It is true that a move to the USA is easier than most, but stepping into our fourth year we’ve gleened a few not so obvious tips. Things do get done here, but beware of the hidden costs. Perfectly reflected in the fact that the price you see doesn’t include tax, unlike most other countries.
We’ve been through it all. Rent increases, tooth pain, buying a car, getting prescription medications, flipping through credit card offers, long road trips, moving apartments and negotiating bills. I put this article together to offer transparency on where to save money when you are living in the US as a foreigners
To Do Immediately When You Move to the USA
Getting an Affordable US Mobile Plan
Many telecom companies offer discounts for opening multiple lines, often tailored towards families. This doesn’t work for foreigners without a network of local contacts. There are two affordable options when bringing your own mobile device.
T-Mobile – offer a pre-paid deal for $15 per month. This provides 2.5GB of data and there is no minimum time commitment. Buy a SIM online or in a T-Mobile store.
Mint Mobile – introductory offer costs $15 for 4GB of data for the first 3 months, then $20 for 6 months. Sign up to 1 year pre-paid and lock in the $15 per month deal. Buy a SIM online or at Best Buy.
Xfinity – If you also purchase Xfinity home internet, you can pay by the GB for internet with unlimited calls and texts. 1 GB is $12 + tax and you can share GB across multiple phones.
Open a Bank Account with International Features
To open a US account you need your immigration forms (DS-2019 or I-20, foreign passport and proof of address), plus a little money to deposit. The US has many small local banks, however, as a foreigner you will want a national bank for ease of access to free ATMs and transferring money from abroad. If the ATM doesn’t belong to your bank, you will be charged to withdraw. Though you can get cashback in supermarkets with debit or credit card.
To transfer money from abroad you can use companies such as Wise, that have much lower transaction fees.
Set Up Internet
You may find furnished accommodation with bills included, but if not, you’ll need to set them up. We found internet to be more expensive in the USA than Europe and South America.
We recently switched to Starry, a company with cheap, fast internet and no minimum contract and the option to cancel anytime.
Xfinity does great intro offers, but then steadily increases your price. They also charge you to rent the equipment each month at $15 extra.
Buy Comprehensive US Health Insurance
The largest health insurance providers are:
Coverage differs between states. If you are a student, your university will have a plan. Student plans usually have lower deductibles and access to student healthcenter appointments for no additional cost. I would advise opting in.
I bought my health insurance on the Healthcare Marketplace, a site that facilitates signing up to government approved insurance plans. This means they pass the Affordable Care Act. You include your income and can even apply for tax credits to help front the premiums (monthly cost), depending on income level relative to poverty line.
Expect to pay $300 per month for comprehensive coverage.
Health Insurance Vocabulary
Deductible = the price you will pay before the health insurance pays anything.
Co-pay = a set fee you will pay for instance to see a doctor. Perhaps it is $35 per appointment.
Co-insurance = a percentage of the price of care you will pay even if you already paid your deductible.
Max out-of-pocket = a capped amount that when reached the insurance will pay the rest.
Other Health and Wealthness Considerations
Before you need medication, locate a close pharmacy that provides you the best prices for your plan. The medication cost can be dramatically different between pharmacies. Also, always request generic medicines where possible, as these are most likely covered by your insurance or considerably cheaper. Contraception is free by law with your health plan, if you get a generic brand.
Eye prescriptions are only valid for 1 year in the USA. Bring one with you.
Dental care is extortionately priced. Get major dental done outside the country. If you need to go to the dentist note that x-rays are truly expensive. Dental plans only cover up-to 50% of treatment prices, but usually include a clean every 6 months.
Making Life Easier in the USA
Consider Getting a US Driving Permit
If you already drive, it’s extremely easy to pass a US driving test. In Colorado it lasts 15 minutes with no parking maneuvers. The theory is 20 questions on a screen (in Colorado). Take a private practical test for $80 to bi-pass the DMV wait times.
Apart from US being made for driving, in many States you will always be asked for ID to drink. Sometimes they only accept foreign passports, not IDs. You don’t want to have to carry around your passport if you are staying long-term.
Get a Social Security Number
Social Security Numbers are required for anyone working in the USA. It is tied to your tax and any benefits you receive. If you apply for a work permit (EAD) or will work at the university (F-visa or J-visa) this is needed for employment. Your employer will help you apply for one and you can request one on your first EAD request.
Having an SSN helps for leasing apartments and is necessary for loans, credit cards and contracts in general.
Where to Buy Stuff in the USA
Go to Walmart or Target for household goods, stationery, outdoors equipment, basic tools, kitchen utensils.
King Soopers or City Mart are the cheapest grocery stores. Sprouts is cheapest for fresh, good quality fruits and vegetables. Trader Joes has mostly frozen, or pantry style goods with a selection of their own-brand foreign foods (Middle Eastern, Italian, Greek). Wholefoods is owned by Amazon and is a pricey supermarket, but offers more dietry restricted options.
Walgreens and CVS are pharmacies. You can buy most medications at the grocery store. Remember many medicines will need a prescription, including the contraception pill. King Soopers also has its own in-store pharmacy.
Dollar store, say what you may, this place stocks almost everything you need. Even batteries are just 1 dollar!
Buy electronics at Best Buy, Target, Walmart or on Amazon.
Weird Things to Know When You Move to USA
- When you move to USA you’ll notice that there is no diesel at the pump. Diesel is reserved only for large trucks. Most gas stations won’t have this option, but they will have different grades of gas. For example in the Rockies area you can purchase 85 octane gas, but in the East Coast the lowest grade petrol is 87 octane. Pay for 87 octane because we’ve had issues before with the lower grade versions. In Oregon you can’t fill your own tank, the attendant will do it for you.
- Watch out for local alcohol laws. Some places stop selling alcohol after 11pm or earlier on Sunday. Others will not sell hard liquor or any alcohol in the supermarkets. You must go to a separate store. 21+ only.
- Everyone must file their own taxes in the USA before April the following year. Your employer will send you the forms in the first January after you move to USA.
- They have e-numbers that are banned in the EU. Take care when you eat candy and certain crisps (chips). However, Sprouts do organically flavoured and vegan sweets and gummies sold by weight! They also have dried fruits and nuts to snack on.
- The air pumps don’t have reliable measurement tyre gauges and are on a paid timer. Therefore, buy a tyre gauge and fill your tyre air at post, then let out excess air using the tyre guage to reach the ideal amount.
Getting the Most Out of Your Move to USA
Sign up to your public library when you move to USA. You only need a proof of address.
Coupons are worthwhile in craft and hobby stores. Not so much in the supermarkets, unless you like fine print.
The major sale days are Labour Day Weekend, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Memorial Day Weekend.
Once you have some sort of positive credit score, you can apply for credit cards with benefits. We found that Discover and American Express offered 3-5% cash back and 0 annual fee for a year. You can switch cards to make the most of these offers during your stay in the USA.
If you have a car and love road trips I would purchase a National Park Annual Pass. It costs $80. Therefore, even if you visit two parks it pays for itself.
Read more in Taco Bell Ruin and 7 lessons from the USA: a list of annecdotes from my first year living in Colorado.
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