help me prepare for a smooth move the the USA as an expat
January 16, 2022 6:52 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I will be relocating from the Netherlands to the USA in 1 to 2 years for work reasons. We will stay in the USA for about 3-5 years. What steps can I take now to make this process easier? If you're an expat, what did you wish you had known/done before your move?

My partner and I are both entrepreneurs. We each have a company in the Netherlands. His company is on the verge of expanding to the USA, where they will open an American branch/office, the end goal being to sell the whole company in the USA within 5-6 years. I would naturally like to join him for that time. It would also make sense for me to develop an American branch for my own company while there, and also eventually sell.

We have about 1-2 years to prepare for the move. What can we start preparing now to make the process easier? What did you wish you had known before your move? I'm not much worried about the cultural differences, more about the practical aspects.

Some relevant facts:
-We will most likely be coming in on an E-2 Visa. We're also participating in the green card lottery just in case, but that's of course a long shot.

-I'm French and he's Dutch. We're not married, but we've hade what's called a "registered partnership" for 10+ years, and a mortgage together on our Amsterdam flat. We would consider getting married if that would make things significantly easier. No children and no pets.

-I've lived in the USA for a year, 20 years ago as an exchange student (so no work visa, no SSN).

-We are both the owners/founders of our respective companies. So there won't be any help "from our companies" for this relocation, we would be the ones arranging it all... and paying for it all too.
We would both need to work while in the USA.

-Our mortgage for our apartment in Amsterdam is almost paid off. We would most likely be keeping it and renting it out while we live in the USA. We would then also be renting an apartment in the USA, as well as renting office space for our companies. We haven't settled on a location yet, but it would most likely be large coastal cities (he's in tech, I'm in design). We have no credit score in the USA. We're wondering if it would be best to be debt-free before the move, or keep the cash on hand instead of paying off the mortgage. We have some additional savings (about 1 year of living expenses).

-We both speak English fluently, and have visited the USA a few times on work or holidays visits. We feel we have a pretty good grasp of the culture.

-I have a common chronic illness that is fairly well managed, but requires regular check-ups and daily medication and is likely to get worse as I age. We both have full-coverage health insurance in the Netherlands now.

-We will probably be visiting the USA a couple of times before the move on tourist visas to scout locations (of course it's hard to make specific plans and travel in a pandemic...)

I'd like to be prepared regarding finances, housing, health, but there's also probably a lot of other important details i'm not thinking of yet.

Looking forward to any tips you might have on any of those topics, or specific resources you found helpful if you've been in the same situation. Thanks!
posted by PardonMyFrench to Work & Money (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
We're not married, but we've hade what's called a "registered partnership" for 10+ years, and a mortgage together on our Amsterdam flat. We would consider getting married if that would make things significantly easier. No children and no pets.

In America there is not a version of this, certainly not nationally. Some states have some partnership protections and laws but not all and even if the state treats you the same as married, the federal government doesn't.

The most important one I can think of is Health Insurance, it will be up to the company's rules about what qualifies as a partner and even if they have partner coverage. You will want to ensure you have the FULL details on this if both of you won't be employed and covered independently. Partner coverage also costs more than spouse coverage because it isn't tax exempted like spouse coverage is.

If an employer is also paying for relocation costs you will also need to find out if that covers partners too.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:07 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]

Well, you're going to be shocked at the cost of health insurance, and health care in general (even with insurance). I don't have a ton of substantive advice except not to underestimate it, and you may indeed find that being married and finding an insurance policy that covers both of you is cheaper than separate policies. Do not, under any circumstances, assume that you can go without health insurance and "just deal with it" if/when you need health care. The costs are astronomical in general and can get to bankruptcy level with even the slightest emergency.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:43 AM on January 16 [16 favorites]

The biggest practical thing to know is that each state is kinda sorta a different nation.

Some states are tenant friendly, some favor landlords. Some are relatively kind to people with disabilities, some are downright inhospitable. Some have common law marriage, some don't. And if you marry and then divorce, your state of residence will largely determine how much of a slog that becomes. Some have worker protections, others don't.

And when it comes to Covid, your state of residence is largely going to determine if your neighbors are cautious and vaccinated, or if it's a free-for-all.

As a fellow person with chronic illnesses, I will warn you that the health care system is very onerous. Anticipate a lot of red tape and phone calls.

I wouldn't brush off cultural aspects of the move. I did two stints overseas, and found that the six month mark was the worst for culture shock. That's when the fun wore off and the reality set in.

I'm in Maryland, if you're curious about relocating here you're welcome to message me.
posted by champers at 7:47 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]

I don't know anything about insurance in the Netherlands, but I live in a neighboring country and if you have private insurance here, you can in some cases hold on to it and use it for a stay in the US as long as you plan to return. Maybe also check out fixed term health insurance for foreigners in the US as well.
Also, I don't mean to criticize, but there is no such thing as "the culture". It depends heavily on where you plan to be.
posted by melamakarona at 7:56 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]

I assume you’ve spoken with an immigration lawyer, if not, definitely do that. The process for immigrating to the US can take years. USCIS has a guide for some of the practical things you’ll need to do, like related to getting a SSN. (It’s aimed at new green card holders but still has useful info.) I used to move around a lot as a kid and my dad’s company usually provided a book with info on how to integrate into the country. I think we got one for the US as well. It might be worth asking friends who’ve moved to the US with multinational companies if they have anything like that to share. Another resource is local Facebook groups for the cities you’re looking at. For example, there’s a Brits in LA Facebook group where people ask questions about getting bank accounts set up, how to rent with zero credit, getting health insurance brokers, getting legal referrals, setting up the best phone plans, getting drivers licenses, etc. I vaguely recall HSBC being the easiest bank to use internationally and in the US. I’ve also just seen people ask questions like the one you just asked, and the answers may vary because of visa type/country of origin.
posted by loulou718 at 8:22 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]

You probably know this, but transferring money to/from the US can be more complicated than between other countries (you'll probably need to use some service like xe or wise). Also, within the US, direct bank transfers are expensive and not common. People use checks and third-party services a lot; there are also things like "direct deposit" for paychecks and automatic bill pay, which your specific bank may or may not enable (you can also do the latter with credit cards). Lately some banks have been offering domestic transfers through services like Zelle, though there seem to be limits on amounts and so on. Credit cards let you carry a balance indefinitely as long as you make the minimum monthly payments, and in contrast most businesses don't give you the option of paying in installments. The credit rating agencies are an obnoxious mess.

You have to keep in mind both federal and state taxes. Also, when you buy things, remember that sales tax is not actually included in the listed prices that you'll see; you'll only get the real price at checkout. Sales tax also varies by location.

Check up on tipping culture in case there are differences from what you're used to.

Healthcare: you might get multiple bills from what you think of as one event. Like, unless things have changed if you go to the ER you might be billed separately for specific doctors who may have interacted with you, on top of the general bill for the visit. You definitely want good insurance.

You'll want to check out the specific renting culture of the place you'll be living in (what's the process for applying/getting approved, is month-to-month a thing, etc.) and read up on local tenant law. You'll almost definitely need to pay a deposit, which may or may not be refunded in full or at all depending on the state of the apartment when you return it, and on your landlord's honesty, so it's common to document the state of the apartment when you move in or out. (Maybe this is also true in NL; it's different than where I live.)
posted by trig at 8:47 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]

You may wish to consult with a business lawyer to decide where to base your business, and go from there, as many things (such as health insurance options) will be determined by what state you're in.
posted by aramaic at 8:53 AM on January 16 [6 favorites]

Also, look into whether you'll be able to do any kind of electronic transfer of your current health records, and/or keep your current records available so you can consult them while you're gone. I don't know what the current state of things is in the US with respect to who has access to what health records - things may (hopefully) be more centralized and digital now than they used to be, but you'll want to check up on this.

If you're on any specific medications, make sure they're available in the US and that your insurer covers them.
posted by trig at 8:56 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]

If you want to move in 1-2 years, I'd apply for the visa now-ish. I think the process typically takes more than a year, and have heard about substantial delays during the pandemic.
posted by emd3737 at 9:08 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]

You may wish to be DAFT:

"The Dutch-American Friendship Treaty (also known as DAFT or Dutch American Residency Treaty) is an agreement between the United States and the Netherlands signed into law at The Hague on March 27, 1956.[1] The treaty is a treaty of friendship, commerce and navigation with protocols. The treaty allows US Entrepreneurs to acquire Dutch residency for the purpose of starting a business. The treaty also allows Dutch traders and investors to enter the US and engage in business in the US."
posted by dum spiro spero at 10:10 AM on January 16 [5 favorites]

Credit cards let you carry a balance indefinitely as long as you make the minimum monthly payments

This is true, but be cautious with this, especially as a non-citizen. A family friend did this, then left the US without paying off the balance, and it was a MASSIVE headache years later when his child needed a student visa. I can only imagine that trackability of such things has gotten stricter in the twenty-odd years since he tried it.

Taxes are another financial/practical thing that trips a lot of people up. If you are self-employed (sounds like you are) you pay "quarterly taxes" which are due on a non-quarterly basis (July, September, and January) -- this drives me nuts. Then in April you are expected to add everything up yourself and make sure that you paid right. If you overpaid, you get a refund; if you underpaid, there's a penalty surcharge. Again, you don't want to fuck with the IRS, especially if you are thinking of getting a green card. My dad recently applied for a green card and had to submit several years' worth of prior tax returns.

The point about sales tax is a really good one. It also varies by location (city/state) which is why it's not built-in to the price on the grocery shelf.

You will need a social security number in order to do anything financial in the US (rent an apartment, open a bank account or credit card) and for some non-financial things like get a drivers license in most states. I think you would need to apply for that now as you don't have an employer doing it on your behalf.

If you are used to European public transit and especially Dutch bike networks, I'm so sorry, but nothing like that exists here. You can get by without owning a car in most larger cities, provided you pay a premium for living near a transit line. But a drivers' license is still a essentially a necessary ID card, so even non-drivers get them (technically called State ID, but they are issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles and have the same eligibility requirements aside from passing a road test).
posted by basalganglia at 10:13 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]

The US tax system would like to tax you on the value gain from when you bought your house 20 years ago, even if you have been in the US for only a week. Fine, you don't think you want to sell your house while you're on the US and it may not be a bother to you, but if it does come up then it's a pain, and can only be fixed by talking to a knowledgeable accountant before you leave. They will reset the capital gain basis to its modern value.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 10:41 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]

(In general, I'm sure you know this, but you'll definitely want to have a good accountant familiar with all the NL, US, state, and independent business aspects of your situation.)
posted by trig at 10:48 AM on January 16 [5 favorites]

Given your health condition, you should research not just healthcare facilities that can treat your condition, but go as granular as finding individual physicians who specialize in your condition and moving to that general area. As you can see from the tenor of the above answers, quality and accessibility of healthcare in the U.S. varies dramatically by location within the same city, let alone the state. The U.S. healthcare "system" is a patchwork of private community clinics, public and private hospitals, religious healthcare (like Catholic hospitals), and academic institutions, all of varying quality.

Since you have some time to prepare for your move, I suggest researching the top U.S. physicians for your illness, and establishing care before your move (over Zoom or visiting in person, yes, this will take some cash), so you don't find yourself without the specialized providers you need to manage your condition. Check the insurance your chosen provider accepts to help you decide what type you need to buy.

As many MeFites already pointed out, having no money or no health insurance in the U.S. will set you up for substandard health outcomes, but the converse is also true. If you have the cash and/or the insurance, you can get world-class healthcare in the U.S. For many conditions, it's the best in the world, since socialized medicine isn't set up to throw obscene amounts of money toward the care of an individual patient. Also, because healthcare pays so well in the U.S. compared to anywhere else, the world's best specialists come here to practice. This matters for someone like yourself who will likely need a specialist, rather than just a general practitioner/family doc.
posted by Atrahasis at 2:28 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]

As somewhat pointed out, you might need a car in the US. And to get a driver's license you might need to have insurance, even if you don't own a car. This, too, varies by state (I think). So there's another expense to add to life in this ridiculous country. I do not know how long your licenses, if you have them, will be valid here, or even if they are at all, so you might think about that, too.
posted by Snowishberlin at 3:01 PM on January 16

If either of you has the equivalent of a USA Master's level degree or higher, and you are interested in teaching, and if you end up in California: Check out the California State University system.

There is big demand for foreign-language, business, and CompSci/IT teachers to work as part-time adjuncts.

If you adjunct and teach as little as two 3-unit classes (equivalent to a 40% load), you qualify for full health, dental and vision care for you and your spouse, in addition to getting a (modest) paycheck.

You'd still have those other "60%" of hours for working on your business, and the benefits continue over the summer even if you don't teach.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 4:06 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]

I disagree somewhat with Atrahasis's comment about healthcare. If your chronic condition is common and well-managed, you most likely don't need a specialist and could see an internist or family medicine practitioner. Managing common chronic conditions is a lot of what they do. Maybe look for one with a special interest in your condition (they often have a web page with a bio). I definitely don't think you need to move to a particular city for care if you're focused on bigger cities (a rural area might be a different story, but even then it might be fine). Getting a translated copy of the most relevant parts of your medical record would be a good idea.

The advice Atrahasis gave is good for a less common condition. I just don't want you to get the impression that non-specialists here aren't capable. For all the failings of the US healthcare system, many of them manage to be excellent.
posted by Comet Bug at 5:44 PM on January 16

To get an idea of healthcare costs, look up Affordable Care Act + the state you're considering, then get a quote for yourselves as single people and as a married couple, and then compare. There will be a monthly cost, a deductible, and an out of pocket maximum. Check that your medication is covered under the plan you might consider. You'll need to find an in-network doctor that you like for your condition. And assume the worst case scenario for budgeting - maxing out your out of pocket maximum for each year. When I looked last time, it was about ~20k per year for 2 people for our state + about $600 per month that you pay even if you don't ever go to the doctor, but it all depends on the plan.

Health plans do not include dental insurance, so that's another expense. I don't know how vision plans factor into this if you wear glasses.
posted by at 5:45 PM on January 16

Where are you planning on moving in the US? You're getting a lot of great general information. If you can give some possible destinations here, we can best tailor our advice. For example, the culture and cost of living can be very different in DC versus Dallas versus Denver versus Detroit.

Your English is clearly fantastic! Europeans are generally seen as smart and competent* here, especially in metropolitan areas, so those are two things not to worry about! (*Often as even smarter and more competent than people born and raised in the US, which is a little silly but certainly benefits you in your situation!)
posted by smorgasbord at 8:29 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]

Additionally, life in the US is extremely expensive, like more than even more than most Europeans can imagine since so much is privatized. Since you'll be supporting yourselves, plan on spending say USD 50,000 on expenses like health insurance, rent, transportation, and more your first year. It can be done for less -- and for more too, of course -- but will likely be exponentially more than you're used to or anticipating. You have great potential for making a lot more if your business is successful but it's stunning and ridiculous how expensive life is here.

Also to consider, just my personal preference: I am a US citizen who lived abroad in Europe and in South America. I prefer to use the term immigrant to describe myself out of solidarity but, of course, I can see how you'd prefer ex-pat as it's fitting for your scenario and can sound more prestigious and short-term.

I hope everything goes well and that you both have a really positive experience!
posted by smorgasbord at 8:36 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]

Please post a comment with which state(s) you're considering because there's a huge amount of variation.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:01 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

Look into FATCA (mild annoyance) and IRS form 5471 (much worse) - it can be a huge pain to have US tax residency and own a foreign corporation. Depending on the details of your business structure, a big enough pain to reconsider your plan.
posted by Nothing at 5:23 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]

It's just really difficult to give much advice without knowing where you are relocating.

The US varies a great deal, legally, financially and culturally, by state and locality.

"Coastal city" was mentioned, but that's where something like half the population of the US lives. I am in a coastal city region, but it's different from NYC, Boston, Atlanta, Miami, Seattle, DC, LA, San Francisco, New Orleans, San Diego...

Also, and this has been alluded to in other comments, but the concept we are discussing is "time tax."

Americans pay a higher proportion of our time to perform bureaucratic/life tasks than residents of other developed nations. We are expected to read and interpret complex documents on our own. We tend to have to dicker and bother to hook up internet, set up health care, dispute bills, enroll in government programs, etc.

My mom is Australian and in her native country she simply registers for things. When she was living in the US, she was astonished by the hoop-jumping of everyday life. (Also, Americans tend to assume she is British, and would argue with her when she said she's Australian.)

You do get used to it, just budget your time and energy accordingly.
posted by champers at 5:58 AM on January 17

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers so far!

Some extra details, to narrow it down:

-I mention "expat" instead of immigrant as we're planning to stay max 5-6 years, then go back to Europe after selling our businesses.

-We will also still keep the European branch of our existing businesses while expanding to the US and as such I expect we will also regularly visit back (perhaps every 2-3 months, pandemic willing) to attend to business things that can't be done remotely. This will also give me a chance to consult my existing health care providers if needed.

-@dum spiro spero I certainly wish to be DAFT :-) I knew about this treaty mostly from American friends living in Amsterdam, but didn't realize it's meant to go both ways and also facilitate Dutch nationals investing in the USA. I'll get started on the research.

-@soylent00FF00 that's a great tip, we each have a master's degree and I have taught at local universities in the Netherlands for years, so that would be an excellent way to secure healthcare etc... even if it means hiring more help to take on some of my own CEO duties over.

-In terms of location, we're trying to find the sweet spot between affordable, good prospects for hiring qualified (tech) employees for my partner, close to his customer base (defence industry) and a time zone that lets us work remotely with our employees and customers who will stay in Europe. Potential candidates so far are Boston, NY, Washington CD, Richmond VA, but we're also considering SF. Because of the temporary nature of the move, we're also willing to put up with less than ideal conditions for a while, and/or less attractive prospects in terms of weather, access to cultural outlets, public transport etc or even quality of our housing.

-Driving is not a problem, good point on getting our licences to be internationally recognized.

-We will indeed be self-employed, and also will establish offices in the US and hiring local staff, so we will absolutely require lawyers to help us make the best decisions.

-I'm going to look for FB groups from other European expats, that's an excellent point. I'm indeed worried about the practicalities of finding housing without a credit score and figuring out healthcare, and how to navigate having our "feet" and businesses/assets on two separate continents.

It sounds like being married would simplify a lot of things, so we probably need to sort that out first as well... (***goes off to prepare my proposal!)
posted by PardonMyFrench at 10:45 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

Despite the title, British Expats dot com has a specific "Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg" forum under Living & Moving Abroad/Europe which may have some helpful information. USA forum also has some interesting posts.
posted by Zeedog at 11:35 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]

I wish I could recommend an amazing international tax attorney or business consultant would could help you with all of this. I think the expat forums on Facebook are a great place to start: my only warning to be wary of some people offering services as there are a lot of predatory charlatans in these groups, unfortunately, as well as people who are so annoyingly convinced that one country is far superior to the other when it's really a mix. Clearly you're wise but it's worth mentioning. I feel joining an organization like the Rotary would help you create a lot of good, reliable business connections.

I know DC and RVA well, and both areas could be good options based on what you're looking for. The DC area is much more expensive and spread out but more cosmopolitan while RVA is cheaper with a nice artsy bikeable vibe; I chose to live in the close VA suburbs due to better work opportunities. While it sucks that Virginia just elected a conservative governor, the urban and suburban parts parts of the state are more liberal and it's a good place for business. I used to be an adjunct at community college and, sadly, Virginia doesn't seem to have those lovely benefits that California does. However, you'd be around good healthcare providers at least! I also think Baltimore and Hampton Roads are two more areas to consider. Wherever you visit as you consider options, I recommend setting up a MetaFilter IRL event to connect with nice people! I would be happy to meet you as a friendly face; I can't help with paperwork or business technicalities, but I can give tips on neighborhoods and the like. I like Boston and SF and can see benefits to both too.
posted by smorgasbord at 6:18 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]

I am located in the Baltimore region, and have lived in DC. I'm happy to answer questions about these areas, and discuss medical stuff as well (I have a broad assortment of chronic illnesses). Feel free to message me.

DC is definitely cosmopolitan and full of expats, in addition to having a focus on tech and the defense industry.

Baltimore has a lower cost of living (my house costs roughly half what a similar property would in a DC suburb, and it's on a commuter rail line), a slower pace of life, and a strong sense of character and place.

You'd stick out more as an expat here than you would in DC.

In the US, it's much easier to handle legalities if you're married. Otherwise you may not be able to make medical decisions for one another, for example.

If you won't marry until arriving in the US, Virginia is relatively fast with minimal paperwork. (You just can't marry within the courthouse itself, we were directed to some guy in the basement of a Jerry's Subs and Pizza. He did magic tricks.)
posted by champers at 7:23 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]

« Older Are there natural limits to how much weight you...   |   global context for every little question? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments