Let’s do a quick summary of the questions that I’m seeing this week related to life as an expat in these COVID times and if you’ve got any specific questions that you think I’ve missed, I’d love to hear them!

I’ve been keeping an eye on groups on Facebook and receiving lots of emails so I thought I’d summarize a few questions and answers.

If you have a question, email me and I’ll be sure to find a professional with the right answers!

As always: This isn’t legal advice and you should always speak directly to an attorney, lawyer, accountant, or other professionals before doing anything at all.

1. Has COVID meant that the US Government has made immigration rules less strict?

Nope. There have been no real accommodations made (generally) around immigration and the rules around visas and permanent residency.

If your visa ends, you still have to leave within the same time frame (yes, even though flights are nearly impossible to guarantee), and if you’re on a Green Card and you are outside of the country for too long, it will be seen as abandoning it.

Don’t tell yourself that it’s going to be easier because “they’ll understand” because, in general, they won’t.

2. Can I travel from the U.S. to other states or countries?

Technically yes, but the question of whether you should or not is a different one.

I wrote this article about moving in and out of the U.S. which details the restrictions, most of which being around where exactly you’re traveling to or from.

Traveling between states is fairly easy on the most part but some states have restrictions or quarantine requirements for particular states with higher COVID numbers so be sure to research exactly where you’re going.

3. My visa is running out, can I renew it like normal?

In theory, yes, in practice, not really. The normal practice for renewing a visa is to leave the country, visit a consulate or embassy around the world, do the interview, and get a new stamp (assuming you tick all the boxes). Right now though, embassies and consulates aren’t really taking normal appointments and instead are only taking emergency or mail-in appointments.

I’ve got a tracker for those embassies and consulates that are opening here (there aren’t many) and you can submit your personal experiences so I can track them too!

4. What’s the difference between an in-country renewal/extension and going to a consulate/embassy like normal for visas?

This is a really important discrepancy as they’re two very different things.

Leaving the country and getting a new visa means a new stamp in your passport and permission to enter the United States. When you enter, you are assigned a status (e.g. E3 Status) which means you are valid in the country on that status for a limited amount of time (as outlined by your I-94 date. DON’T OVERSTAY YOUR I-94).

Extending/renewing from inside the country is different. That status from above, that’s what you’re extending if you take this path. You’re not getting a new visa, you’re not extending your visa, your visa isn’t touched. You’re just getting permission to keep staying in the country, working like you were before, without having to leave and re-enter like normal.

So if you do this second option (extending/renewing from inside the country) and you leave the US, you cannot re-enter as you no longer have a visa. You will ultimately have to take the first option at some point if you plan to come back.

More on that here.

5. Can I get some side work to support myself with/without a job?

This all depends on your legal status in the country. In general, if you’re a permanent resident with the appropriate work authorizations, you sure can! If you’re on a visa though, there’s a good chance that your visa specifies exactly who you can work for.

On an E3 visa, for example, you can’t work for anyone except the employer on your visa. That includes any other paid work and even some volunteer work, so be careful!

6. Can I work for my employer in my home country without a visa?

In general, yes! A U.S. visa is a permission slip to enter the United States. Nothing more. The work you do is between you and your employer (and the country you are residing in). There will be considerations for your employer to allow this, both legal and tax-related, and there will be tax implications for you as well, so be sure to speak to someone first.

7. Is healthcare for COVID free?

It’s very unlikely. There were musings from the President’s Administration some months ago that there would be healthcare provided for all without cost around COVID but we never saw that come to fruition.

You need health insurance if you are living in the United States, whether you think you’ll get sick or not, it’s crucially important.

8. Do I need health insurance between losing my job and getting a flight even if it’s a short time?

Yes, at all times when you’re physically in the United States. Always. Yes. See above.

One more time: Yes. If you have even a minor accident that wasn’t your fault, without insurance, you might go bankrupt.

9. Can I break my lease because I lost my job or I’m leaving the country?

This all depends on your state but in general, no.

Your lease is a contract between you and your landlord so if you have had a change in circumstances then talk to them. Tell them your story and ask what you can do.

Some contracts and state rules will say that you can exit the contract at all times with sufficient notice, but in New York City for example, that’s not the case.

Also, don’t just leave the country, because you’re giving that landlord a good reason to not rent to expats ever again and that doesn’t help any of us (or you in the future).

10. Do I need a driver’s license even if I can’t get a DMV appointment

Yes, there have been some accommodations made in some states if you had a local license and you can’t get it renewed but don’t push this and don’t test it.

Try to get an appointment at the DMV and get that new sticker or license! I just wrote an article about how important it is to get your driver’s license (and STOP USING YOUR FOREIGN LICENSE).

So what did I miss? What do you want to know? Send me your questions!