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Immigrating to the USA: Enrico shows how it's done!

For five years, our former The American Dream employee Enrico hoped for a win in the Green Card Lottery. After his dream finally came true, he moved to North Carolina and now happily provides advice and support to other expats-to-be.

Tips for immigrating to the USA

Enrico has been living in North Carolina since he won his Green Card and is happy to provide tips on immigrating to the USA.

Enrico, why did you move to the USA, and why should people just dare to do so?

Whether you need a change of scenery or simply want to learn more about yourself and other cultures - there are many reasons to immigrate to the USA, and they are a little different for everyone.

For me, it's a great blessing to learn something new every day and realize how different everyday life can feel. You get to know yourself anew and you will see that things are not as self-evident elsewhere as they are at home.

If you've been to the United States before, are fascinated by the country, and feel that special connection like we did (I emigrated with my wife), then the US is the place for you.

Immigrating has changed a lot of things. The whole process is an extraordinary experience, and you encounter so many things that distract you from everyday life - in other words, it's the exact opposite of everyday stress. I'm delighted with the way everything works here. Life is no longer gray and dull like it was in Germany, and I now see many things in perspective.

Moving here is an active decision that involves a lot of change. You evolve, and afterward, you don't see things as narrowly anymore. That is also the American mindset.

Living in the USA

Just relax! Enrico appreciates the American mindset.

Just relax! Enrico appreciates the American mindset. What exactly is this American mindset?

People here are not quickly put off, and they enjoy their lives. Of course, they also work a lot here - and sometimes for incredibly long hours - but in the evening, they get together for a barbecue, for example, and then people don't let their stressful day show.

We live in North Carolina in the South, also known for its laid-back attitude. It shows very clearly - for example, during the lunch break. Around noon, the streets are full of people, but everyone is relaxed.

Another example is after work when you go to the supermarket: There's less of a rush here, even at the checkout, and it seems like people have forever and could easily spend three hours in Walmart. Plus, they're polite and apologize whenever they run in front of you.

I rarely see people here who are stressed out. It's a very different attitude in everyday American life. You can take on this as an expatriate in the USA.

Grocery shopping in the USA

Relaxed shopping at last: In the USA, checkout stress is rare.

Is it difficult to break the habit of self-made stress?

In the beginning, I found it hard to fit in here. It can even happen that you're a bit annoyed by the delay of things at first. But it's essential to keep an open mind. As an immigrant, you are a guest in this country and are getting to know a new culture.

Even after two years, it hasn't quite become my own culture, but I'm adopting it slowly and step by step. The serenity also has many advantages, and I take the positive out of it. For example, it is usually no problem if you come out of your lunch break a few minutes late.

What does it take to immigrate to the USA? Serenity probably won't get you far at first?

In a way, it does because you have to work on your dream of immigrating all the time, and that requires stamina, determination, calmness, and composure.

But first of all, of course, you need a visa or a Green Card. Only with this residence permit for the USA are you allowed to stay here longer - with a Green Card, you can even stay here for life.

Green Card for the USA

Only with the Green Card does an immigrant receive the lifelong residence and work permit for the USA.

Again, composure comes into play because the decision about the Permanent Resident Card is not always in your own hands. If you take part in the Green Card Lottery, it's just a matter of chance.

Take your chance to win a Green Card! Apply now

I had a few fellow students in Germany who were always annoyed when they were not drawn and then held it against themselves as people. But that's nonsense, of course, because in the lottery, everyone has the same chances.

Therefore, I would say: Don't let yourself be put off and don't take everything at face value. When you immigrate, you have a huge list of things to check off one by one. You have to work on it constantly, and it's not something you can do overnight. I've always been an impatient person, and yet it took me a few years to move to the USA. You simply need the Green Card first.

But even if you go through any other visa process, it's always a long road. Here, one more characteristic is essential: adaptability. Take, for example, the job application process as well as your professional life in the United States. It all works somewhat differently.

Work in the USA

Learning by doing: with the right mindset, you can get a good job in the USA, even if you weren't officially trained.

What's so different about working life in the USA?

It's more dynamic. It may only take a few days between application and potential hire. Sometimes you can start the very next Monday. And you have to present yourself very differently. It's just a whole different work culture.

I can't generalize because there are so many different professions and positions, but on average, it's also somewhat less strict, and you can move around pretty quickly. You're not nailed down to one profession for the rest of your life here just because you did an apprenticeship once.

In the USA, you can start at any level, and several jobs are open to you if, for example, you have a degree. People are not only hired here if they have exactly the required education in exactly the given profession. A little previous experience is helpful, but we are in the land of opportunity! There is so much to discover!

What is the best way to get a Green Card? Is it also possible without a degree?

Even with a high school diploma or equivalent, you can enter the Green Card Lottery. Or if you have previous experience in certain professions.

By the way, craftsmanship is respected in the USA, and there are many professions open to you. It doesn't always have to be a degree. Sometimes you're even better off without a degree. It is essential to have the right skills.

Obviously, you have to jump the visa hurdle first, but there is a lot of demand here in the USA. We have a shortage of skilled workers, and companies everywhere are having trouble finding qualified personnel.

Workforce shortage in the USA

The USA has a shortage of skilled workers, and well-educated immigrants are urgently needed.

Many people immigrate to the USA with a Green Card but without a job. How does that work?

When applying for the immigrant visa or the interview at the US consulate, the question arises at some point whether you can support yourself financially. Especially for the time between entering the United States and receiving your first paycheck, you should have some money saved up.

How much depends on the individual case, of course, but we had to show our bank statements, for example, to prove that we had something on the high side for the first few weeks - if not months.

When a well-educated person arrives, they may not have to show as many savings because they will probably find a job quickly. But I would say the more you have, the better. That way, you don't have to stress yourself out and take the first job that comes along.

Also, when applying for apartments, you must put down a deposit. You should budget money for that. And then there's the fact that you're coming in with no credit score. You don't have a credit history.

And you'll probably have to buy a car unless you're moving to Chicago or New York City. Here in North Carolina, just outside of Charlotte, public transportation is non-existent. So away from the big cities, you need a car, which costs quite a bit of money.

Those are all costs you'll have to incur when you're starting and price them in when you're saving up. Figure out your expenses in the USA before you go. Read some apartment and sales ads, look online at the Walmart website to see the prices, put together a shopping cart, and then you'll roughly know how much money you'll need to bring.

Costs for USA emigration

What does it cost to immigrate? Good bookkeeping is important, even before entering the USA.

What takes so long at the beginning? And how much time do I have to cover?

When you move to the USA, you have nothing except your freshly activated Green Card. The first thing to do is get the Social Security number, which you need before renting an apartment in the USA.

You also need this number to open a bank account, and even your credit score depends on your Social Security number. Of course, you don't have the score yet either - so your credit history is still empty.

We applied for our Social Security number at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, so everything took a bit longer, but normally it should only take two weeks.

After that, there's usually a driver's license to be obtained. Here in North Carolina, for instance, it is impossible to simply transfer a foreign driver's license. In some other US states, however, it is possible. Sometimes you have to take a written test.

Driver's license in the USA

The driving test in the USA is comparatively easy and affordable.

This varies by state, but it's also not a big deal to take your driver's license all over again here. The written test is pretty easy, and the practical driving test is nowhere near what you have to do in countries like Germany. The whole thing took me 5 - 10 minutes and also only cost $ 50 - 60. Of course, that varies as well.

So the first two things you should take care of are the Social Security number and the bank account. Then the driver's license, the car, the apartment, and the job. So that takes some time.

Take your chance to win a Green Card! Apply now

Let's talk bureaucracy. What kind of hurdles do I have to face with all these things?

When you arrive in the USA as a fresh immigrant, you usually don't have a permanent home yet. But to open a bank account, you need a "Proof of Residency," or "Proof of Address."

So you need an address. But how can you rent an apartment if you don't have a bank account? The deposit has to be paid by check. Of course, then you wonder: How am I supposed to do that?

We were living in an Airbnb when we went to open a bank account. But of course, you can't receive mail there. Therefore, we had to go to three different bank branches until finally, a member of the bank staff knew how to handle this kind of thing.

If you've just arrived in the USA, you should go to the local branches and say: I'm new here and I don't have a fixed address yet. This usually works better with the smaller financial institutions - they are called credit unions (editor's note: cooperative institutions that offer their members the same financial services as banks).

Don't worry too much, because there is a solution for everything. Many problems can't be solved online in advance. One can do a hell lot of research and drive themselves mad, and then things are suddenly simple here on the spot.

Good to know! More insider tips like that?

After the bank account, you should immediately apply for a credit card to build up your credit history. That's usually one of those kinks, too: No credit score without a credit card, and no credit card without a credit score. But there are options, too:

  • You can get "secure credit cards" on which you put down a certain deposit (say, $ 500 or $ 1,000). By using this credit card, you then gradually build up your credit score.
  • You can use an American Express credit card before you immigrate and prove your good credit to the company over time. Once in the US, have it converted into an American credit card. This way, you have a real credit card even though you don't have a credit score yet.

My advice: Don't be put off. If someone tells you that getting a bank account is impossible, go to the next branch. If a landlord implies you won't get an apartment without a credit score, move on to the next.

It is possible! Many US expatriates have done this. Go step by step, and it will work out! Good English helps a lot. It is crucial to be able to communicate well with people. Then you are welcomed by landlords with open arms and will get a chance.

Speaking of which: Where in the USA can I live affordably?

Not in the middle of Manhattan, because the rent there will be very high - but that's no secret and applies to all big cities. We wanted to go to Charlotte, for example, but ended up a little further out to get started. There's less going on here, lower rents, and less competition in the housing market.

However, I would still put cost second and prioritize safety, i.e., a decent neighborhood. There are many out-of-town places to live that are reasonable and safe.

My advice: never sign a lease if you haven't seen anything. Many immigrants try to do that before coming to the USA. But since an American lease usually lasts 12 months and is not terminable monthly, you may commit yourself to an apartment in which you do not feel comfortable.

Living in the USA

Apartment or house? City or rural area? The search for the perfect place to live in the USA can take a while.

Therefore, you should tour it beforehand: What do the other houses look like? Is it well-maintained? What kind of cars do people drive? Is there any junk lying around or anything? What is the traffic like? What are the people like? There are good and bad neighborhoods in every city. And, of course, you have to follow your instincts.

You can also do a lot of research online, e.g., on websites like Neighborhoodscout. School District ratings are also always a good indication of how good or bad a neighborhood is. And check out Reddit - there are always people there who already live where you want to go and talk about specific issues in the district.

Go to Facebook groups, and look at your area's ratings for safety and average income. But in the end, put your feelings above everything! I think the personal impression is the most important thing. Take the time to get in the car and look at some small towns.

How does moving to the USA work?

That depends, of course. Back then, we came with two suitcases each, because we didn't want to take all our household goods with us. However, many people who are transferred here by a company, for example, get a container sponsored to take their things with them.

If you pay for it yourself, it can be very costly. In addition, you have to ensure that electrical appliances such as the washing machine work here because of the 110 volts in the USA.

I would advise against packing too much. We each had two large checked bags filled to the limit of 23 kg, and then we had to push them around and drag them along. That was too much luggage with connecting flights and the walk to the rental car.

Moving to the USA - What to take with you?

What to take to the USA? Immigrants deal with this question in very different ways.

If you do not want to afford a container but still have a lot of stuff that should go to the United States, you can arrange it through various parcel services. Prepare packages at home and have them sent to you as soon as you have an address.

It was liberating to have just a few clothes and some electronics in my suitcase. It's a great way to get a fresh start. Sometimes you accumulate some junk that weighs you down but is too good to discard.

Many expats arrive with no furniture at all. In the beginning, we got air mattresses from Walmart, until at some point, we went to IKEA to equip ourselves a bit more. But there is also the option of moving into a furnished apartment first. They might cost a bit more to rent, but you can take it easy for the first while in the US.

Moving to the USA

Mattress with a view: starting over in the USA often begins in a minimalist way.

Is the dream of owning a house in the USA still realistic?

Compared to houses in Europe, it's still cheaper here. The USA is so big, and there's simply more space. Friends of ours own a farm, for example, where you can walk for half an hour and not even leave their property.

Land and real estate are still more affordable, even though the real estate market is picking up - most likely a little further out, of course, and not in the city. For starters, though, maybe something smaller will do?

We moved into a townhouse, for example, because we didn't want to furnish a huge house right away. That's a good middle ground between an apartment and a house. So, I wouldn't rush into anything and take my time looking first.

The American dream is something that develops over a few years. You shouldn't expect to come here and become an instant millionaire. You have to be patient, but you can absolutely work towards it. It's definitely more accessible and realistic than back home.

How do you make money in the USA in the first place?

Practice is what counts here. What can you do? What have you already done? What can you bring to a company? Maybe you know how to do business with Europe? You definitely know things that the average American might not, and you should highlight that. You're kind of special in that sense, and you can use that as an advantage.

So you should approach it very confidently. Even without perfect English, you can go very far in your professional life. People also respect when someone speaks a second language.

Your LinkedIn profile is all-important. It must look neat and be written in English. On LinkedIn, there are also advertisements to which you can apply directly with your completed profile. Also, you should always network. Go to the expat groups on Facebook! Some people from home are already working in American branches and may be looking for more people.

Also, with remote work (which, of course, has fully taken off here in the US), you can even work for an employer or client back home. Also, the business field is less regulated, and there are fewer pitfalls and regulations if you want to start a company in the USA.

Speaking of contacts: Anyone who can help me immigrate?

There are expats all over the USA who help each other. One thing I can recommend is the winners' community of The American Dream. But really, there's a separate group for every major city.

Everywhere you go, people have been through exactly what you're going through, and they're happy to help you with advice and support. Sometimes you have to apply to these groups before you can get in. But that's a good thing because you might not want to ask certain questions out in the open.

And it's handy to network with like-minded people who have the same background. And after your successful immigration, you should go and help the next generation of immigrants. You will have new knowledge acquired along the way and can pass some of it on to others.

Help with emigrating to the USA

Together we are strong: US immigrants help each other, for example, in the winners' community of The American Dream.

Can you summarize some essential tips for US expats?

  • You can use the service of The American Dream to have your Social Security Card (and also the Green Card) sent to you. This way, you will have less stress in the beginning.
  • Get professional help wherever you can. For example, with your first American tax return or with visa questions. Small mistakes can have big consequences.
  • Some documents, such as birth certificates or marriage certificates, can be requested from the authorities in multiple languages. This is cheaper than hiring a certified translator. (Editor's note: In case you need translations, you can get your documents certified here.)
  • Do not carry your most important documents in your checked baggage, but keep them with you at all times.
  • If you are bringing pets to the United States, take them to the veterinarian early and check with the airline about all important animal welfare issues.
  • When looking for jobs, pay attention to the benefits. This includes things like health insurance, which is especially important if you are migrating with children.

However, my ultimate tip for moving to the USA is: do not worry! There are many things to do, but there is always a way!

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