After discussing with our newest members of our organization, we came to the conclusion that most new immigrants are a little lost after arriving in this country known as United States of America, land of the free, home of the braves. We have compiled this collection of informations to help our alumni who have recently arrived in the U.S. or we are planning to emigrate here to get a jumpstart in settling down. We hope the informations we provide are useful to you.
The first section is called "the first 100 days". It contains the most important tasks you have to do within the first 3 and a half months after your arrival.
The other sections consist of "buying a home", "buying a car", "purchasing insurance", "education in the U.S.", "job hunting", "financial management" and "emergency prepareness".
Finally, the U.S. General Services Administration, an agency of the United States Government, has published a list of free or low-cost (e.g. 50cents) consumer information pamphlets on topics like "New Car Buying Guide", "Helping Your Child Succeed in School", "Invest Wisely" etc. The list is included in the Consumer Information Catalog which is available free of charge by calling the Consumer Information Center at 719-948-4000.
The First 100 Days
Welcome to the United States of America. It is hoped that the following tips could ease some of your anxiety in settling into your new environment. Of course, it will take some time to overcome the culture shock, but while you are still in the "Tourist Mood" don't let the following chores add to the discomfort of your new experience.
1. Get a Social Security Number (SS#)
This is your identity in the US, it is equivalent to the Identity Card Number in Hong Kong. Some people has the misconception that this is not necessary, and the earlier you get the SS #, the earlier the government will catch you for taxes. But without the SS#, your will not be able to open a bank account, get a job, or get a driver's license.
Look up the address of the Social Security Office in the Government Section of the telephone directory, or ask your friend.
2. Get a Driver's License
You may have an international driver's license and think that you can use it for as long as that license is valid. Wrong! California laws allow a landed immigrant to drive with his/her international license for 10 days only, and you need to obtain a California driver's license within 10 days after you landed and you cannot get any car insurance with your international license. After all, the driving test is not that difficult.
The driver's license is also your photo identity (equivalent to the HK Identity Card). Even if you are not driving, you should also get an identity card from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), it looks almost the same as a driver's license.
While you are still eligible to use your international drivers' license, (or get a Provisional Driver's License from the DMV) learn to drive on California roads. Ask your friend to teach you, or take instructions from a professional driving school. If you know how to drive in HK, you need only a few hours of practice to gain the 'road sense' in California.
The driving test includes a multiple choice written test, and a road test. Ask your friend or look up the telephone directory for the address of the DMV. It is usually easier and quicker to get an appointment in small cities in the suburb. Get a California Driver's Handbook from the DMV, also a street map of the area around the DMV to familiarize yourself of the streets around the DMV where you will take the driving test. Read the Handbook; take the written test and the road test (you may have to take the tests in different days); pay the fees and (HOORAY!) you get your driver's license.
3. Rent a Home
This could be the first culture shock for an immigrant. Most people from HK would like to buy their own home when they first arrive. This is our tradition. In North America as well as in most parts of the U.S., your job location, the locations of your children's schools (see below), and the possibility of reselling your property, etc. have great influences on the purchase of your own home. (see separate section on buying a home). Just consider the financial consequence that you have to pay six percent (of the selling price) broker's commission for selling your home, you may be convinced that it is cheaper to rent for the first few months. Delaying the purchase of your first home until you are settled could save you a lot of headache and money.
4. Buy a Car
Because facilities are spread out in North America, and especially public transportation is not as convenient as we wish, it is very difficult to get around without a car. Mobility is most essential in getting acquainted with a place (see separate section on buying a car).
5. Getting Insured
There are several insurance you will need to carry, the following are the most essential (see separate section for insurance):
· Automobile Insurance - By law, you need to carry, at least, third part liability insurance for your vehicle. You may like to carry other additional insurance for your car, e.g., comprehensive insurance;
· Medical Insurance - This is the insurance that covers (all, or part of) your medical expenses when you are sick or in a hospital. Medical costs in the US are very expensive. An average hospital room cost is about $1000 per day not to include medicine or doctors' fees. It is highly advisable to purchase some sort of medical insurance. If you have pre-existing medical conditions, your premium may be higher, or may not be able to get coverage at all. In that case, the alternative is to get into a group coverage, such as by getting a job with health insurance as a fringe benefit;
· Renters Insurance - This is to cover your belongings and other liabilities in your rented residence. When you have purchased your home, then you need to carry home owners insurance.
Ask your friend to recommend some insurance agencies. Sometimes, you may get reductions in premiums if you buy all your insurance from one source.
6. Enroll Your Children in Schools (see section on schools and education)
If you want to enroll in the public school system, your choice is limited to the schools in the school district of your residency. Standards in public schools differs considerably. Some general comments may be found in the "McCommick's Guide". This Guide is a paper back which gives general information on various social aspects, such as demographics, schools, hospitals, etc., in a county, there is one Guide for each, or a group of, counties, and is available in book stores, such as Crown Books, for a few dollars.
7. Establish Credit History
This is another culture shock for you. In North America, you are not trustworthy if you have not owed and paid off some debts! There are organizations here that tracked your debts and payments, and, for a fee, they issue 'credit reports' to verify your credit worthiness. A good credit report will show that the individual has high credit limits (i.e., the amount he may owe), and he or she always paid up the debts in time. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to rent a place, or establish a mortgage at a reasonable interest rate, without a good credit report. The irony is that it is very difficult to establish your credit (such as getting a credit card) without a credit history, and foreign credit history is usually not acceptable. The way to break this circle is to ask your bank to give you a debit card with your deposit as collateral, and some banks will issue you a credit card if you have an account with them. Once you get your debit (or credit) cards, use them instead of your cash, and remember to pay your balance in full in a timely manner. You will have an excellent credit history after a few months, and soon you will have to restrain yourself from getting too many credit cards because offers for new credit cards will flood your mail box soon.
Once again, welcome to the United States. Hope you have a smooth transition and soon you will be happily settled in this country.
Members of the HKUAA, North California Chapter, are most willing to render their assistance. Please feel free to contact us should you have any question. You can send e-mail to us at email@example.com or call Dr. Lawrence Ng, our president, at 510-839-1072.
Buying a Home
Buying a Car
Education in the U.S.