I’ve just updated this post with a few extra tidbits since moving to LA last month for a SECOND time and with a new visa! Also, the comments are a great place to find answers for visa questions and importing your car. Enjoy!
Whether you’re being transferred for work or going to college in the USA – you might find this post helpful. Having just moved to the USA from Canada (here’s WHY we moved), I’m hoping others doing the same can benefit from my experience so far and avoid a lot of hassle when getting settled into the United States.
I did everything below out of order, but here is a rough idea of what order you could consider doing everything in and some of the bumps I experienced along the way!
1) Apply for your Social Security Number
I really should have done this the day I found out my US visa was approved at the US border. It can take 2-3 weeks for your SSN to be processed and this number really is the basis for EVERYTHING. Drop anything else and apply for this as soon as you arrive.
2) Apply for your Work Visa
If your work visa has not kicked in, or you need to apply for one after you arrive (like me) I would do this as soon as you have your SSN. My Employment Authorization Document (EAD) took an additional 60-90 days to process, so the sooner you apply, the sooner you can start working.
I’m also hearing that EADs are now taking upwards of 5-7 months!!! Now that’s a long time to be out-of-work, so giddy up and get on it.
I’ve spent a lot of time tracking my work visa and immigration status online. The best websites for expats I have found are Trackitt, Immihelp and this USCIS page that shows current processing times. There are lots of helpful forums of other people going through the same things on these sites.
When using the USCIS page, make sure to set-up an account with your confirmation number and turn on text and email alerts so you know ASAP if your visa is approved.
Additionally, sometimes the notifications don’t work properly at all. So do login every 5-7 days just to see if there is any movement on your case.
3) Open a Bank Account
Once you have a US mailing address and SSN, you should get to a bank and open an account so you have a place to deposit your US paycheques and an account to start paying bills from.
A lot of people in the comments mentioned that they opened a TD account in the US – that might be a good place to start. But you may want to choose a bank where you can walk into a branch locally when you need something. HSBC is also a good choice since they have a good understanding of global banking and different currencies.
4) Get a US Credit Card
It’s really hard to build credit in the USA with NO American credit history. The best thing you can do is apply for a prepaid credit card where you would leave a $1000 deposit for a $1000 limit on a credit card.
Use this to slowly build credit over the next 3-6 months and then you can eventually ask for your deposit back. I would advise doing this ASAP as most credit cards from Canada will charge you a 2.5% foreign transaction fee on EVERY purchase. This adds up big time!
I actually got approved for an American Express US credit card just by having one in Canada for over a year in good standing. I think it’s because they are their own bank and are more flexible with their clients moving around a lot.
The other biggest pain in the butt was finding an apartment where we would pass their credit check – again with no US credit history. With our buidling, the minimum credit score was 550 and you needed to prove you had money in the bank, a job and recent pay stubs.
Smaller landlords are more flexible, you could offer to pay 3-6 months of rent in advance if the situation does not seem sketchy. However larger property management firms just didn’t seem to get it. So FYI.
5) Go to the DMV
When I moved to the state of California, I had 10 days to change my driver’s license over. Make sure to get to the DMV right away to do the written driving test. Once you pass, you have a temporary license for about 60 days and then you need to book and pass a behind-the-wheel test.
Laws and timing vary between states – so double check.
It is also possible to book an appointment at the California DMV – however appointments run 2-3 months out and was useless for us. However, if we knew in advance of our arrival date – I would have booked an appointment and I would recommend that you do too.
It’s not quite as fast as Service Ontario when I applied in California. It took 45 minutes just to get through to the DMV intake window and to get a ticket. After that it was another 45 minutes to get my number called and then 20-30 minutes to get processed.
Plan on spending at least half a day here and bring your SSN, passport, visa, Canadian driver’s license, and a utility bill showing proof of residency.
6) Import your Car
We made the mistake of NOT importing our car when we drove it from Canada to the US border. It’s much easier to do this when you cross, but not to worry. You have up to one year to officially ‘import’ your car at a PORT near you. Check out my post on how to import your car from Canada to the USA.
If your car does not have TPMS installed, you might just want to sell it. Other people have mentioned how they were quoted over $5,000 to have this installed and it needs to be done by the original manufacturer. Newer cars made in Canada generally do not have TPMS.
Additionally, those leasing their car or have an outstanding loan on their vehicle Canada have had a hard time or were not able to import without paying everything off. So double-check this!
7) Moving Your Stuff
We opted to sell EVERYTHING and moved to the US with just four suitcases and two boxes. If your work is not subsidizing your moving expenses, this might be something to consider. We also GAVE our mattress away and needed to get a new one right away so we had a place to sleep.
I looked into renting a shipping container with storage from Toronto to Los Angeles and it came in at around $3500. My stuff is not that nice or all that important. So we opted to sell it all on Craigslist.
The DIY Uhaul option priced out to about $2500 with gas. Moving companies can charge upwards of $3500 + for my situation from Toronto to Los Angeles. There is usually a fee for cross-border and brokerage.
I packed a few extra full suitcases and left them in Toronto with my family. That way when people come to visit, they can grab an already packed suitcase and pay $25-30 to bring down a second checked bag for me. This is a great way to slowly move down your seasonal clothing too.
8) Get a Prepaid Cell Phone
Unfortunately with only Canadian credit it was near impossible to sign a contract and get a post-paid cell phone. I opted for this prepaid plan with T-Mobile which offers unlimited long-distance and texts back to Canada (I think for $10/month).
The main reason this sucked is the fact that I paid full price for my iPhone. There were no iPhone discounts for activating with them at the time I signed up. However, I was able to put the phone on my ‘tab’ and paid $20 a month to pay it down.
After about 2-3 months I was approved for this post-paid plan with a $300 security deposit. This is useful because T-Mobile has unlimited international data roaming in major countries around the world including Canada and so far you can only get it on a post-paid plan.
After 12 months I got my $300 deposit back in the form of a bill credit. Make sure you call in and ask for it back because I don’t think they automatically credit you. Also, I think I still would have had to pay full price for my iPhone if I did post-paid off the bat. Check out T-Mobile online for all your options.
9) Buy Health Insurace
Do not mess around with this. Make sure you have enough travel insurance to cover you for at least 45-60 days while you get settled. Once you arrive, if you are in charge of purchasing your own health insurance make sure you get on this right away. At the same time you may want to bundle it up with your car, life, contents and personal umbrella liability insurance.
If work pays for your medical, health and dental – ask LOTS of questions on how much coverage, co-pay and liability you have. We found that our liability on our car insurance was super low compared to what we had in Canada, so we topped up and bought an additional umbrella policy.
If you have wedding rings or major jewellery – bring your appraisal forms or else you need to get everything re-appraised again for insurance purposes.
10) Your Prescriptions
I’m adding a little extra section on prescriptions here. Since moving to LA, I’ve learned that often times the medication you are used to getting in Canada may not be available here in the US or are branded under a different name.
Before you move, talk to your doctor or pharmacist for alternatives they suggest or do the research and find out which American brand has the exact ingredients of what you’re using now.
I got stuck with a generic when my medication from Canada ran out and I suffered from some pretty terrible side effects when I had switched. It took me 6 months to figure out what was wrong with me and I wish someone had told me to pre-research what version of my prescription I could get in the USA. So just a heads up!
11) Book into an Airbnb
I’m always surprised to learn when people haven’t heard of Airbnb. If you’re looking for temporary furnished accomodation, you can search via Airbnb for a whole home if you’d like.
Paul and I did this for about 2 weeks when we arrived in LA while we were on an apartment search after moving. Do check out the site! We stayed friends with BOTH of our Airbnb hosts and they were great at giving us an inside scoop about how our new city works.
12) Buy Car Insurance
So I just went through the process of buying car insurance again and I recommend calling in and speaking to a rep vs. doing it online. The first quote we got was almost $1700 for 6 months because the online wizard did not take into account our Canadian driving history.
Once we called in and explained to them that though we have a short US driving record, we have a much longer record in Canada – which brought our quote down to $900. Costco has a good car insurance plan we like and they get good rates because they have so many members.
We also had a good experience with Progressive and also used Mercury Insurance in the past when we first arrived. In the meantime, you need to also call your Canadian car insurance company and find out how long they can insure you for while you are first getting settled down in the states.
13) Contents / Renters Insurance
Also worth mentioning – we were not able to move-in to our rental apartment until we proved we had contents / renters insurance. I can’t speak for too many of the other companies, but generally I found State Farm had the best rates and coverage for what we needed and turned our policy around to us quickly.
Moving is a stressful thing to do.
Moving to a new country gave me grey hair.
However, it was worth every crazy stressful moment and I am so grateful for the opportunity. But just be prepared for a lot of paperwork, roadblocks and have a lot of patience. Things always work slower than you want and try not to let it get to you.
Acknowledge that you are really trying to do a million things at once, set-up a new life for you and your family, assemble Ikea furniture, unpack boxes, make new friends, find a new doctor, navigate health insurance and still kill it at your new job or school. Give yourself a break and roll with the punches as much as possible because there will be LOTS of frustrating moments.
I know – because I’ve now done this twice!
Here are a few other posts I’ve written you might find helpful:
How I drove across Route 66 from Toronto to Los Angeles + where to stop.
I sold my three bedroom home in Toronto and sold everything I owned on Craigslist.
Why I quit my job and how I switched careers.
If you do move to the US without employment, you’ll probably need these 10 Tips for Landing Your Dream Job.
So far, so good. This is as far as I got in my own journey. Do you have any tips to share about moving to the US from Canada or vice-versa? Have a question?
Please leave it in the comments – it’s better then emailing me, as many people will probably benefit from hearing the answer or we can all help each other out.
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Disclaimer: I’m not a professional immigration lawyer or expert. This post draws from my own experience moving and I advise you to double-check all facts and get pro advice on anything you are unsure about.