "opportunity" and "freedom". To be honest, we moved because we got drunk at a BBQ we had in the UK and some friends suggested we all emigrate to the States. We had considered Australia and New Zealand but these were distant plans. We also had problems with Chris' family so, after a little research on the internet (a GREAT means to gather help and information), we decided to look for opportunities to move.

Fortunately, that came quickly (and left us little time to change our minds), so now here we are...how did the move go? Well, there were things that we did well and things that could have gone better. To that end, we decided to include this page in the vain attempt to make the transition a little easier for others considering such a large step.

We have tried to contact people who helped us in the move, requesting their permission for their details to be placed on the site for reference information; some have agreed and some have not responded- where available, we have put as much details as possible and we will endeavour to keep adding to this section. As time goes by, we are finding out about the way things are done in America and the vast differences that exist between the 'British' and the 'American' cultures. We do intend to make this page as comprehensive as possible and, if you offer any services that may help in moving countries, please contact us with the details so that we can include you in this area (email the WebMaster@GibbsUSA.net)!

Below are some of the things that you might find useful if you ever consider a move to the ol' US of A !

Moving

Once we had decided to take the job in the USA, our next questions were:

The first one is easy- you will be flying- flights vary in cost and are seasonal, so shop around for your tickets. But what about your stuff? Well, that will be going by sea...(unless you are VERY well off or only have a small amount of freight) taking up to 3 months depending on where you are in the USA and the customs office.

We had a few "car boot sales" (or "garage sales" in US language) before we left- getting rid of some of the stuff that collects over the years, but we brought most of our furniture with us. That proved to be a mistake!

Furniture rental is very common in the USA. With a lot of people moving from state to state depending on their job, obtaining 'temporary' furniture is as easy as picking up the 'Yellow Pages' armed with a Visa card- and it is relatively cheap. Purchasing is another option and again, the cost of complete sets (for example, dining room, living room and bedroom) are cheap (see HomeStore).

If you do decide to bring your 'stuff' please, shop around. We got a very good deal from a (then) local company called Doree Bonner who we would recommend to everyone, given the chance, although most companies will offer packing, shipping, storage and unpacking services as well as the ever important "insurance". If we could offer some advice DON'T CONSIDER BRINGING FURNITURE- sell it in the UK before you move. Once it is in the USA the price that you get for selling furniture is small and you may be better off using the tax relief that a charitable donation will bring.

Credit Ratings

One thing that the USA relies heavily on is your credit rating. Of course, coming here with no history in the country also means that you don't have any credit "worthiness". Also, almost everything relating to credit or indeed, personal information etc. relies on your 'Social Security Number' (see later)- so keep this number safe.

Recent laws passed in the US require the three main credit agencies to provide a free report to you once a year. While at the time of writing this is not available in all states yet...it is coming and you SHOULD make use of it!

One thing that can prove useful is obtaining your current credit ratings from the UK, as the companies that provide the ratings in the USA are effectively the same. While not everyone will be willing to look through the paperwork (most people have not seen a complete credit rating report) it may be the difference between 'Yes' and 'No'.

Over time, your credit should improve- you should look at building a good relationship with your local bank (see later) and also obtaining a named credit card. While we don't condone the use of credit cards, they are an ideal end to improving your credit. If you can spend on the card and pay off the balance at the end of the month then this is the best way forward!

There are also instances of obtaining a short term loans from the bank and paying them off over a short period- again, this will appear on your credit rating and (assuming that you make all of the payments) could be of benefit. There are MANY books and articles available on improving your credit in the USA (especially on the internet) but, keeping up payments on the cards and not over extending should be enough for the first year. This was an area that we did not consider before our move but have had few problems (so far!)... Some recent advice we received (thanks John D.) is "to check your history at least once a year to ensure it's accuracy".

One area that you will not have to worry about is that of Car (or Vehicle) finance- see later.

Social Security/ ITIN

Similar to the UK "National Insurance Number" this is the most important piece of information that you will ever have in the USA. There are many cases of "identity theft" where people have taken the credit ratings and arranged finance agreements based solely on the fact that they have a valid Social Security Number (SSN)- which could be YOURS!!! To that end, it is advised that you NEVER carry the issued card or the number around with you (for example, in your wallet).

As the American system revolves around the SSN being your main means of identification, not having an SSN can close doors to certain areas- for example, car insurance may require that ALL drivers have SSN's for identification purposes and they do not make exceptions. While it has proved difficult in some areas for us (Michaela is on an H4 Visa) there are always other companies that will accept you...as always, it just costs a little more!

Obtaining the SSN requires a lengthy wait at one of the Social Security buildings. Queues can be anything up to 4 hours- so be prepared for a wait. You will also need to provide your passport and Visa details (no photocopies) to the immigration personnel. If you do not have a valid working Visa (for example a spouse who is on a H4) then you CANNOT obtain an SSN- and this can bring with it a few headaches.

For tax return purposes, non Social Security number holders must get an ITIN, or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. This is a tax processing number that became available on July 1, 1996, for certain nonresident and resident aliens, their spouse, and dependents. The ITIN is only available to individuals who cannot get a Social Security Number (SSN). It is a 9-digit number, beginning with the number "9", formatted like an SSN (NNN-NN- NNN). The temporary IRS Number previously assigned is no longer valid. For more information see the Internal Revenue website (or look for the W-7 form).

More information is available from the Social Security Online web site.

Banking

The way banks work in the USA is very different than the UK. One thing to remember is that if you have enough money, you can set up your own bank. There are basically two types of bank- a standard bank and a credit union. Credit Unions often provide a more personal service however, their scope within the US is more likely to be limited to the state (even the city).

There are no guarantees with the banking system as there are in the UK- only some Federal legislation that provides limited guarantees.

Interest rates are very volatile and are dependent on the current market status and Federal Government positions- so don't expect worthwhile interest on your 'current account'. Other options are available for investing, such as CD's (Cash Deposits) which offer a fixed rate of interest over a period of time (such as three months) or Money Manager accounts with advice from an investment advisor. It is best to shop around before deciding which to use.

You will, of course, need an account for your salary etc. and again, there are many to choose from, for example, Bank One and Bank Of America to name but two of the larger institutions.

Direct Debits' do not currently exist in the US. They have started to introduce 'EasyPay' which relies on a company charging your Visa card with an amount every month (for example). However, be wary of this option as it does not come with the guarantees that the UK's Direct Debit system has (if you are charged the wrong amount) and chasing companies for refunds etc. can be difficult if you are not used to the way that things are done and approached.

Also, cheques have to be endorsed before they can be deposited (i.e. the back of the cheque needs signing), your personal cheques will have your FULL address printed on them and probably your telephone number. It is also customary for cheques that you have written, once endorsed and banked, to be returned to you for your records.

Property & Services

When you have decided to move to the USA the next big question is how to find somewhere to live. Whether you want to rent or buy, there is no substitute for a visit to the area and have a good look around- but you can always do some initial groundwork by researching some of the prices of appartments/ houses by looking at some of the multitude of web sites. One of the better ones is Homefair which provides links and access to many areas of the house moving process.

Once you arrive, it is a good idea to see a local agent- they will ask questions and determine where and what you might like and then often take you round the various appartments and areas. This can save a lot of effort (and getting lost looking for somewhere) and is well worth the time spent. Agents are listed in the local 'Yellow Pages' or you can find one on the web via Dex Online (an online yellow pages).

If we could offer a hint it would be don't pick the first house that comes along- while it may be 'out of this world' compared to UK standards, there are many more that you could look at...and you never know...it took us a full day of looking around with an agent and we went for the last one...with NO later regrets!

Services (telephone, electricity, gas etc.) can be provided by many companies. All will require deposits if you have no credit history in the USA (ususally kept for a year). As with most things, shop around- speak to collegues as to the best deals available and remember that you can always change if the service does not meet your standards!

Mortgages & Purchasing Property

On January 11th 2002 we moved into our new home. We had to shop around to get a good mortgage deal (as we had not been in the USA for long), but in the end we found a great company, Adobe Financial Corporation who specialise in the state of Arizona. They were able to utilise our UK payroll information etc. and obtain financing at 5% deposit and a great interest rate!!!

While looking for a property to buy we used a reality firm that helped us locate the houses that matched our criteria and made them available to look at. The firm we used was Realty Executives- they provided a very helpful representative that quickly understood what we were looking for (Mike, if you ever read this, THANK YOU!!!!)...

For more information on how to go about contacting these people and what they will need, please feel free to contact us as we cannot put too much financial information here!!!

Health & Insurance

Most people are aware that the health system in the USA is different to that in the UK. The NHS does not exist- you will have to pay the costs of ALL health care. Some jobs offer health benefits and it is advisable that you take these (check out what is best for you when assessing any benefits such as PPO or HMO). You can obtain private insurance from some of the bigger insurance companies or there are companies in the UK that offer expat. insurance of British citizens.

Suing people is the norm in the USA. It is imperative that you ensure that your house and vehicles are FULLY insured. While household insurance is relatively cheap, auto insurance is astronomical when compared to the UK. Inbuilt into your auto policy is usually all of the additional insurance that you would ever need (personal, contents etc.) so you don't have to worry about that, however, as you will not have any driving history in the USA, be prepared for quotes in the $1,000's!

Over time, your insurance costs will become lower and, once you have a years' history, you can start shopping around- many companies offer on-line quote services so this is becomming easier. It is law to keep your insurance details in your vehicle at all times (as well as the registration documentation).

Vehicles & Driving

OBTAIN AN INTERNATIONAL DRIVING PERMIT FROM THE AA BEFORE YOU LEAVE. That is the first bit of advice. If, like us, you have a UK driving licence that does not have a photograph, it is a useless piece of paper in the USA. The IDP can be used for a year and is recognised in the USA.

Most states request that residence over 6 months requires a state driving licence. Sorry, you will have to take your test. Most states have a written and driving test...compared to the UK this is easy. It is a good idea to get the licence anyway as it can be used as a formal piece of identification wherever you go. Testing is done at your local MVD (or Motor Vehicle Division) and, as with the Social Security Office, be prepared for a wait. Try to go mid week and either earlier or later in the day. If you lease a new vehicle or purchase an older one, all documentation and registration is done at the MVD so you will quickly get to know it well. They also provide the states 'driving handbooks' on which the multiple-choice questions are based.

Gas (not petrol) prices vary and, unlike the UK, when the oil prices drop, so does the gas price. Also, the price of gas can vary between your local stations (by as much as 50 cents a gallon) so look around!

If you have a motorbike then the USA is a great place- again, written and riding skills are assessed. You can obtain 'temporary permits' to get used to the different way of driving/ riding in the USA or, like us, you can attend a motorcycle course run by the MSF to get your US licence quickly. If you do decide to bike (it is cheap on gas and insurance) then ,despite some states not requiring a helmet- WEAR ONE!

A few parting words on this topic- the cars in the USA are BIG, they can drive at 16 (with little knowledge) and the roads are wide...so be careful out there!

Electrical Goods

This is an area that can bring much confusion. Most electrical goods will work in the USA providing that adapters etc. are used correctly. The US works on 110V rather than the 240V UK standard so heating electronics (such as kettles) will work but they will take a VERY long time to boil or get warm. Cables, transformers and telephone adapters etc. are available from Impactron in the UK.

Televisions and videos are different. The UK uses PAL whereas the US uses NTSC which, without going into too much detail, basically means that they are incompatible! There are converters available but we have yet to be sucessful in converting our PAL television to NTSC. Most modern videos however are able to play both systems.

Also remember that the DVD Region code in the USA is Region 1- so you will either need to convert your DVD player to multi-region or purchase a new one in the States. We made the mistake of bringing our DVD player to the USA before we had it modified. The result of this was months of searching for a company that would do an upgrade. Finally we found a great company based in Manchester (UK) called Mail UK Limited. We had our DVD player shipped back to the UK, modified and returned to the USA within 2 weeks. The service is excellent and the work impeccable. If you are considering bringing your TV, Video and/ or DVD player to the USA, be sure to give them a call to check out what they can do for you- it will be worth the effort!!!

That said, it is not all bad news- most electrical goods are cheaper in the US than their counterparts in the UK- and, as with furniture, you can always rent (believe it or not you can rent a kettle and toaster)!

Animals

When we moved to the USA in February 2001, we brought with us our two cats, Phoebie and Monica (no prizes for guessing where those names came from)...

While the UK does not have rabies, the USA does. You will need to check with the state vetenarian as to the requirements for importing animals to the US (such as vaccinations etc) and these will vary from state to state but a good place to start is the CDC Division of Global Migration and Quarantine FAQ site. Once here, there are innoculations/ vaccinations that will be required to keep your pets healthy- rabies is one!

Most airlines can accommodate the transit of animals although you will not have access to them during the flight- our trip with British Airways was great with extra attention being paid to the cats and even the US customs helped us through quickly so that we could see they had arrived safely. That said, there were certain requirements that had to be met, one being the size of the travel container- it is not your normal cat basket!

Check with your local vet if they have any transport boxes or your local removers- if not, most kennels have or can obtain them for a small fee!

Time Zones

America is HUGE! The geographic center of North America is in Rugby, North Dakota. The geographic center of the U.S. (all 50 states) is in South Dakota, while the geographic center of the contiguous 48 states is in Kansas. With this in mind the US spans four timezones. This is something to note if you are talking to someone on the other side of the country.

Lifestyle

One of the reasons for coming to America has to be the lifestyle. This will vary from state to state but you can expect bigger and better here. It takes some getting used to being asked what salad you want with your meal (a choice of at least 5) and then which dressing (another choice of 5) etc...or if you ask for toast, it's not "white or brown", its a choice of ALL the different breads! For us, this has been great (although sometimes understanding the choices leaves you bewildered).

Guns are, of course, a prevelent factor in America. They are easy to obtain and (for the most part) are legal to carry. States have different laws regarding Visa applicants purchasing weapons and most have laws regarding the use of fully automatic weapons. If you are not used to guns (as we were) it is recommended that you undertake some training before considering purchasing one. States will also have various laws regarding the carrying of guns in public- for example, in Arizona you are required to have a 'concealed weapon permit' to carry a gun on your person if it cannot be seen. Again, there are several legal web sites that will provide you with the information that you need. Remember that, unlike the UK, the use of deadly force to defend your family and home in the USA is a constitutional right!

Speaking from Arizona, our lifestyles have changed completely- we have lost weight (contrary to what most of our friends thought we would), the weather is out of this world and, more importantly, we are enjoying ourselves.

Tax & Tipping

Each state in the US has it's own tax laws. Prices are marked excluding tax (so when something is $1.99 you need to add the tax to get the true cost)- similar to VAT in the UK. It can take some getting used to! See http://www.taxsites.com/state.html for more information.

All of the bills in the states are the same colour and size- so be careful when you pay for something to look at the number on the note. Monetary slang for loose change is:

Tipping is something that is difficult for English people- simply because we're not used to it. In the USA, tipping supplements the income for many industries and should be expected. As a VERY broad rule of thumb, the tip should be at least twice the amount of tax added to the bill. If the service was good, add more!

Language & Spelling

As any proper Englishman will tell you, current/ past colonists don't speak the Queen's English. Many of the same words here have different meanings or no meaning when compared to England, South Africa, Australia, etc. Also many things are customary here that will take a while to get used to.

Most of the differences between America and the UK can only be assessed over time, however, there are a few things that can be looked at:

One of the easiest things to do on this front (as no-one likes a letter that is full of 'spelling mistakes') is to ensure that you use American dictionaries on the computers that you use. It might be the right spelling to us, but we're in the US now!

Pubs- aka Bars

A topic very close to my heart. In the UK, if you socialise at the 'local', don't expect the same in the USA. Depending on the state there are a lot of differences. Remember, the legal drinking age in the US is 21 and you should ALWAYS carry photo ID if you expect to drink (or purchase drink from the supermarket). It is not unusual for 40 year olds to be asked for ID- if you don't have it, you don't get served. The ideal piece of identification is the states driving licence.

The bars themselves are often more what we would class as restaurants- although if you look around you will find one that caters more for the drinkers. Drinking (and smoking) is more frowned upon than in the UK so be careful if your on 'a bender'.

Depending on the state, bars usually close at 1am and alcohol cannot be bought before 10am on a Sunday (in Arizona for example). Finally, just a quick note that if you are caught 'urinating' in the street (as we've all seen people do in the UK), this is a felony offence as a sex crime and Drinking and Driving can result in a stay in 'jail' for a period of two weeks as well as a fine and licence suspension...you have been warned!

For complete details on the alcohol laws, see the states internet site or the city legal web site.

Other Tit-Bits

And finally...

(Thanks to Don Weis)

If you are easily offended - you might not want to read this next bit. It's intended to save you some embarrassment and provide a little amusement...


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