An Overview of the Relocation Process and what Expats can expect
There’s a lot to think about when relocating. You’re moving your lives, your children and everything else from one country to another. It is even harder when it is your first time. Looking back, there were many steps that we went through in the process of moving to New Jersey. For new expats thinking of relocating, it is helpful to have an overview of the process so you know what to expect.
While nearly everyone will go through most, if not all this process, no two relocation experiences are the same. Your experiences through this process are likely to vary from other expats in the details. This is important to remember, if you hear depressing tales from others about their relocation. It won’t mean your experience will be the same. It is also helpful to remember that relocations are rarely 100% smooth. You should expect some bumps along the way.
The whole experience of our relocation can be split into three main parts:
- Making the decision on moving to New Jersey
- The actual logistical process of moving to New Jersey
- Once you are physically there, the process of ‘Settling in’
1. Making the Decision
Thinking of Moving to New Jersey?
This is possibly the most exciting time of all. Contemplating moving to another country or state can be exhilarating and frightening all at once. At this early stage, before you get wrapped up in the ordeal of logistics, try to enjoy the positive aspects. Encourage your children to join in. Having an enthusiastic view from the outset can be very important in influencing how your children adapt to their new home later.
Assessing whether to Move:
Within a short time, there will start to be lots of things you will need to assess. These may include:
- The job package you or your spouse are being offered. If you don’t already have a job secured, then you will likely need to search for one to be able to afford to live there or to get a visa.
- Comparative cost-of-living in New Jersey versus your current location.
- Level of housing you may be able to afford or need.
- Options for your spouse to work.
- Schooling needs for your family.
- Will your family need to take language lessons to get by in New Jersey?
- Confirming if there is a time limit on how long you are expecting to stay, after moving to New Jersey.
Paid help from the experts:
Hopefully, you will have access to some professional assistance from a relocation company who can provide experienced local help. In most corporate relocations, these companies organize all the difficult parts of moving such as packing, shipping, plane tickets, home search and more. However, they can also provide other useful support to transferees. They can provide critical local information, needed when you are deciding if moving to New Jersey is right for you.
Destination consultants are a type of agent who work for relocation companies. Sometimes they are expats but often a realtor is used for this job. Their specific role is to be your on-the-ground expert resource for relocation to the new country. Consultants can provide local briefings and do research on schools and towns to help you find some that meet your needs. They can also help develop shortlists to focus on during a pre-view trip or for the early phase after arrival. To do this, they or the relocation company will need to contact you early on to assess your needs.
A destination consultant’s major task though is usually to help you once you arrive. After moving to New Jersey, there will be a lot of necessary activities during the settling-in phase, that they will assist you with. These services can include area tours of potential locations of interest, assisting with home search, helping with school search and student registrations, assisting with social security card and driver license applications, and opening a US bank account.
Most consultants work as contractors for large relocation companies who provide services for corporate relocations. There are also some small independent businesses like Expat Assist NJ that provide destination services to both corporate and private individual relocations.
Preview Trips – a helpful reconnaissance mission:
During most corporate relocations, the candidate moving to New Jersey can be offered a preview trip. Sometimes these are called a ‘look-see’ trip. Most relocation companies provide destination consultants to help the candidate prepare for the trip. They will often organize the trip agenda. Even if the destination consultant provides a briefing and a shortlist of schools and towns, it will be useful if you do some research on your own. This will help ensure you fully understand what all the possibilities are. This is important as you and your family are the ones who will decide where to live.
Preview trips are normally short e.g. 2-3 days, intended for the family (often only spouses) to see what New Jersey is like. More specifically, they are used to find potential schools, identify possible home town locations and assess housing suitability and affordability. These three decisions are often the main areas transferees need to assess, to feel secure in accepting the move offer. Some candidates of course, are required to agree to moving to New Jersey before they take the preview trip. Other candidates do not get offered a preview trip at all.
If you are doing a preview trip without any provided help, you still need to optimize the short time usually available. You can research quite a bit yourself. There are a lot of resources online including local and specialized websites, expat blogs, expat hubs and social media. Also, look at a variety of housing/ real estate websites. If you can visit New Jersey before moving there, it is well worth the trouble but practically it may not be possible.
Use a local NJ Realtor:
While having a destination consultant is useful, you should also be in touch with a New Jersey realtor. For corporate relocations, this would likely be organized by the relocation company. If not, you will need to find your own realtors to start sending you housing examples. This is helpful prior to a preview trip but most important before moving to New Jersey. Identifying suitable permanent housing is sometimes the longest and most frustrating aspect of relocation.
If you are moving to New Jersey during the low season (Nov-Feb), housing options will probably be more limited. The colder weather creates a slower market and suitable housing can take longer to find. Getting a proactive realtor who understands your needs well can be very helpful in the pre-moving period. Keeping the communications open between you and the realtor is also key to getting housing that you like.
Planning for where you will be living in NJ
New Jersey has a significant amount of populated areas. Besides a few moderately large cities, there are many townships (>500), spread throughout the state. It can be hell trying to pick from this mass of options, without some way of identifying what the best matches are. It’s particularly hard when you know very little about the place you are moving to. It makes you wonder how anybody ever chooses the right town to live in.
Criteria to Assess one town versus another:
When you are moving to New Jersey, there are going to be a lot of factors that affect your final choice of one town versus another as your new home. This may include:
- what the commute to work is like (how far or long),
- how you will travel: driving or public transport
- school quality (families only),
- safety and crime levels,
- cost of housing,
- renting or purchasing a property,
- population demographics
- town vibe
- availability of a nice downtown
- location of amenities such as shops, restaurants, entertainment.
Ideally, you should make a short list of your preferences against these criteria beforehand to help narrow down the choices that are best for you. There are limits you can likely establish as guidelines immediately with a bit of thought. Setting limits on criteria such as maximum time to travel to work, preferred school requirements, budget limit for housing, housing style preferences (including having a pet or not), can help reduce what may be a huge number of choices, down to less quite quickly. This will make one of the most important decisions to make when moving to New Jersey, easier.
If you plan to purchase a property to live in straight off rather than renting, then you should make a concerted effort to research your choice thoroughly. Once you have bought a house or apartment, it is much more complicated to move again if you change your mind.
2. Moving to New Jersey
The real relocation process begins
Once you confirm your acceptance of a new role in the US, the relocation machine (your relocation company) is supposed to kick into gear. At this point a cascade of different actions starts to occur in the relocation process. Logistics management then becomes very important. If you are the relocation machine, then it’s going to be a rather busy time ahead.
Applying for US visas for you and any dependents:
The main obstacle to overcome initially is getting approval to work in the USA before you move. Depending on what type of visa you are able to obtain, will determine whether your spouse can work as well. The visa type will also determine when it must be renewed i.e. within a short period such as two years or longer.
Most corporations provide legal assistance that takes the visa application challenge out of your hands. These immigration lawyers should keep you informed though of the progress of your application along the way. Many multi-national employees move to the US with an L1, HB1 or E3 visa or a greencard. Students usually fall under F1 or J1 visas. There are many categories for US visas but most outside these don’t apply to temporary visitors moving to New Jersey for work. If you are applying without corporate assistance, then you will need to find a good immigration lawyer to help.
If you have a greencard already through some other arrangement or a lottery, then thankfully this is one less step for you. There is quite a lot of administration, documents required and sometimes interviews before gaining your immigration approval.
Setting A Leaving Date:
Once you have early notice of visa approval, you will be able to finetune your leaving date. Almost everything logistical will now be planned around that key date. Changes to this date can occur but they will likely have unhappy repercussions. Some previously organized resources such as housing bookings, destination consultants, may not be available due to changed dates. This will make your relocation company’s job much harder, and increase chances of your needs being unmet. These are very good reasons to weigh up before making any unnecessary alterations.
During this part of relocation, major steps need to occur such as:
- Working out what goods you will take when moving to New Jersey and what you will leave behind or eliminate.
- Organizing your goods prior to the movers arrival.
- Organizing an early shipment (by air) of goods such as clothing, toys, books etc. for use in the early months after arrival. This is sent ahead often around one month or so beforehand. Air shipment arrival can be around 1 to 1.5 months. Not everyone receives this luxury. If not, more planning will be needed to manage your immediate needs upon arrival, as shipped goods will not usually arrive for several weeks after relocating.
- Organize relocation for any pets and necessary vaccinations and paperwork to accompany them. You should investigate the option of carrying your pet in the cabin or luggage hold for your own flight. Only a few airlines usually allow this. Timing of your pet’s relocation may likely be different from your own.
- Booking and confirmation of your final departure flight out of the home country. Check what baggage limits there are for your plane journey. Frequent flier program members with high status can often get away with larger volumes of baggage.
- Arrangements made for a removal company to pack up all your goods for shipping overseas. Often the appointed relocation company for corporate relocations will organize the mover.
- Booking and confirmation of temporary housing accommodation in your new NJ home town or nearby. This arrangement is intended to give you time to find a permanent home. Corporate housing provided is often 1-3 months.
- Home-finding in New Jersey via email and internet. Try to start looking for permanent NJ housing while still in your home country.
Still undecided about which town to choose:
You may or may not have decided where your new home town will be before moving to New Jersey. Some people have a shortlist of locations, at this point. Others, with corporate assistance have their town, house and school already organized from their preview trip, as they are required to do so. Knowing where you want to live will certainly make life easier for you and the relocation company for logistics. However, it is still possible to manage without this decision made at this point. Soon after moving to New Jersey though, you will need to make that decision.
One thing to remember is that registration in NJ public schools require proofs of residency, regardless of which town you live in. This means you need to get an address established in the school district of your choice, before your children can start attending school. So deciding where to live has a finite time limit.
Tying up things at home before moving to New Jersey
There are so many things to mention when it comes to moving out of a home. Aside from packing up your goods, there are plenty of things to do such as:
- change of addresses,
- getting medical and school records to take,
- ensuring key documents are identified for safe-keeping to travel with you on the plane.
- selling or renting out your existing home
- organizing goodbyes with family and friends
This gives you a hint of what is likely involved with the logistics of moving to New Jersey. Luckily, there are comprehensive relocation check lists already available via expat and moving company websites. These are recommended to use as they are very useful in listing many key activities that are necessary. You can alternatively develop your own list using one of these as a starting point and personalize it with your own items. Either way, it is the best way to proceed to ensure you don’t forget anything. It also helps you get time-critical tasks done on schedule for meeting your departure date.
Flying out and arriving in the US
No matter who you are, arriving at your new country of residence is a big deal! Some of the key things that occur after arrival include:
- Going through immigration and getting your passports stamped (very important).
- Arriving at and getting established in your temporary residence.
- Obtaining a copy of your immigration record (electronic) such as an I-94 via the USCIS website.
- Obtaining a copy of accommodation lease/agreement as proof of address which may be necessary for registration at local schools, banks, applying for driver license etc.
Time to take a breath, as you have just managed some of most challenging and stressful parts of relocation. Moving to New Jersey is well underway but there is still a lot more to do.
3. Settling In
The longest and sometimes hardest part of moving to New Jersey
The Settling in stage is made up of two parts: –
- New arrival logistics
- Longer term settling-in
New Arrival logistics:
By now, you’re probably thinking ‘Not more logistics?’ and ‘When will all this be over?’ The answer to that is not just yet but not too far away either. Most of the logistics stuff usually takes about 2-3 months to complete after moving to New Jersey. The end of the chaotic part of relocation is beginning to be in sight. Now you just need to be patient a bit longer. Try to focus on positives now such as what fun things you can start planning to do at the end of this period.
A List of Settling-In Activities Needed in first 2-3 Months:
Short-term logistics can include organizing the following:
- Opening bank accounts and applying for credit cards (immediately)
- Temporary transport (immediately)
- Finding a home (start looking immediately)
- Social security card applications (apply after 2 weeks)
- Signing a lease for a rental property or purchasing a home
- Renters insurance (likely needed before a rental lease starts)
- Registering children in schools (not later than 4 weeks after arrival and before school term starts if arriving in vacation period)
- Local NJ driver license application (about 1-1.5 months after arrival). Your Social Security card is needed for this.
- Buying or leasing a car (best to do after driver license is obtained but possible prior)
- Car insurance
- Work permit application, also known as EAD (about 90 days after arrival) for your spouse or partner.
- Everyday things such as finding places to do the grocery shopping, and suitable doctors, dentists and a local hospital.
- Moving into your new home and unpacking your goods
- Local town requirements such as dog permits, parking permits etc.
- Language lessons
Lastly, there will be the usual family obligations such as organizing school travel, children’s activities after school, (sport, hobbies etc.,) and other social activities. Once you have lined up all these, you may actually find some time to slow down and relax a bit.
Longer Term Settling In
Perhaps this part could be described best as integrating into life in NJ. This, of course, is an ongoing work-in-progress. There are things though, you may want to do as soon as you can. Advice varies amongst other expats on how an inexperienced expat should proceed to best enjoy their life, after arrival in their new country. Many recommend that you should try to integrate into life in the new country as soon as possible.
Two important things that will accelerate integration are:
- Becoming involved in your local community – volunteering, school, community, church, sports and networking groups are all very useful for this.
- Getting to know local customs and behaviours- be observant, read and ask American friends.
Linking up with other expats is also very helpful, as they can often understand what challenges you face. They can be great when you want to commiserate about the things that may not be so positive. However, hanging out with only expats will limit your exposure to the full experience of US life and even the New Jersey-specific culture. It is important to have a balance of both types of social interactions with locals and expats.
Cultural Differences and Challenges:
There are many things to adapt to in the US as a new arrival. There are many differences about American life that are not always obvious to expats before moving to New Jersey.
Some differences that you may find culturally challenging could include:
- Language and communication styles – even for English speakers
- School systems and their culture
- A greater level of conservatism
- The local sense of humor
- Work practices
- Social and community values
- Eating out and foods available
- Driving practices
Then there are also going to be the everyday differences that you will need to learn about to successfully integrate into life:
- Normal weather patterns that include snow and snowstorms, ice-storms, tropical storms and hurricanes, summer storms and possible power outages
- New Jersey fauna and flora including typical backyard animals and house centipedes
- Sporting teams
- Politics and customs
- Driving rules
- Different systems for measurement, power and electronics,
- Different film, TV and video games ratings systems
Don’t forget all the fun things to do that make moving to New Jersey well worthwhile!
There are a ton of festivals for food, wine and beer; cultural celebrations; religious feasts and more. Spring and Fall both see big music, arts and crafts festivals across the state in various towns. As the year moves on towards school start in September, then busy preparations are made for Halloween in October, Thanksgiving in November and the Holidays in December (Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebrations).
Fall brings beautiful foliage that is spectacular in many parts of NJ. It is a photographer’s dream come true. Winter brings snow and lots of related activities. There at least two big skiing and snow-boarding parks in NJ and many others close by in surrounding states. Beaches on the Jersey Shore are not far almost from anywhere in NJ. During summer people flock to the Jersey Shore for swimming, boardwalk fun and rides.
And then there is the rest of the nation. America is a very large country and there are many beautiful parts to see. New York State, Pennsylvania and Connecticut can all be visited in day trips or weekend forays. With 50 states to choose from, there is no time to get bored. Canada, Montreal and Quebec Province are also in driving distance. If you get tired of North America, then it is lucky you are also not very far away from a huge range of popular holiday destinations that include Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.
You may not have time for any of these though as NYC is only a short step away from most of Northern NJ. Here there is no end of things to see, do and experience.
This is truly going to be an unforgettable time in your life.
A Word About Expectations:
Before becoming expats, we had moved house before but always to a different suburb in the same city. Moving to New Jersey and to a new country was just so completely different. Several things were more challenging than expected purely due to lack of knowledge and a poor relocation company. Some things we encountered did not always happen to others.
Having knowledge and the right level of expectations can make a tremendous difference. Reading blogs, talking to people, becoming familiar with the process and what is likely to occur when moving to New Jersey is very important. It will help a lot in making your expectations realistic. There will nearly always be some problems that occur during relocation. Most issues though in the end, could be overcome, or managed to be less problematic. Having a stoic attitude also helps. If you remain positive, then the bigger bumps can be handled without serious damage to your relationship and family spirit.