Instructions for New Immigrants to the Usa – What is Different About Living and Working in America?

Note: This article is reflects the contents of an introductory video on the internet website of ImmigrationTelevision.

You just got a visa to live and work in the United States of America? Congratulations! Here are some instructions to make your adaptation process a little easier.

When you come to the USA, be prepared for several “chicken and egg” problems because of tight visa and immigration rules. Do you remember the “chicken and egg” problem? Which one comes first, the chicken or the egg? Since September 11, 2001, many government agencies are confronted with rules and regulations that they are not trained to handle. So have patience. Some of the problem areas are getting a:

–         social security number,

–         driver’s license, and a

–         bank account.

First, the Social Security Number. In brief, you need to go to a nearby office of the Social Security Administration (SSA) to apply in person. Call 800-772-1213, put in your ZIP code, and it will tell you where the nearest office is. Or look it up on the website Note that it takes several weeks to obtain a Social Security Number because the SSA confirms your permission to work with the immigration service USCIS.

Second, you need a Driver’s License. Cars are the most important means of transportation in America. You apply for it at your local Department of Motor Vehicles, usually just called DMV. The procedure is different in every state. The U.S. States, such as California and New York, you can usually drive with your foreign Driver’s License for up to 1 year. Thereafter, you need a U.S. Driver’s License. In some States, at the DMV, you only need to show your foreign Driver’s License, take the written exam and a vision test. It helps if you obtain an international Driver’s License at your country’s automobile association, because it can serve as a translation of your foreign Driver’s License. By the way, a driver’s license is your usual “ID.” When you are asked “identification”, you usually show your drivers license.

Third, you will need a bank account. Unfortunately, you need a Social Security Number to open your bank account. Sometimes, if the bank serves your employer, they allow you to open the bank account and provide the Social Security Number later.

A bank account, to be exact “checking account,” is very important in the USA. You pay many invoices and bills with a check. Wire transfers are not as common as in Europe. People usually do not carry a lot of cash.

A few other differences:

Looking for a job. If you are not sent by your employer to the USA, you may have to start looking for a job. A good starting point are the job ads in your local newspaper. Many times those job ads are on the internet. And of course, there are specific websites such as and

To apply for a job, you usually send in a “resume” (curriculum vitae) which summarizes your education and experience. It is surprising for many Europeans that an American resume usually does not include a photograph or the date of birth. You do not write who your parents are or what they do. Instead, you focus on your achievements and what you can do.

Looking for a home. When you search for a home, a house or an apartment, you will find differences compared to your home country. For example, when I first came to the USA as an exchange student, to New Haven, CT, the lady in the university housing office always spoke about “safe” or “unsafe” neighborhoods. I did not have any idea what that meant. “Safe” basically means that you can probably walk the street at night safely. “Unsafe” means that you better lock yourself inside the house at all times. “Safety” is a complicated subject, but note that crime in the USA has a certain structure, and seems to be concentrated in certain areas. That is one of the reasons why real estate agents say that the three most important things about a home are “location, location, location.”

By the way, buying a home can be a good investment. Unlike in other countries, in the United States you can deduct the interest on the loan (called “mortgage”) from your income. This is called homestead exemption.

You will also see that Americans buy and sell houses like cars. A house is not a thing you buy “once in a lifetime.” When you move somewhere, you buy a house. When you move away, you sell it. You will be surprised by the number of “for sale” signs along streets.

To buy a house, and get a mortgage, you need “Credit history.” This surprises many who come to the USA. Essentially, it is a record that certain credit reporting agencies, such as EQUIFAX, maintain about everyone who obtains loans or credit cards. This credit history shows how much money you owe, if you always make your payments, and – god beware – if you ever filed for bankruptcy.

Living in America is like nothing else in the world, and many who come as visitors or workers stay forever (as happened to me). Welcome!

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