Well as an expat, you could be forgiven for thinking that now you’re here, most of the hard work is done. After all, packing, shipping and getting yourself and your family across the world to a strange place, by itself is no mean feat.
Here’s the reality.
You still have a lot of work ahead of you before you can quite sit back and relax into your new life. Once these things are done though, the chaotic part of relocating will mostly start to be a memory, while you take on the longer term challenges of settling in.
There are some things that are going to be more imperative to do up front than others. So here’s a guide to the suggested top priorities for new expats in New Jersey.
1. Get a local mobile phone
It is an expensive exercise trying to maintain your mobile phone plan from your home country so getting a local one upfront is a good idea. Initially, it can be just a pre-paid phone that you can get fairly cheaply from a number of places. I purchased a cheap ‘Go Phone’ (AT&T) in Walgreens which just required a top up by credit card.
Once you are here a bit longer and have all your US Identification and documentation, you can get a mobile phone (called cell phone here) with a proper plan that suits your needs. There are certainly a lot of providers to pick from.
2. Get some formal documentation showing your address
One of the first things you need to do when enrolling your children in a public school in New Jersey, is show proof of where you live. Whether this is a title deed/mortgage document or signed lease or a utility bill the school registration authorities will want to sight this. Additionally, it will come in handy for obtaining your Driver’s License permit.
3. Apply for your social security card and EAD
Most people, who come to the USA, know they need a Social Security card as a critical piece of ID. These are needed for a range of things: getting a credit card, getting a Driver’s License, and in most cases, opening a US bank account. Although it is important to obtain as soon as possible, there is a 14 day period after arrival that you should wait before applying. This is required for US authorities to verify your immigration information (I-94 form). Trying beforehand can actually make the wait longer so don’t visit till you have been here at least 14-15 days.
Hand in hand with your social security number, is another important piece of authorization: your work authorization card or EAD. If you are an L2 visa holder who is authorized to work in the USA, you will need this card to show prospective employers.
If you are not lucky enough to have your spouse’s company manage the EAD application process for you, then you must apply through the Social Security office. An application for an EAD can take up to 90 days to approve in most cases and there is often human biometrics ( fingerprints and photo taken for ID purposes) required before you actually get the card. If you are counting on working soon after arrival, don’t delay in applying. You do not need your social security number for this application, so if needed, proceed to apply as soon as you arrive.
4. Open some bank accounts and apply for a credit card
One of the very first top priorities for new expats in New Jersey is to visit a bank to open a US account. There are many local banks operating in New Jersey including the bigger national banks such as Bank of America, TD Bank, Chase Bank plus many more. Unless you have an account already open with an international bank like HSBC or Citibank, you will need an account to receive your salary payments and other financial transactions. Bank statements also provide another useful form of proof of residency, while ATM cards can be used as personal ID in some cases.
The sooner you have a bank account, the sooner you can apply for US credit cards. If you have no credit rating here (as with most expats), you should start getting your credit cards to begin developing a positive credit history, showing you can purchase and pay off credit without any problems.
5. Enroll your kids in the local school
Enrolments for the school year (starting September) normally begin a long way ahead of this time. For public schools, new arrivals will be catered for after the normal enrolment date, if you settle in a residence within a school’s catchment area.
While it is important to enroll the children soon after you arrive, you will need to have up to four proofs of residency to get into most public schools before you can complete registration.
Private schools do not focus on residency as much, as they will take students out-of-area. They will decide if they wish to accept your application based on other assessments. However, for most large private schools (non-religious) there is often a long waiting list. If you are set on getting into a particular private school, you must start the process before you arrive, if you want to avoid switching schools further down the track.
6. Get a New Jersey Drivers License
One of the least attractive new challenges an expat faces is coming to terms with the road rules of their new home state or country. It’s hard enough doing an examination on these, let alone being retested as a driver, as if you are 17 all over again. If you are using an International Drivers’ License to get by initially, it is tempting to put the whole thing off. But be warned! The NJ Motor Vehicle Commission recommends you at least start the process of applying for a Driver’s Permit within 60 days of arrival.
Police have been known to be unforgiving, and even hostile to some expats caught speeding in New Jersey when they are found to have an International Driver’s License rather than a New Jersey license after some considerable time after arrival.
Having a New Jersey license comes in very handy when you need a form of identification for store credit cards, purchasing a phone plan and other situations. It is worth the trouble so don’t delay.
Are We Done Yet?
Unfortunately, this list does not include everything you will need to do when you’re just arrived in New Jersey from another country. However, if you complete these important tasks, you will be a long way down the path to settling into your new home.
What things did you focus on, when you first arrived as an expat in your new country?