There’s a lot of information on this website about getting settled in America but how about distilling it right down to the essentials. Here are the first nine things I think you should do when you move to America. Whether you’re moving to New York, LA, or anywhere in between, these tips should help you start your to-do list.
On this page
This is what I recommend doing right at the beginning in your first couple of days.
1. Fly Here & Go Through Immigration
You’re going to land in the US and probably be a bit nervous about immigration because of the stories about the border security.
Here’s your first lesson: If you’re here with a valid visa (the expiry date is in the future) or an ESTA, and it’s legitimate, RELAX.
You’re going to get asked about why you’re here, where you’re staying (know your address), and who you might be staying with. If you’re on a work or other visa, you might be asked about your employer, and the job you’ll be doing. They’re generally not going to quiz you hard, it’s more of a checklist.
Answer honestly and carefully and you’ll sail right through (by the way – it will take forever because the lines are always huge, so be sure to use the restroom on the plane before you land).
Having print outs of everything readily available in a folder will save you the stress of phone batteries and finding things. Print out pay slips if you’re on a work visa, print out contracts if you’re new, print out reservations if you’re a tourist, and have copies of any flights out of the country if you’re on an ESTA.
2. Get to your accommodation when you’ve just arrived
You’ll find free WiFi in most major airports, it’ll be terrible quality but it’ll get you onto one of the many services to get a car to your accommodation. You’ve got all your bags, save the hassle, don’t worry about public transport yet unless you’re feeling particularly adventurous. If you’re moving to California, don’t worry about it ever.
WiFi also exists in all Starbucks and basically every café you can find (hell, even public parks in New York City have WiFi now), so if you need to you can always get online.
If you already have a rental agreement, that’s fantastic. Ensure that it has your full address and phone number, your full name, and the full name, phone number, and signature of the landlord. This will save you SO much time down the track when setting things up (more here).
You can actually (in Google Maps on your phone) download a map to your offline storage, so this is a handy tip while you’re in your WiFi planning for Day 1.
3. Move around your new location and get some good rest
You’ve just arrived in a big (or small) new city, so the first thing you can do is get to know your neighborhood, stretch your legs, and stay awake until the evening. Remember, we not only drive on the right over here, we also walk on the right. If you’re walking towards someone, DODGE RIGHT, not left.
Be sure to drink lots of water, sleep at a good time (no earlier than 8pm) and set an alarm to get up at an appropriate time in the morning. Yes, this is a whole separate section because it’s important to the next few weeks of craziness and you might find yourself partying late at night with new friends, but ramp up and enjoy it over a longer time!
The best thing you can do is walk around a few blocks near your apartment. Get outside and find out where a supermarket is, where the closest bank is, where a cool bar is, where good coffee is (here’s our article for NYC), and where the closest stations are (our apps can help).
4. Get a SIM Card to start your US number
Get a SIM card for your phone so you can start your adventures online.
I’ve written a list about the best telephone providers here that should be able to help you out! Prepaid will work just fine for starting out (or forever) and having a US number will make everything much easier, so don’t delay on this one even if you’re only here for a short amount of time.
5. Setup your Social Security Number & register for a local ID or license
If you’re on a Visa, Social Security is a requirement for life so get it done early. We’ve got information on how to do that over here.
When you’ve got your Social Security, you should go get a local ID, this will save you from carrying around your foreign license or passport everywhere.
6. Start a new bank account and inquire about credit
You’re now online and ready to go, so where to next? I’d say the bank because having bank statements readily available is incredibly handy. There’s more information about banking here, so be sure to get your documents ready and walk in, you don’t need to make an appointment.
7. Find an apartment
If you don’t already have somewhere to live, you want to start the process of looking for an apartment and making sure you have all the information you need to find a good one.
I’ve written up a number of articles about what you should do and what you should be careful about here, when looking for a new place.
8. Join some networks to make connections
The best thing you can do in a brand new city is get to know some people. It’s big and scary, so feel free to send me your details so we can catch up if you’re in NYC and/or then head over to our Communities page to find a number of other resources across the internet.
9. Get some food
Ordering is stressful the first time, even for a sandwich, but we’ve got you covered.
If you’d like to make a sandwich yourself, you might like my guide on where to buy bread and my information about supermarkets.
It’s only day 2 and you’re absolutely knackered so do what everyone else does and get onto Seamless and have some food delivered.
Sit and enjoy your food remembering that you just moved to America. Woo!
While you chew, check out my list of Useful Apps.
9a. If you’re in New York City: Get an NYCID
This one isn’t essential at all but it will get you into a range of museums and also save you a lot of money around the place. More over here. It’s great if you’re a new arrival and haven’t got to the DMV yet!
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