When CJ needed more green space, we quickly realized that our big city life was expiring. Then hubby wanted to be closer to his clients to grow his business and after an extra long stretch of winter, I was simply done with the cold… so we began hatching out a plan to move from Toronto to the SF Bay Area!
As exciting as it is moving to another country, it is also a LOT of work. Planners got to plan right! It took over a year to secure our E1 Visas, sell most of our stuff and transition our business. We even snuck in some travel in between, including a Route 66 road trip!
Now that we are finally here, I thought I’ll share some tips and advice to help other expats who are considering a move to the US, less overwhelming. From finding a new home to filing government paperwork, here are some important things you should know and plan before throwing that farewell party…
There are many types of visas. Most common ones to get are through a company, whether it’s an internal transfer or a new hire. If you own a small business, you may qualify for the E1 or E2 visa. I wrote a detailed step by step guide on how to apply for an E1 visa here.
Importing a Car (from Canada to US)
While this is not a costly endeavour, it is a time consuming and very tedious process so I’ve dedicated an entire post and outlined the 5 mandatory steps here. If you are driving there are 2 options: import your car at the border or wait till you get to the port of your new home State. You can also visit the US Customs and Border Protection website for more information.
International movers or pack your own pod?
My cousin moved from Ottawa to LA and she spent over $5,000 USD hiring movers. Since we sold most of our furniture and just needed to move 35 boxes and our bicycles, we decided to use a Pod service. To keep costs even lower, we actually drove our stuff across the Buffalo border and loaded it into the Pod ourselves. Instead of having them drop it off/pickup, we saved $2,000 and ended up paying around $3,000 for a 16x8x8 container.
Since we planned on taking our time to drive Route 66, there was no rush in getting our things delivered at a set time. So from Toronto to San Francisco, the Pod arrived in 9 days and we had it stored for the rest of the month for an additional $160.
Departure meeting with a cross-border accountant
Do you know that if you have RSP’s, TFSA’s and other such Canadian investments, those can be taxed in the US? I didn’t either!
That’s why it’s important to setup an appointment with an accountant who specializes in cross-border taxes at least one month before you leave. You’ll receive advice on restructuring personal assets and/or how to most efficiently conduct business in the US if you are a SMB owner. (You may need to setup a B Corp etc.)
At $300-500 CAD for a one or two hour meeting is pretty expensive but I still consider this a worthy investment. IRS is mean and complicated to navigate yourself especially during your first transitional year!
Put the word out and start your search about 5-6 months before your desired arrival. We decided on a short term rental which I lucked out and found on Craigslist. We figured half a year is a good timeline to feel out a neighbourhood before committing. And since we sold all our furniture, we picked a furnished place to ease the stress of having to immediately go shopping.
Airbnb and HomeAway are obvious places to look for rentals and I use them often for vacations but I found with longer term stays, the service fees can add up. However, you can always reach out to the owner and negotiate a monthly rate as well. I’ve seen some that were discounted 40% for longer term stays! Don’t forget to also scope out Zillow, local Facebook groups, Sabbatical Homes and World Schooler Exchange . In the East Bay, the community site Berkeley Parents Network (BPN) rocks for finding short term stays.
If you plan on buying, talk to a realtor 7-8 months before your target moving date. Give even more time in competitive real estate markets. If you are planning to move to the Bay Area, my cousin, Kelvin owns Sequoia Real Estate so give him a ring!
Mobile Phone Plans
Ask around to find out which carrier has the strongest network in your city. In California, it’s Verizon. We went with a pre-paid plan which we were able to setup at the store right away.
For $45/month we get unlimited texts in US/Canada, unlimited calls within US and 7GB of data and no commitment. We found this was enough for us so we never switched over to regular plans which start at $50/month and requires signing a contract.
We don’t have an employer so unfortunately, we had to purchase our own personal health plans. We are a healthy family and no one is into bungee jumping or extreme sports so we went with World Nomads. They only cover emergencies and you can buy up to one year so this is a temporary solution. There are no deductibles and doctor visits and dental checkups will be out of your own pocket.
What’s great about WN is you can purchase the insurance even AFTER you leave your home country and/or if you decide to extend your trip. For our family of 3, it costs $6/day.
RBC Visa Signature Black is a cross border credit card. This is a great option as you don’t need a US address or credit score and it still allows you to take money out of an ATM, earn reward points, etc. There is also no annual fee.
My LA-Canadian cousin recommends Charles Schwab if you are new and don’t yet have US credit.
Social Security Number
Getting your SSN should be a priority. It’s free and we received our cards in the mail in 1 week. Everyone that works needs one, regardless if you are employed by a company or own your business. Unlike Canada, however, young children don’t require one. The process is relatively easy. We went to our local SSN office, completed a one page application form and showed our passports, visa paperwork and I-94 forms. If you are on a spousal visa, remember to bring your marriage certificate as well. Done.
I-94 Travel Record
This form indicates when you entered the US. You can print it out here and also see your travel history on the US Customs and Border Protection website. Keep this handy because you’ll need to show it to get your SSN, car registration (if you imported a vehicle) and driver’s license, etc.
I had an error on my admittance date so I emailed them and they quickly corrected it. If there is incorrect info or you need your name changed, I advise you email. They answered my question in 2 days as opposed to when I called and ended up in a frustrating loop of pressing numbers and getting irrelevant information.
I’ll be adding to this list as we settle into our new home. For now, I hope you find this post helpful. Please leave a comment below if you have questions or wish to share your own moving experience!