01 May Moving to America from the UK: The Ultimate Guide
I just did it! I successfully moved across the pond! It wasn’t an easy process moving to America from the UK – it involved tons of paperwork, legal fees and sleepless nights about packing up my life’s belongings, but I did it.
As a warning, even if you have wanted to pursue the American Dream for your entire life, the day will come and you will start to get cold feet.
You’ll feel anxious, worried, stressed and find yourself wondering if you should just haul up in a cottage in the Lake District somewhere for the rest of your days. And when you arrive in America there’ll be that sense of homesickness for the first couple of days.
But trust me, those feelings will fade and after you’ve settled in, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it earlier.
There are so many things to think about when moving from the UK to the US, so I’ve put together my top tips. This isn’t some shitty guide written by a removal company or an immigration site, this is a real guide, written by a real person who moved from one country to another. So here are my pearls of wisdom for moving to America from the UK:
How to move to America from the UK
Firstly, you’re going to need your visa. There are loads of different visas which would be too complicated to discuss here but it’s important to research all your options. There are family visas, student visas, work visas…it will all depend on your purpose of travel and what you do for a living.
Even if you think that moving to the US seems impossible, talking to an immigration lawyer might help you see what options are available to you. I thought about applying for a visa myself without a lawyer but I’m so glad I didn’t. Definitely cough up the money for a lawyer.
It’s not cheap but you really need someone who knows what they’re doing. They know the kind of language the USCIS likes to use and they will make sure that your application is as robust as possible. I used Siskind Susser as they were recommended to me by friends and I was happy with their service.
I applied for the O-1 non immigrant visa, which is for those who possess extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry. In total it cost around $5000 in legal fees. I first contacted my lawyer in February and I had my visa in my hand at the beginning of November.
Shipping bags from the UK to the US
Once you’ve got your visa and you’re ready to move, it’s time to ship your household stuff from the UK to the US. Packing up your whole world is difficult enough when you’re moving down the street, yet alone moving half way across the world.
Firstly, purchase some packing boxes. Next, purchase some vacuum storage bags. Seriously, these will change your life. I had to fit a duvet, four pillows, 2 cushions, bedsheets and a pile of clothes into one box and the only way to do it was by using these miracle bags. You pop everything inside the bag, put the nozzle of your vacuum cleaner over the hole and watch as your stuff shrinks into this little tiny cube.
At first I was a bit worried about it damaging my stuff but I’m happy to report that when I opened the bags again, everything returned to its normal size and shape. It’s honestly magic. You can buy the bags at Ikea for £2 or from your local pound shop, or online at Amazon and Argos.
As you pack everything into boxes, make sure that you take an inventory, as you’ll have to declare everything on the customs forms before you ship it. If you have a lot of stuff then you’ll probably want to ship it via sea (which can take weeks or months to arrive) but if you’re travelling light then it’s best to air ship it with a company like Uni Baggage. I shipped a large 25kg box with them from the UK to the US and it cost me a total of £100 for door to door service. The box arrived before I did!
Setting up a bank account
When you get to the US you’ll need a bank account with a US zip code and address. Even something as simple as ordering furniture from Ikea requires a US billing address. To save time and hassle, you can set up a US bank account before you go, then simply tell them your new address when you arrive.
I set up my overseas bank account with HSBC as they have a presence within the UK and also the US. They’ll allow you to open a US bank account within the UK and they’ll mail your new debit card and all your info to your UK address.
In order to open the account, I needed to open a HSBC UK account and then once I’d been approved for that account, they allowed me to set up a telephone appointment with the International Banking Team. It took around 30 minutes on the phone, then I had to pop back into the branch with some documents for verification.
Transferring money into your new US account
So you’ve opened your new U.S bank account but there’s one issue, there’s no money in it. If you want to transfer money from a UK bank account to your US account it can be expensive, so to avoid transaction fees, I use Transferwise. Transferwise charge much less than the banks when sending money abroad. Sending £1000 to a US account currently costs around £4.78 GBP in fees and is converted at the fairest exchange rates.
Getting a cheap cell phone plan
In the UK I was paying £16 per month with Three for a plan that included 12GB of data and free roaming to loads of countries throughout the world. Here in the US, you can expect a normal plan with one of the main carriers to set you back around $70-$80 per month and that’s WITHOUT a new phone! Just SIM only. There’s no doubt about it, mobile phone plans are much more expensive in the USA and most of the contracts will require a credit check.
If you don’t have a credit footprint in the US, this can be tricky, which is why its best to stick with a prepaid plan for the first few months. T-mobile offers a prepaid plan for around $50 per month with 10GB of data but I opted for a plan with MetroPCS (which piggy backs on T-mobile network) that is $50 per month for unlimited data. I walked into a store and it took about 5 minutes to get everything up and running. So far so good and the Internet is always fast, so I’m pretty happy about that.
If you don’t need unlimited data an want the cheapest possible plan available, I would highly recommend trying MintSIM which offers cheap prices for paying in bulk up front. 6 months with unlimited data is currently $180 total ($30 per month) or you can pay $300 for a year, which works out at $25 per month. If you’re hesitant about whether it will work then you can order a starter kit on Amazon for $5 and they’ll even credit you the money back if you choose to purchase a full plan.
Once you’ve built your credit score, you can transfer your number and upgrade to a network with a proper plan. The major networks are T-mobile, Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. If you’re planning to travel back and forth to the UK then T-mobile is probably your best bet, since their contracts include data roaming abroad. Admittedly it’s 2G but it’s certainly better than nothing.
Getting your Social Security Number
If you’re eligible for your Social Security Number then it’s best to head down to your nearest Social Security Office as soon as you get to the US. They recommend waiting around 2 weeks from your arrival in the US but I went down the next morning and got my SSN without any problem. I arrived just before they closed and there was no line, so I was in and out within about 15 minutes. I took my passport and my work visa and was handed a form to fill out when I arrived. The number was delivered to my address within 10 days.
Building credit in the US
I’m going to let you into a little secret here. American Express offer a global card transfer service, so if you have an American Express credit card in the UK, they’ll hopefully be able to open a card for you in the US, even if you don’t have a credit history.
In the UK I had both the British Airways American Express and the Preferred Rewards Gold credit card and I had built up a good credit profile with them. So as soon as I got my Social Security Number and my US address, I called up to see about opening a Gold Delta Skymiles Credit Card. Upon applying for the new card I just needed to quote my existing UK account number and the global transfer team were able to pull up my UK credit file. Once I had completed the application over the phone, I was instantly approved and the credit card arrived in the mail a couple of days later.
The US is known for its travel rewards credit cards and large sign up bonuses, so if you’re going to get a credit card I would definitely recommend choosing an airline card. Many of the cards will include perks such as a free checked bag, which will save you money on baggage fees when flying throughout the year.
If you don’t have a credit footprint and you’re not with American Express, then your best bet is to sign up for a credit builder card with a small limit, then use it for daily spending and pay it off in full every month. The sooner you do this, the quicker you’ll build up a credit score in the US.
Credit is really essential if you plan on renting an apartment, leasing a car and even getting a cell phone contract.
Finding a place to live in the US
In NYC and many US cities, apartment buildings require you to prove that you earn 40x the rent and have an excellent credit score. Of course, if you’ve never lived in the US before, this will be difficult to prove. You really have two options – get a guarantor (someone who is a US resident who makes around 80x the rent and will sign for you) or sublet. If you can’t get a guarantor, you may also be able to negotiate by paying for a full year of rent up front.
I went with the subletting option, so I looked on sites like Spare Room and Craigslist, and I also signed up for Facebook groups such as Gypsy Housing. Seriously, Facebook is where you will find all the best rooms and deals. There are lots of people out there who are moving and need someone to sublet for the remaining term of their lease. Just make sure you always ask if it’s a sublet so you don’t waste your time and then find out you’re required to sign a lease.
Download local apps
I’m going to tell you now, the most popular app in the US at the moment is Venmo. Everyone is using it to pay each other. You will go out for dinner with your friends and someone will say “I’ll pay, just Venmo me later”. The reason it is so popular is that banks in the USA actually charge fees for wire transfers, whereas with Venmo there are no transaction fees and it’s completely free to use (unless you’re paying with a credit card, then it’s charged at 3%).
So there you have it, everything you need to know about starting your new life in America. It’s a scary thing moving country and at times it can feel daunting. The UK and the US are similar in many ways but there are also cultural differences that will become very apparent. However, it’s it’s an incredible opportunity to have a new adventure and if you follow these tips it should make life a little easier.