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Moving to the USA

Did you win the Green Card Lottery? Congratulations, an exciting period full of changes is ahead! We will help you plan your move to the USA in the best possible way and explain the steps you should take before, during, and after your arrival in America.

Before moving to the USA

Immigrating to the USA should be well planned. Therefore, it makes sense to start preparations several months before the actual move to the United States. Apartment, freight forwarding, flights, documents – there is a lot to organize!

Refresh your English skills

Although you can fulfill your American dream as an immigrant without speaking English, it certainly helps to become linguistically proficient before moving to the United States. Take an English course at a language school or community college, or find a tandem partner with whom you can improve your conversational skills. With language learning apps, you can test and improve your knowledge flexibly at any time and place.

Find an apartment

If you don't have any family members or friends to stay with for the initial time, it is advisable to start looking online for suitable housing or temporary accommodation a few weeks before moving to the USA.

Real estate prices vary widely across the United States. While you usually have to dig deep into your pockets for housing in large cities and densely populated states, you can often find real estate bargains in rural and less populated regions.

Unless you have already decided on a particular city in which you would like to spend your future life, you should avoid long-term rental contracts over several months or years for the time being. Instead, look for a so-called month-to-month contract that allows you to remain flexible. Alternatively, an Airbnb room, a vacation home, or a shared apartment can offer you a first place to go after moving to the USA.

Couple in the middle of moving cartons

Parting with the old

If you are not going to sublet your home and its furnishings in your home country, now is the time to take a close look at your belongings. Before you pay high transport and customs costs, think carefully about which things you want to move to the USA with and which you can let go of.


You can get rid of most of the furniture because you can really buy anything in the USA. Unless the inventory is valuable heirlooms or antiques, buying new items in the US will be cheaper than transporting them.

Moreover, you will not even need certain pieces of furniture in the United States. American apartments and houses are usually equipped with a built-in kitchen, including electrical appliances. Bedrooms have built-in cabinets and sometimes even walk-in closets. It also makes little sense to bring mattresses, as American beds differ in dimensions from those in many other countries.

Electrical appliances

In the case of electrical appliances, it is hardly worth transporting them to the USA because the American power grid operates with 110 volts alternating current and a frequency of 60 hertz, which is different from European countries, for example.

While smaller electrical appliances such as notebooks or smartphones can be used with an adapter without any problems, an additional transformer is usually needed to operate larger household appliances like washing machines, dishwashers, or televisions. Therefore, it is more practical and cheaper to shop for new appliances in the USA.


If you're not sure yet whether you actually want to stay in the USA forever, rent a self-storage unit in your home country and store your belongings there for a period of time.


Cars, motorcycles, and other vehicles are often cherished items that are difficult to part with. However, besides the high transport costs, taking vehicles to the USA is associated with a number of additional hurdles.

If you decide in favor of transportation, note that you will need to have the vehicle converted to US standards within one year (approximately $ 2,000 to $ 3,000). Also, some types of vehicles (e.g., Smart, certain diesel vehicles) are generally not registered in the United States.

You can find all the important information on the website of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Organizing a transport

After you have decided which belongings will accompany you when moving to the USA, it's time to look for a shipping company. If you do not live in Canada or Latin America, you basically have two options for transportation: by air freight or by shipping container.

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Air cargo

Transportation by air is more expensive than by sea, but especially if you need to transport only a few goods, it offers many advantages. Thus, by air cargo, it is possible to reach all US states, even those inland.

The delivery time is relatively short, at around ten to twelve days. If you pay the extra charge for an express service, delivery is even possible within two to three days. The price is calculated according to the weight of your goods to be transported.

Sea container

The sea container is the best choice to transport larger quantities of goods. You can rent the containers from international forwarders such as Schenker, Compas International Movers, or ALLIED Forwarding Group.

As a rule, companies offer sea containers in various standard formats, mostly 20 feet (33m³), 40 feet (67m³), and 40 feet high cubes (78m³). It doesn't matter how full you pack the container and how much it weighs; you always pay the fixed container price. However, there are differences in service, as some companies support you, e.g., with customs declaration or allow you free storage periods of several weeks if necessary.

If you decide to use a sea container, keep in mind that there may be additional costs for insurance, packing materials, loading and unloading, and onward transportation by land.

Traveling with a pet

You certainly want your furry best friend to accompany you into your new life. To make sure that the relocation to the USA goes smoothly for your pet, you should take enough time to prepare for the transport and comply with all applicable entry requirements.

Cats and smaller dogs can usually travel in a transport box with you in the cabin, while larger dogs are carried in the cargo hold. The exact specifications regarding size and weight when transporting animals are determined by each airline itself.

Tips: pets traveling by plane

The journey in the airplane – especially in the cargo hold – means a lot of stress for your four-legged friend. Therefore, follow these tips to make the flight as pleasant as possible for your pet.

  • Make sure that the transport box has adequate size (your pet should be able to lie and stand comfortably).
  • Let your pet repeatedly sit in the transport box in the weeks before the trip so that it gets used to it.
  • Put a blanket and your pet's favorite toy in the box with him.
  • If possible, book a direct flight to avoid multiple takeoffs and landings, as well as reloading the transport box onto another aircraft.

Basically, each US state has its own entry requirements, which are more or less strict. As a rule, however, you need:

  • A health certificate issued by the veterinarian (not older than 30 days)
  • An entry permit (Veterinary Services VS Form 17-129)
  • For dogs: a rabies vaccination (administered at least 30 days before arrival, but not older than one year)
  • For some species: additional permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

In some states, vaccinations are also mandatory for cats. Furthermore, you may be required to have your pet examined by a veterinarian after entry. In states and territories with particularly strict regulations, quarantine may also be imposed.

For current regulations on pet entry into the United States, visit the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Golden Retriever with USA flag

Settling organizational tasks

Last but not least, there are some organizational tasks that need to be taken care of before moving to the USA. Prior to your departure, you should:

  • check the validity of your passport ( if necessary, apply for a new one)
  • get certified translations of important documents
  • deregister with the Civil Registration Office
  • inform the Pension Office about your move to the USA
  • inform the Tax Office about your move to the USA
  • cancel contracts (electricity, internet, cell phone) and subscriptions
  • set up a forwarding mandate for your mail
  • take out health insurance for your stay abroad
  • take out travel insurance
  • book a flight

Traveling to the USA

Your relocation to America is now imminent. To ensure that nothing can go wrong, it is time for a final check of all important documents and your luggage, along with a final review of the current entry requirements for the USA.

Checklist documents

You will need some important documents right when you enter the country, others only after you arrive. But once you're in the USA, you can't obtain the documents easily from the authorities. Therefore, check everything again carefully before you go. Also, remember to have all important papers translated into English!

These documents belong in your luggage, for you, and for each person traveling with you:

  • identity card
  • passport
  • Green Card (if already existing) or visa
  • driver's license (if necessary, also an international driver's license)
  • certified translation of birth certificate
  • certified translations of school and work certificates
  • international vaccination certificate and other medical documents
  • insurance documents
  • proof of existing accounts in the home country
  • tax returns and important financial documents
  • if applicable, marriage certificate, divorce certificate
  • if applicable, custody certificates
  • if applicable, the vaccination certificate and medical documents of your pet


Make multiple copies of your documents and distribute them among several suitcases and boxes. To minimize the risk of loss, always carry the originals of the most important documents in your hand luggage.

Checklist luggage

The American border officials are known to be particularly strict. Avoid problems when entering the country by informing yourself well about the current import regulations for the USA shortly before your departure.

Some products and items may only be brought into the USA duty-free in specified quantities and under certain conditions. For example, this applies to:

  • Money: cash and other means of payment (traveler's checks, bonds) up to $ 10,000 are duty-free
  • Alcohol (except absinthe): one liter per adult 21 years and older is duty-free
  • Chocolates with liquor filling: transport in original packaging allowed in checked baggage
  • Tobacco: 200 cigarettes, 100 cigarillos, 50 cigars, or 250g loose tobacco per adult are duty-free
  • Prescription drugs: transport in original packaging, medical documents translated into English necessary, declaration at customs necessary
  • Weapons: Handguns, hunting weapons, and ammunition allowed in a locked box in checked baggage, filing of Form AE 2075 at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Certain items and products are subject to a strict import ban in the United States. This concerns:

  • fully and semi-automatic weapons
  • knives
  • illegal drugs
  • pornography
  • counterfeit branded products
  • products from endangered species (e.g., ivory, coral, certain types of fur)
  • plant seeds
  • meat and meat products, fish, cheese, milk, eggs, children's surprise eggs
  • products from countries on the current US embargo list (z. B. Kuba, Iran, Syrien)

Always stay up to date because the import regulations can change at any time and at short notice. You can find recent information with the U. S. Customs and Border Protection.

Airplane and suitcase in USA look

After moving to the USA

After arriving on the other side of the Atlantic, your American dream can start. Since even in the United States, the authorities often move very slowly, you should not lose any time and immediately take care of some documents that are indispensable for your life in the USA.

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Social Security Card

Applying for a Social Security Card should be high on your to-do list. It is mandatory to have a Social Security number in the USA, which also serves as proof of identity. Without the Social Security Card, you will not be allowed to work in the States or open a US bank account. You will need the following documents to apply for the Social Security Card:

  • passport
  • birth certificate
  • residence permit (e.g., Green Card)

You can apply for the card at a Social Security Office near your new place of residence. It is sufficient if you initially provide only a temporary vacation address. The processing time is about two weeks.

American driver’s license

Although the driver's license from your home country will still be accepted in the USA for a few months, it is beneficial to apply for an American driver's license as soon as possible. The driver's license not only entitles you to operate a vehicle but also serves as an identification document, similar to the Social Security Card.

The regulations differ greatly from state to state. In some regions, it is sufficient to exchange the old driver's license for the new one. Other states require additional documents (e.g., a passed vision test) as well as taking a theoretical or practical driving test. To obtain an American driver's license, you must contact the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in your state.

Health insurance

The topic of health insurance in the USA is very complex. However, due to the high cost of medication and treatment in America, sufficient insurance coverage is of great importance to avoid falling into a debt trap in the event of an emergency.

Initially, it is sufficient to take out an international health insurance policy for several months. After that, you can proceed to find the appropriate health coverage to meet your needs without a rush.

Government programs are reserved for certain groups of people in the United States. Many residents obtain private health insurance through their employer, who usually covers part of the cost. It is also possible to purchase your own private health insurance.

Dollar bills and USA flag

Bank account

You should open an American bank account quickly after moving to the USA. The American banking sector is huge and includes more than 5,000 regional and local financial institutions. To get started, it is a good idea to open an account at one of the four major national banks: JP Morgan & Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo Bank, and Citibank. They have branches throughout the whole country and are experienced in advising international customers.

To open a bank account in the USA, you will need:

  • proof of identity (Green Card, driver's license, passport, ID card)
  • immigration documents (Green Card, visa, work permit)
  • Social Security number
  • proof of address (e.g., lease agreement, current utility bill)
  • photo (format 50 x 50 mm)
  • starting balance (varies depending on the bank)

Credit History

After you have opened a bank account in the USA, you can start building up the so-called credit history. Having a good credit score is enormously important in the USA because without it, it is not possible to take out loans, e.g., to buy an apartment or a car. In addition, a good credit score is necessary to obtain credit cards and certain contracts.

Your credit history indicates how reliably you have met your financial obligations in the past and gives your potential lender peace of mind. Since you start with a credit score of 0 after moving to the US as an immigrant, it makes sense to build up a good score as quickly as possible. Paradoxically, to achieve this, you will need to service existing credit and installment payments in a timely and reliable manner.

However, you can still build up your credit history quickly with a few tricks:

  • make installment payments for smaller purchases (e.g., household appliances)
  • use a secured credit card (credit card with a balance)
  • apply for an American Express credit card in your home country

More tips for the USA

Are you ready for your move to the USA? Or do you still need some advice? Then check out our expat interviews and learn how our Green Card winners have mastered their new life in the United States. Also, sign up for our newsletter – we will provide you with valuable tips and breaking news about the USA on a regular basis!

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