RELOCATION: Moving to another country nearly always requires a number of documents. No matter where you are moving to, there will always be specific important documents needed for immigration, employment, school enrolment plus others. The USA is certainly no different. If anything, moving here will possibly require more paperwork than you could even anticipate. For a newcomer it can certainly feel like the USA is the biggest bureaucracy in the world.
No doubt there are good reasons for requiring so much documentation. Reasons that include maintaining security, border control, local municipal requirements, etc. that most of us can understand.
Be warned though. Normal things such as getting your license, registering your children in school, can require several different forms of proof, using both original documents and supported by English translations (if you come from a non-English country).
And there are other things you may not think about up front such as having key documents with you for taxation, financial or personal reasons. If you leave them behind, it may make it very difficult in the future, if they are needed for unforeseen reasons.
Knowing all this, it is best to prepare ahead and make sure you have everything that may be needed before you move.
Documents Needed to Move to USA
Identity & Immigration Status
Two things you will need to do frequently at first are to prove (1) your identity, and (2) that you are legally entitled to be in the USA. While a passport is a start, it is not enough to meet every requirement. Once you are established here and have your own Social Security number and US Driver License, identity proof will be much easier, and your immigration status is not questioned, as this is a pre-requisite to getting these standard US identity documents. For applying for these or in other situations, you may need one or more of the following:
- Passport: needed for Social Security, Driver License applications and Immigration as a minimum. Make sure there is enough time left on your passport before expiry. This should be at least 7 months or more when you arrive.
- Visa (inside your passport): needed for immigration and almost everywhere your passport is needed.
- Visa documentation: Entire package of documents are useful to have but in particular, you are expected to have the I-797 (blanket L1 application) form or equivalent with you, every time you exit the country and re-enter. Often it is not asked for but it is required you have it.
- Birth Certificate: Original certificate is needed. It should not be a copy, nor a ceremonial certificate. It needs to be a legally recognized document. These are usually a necessity for children (school enrolment or other). For adults they are often needed only for a secondary or supporting proof where there is a question over identity.
- Marriage Certificate: needed often for Social Security applications for L2 visa spouses. Can also be needed for identity proof, in other situations e.g. financial commitments in your own name, not linked to your partner.
- Driver License (Home Country): Useful for proof of prior driving experience when applying for a NJ driver license. The license must be valid (still in-date) and have a translation accompanying it, if not in English.
- International Driver License: Useful after relocating for driving in the US in the period before you get a local US license. Needs to be obtained before you relocate from your home country.
- Immunization: Complete record of children’s immunizations from birth till current day, provided by the family paediatrician or physician or government health authority. These should be provided in English where possible in an easy-to-understand format.
- Family health records: Once you have decided what doctor you will be using in the US, it would be wise to have your medical records transferred from your home country or preferably, to bring them with you when you relocate.
- School Reports from last country: Useful for providing to the new school your children will be attending.
- Letter of Offer from your employer: Useful as a form of credit reference for setting up a bank account and signing a lease, particularly where you don’t have a Social Security card. This should be a letter on company letterhead, outlining your new position, term of your employment and salary package.
Taxation and Finance
- Current tax & financial records: Needed usually for your first tax return in the US as all income and expenses may be needed to be reported for the prior financial year and this may include records from your last country or home. All income whether derived in the USA or from elsewhere is usually required to be reported to the IRS.
- Previous year records: May be necessary for understanding your previous taxation history outside of the USA.
- Insurance Policies: For anything back at home that may need administration while you are away.
- Personal Will: If your personal will is stored in your home country, then you should bring a copy with you when relocating, just in case, this becomes necessary to access while away.
Documents Needing Translation
If documents are needed to prove identity or have some other key purpose, where someone needs to sight them, it is advisable to have an English translation available. Certainly any documents needed for Social Security, Driver License or bank account opening, should be provided with an English translation, if not already in English.
Translation should be done by a creditable source or recognized authority. This can often be organized through your local embassy or consulate or by government-approved translation services. Obviously, you can’t submit translations that you have done personally.
While this list is not by any means exhaustive, it should give you an idea of where to start. These sixteen different items, form a skeleton of what must-have documents you need, which can be modified depending on your circumstances. While it may be tempting to pack away some of these in your shipped goods, make sure you can access most (if not all documents) fairly easily, as you will need many of these from early on after you arrive in the US.
Were there any important documents you didn’t have at first when you relocated?