A Guide to US Relocation

By Nick Fitton, (ncfitton@hotmail.com)

After relocating to California in February 2002, it took 2 1/2 months to return to a normal level of productivity at work, as well as managing to stay afloat financially. While some of the stress is an entrenched part of moving, I believe the majority was due to my complete unawareness of common pitfalls.

While I did not fall victim to all the pitfalls listed here, I think they all deserve a mention. Some are obvious in the planning stages, some are obvious in hindsight, some are not obvious. It is my hope that a guide such as this will assist in avoiding the majority of them.

The most important thing to remember is that plenty of things will not go your way. However, in America, you can always get what you want - you just have to keep complaining. This is the foundation of corporate management in America.

Shipping

There is no right and wrong way for shipping, your requirements will vary to others. Your company may offer both an air freighted component for things you want ASAP and a sea freight component that will take 5-8 weeks to arrive. Things to consider:
- Don't ship furniture that won't fit in your new accommodation. If you plan to rent a house, this will not be a problem - American houses are BIG.
- Plan ahead for the arrival of your sea freight, versus when you will leave that temporary furnished apartment. Do you really want to ship your bed or should you just go out and buy one when you arrive?
- Shop around for a shipping company, the prices can vary by 100%, and if your company is paying in US$ you get a much better deal with an Australian shipping company. You should be able to package your allocated shipping budget towards shipping, storage and cash to buy items once you arrive. You will pay tax on any excess cash.
- Don't believe the myth that 'vanline' shipping companies should be avoided. Ours did a great job, and each separate contractor I dealt with were more professional than the big international shippers like Grace. Tread carefully, and only select a company with references.

The First Month

You will probably be provided accommodation for one month and a hire car for one month. A few tips:
- If you have a spouse and /or family, your accommodation should be walking distance or public transportable (PT) to work. You do not want to take the car to work every day and leave your spouse at home with no means of transport. A month is a long time.
- Check that both your accommodation and hire car will be paid by your company at the time of checkout/return. You will probably not want to add these substantial bills to your list of things to pay and then wait for reimbursement. Check with both your company and the rental agencies - they may have different answers!
- Setup a cheap international phone account from one of the many telecoms on the internet. The type where you dial a long phone number and pin from any phone and it all gets charged to your credit card. You should be able to get around 10 c/min to Australia. If you use the 'like home dialing' service offered by the serviced apartment, you'll probably get screwed for about $2.50 / min.

Buying a Car

See Credit.

Renting a House

See Credit.

See Connecting Utilities.

Bring a renting reference with you even though you may not need it. US real estate agents are still in the dark ages with paperwork. Most 'Real Estate' agents only deal with buying and selling - your best starting point is the 'For Rent' section in the local paper. The security deposits can be extraordinarily high but you might be able to negotiate to pay it in installments over the first few months.

Connecting Utilities

This is a straight forward process, your landlord should provide you with the phone numbers for the utility companies. If they don't, ask them. Most of the utility companies will require a deposit from you which will usually be 3 times an average monthly bill. This is because you don't have a credit history. They allow you to pay this in installments if you ask nicely. You get this back (in theory) at some stage in the future! You need to connect Gas, Electricity, Water, Garbage, Cable, Phone.

A special gotcha when connecting the phone. The local service provider only provides your local and in state toll calls. Interstate and international calls must be provided by a long distance provider. At the time you connect your phone, your local service provider will ask you to choose your long distance provider, but not be able to offer any advice as to which will suit your needs and has the best rates. I have found the internet to be the best research facility for international phone companies. Your local service provider will connect you to your long distance provider on the default plan (>$2/min for all calls), it is then up to you to contact that provider and choose the plan that suits your needs ($2/month + 14c/min to Australia for AT&T in my case).

Don't panic if you forget to select a package or your phone company comes up with a new way to screw you. If you complain they will retrospectively fix everything to how you want it. They won't do anything on the first or second phone call you make, but eventually you will speak to the right person who will just fix it without asking.

Credit

If you are like me you might naively think that you don't have to worry about credit, because you wont be using it. This is mostly true, with a few little caveats.

  1. When you are buying a car, every time a dealer says he is going to work out a price for you, and he needs you to do some paperwork, he's running a credit check. If you don't buy the car, that's a black mark on your credit history! If the dealer can't agree on a price before doing any paperwork, forget it. They are real sharks!
  2. A lot of the department stores offer interest free credit on furniture and electronics, which could be very useful to set up your new house. So you might like to use credit after all.
  3. Be aware that although companies advertise they can do a credit check in 15 minutes due to your lack of credit history in America you may be initially rejected and asked to wait 30 days before reapplying for another credit check.
  4. The utility companies (e.g. phone) may run a credit check before they connect you, and your security deposit for that utility will depend on your credit history.
  5. The banks wont touch you for a car loan without a credit history. Screw them. Go straight to a Credit Union. They seem as honest and down to earth as Australian credit unions. Less fee's, better service. I can't recommend Credit Unions enough.

Financial Planning

An accountant can advise you of all the tax implications of moving overseas. For instance, there is a huge taxation advantage to leaving Australia with more than 90 days left till the end of the financial year, but less than six months.

Health Insurance

What a dogs breakfast. HMO's, PPO's - none of it is intuitive. Essentially, the insurance companies (and hence the politicians they bribe) are in complete control of US health care. A doctor's costs of practicing in a certain area are related to the cost of living in that area, but the insurance companies do not recognize this fact. So doctors are being driven away from some areas, and the accessibility to health is reduced.

Americans consider health insurance as essential, and if your company provides it then take it. But as a visitor, you should consider how long you will be living there. It does not make sense to pay $150/week for insurance when a doctors fee is $70, you will only be in the country for a year, a public hospital should (there is some risk attached to this) take care of you if you need critical care and you can always come home to Australia if something else came up. Whatever type of insurance you choose, expect for it to not fully cover every situation.