So you’re moving to America, eh?
Congratulations. You’ve landed that job (or spouse) you’ve always wanted, and now you’re moving to America — the land of the free and the home of the brave~
You might be thinking, “Jeessus bud, I am a Canadian, what’s this article all aboot? America can’t be all that different eh!”
You’re dead wrong.
Here’s my opinionated checklist of things you need to do, and how to get them done.
As with everything I write, these are all my opinions, and I neither attempt to guarantee nor maintain any assertions that I make, or any information I provide. You take all the responsibility. All is as time of writing. I also link to several resources, but I don’t get compensated by any of them (or use any referral links). I’m just being a nice guy.
Language, Measurement, and Mannerism
In the United States, you have bathrooms, not washrooms. Smarties are Rockets. There are no ketchup chips, and the poutine here is awful. Don’t fall for American versions of poutine. Everyone also uses Fahrenheit and feet/miles. Regardless of which you ultimately decide to use, you should probably make an effort to at least understand what people here are referencing. You don’t want to be an ignorant Canadian.
Oh! Also, the proper response to someone stepping on your foot is not, “Sorry!” It’s to shoot them a condemning gaze that communicates the full extent of your spite.
Dating varies a lot here, depending on where you go. I will attach my favorite comparison, obviously not made by me. Choose carefully.
Visas & Immigration
Ugh. I actually have an entire article about this, and you can read it here.
The one note I will make, however, is that if you’re Canadian, you should be enrolling in the NEXUS program ($50 for 5 years when I enrolled). Enrolling in NEXUS automatically gives you TSA Precheck and Global Entry, which means you won’t need to wait in the long customs line, and you’ll get a much more reasonable security experience at the airport. Do yourself a favor and register now, because the first open interview is probably months away.
If you’re in San Francisco, or you’re going to San Francisco, and you want to “hack” the interviews, my friend made a Twitter bot that announces when new interview slots open up because of cancellations.
Points & Miles
Travel is better in the USA. Due to some financial regulation and other cultural factors, reward credit cards in the United States are amazing. They can give gigantic signing bonuses worth over $2k, and return effectively (by TPG’s estimates) up to 6.3 cents per dollar spent. Additionally, a bunch of hotels and airlines actually have co-branded cards that offer fantastic benefits. I’ll write a separate post eventually about card optimization.
Additionally, United, despite the recent news, is just a way better airline for loyalty than Air Canada. With Air Canada, you accumulate points really slowly, and you have to pay a crazy amount of taxes and fees on all your award tickets. That’s almost never the case with United. Make yourself a couple of loyalty accounts if you’re planning to travel, sit back, and zoom zoom.
Most of the pains you’ll suffer through are going to come from your now lack of credit, so you’ll want to get a credit card ASAP. It will save you a lead of headaches in the future, even if you’re just interning here.
You had a decade of perfect credit in Canada, you say? Nope, it doesn’t matter. Welcome to America, where you are now an alien deadbeat who can’t even be trusted with $500 USD (basically $100,000 CAD) of credit.
Your American credit score is zero, and you’ll need to grab yourself a Social Security Number (SSN), which is NOT the same as a Canadian Social Insurance Number (SIN). Once you have your job and associated paperwork, go to the social security office and prepare for an arduous wait.
There are three credit agencies in the USA, but Equifax is the only one that seems to matter. No need to worry much about this, but you can in fact check your credit score for free. There are multiple ways, but the tech industry tends to recommend Credit Karma which updates once per week.
There is quite a bit that goes into building credit, but basically: spend money, pay credit cards off ASAP, and don’t carry a balance/have late payments. Easy.
Temporary Housing Complications
If you happen to be in temporary housing, and moving to a permanent place, you’ll experience another set of problems. Basically, actions that require credit checks against you will either fail or require additional proof, if you’ve recently moved. Even if you can come up with logical reasons as to why this doesn’t make sense in certain situations, the institutions don’t care.
Before you make a move, I suggest getting all the below finished unless you’re a huge masochist. In which case, be my guest.
One of the first things you’ll need to do is get a US bank account. The process is decently simple; don’t forget your passport and other identification (bring as many forms of ID as you can in case they arbitrarily reject some of them).
I recommend Chase Bank. They have a ton of branches, have generally helpful staff and practices for the most part (definitely not for all things), and have the majority of all the credit cards you’ll want to get eventually. They’re also miles ahead of the competition in terms of technology and customer experience.
If you plan on storing over $100-$250k of liquid assets with Chase, this is about all you need to do for banking — you can go Private Client and enjoy all the associated zero-fee benefits. If you don’t, and want a way to withdraw money without paying fees overseas, you’ll also want to open an account with Schwab. However, Schwab does seem to do a credit check, so you might not be able to open one for some time.
One thing that confuses a lot of Canadians in particular is that Visa and Mastercard both issue credit cards and debit cards. But they work differently. But they look very similar. They are NOT the same thing. Just because your debit card can effectively be used as a credit card does NOT make it a credit instrument.
You want to apply for a credit card as soon as possible, because as I mentioned above, it will save you a mountain of headaches in the future. Do it even if you’re just interning here.
Go to the bank, and tell them how you have all these assets in another country (if you do), what your credit limit there is, and how you’re a high potential earner. I believe some banks actually have a separate profile for “high potential” segments. For your understanding, banks define everyone who is not a private client (<$250k in assets with the bank) as not very profitable. So you want to show them that you’ll be in their $250k+ segment one day.
Tell them you want a credit card. If you’re lucky like I was, you’ll be able to get something like the Chase Freedom Unlimited. But that’s generally for people who aren’t deadbeats — and you’re still a deadbeat in their eyes. The banker (yes, go into the branch for this) will have to ask for special permission, which may or may not happen. If you can’t get that, ask for the Slate. It’s a terrible card, but again, you want to build credit ASAP. If all that fails, asked for a prepaid credit card.
One other thing to note is that your credit will have a pathetic limit, which means, depending on your spending habits, you might want to pay it off several times a day, or overpay it like you can in Canada. When I tried, I could only pay it off once per day, and couldn’t overpay. This may have changed and may vary by bank, but I’m not sure.
After about a year, once you prove you’re not a complete deadbeat, you’ll want to grab the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
There are three institutions that will let you use your Canadian credit, if you have any, for your US card on which to build credit: American Express, TD Canada Trust, and Royal Bank. These could be viable choices if you lack American credit and don’t want to build it up the normal way!
Transferring Money to your Friends
This is one instance where America is great. Here, we all use Venmo, because transfers to friends are free and fast. Do not be fooled by articles claiming people use Venmo because of the social features. We do not.
We use it because we can transfer money and nothing else seems to let you do it properly. The in-app user experience, everywhere from finding your friends to searching for past payments, is terrible. Do everyone a favor (not favour) and set all your transaction defaults to private.
Transferring Money to Canada
This is a tricky one, and I don’t have a fantastic solution for you. Generally, when you transfer money, you’ll get charged a “fee” and a “spread”. Most banks don’t even tell you about the spread — a percentage difference you pay in addition to any fees. Basically, transferring money through banks is generally a bad idea. Even if there are “zero fees” for the transfer, you still generally have a spread. You can check the spread by googling the rate, and comparing to the rate you’re being offered.
I have heard that Transferwise offers rather good deals, but I’ve never used them. If you’re a private client, you can actually withdraw cash at foreign ATMs for zero fee and what seems like zero spread (at least when I did it). That’s the absolute cheapest way to change money, but there’s a limit to how much you can reasonably do with ATM withdrawals.
The three big carriers here are AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, and the costs are comparable/better than what you’ll find in Canada (but probably heaps more expensive than other countries). The good news it that you can probably switch your number permanently, and be able to support your (in)frequent visits back home (or on your numerous vacations, now that you have bloated foreign purchasing power).
As of time of writing, AT&T offers a Unlimited North America plan. If you’re not Canadian/Mexican, you might want to check out T-Mobile for their limited international roaming.
The bad news is that the credit check they run is going to show that you’re a deadbeat, and not eligible for a phone plan, unless something has changed recently. They will almost certainly not be very helpful at all, because not everyone passed problem-solving in school. You’ll have to guide them through it.
Tell them that you’re new to the country and that you probably don’t have any credit. Tell them you’re willing to put down a large deposit. Tell them they can use a fake SSN if yours will not register, with a deposit, and that someone up the chain will allow it. Keep escalating until someone is able to help you:
- Ask for their supervisor (in-store)
- Ask them to call their internal helpline if you’re not being helped
- Ask them to ask the helpline person for the helpline supervisor if they can’t help you
- Ask for the helpline’s supervisor’s supervisor and threaten a complaint with the FCC if they can’t help you
You’ll probably eventually get it figured out. Maybe. Good luck.
If all that fails, you might consider a pre-paid plan… but the roaming availability and price varies.
Health & Dental
Healthcare here is not free like in Canadia. But unlike Canada, doctors are also timely, and service is rather efficient. If you can afford it, healthcare here is a significant improvement over Canada — rejoice! Unfortunately, if you can’t, it paints a rather sad situation.
For a doctor, I recommend One Medical. They have a small associated cost, but it’s well worth the blood pressure it’ll save you. You can pick your doctors there among multiple locations, and they have other services like “call instead of physically going in to renew a prescription”.
For dentist, you’re more on your own. But, if you happen to live in San Francisco, I recommend Union Square Dental. Even after I moved away, I still fly back to SF just to see them. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve sent their way. They’re fantastic, both in attitude and aptitude. Tell ’em I said hi :)
Gosh, now that you’re in Amurica, you can shop like an American. This means everything just got a lot easier. Amazon, Prime Now, Zappos, and the plethora of other shopping, grocery, and food delivery services will render you speechless. I recommend you take a look on your own.
Who knew that you’d have to pay tax in the USA as well. I always use TurboTax. It’s a lot cheaper to use it in February, than it is in April. Don’t forget to file your Canadian taxes too, if your situation calls for it. Make sure to check with a tax professional to see if you can avoid being double taxed.
Will I love the USA?
That’s basically all the stuff I wish I knew when I came here. I hope it helps.