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Immigrate to the USA

Are you dreaming of immigrating to the USA, or are you even already in the middle of planning? Then our US immigration guide is just right for you! Here are all the answers about requirements, preparations, and relocation to the United States!

Why emigrate to the USA?

The USA is the undisputed number 1 country of choice for immigrants. No other country in the world has been shaped by its incomers as much as the United States of America.

Not without reason do the States act as a magnet for people wanting more out of life than a 9-to-5 job: those who immigrate to the USA will find flexible career opportunities, an endless variety of cultures, landscapes, and lifestyles, as well as a place for adventure and self-fulfillment.

Emigrating to the USA: requirements

The key hurdle for any US immigrant: you need a residence and work permit. Therefore, if you want to live in the United States indefinitely, you must apply for a Green Card.

How to get a Green Card

The easiest way to get a Green Card is through the US government's annual Green Card Lottery. 55,000 Green Cards are drawn at random each year to participants from all over the world.

Take your chance for a Green Card now! Apply now

The participation requirements for the Green Card Lottery are so low that the American dream can come true for almost anyone: you only need a high school diploma or equivalent (or two years of qualified work experience).

However, there are other ways to get a Green Card. But these are associated with heavy requirements and, in some cases, unreasonable waiting times. Alternative routes to the Green Card include:

Emigrating without a Green Card

If you do not qualify for any of the paths to a Green Card listed here, then short-term living and working in the US is possible with a work visa (e.g., E-visa or the L-visa).

Yet, the path from a work visa to a Green Card is not easy and full of bureaucratic hurdles. Therefore, we recommend that you always have a ticket in the Green Card Lottery pot during all your immigration efforts.

How much money do I need to immigrate to the United States?

The amount of money your emigration to the United States will cost depends on your personal journey. For example, while winning the Green Card Lottery is one of the cheapest methods of emigration, a Green Card by investment costs an enormous amount of money.

Cost overview immigration to the USA

There are certain basic costs for government agencies, translations, medical examinations, and the physical move to the USA that are incurred with every immigration to the USA, regardless of the personal path to the Green Card. In any case, plan on the following costs:

Immigration to the USA: costs
Immigrant petition
(varies depending on petition type)
$ 330 - $ 3.675
USCIS Immigrant Fee $ 220
Biometrics fee
Photo and fingerprints
$ 85
Translation fee
for documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, certificates of good conduct, and others
vary
Medical examination
With a licensed panel physician
$ 250 - 350
Moving expenses
Vary depending on scope, shipping company, and means of transportation
$ 5.000 - 20.000
Flight to the USA
Tip: free flights when participating in the Green Card Lottery with The American Dream
$ 200 - 800
Deposit for apartment or house vary
Costs for a rental car or car purchase vary
Application and testing fees for American driver's license vary by state
Cost of living for the first few weeks vary

Cost of living in the USA

The cost of living in the United States varies greatly from state to state. According to the latest analysis from research company Statista, the household income needed to live comfortably in New York City was about $ 128,000 in 2019, while in San Antonio, Texas, it was about $ 78,000.

Depending on where you live, life is either more affordable (e.g., in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) or more expensive (e.g., in Los Angeles, California) for homeowners than renters. When searching for the best place to live in the United States, it's best to take a look at the Economic Research and Information Center's Cost of Living Index.

What is the Cost of Living Index?

The Cost of Living Index is calculated to compare the quality of life in different cities in the United States. For this purpose, prices and costs for housing, goods, and services are compared, broken down by category, and weighted in comparison to the local average income.

In the American Cost of Living Index, the number 100 represents the national average. Regions with an index above 100 are considered expensive or very expensive, while regions with an index below 95 are considered affordable.

Cost of living in the USA

Where can I live cheaply in the USA?

The Cost of Living Index evaluation shows: if you want to live on the West Coast or in the Northeast of the United States, you'll have to dig pretty deep into your pockets. However, living in the Midwest or the South, like Texas or Georgia, is comparatively affordable.

Where to move to in the USA?

If you want to emigrate to the USA, you can choose between 50 states that are as diverse as they can be. The USA has it all, from hippie desert states over the arctic wilderness to idylls with paradise beaches.

Gather some knowledge

When choosing the perfect place to live in the United States, find out in advance about state climates, resident companies as potential employers, average commute times, or even the demographics as potential clientele for starting a business.

Preparing for your immigration to the USA

The better you prepare for your immigration, the more relaxed the start of your new American life will be. Get busy with the following preparations:

Documents for immigrating to the USA

You will need a number of documents in the application process for your Green Card as well as when entering the country, renting housing, applying for a driver's license, getting a Social Security Card, obtaining credit cards, and opening a bank account in the US.

Prepare the following documents to have everything ready:

  • a valid passport
  • certified translations of all certificates, diplomas, and credentials
  • certified translations of birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce certificates, death certificates, custody orders, and similar documents
  • your international driver's license
  • proofs of bank accounts (in English translation)
  • translations of important financial documents (e.g., tax assessment notices)
  • translations of insurance policies (e.g., life insurance as proof of financial security)
  • vaccination certificates
  • translations of medical records and doctor's letters (e.g., when medication is needed)

If you are in a hurry, you can also apply for your Social Security Card at the US Embassy or Consulate. However, it is easier to do this on-site in the US.

Further education, licenses, and qualifications

Do you work in a profession that requires registration, certification, a title, or a diploma in the United States? This applies, for example, to nurses, teachers, physical therapists, real estate agents, doctors, or police officers.

In order to continue working in your profession after you emigrate to the USA, you may be required to complete advanced training. Examples of additional qualifications for various professions in the United States:

  • Associate degree in nursing (certified nurse practitioner).
  • State certification (e.g., for licensure as a teacher)
  • NCPT certification (e.g., for licensure as a physical therapist)
  • United States Medical Licensing Examination (for medical specialists)
  • General business license, seller's permit, or health permits (for company formation)

The U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) career search engine careeronestop.org can help you find out whether you need a license or continuing education to practice your profession in the United States.

English course

Apart from professional qualifications, it can be helpful to polish up your English specifically. Professional foreign language courses are available in all varieties and with different (professional) focuses. Also, learning English with a smartphone app is very effective and can be great fun.

Tip

In many regions of the USA, basic knowledge of Spanish is of great value! Therefore, consider booking the premium package with multiple languages when signing up for a language course.

Health insurance abroad

You should get international health insurance for your first time in the USA. However, arrange for your American health insurance soon.

Immigrating with children

Are you moving to the USA with children? Then take a look at the American school system. Also, keep in mind that you must always carry documents proving the legality of your trip together when traveling with kids. These include, for example:

  • Certified copies of other guardians' IDs/passports
  • Certified translations of the birth certificate(s)
  • Signed consent of the child to travel together (if possible)
  • Certified translations of the custody agreement (in case of single parents)

Taking pets to the USA

To bring pets to the United States, you will need to make the following preparations:

  • Obtain an English language health certificate from your veterinarian.
  • Have all necessary vaccinations given.
  • Have your pet chipped.
  • Obtain - if necessary - a special permit for importation (e.g., for parrots).
  • Check with your airline and veterinarian for all requirements for entering the US with pets.

The regulations for bringing your pet vary by US state. Use the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's Digital Import Wizard if you are unsure.

Take your chance for a Green Card now! Apply now

Moving to the USA

Do you have all the applications, permits, and documents in place? If so, you can now begin preparing for your move to the United States. This includes taking an inventory of your household goods, finding a moving company, booking flights, and organizing your first accommodation in the USA.

What do I take to the USA with me?

When moving overseas, your household goods are priced in cubic meters, and this can get quite expensive. Therefore, it is much cheaper to purchase new or used furniture and household appliances in the USA instead of shipping your personal belongings in a container.

Moving companies

When choosing your moving company, stick to certified businesses and a few precautions:

  • Don't pay cash upfront.
  • Get a written estimate of the cost.
  • Don't sign blank contracts.
  • Do not hire companies without a clear headquarters and imprint.
  • Have the goods to be shipped inspected on site.

Attention

When selecting items to ship, you must comply with the customs and import regulations for the USA.

Should I take my car to the USA?

Bringing a motor vehicle to the USA involves high costs and bureaucratic hurdles. These include transportation expenses, customs and border protection rules for importing vehicles into the States, and upgrading to different safety, bumper-to-bumper, anti-theft, and emissions standards.

Therefore, we recommend selling your automobile before emigrating to the United States and purchasing an American car.

First accommodation in the USA

Unless you have relatives or friends in the United States, you will need a place to stay for some time after entering the country.

The following websites will help you find an apartment for a short-term rental (month-to-month contract) in any US state:

  • sublet.com
  • apartmentlist.com
  • zillow.com
  • trulia.com
  • realtor.com

Immigration to the USA: entry procedure

Your entry into the USA will be different when you arrive at the American border not as a tourist but as a Permanent Resident. Let our Green Card winners' stories inspire you and find out what it feels like to emigrate to the land of opportunity!

  • After 7 years and 14 applications (my wife and I both participated to double the chances) it finally worked in 2018! Now we can finally arrive where our heart has been home for a long time. Many thanks to the TAD team for their always friendly and helpful support before, during and after the win. In autumn we will be heading to Texas, where we will live our American Dream! Our tip to all those who have not yet won: Believe in your dream, stick with it and don't give up!
    Show more Show less
    Bernhard & Alkestis-Nikola Z. - Vienna, Austria
  • The support from The American Dream was essential, especially after the winning notification. The most important thing for me was access to the winner’s community. You can share ideas with all the other winners there: What were their experiences? What is it really like to move to the USA? Which things do you need to consider? It's also very reassuring to hear: It's all relatively easy.
    Show more Show less
    Thomas B. - Green Card winner from Bavaria
  • First, I couldn't believe that I really won. Now I can finally hold it in my hand and can start living my dream in the USA. Thanks so much to The American Dream Team. Great service and very helpful!
    Show more Show less
    Marijan J. - Pirmasens, Germany
  • I could only believe it myself when I was at the US consulate in Frankfurt, Germany. Now I actually have the proper green card. The support and the thorough preparation from TAD during the whole process were great. Special thanks and to all participants of the on-going lottery: Never give up! I did win after the fourth time.
    Show more Show less
    Sebastian E. - Munich, Germany
  • I would like to thank The American Dream very much. After several attempts I was very lucky to be selected for the Green Card. Now begins a new phase in my life.
    I have dreamed of a life in America since I was a small child.
    There I want to get to know new people, a new culture and grow personally.
    This year I will move to America and start my new life there.
    Many thanks dear American Dream Team.
    Show more Show less
    Michael K. - Ruesselsheim, Germany
  • Immigrating to the USA in the middle of the COVID crisis was certainly a very challenging situation. There were additional obstacles that we would not have had to overcome under normal circumstances. But I can only recommend everyone to take it as a challenge. You can immigrate to the US, even during the pandemic. And if you have this dream, do not be discouraged!
    Show more Show less
    Enrico - Green Card winner and former employee of The American Dream
  • Dear "The American Dream" team,
    thank you so much for your great support over the years. Now it has finally worked and after my high school year 2000/2001 in New York State and the internship 2009/2010 in Florida, nothing stands in the way of my childhood dream. I can only recommend all participants who have been spared from success so far... Trying it again and again will pay off sometime!
    Show more Show less
    Eric S. - Syke, Germany
  • 20 years of Green Card Lottery, now "The American Dream" finally worked. Thanks to the great and always committed TAD team in Berlin!
    Show more Show less
    Thomas D. - Berlin, Germany
  • Dear American Dream Team, thank you very much for the great support in applying for our Green Card! Now we can start our business in the USA!
    Show more Show less
    Franziska & Benjamin K. - Heppenheim, Germany
  • We always had it in the back of our minds: at some point, we want to go to the United States. Of course, we participated in the Green Card Lottery, but you never know in advance: When will you be lucky? It comes all of a sudden and unexpectedly.
    I opened the email, and it said "Congratulations!" That made me feel funny at first. And then I went crazy with joy! We had good support through The American Dream. That was the main thing for us as self-employed people: you don't have much time to take care of things on the side. It lifted a burden from us.
    Show more Show less
    Stefan and Stanija Kassek - Green Card winners from Brüggen

Your first steps in the USA

Welcome to the United States of America! The following things are now on your to-do list before your new life in the USA begins for real:

Social Security Card

Every resident of the United States needs a Social Security number, which provides the important information flow around social benefits and tax registration. The Social Security Card serves as proof of identity (in addition to your Green Card).

Please note

Without a Social Security number, you cannot work in the United States, register for a telephone or electricity service, or open an American bank account.

To apply for a Social Security number, go to a Social Security Administration office near your residence and fill out Form SS-5 (Application for a Social Security Card). Normally, you will receive your Social Security Card within 15 days. However, in exceptional cases, it may take up to four weeks.

Driver's License in the USA

Immediately after your arrival in the USA, you can drive with your old driver's license. Nevertheless, you will need an American driver's license after twelve months at the latest (depending on the state).

The American driver's license is not only for driving in the USA but is (like your Social Security Card and your Green Card) an important and helpful proof of identity that opens many doors in your daily life.

You can get your US driver's license from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in your state. Here's what you'll need to do:

  • Prove your legal residency status in the United States by presenting your Green Card.
  • Pass the vision test.
  • Pass the theory test.
  • Pass the practical driving test.

Each state in the USA has its own regulations for obtaining a driver's license and even its own traffic rules. Learn about the rules in your state on the DMV's website.

Health insurance in the USA

For a solid health insurance that covers doctor visits and medical emergencies in the American health care system, you can negotiate a good deal with your future US employer or use government and/or private insurance components on your own.

Take your chance for a Green Card now! Apply now

Pension plan in the USA

You pay into the American pension system with your Social Security contributions. The state pension system in the United States consists of pension and disability coverage as well as coverage for surviving dependents.

In addition, it is advisable to arrange for private coverage. The USA's 401(k) plans enable employees to pay part of their income tax-free into investment funds. Often, employers also participate in the contributions. Address this as part of your benefits negotiations for your employment contract in the USA.

Tip

Some countries have social security agreements with the United States. If you have paid pension contributions in your home country for a period specified in the agreement, you can also draw your pension while residing in the USA.

Bank account in the USA

Once you have your Social Security number, you can open an account at an American bank. To do this, present your Green Card, Social Security card, an address in the United States, and a photo, and deposit a starting balance.

Credit score in the USA

Lenders, landlords, car salespeople, and even credit card companies in the USA evaluate you according to your credit history. However, the so-called credit score can first be built up only after emigration to the USA.

US immigrants often face a problem here: no major purchases or credit card contracts are possible without a credit score. At the same time, the credit score can only be built up through positive purchasing and repayment behavior. Fortunately, there is a creative workaround for this:

The American Dream recommends

A popular trick used by US immigrants is to start using an American Express credit card while still in the home country. The AMEX card can then be converted into an American credit card after emigrating to the US.

Here's how to use an AMEX card to build your credit score in the USA

Apartment or a house in the USA?

Do you want to move into an apartment or a house after your immigration? Would you like to buy or rent?

Renting an apartment in the USA

If you want to rent an apartment in the US, you will either need a credit score or pay a certain amount in advance as collateral to your landlord. When browsing apartment ads, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The phrase "2 bedrooms" usually means that it is a 3-bedroom apartment.
  • Many apartments in the US are rented with furniture.
  • There is no cancellation protection for tenants.
  • There are short-term and long-term leases.
  • Depending on the contract, heating, hot water, and electricity can be part of the rent.

By the way, rent in the USA is often paid in cash or by check. You usually get your first set of checks for free from your American bank.

Buying a house in the USA

In the USA, it is common to hire a real estate agent when buying property. They find you the best deals and also advise you on the ins and outs of the American real estate market.

Important tips for buying a house in the USA:

  • There is no public land register in the USA. Therefore, before buying, hire a so-called „title company", which protects you against claims of third parties to the house and land.
  • Have your purchase agreement reviewed by a lawyer.
  • Procedures and rules for buying a home may vary from state to state.
  • Do not purchase a property without an expert's professional "house inspection."

Property tax in the USA

If you own a property in the USA, you usually have to pay a "property tax." In some US states, it is even paid on expensive cars.

Job Search in the USA

Your success in finding a job in the United States may depend on your Green Card, which is your permanent work permit for the USA. The following job application tips will accelerate your search for the employer of your dreams:

  • Stick to the resume and cover letter structure that is common in the USA.
  • Engage in active network marketing on LinkedIn.
  • Show off talents: Your LinkedIn profile should showcase work samples, skills, qualifications, contacts, and professional achievements.
  • Write follow-up emails.

Checklist for immigrating to the USA

Have you taken everything into consideration? To ensure you don't forget anything when planning your immigration to the USA, we have created a handy immigration checklist for you to download.

Download Checklist

Help with immigrating to the USA

It's perfectly normal to get help in making your immigration to the United States a complete success. Long before hiring a relocation company, realtor, or job agent, many first-time emigrants begin seeking help even before applying for a Green Card or US visa - and for a good reason:

Counseling centers for immigrants

Especially when dealing with the US authorities, many bureaucratic hurdles and pitfalls lurk for potential immigrants. However, the residence permit is the most important building block for immigration to the USA.

In order to prevent the risk of refusals, expensive delays, or in the worst case, entry barriers, there are government-licensed immigration consultants you can hire. For 25 years, the USA experts of The American Dream have been assisting US immigrants in the Green Card application process and guiding them through their first steps towards their American dream.

In addition to your guaranteed and flawless participation in the Green Card Lottery, with in-person checks of your application documents, The American Dream offers you a number of other services:

  • Individual consultation service with your personal customer account
  • Completion and translation service for the immigrant petition
  • Compilation of all application documents
  • Comprehensive winner's map and free English course
  • Preparation for the Green Card interview at the US Embassy
  • Free forwarding of your Green Card and Social Security documents via the New York office address
  • Free flight to the USA and back for Green Card winners

Do you have more questions about emigrating to the USA? Then you are guaranteed to find what you are looking for in our US immigration FAQ.

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