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Top tips for Australians moving to the U.S. in 2021

Many people may still be hoping to move to the U.S. despite the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it’s to reunite with family, pursue a new job or enroll in school. Here are some tips to navigate the move if you find yourself making the leap in the next year.

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Many people may still be hoping to move to the United States despite the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it’s to reunite with family, pursue a new job or enroll in a university.

Times may be changing, but the fundamentals of settling in a new place have stayed the same. If you're at home planning your move abroad next year, we’ve got you covered. From choosing the right visa to finding housing, read on for essential information you will need when planning to move to the U.S. in 2021.

Here are eight reminders to add to your to-do list before you make your big move.

1. Double-check your visa eligibility.

Twenty percent of Australian visas in the U.S. are E-3 visas (Specialty occupation workers), which lets you work in the U.S. if you have (1) a Bachelor’s degree and (2) a job offer requiring said degree. You can even bring along your family with the E-3D visa (Family of E-3 visa holder)

Other popular visa types include:

  • A-2 visas (Diplomat and foreign government), which lets diplomats and foreign government officials perform official duties on behalf of their national government

  • F-1 visas (Student visa), which allows international students to pursue full-time studies in the U.S.

Top choices for visas include the J-1 visa (Student foreign exchange) and the L-1 visa (Intra-company transfer visa). Recent developments in U.S. executive policy may impact these visa applications, so it’s advisable to focus on applying for other visa types.

Traveling from Australia to the USA

Right now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government has advised Australians against traveling overseas. International flights remain banned, with several exceptions.

Australian and permanent residents cannot leave the country, but they can apply online for an exemption if they meet any of the following criteria:

  • their travel is as part of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak

  • their travel is essential for the conduct of critical industries and business (including export and import industries)

  • they are traveling to receive urgent medical treatment that is not available in Australia

  • they are traveling on urgent and unavoidable personal business

  • they are traveling on compassionate or humanitarian grounds 

  • their travel is in the national interest

The exemption application should take place at least two weeks, but not more than three months before the planned journey. Other travel ban exemptions include:

  • ​​​airline and maritime crew and associated safety workers

  • New Zealand citizens holding a Special Category (Subclass 444) Visa

  • ​people engaged in the day-to-day conduct of outbound and inbound freight

  • people whose travel is associated with essential work at Australian offshore facilities

  • people traveling on official government business, including members of the Australian Defence Force

In the U.S., the Department of State has issued a Level 3: Reconsider Travel advisory. This guidance cautions travelers to prepare for new travel restrictions with little to no advance notice.

As of August 7, international commercial flight options include the following:

  • United Airlines is operating daily flights from Sydney to San Francisco

  • Delta Airlines is operating flights from Sydney to Los Angeles three times per week

  • United Airlines will operate flights from Sydney to Los Angeles three times per week starting September 10, 2020; flights to Sydney are limited to 50 passengers per flight.

2. Explore different housing options to find the best fit for you.

Renting an apartment in the U.S. is relatively straightforward:

  1. Find a couple of places that work for you.

  2. Research and compare their prices and features.

  3. Prepare your documents.

Finding housing depends on where you’re staying. For example, in New York, residents often rely on brokers to scout apartments and pay broker’s fees. Reaching out to a local or exploring Facebook posts will help you determine the best way to find an apartment in the area.

When narrowing down your prospects, make sure to ask the essential questions: is the rent within your budget? Is the location safe? Is it too far from work or school? Don’t be afraid to ask your landlord specific questions, like how to get something fixed, whether or not you get cable, or your obligations when you eventually move out.

While you’re looking for apartments, you can also begin assembling the following documents:

  • Proof of identification, like your passport or driver’s license

  • Bank statements (at least three months’ worth)

  • Proof of employment, otherwise known as an “employment letter”

  • Previous information about your landlord, such as a letter endorsing you as a good tenant

As much as possible, always have your documents ready, and try to keep multiple copies. Keep scanned copies on your phone, as well, so you’re never without identifying documents.

Note that some landlords look at your credit score before considering you as a potential tenant. It’s possible to use your Australian credit history in the U.S. if your landlord uses one of Nova Credit's partners: First Advantage, Intellirent, or Yardi.

3. Stay connected by getting a postpaid mobile plan.

Postpaid plans often offer better value for money, plus the option to get a brand new phone. Signing up for a postpaid plan in the U.S. sometimes requires a credit score, but if you have family or friends in the States, you can ask to join a family mobile plan.

Family mobile plans let a primary account holder add additional credit lines to their package. Most of the time, only primary account holders undergo credit checks, so this option is ideal if you’re only beginning to build your credit history.

If this isn’t an option for you, most major carriers also offer prepaid plans that don’t require a credit score and will allow you to pay for services upfront.

4. Start building your U.S. credit history.

Building a credit history is essential to your stay in the U.S. Having a good credit score lets you apply for better terms on credit cards and loans and access better housing options. Credit companies, landlords, and lending companies all look at your credit score to determine how financially responsible you are.

Starting from scratch can make racking up a good credit score seem impossible. Fortunately, Nova Credit enables newcomers to use their Australian credit history to apply for credit cards, loans, and other products in the United States. For example, you can apply for American Express credit cards with your international credit history. Through this partnership, newcomers are no longer restricted just to secured cards. If approved for a card, you’ll start building your U.S. credit score immediately because American Express reports all three of the major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian). 

To maintain a good score, aim to pay your bills on time. It’s good practice never to use more than 30% of your credit limit to show lenders you spend responsibly. 

5. Open a U.S. bank account.

If you’re already using a multinational bank in Australia (such as Citibank or HSBC), you may be able to ask them to transfer your accounts to the U.S. Alternatively, you can opt to open a U.S. bank account before leaving the country. Inquire with your bank about changing to a U.S. address, as the process differs per bank. You might need to present proof of your new address, so it’s helpful to have proper documentation.

You can also open a bank account once you arrive in the States. Most banks will accept the following documents as proof of your identity:

  • Passport

  • Immigration documents (e.g., your visa)

  • Driver’s license

  • Social security number

  • Mortgage statement

  • Recent utility bills

  • Bank or credit card statements

  • Payslips

Here’s a list of some popular bank accounts for newcomers. 

6. Download helpful apps to help navigate your move.

When moving to a new place, your phone is your best friend. Apart from storing your essential documents, your phone is useful for providing maps (e.g., Google Maps), food delivery (e.g., PostMates), local travel guides (e.g., Transit or CityMapper), and ride-hailing services (e.g., Lyft or Uber).

The apps that you likely already have on your phone can also help you get used to your new city, from finding restaurants (e.g., Yelp) to meeting new people with similar interests (e.g., Facebook).

7. Get an international driving permit (IDP).

Depending on where you’re moving, an international driving permit can help you get around town more easily. Although some cities like New York make it easy to survive without a car, others are more difficult to navigate without your own ride.

Different states have different requirements and procedures for obtaining an IDP, but generally, you’ll want to have all your documents ready, such as your:

  • valid Australian driver’s license

  • valid passport

  • visa

  • social security number

  • recent utility bills

  • proof of residency

8. Build your community.

The U.S. is a melting pot of cultures, so as long as you put yourself out there, it will be easy to find people you get along with and help you navigate your new life abroad.

If you’re a fan of the great outdoors, you can join an intramural sports team or find a hiking group. Want to meet new people and learn new skills? Visit your local community center for fun, exciting classes, or volunteer for a cause you care about. Bars, clubs, libraries, museums, and board game cafes are great places to get to know people with similar interests.

Of course, most of these activities may not be possible during the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find your people anyway. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and most other social networking sites offer location-based services that will let you find people in your area. You may not be able to meet in person yet, but that’s something to look forward to once everything goes back to normal.

The takeaway

Moving is always challenging, but even more so during these trying times. Double-checking your visa, opening a U.S. bank account, preparing your documents, and researching your housing options will make your move much more straightforward.

For more resources on how to navigate your new life in the U.S., you can visit Nova Credit’s resource library, where you can learn about everything from renting an apartment to finding the best credit cards for noncitizens.