International Assignee Insights: Part III – Arriving in a New Country
Posted by: David Sabey, Director, Account Management
Note: In light of the recent impact of Hurricane Harvey on Texas, I would like to thank all of those that have reached out to me to check that we were safe. My family and I were very fortunate not to have been affected by the storm, but some of my colleagues and other contacts in the industry have not been so fortunate. Our thoughts are with those in the Houston area at this very difficult time.
In my previous blog post, Preparing for a Relocation, I shared some of the aspects of preparing for my family’s relocation. On 1st December 2015, we received the news we had been waiting almost 10 months for – my visa was approved and we could make our final travel arrangements. With a mixture of exhilaration, trepidation and ‘quaking in my boots’ nervousness, we booked our flights to Austin, Texas for 5th January 2016. This was it, we were on our way.
We did our best to be proactive and arrange as much as we could in advance. I knew the immigration process I had to go through when I arrived, we had a rental car booked to get us from the airport to the rented house we had arranged, Angus (our cat) was going to be cleared through customs and taken to the house to meet us there. My wife Raina had even arranged for our phone and internet to be connected the following morning, so between that, and the fact that she was a U.S. national that ‘knew the system’, we felt pretty well prepared. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans.
While we had a solid foundation, here are just some of the unexpected areas and challenges we faced, and some recommendations.
Allow yourself and your family time to get the ‘basics’ set up
At first, my plan was to go into work the day after I arrived. Fortunately, I heeded some sage advice and gave myself a week after arrival to get things sorted. In that first week, we took the time to get to know the local area, I made two visits to the Social Security office, completed all the required paperwork so that I was added to the company’s payroll in a timely manner, we had a bank account set up for us, and we registered for our first credit cards. Then we spent time going to see my daughter’s pre-school and making sure we liked it (we’d registered having never visited and got the last available space).
By the time I went into the office for my first day, we had at least a basic understanding of where the important places (grocery stores, doctors, etc.) were located.
Take into account the delivery timing of your household goods surface shipment and plan accordingly
We opted not to take an air shipment, and our surface shipment from the UK to Austin took just eight weeks, but that felt like an eternity! We slept on air mattresses, ate off of plastic camping plates, and sat in camping chairs purchased at the local department store. Fortunately, my mother-in-law sent us a care package with cooking utensils and pots and pans. We only brought over what we could fit in our suitcases, so we didn’t exactly have a fully-stocked kitchen.
We had to prioritize buying items that we didn’t ship, for instance, a TV, and kitchen appliances like a toaster and a kettle (the first morning we had to heat water in a saucepan for a cup of coffee). It was a genuine relief when our goods were delivered and we had something more than the carpet to sit on!
When you are building a life in a new country, some things just take a long time
In the U.S., almost everything financial is connected to your Social Security number – most significantly, your credit rating. As a non-U.S. national, under a spousal visa, I only received my Social Security number when I physically entered the U.S., so I had no credit history, and barely even registered in the credit bureaus. This meant that, until I was a lot more established, I could only get access to a college credit card and anything related to my credit rating (mobile phone plans, car payments, etc.) all had to wait or I had to accept less than favorable terms. In spite of arriving in January, it took us until April to be able to become a two-car family, which in Texas is VERY inconvenient as Raina had to drop me off at work after dropping my daughter at pre-school.
Life in your home country does not just switch off
Whilst we were now physically located in the U.S., even six months after our arrival we were still dealing with some aspects of our previous life in the UK. Our house sale took until April to complete, we had final utility payments to resolve (once the house was handed over), and we still held pensions and bank accounts in the UK. This part of our ‘arrival’ was probably amongst the most stressful, as we only had a narrow window of time each morning to try and progress towards a resolution before the UK went offline, all the while trying not to allow it to heavily impact our new life in the U.S.
You are going to make mistakes
Whether it’s getting lost on the way to a particular store for the first time, realizing you don’t actually know the difference between co-pay and co-insurance, or even saying or doing something that is considered unusual (it took me a long time to stop responding to “S’up man?” with “I’m very well thank you, how are you?”), it is completely natural to make mistakes. Most will be funny, some will be embarrassing (then funny at a later date), and some will be costly, but they are a natural part of adjusting. Just be prepared to ask the ‘stupid’ questions, or claim ignorance. Just remember, this too shall pass…
Watch for my final blog post, Relocation ― One Year On, where I discuss how our adventure is progressing after one year in the U.S.