New to America? Here Are a Few Financial Tips to Get Started

Starting life in a new country is no walk in the park, I know from experience. From one person finding their new home away from home to another, here are a few tips to get you started. This list would be a thousand times longer if I could cover everything you’d need to know but here are a few things that may come as a shock when moving abroad.

Welcome Home

First of all welcome to your new home. We all end up in situations, physical and otherwise for a variety of different reasons, you may not be here by your own choosing but with a little reading, you’ll be on your way to your new life. Something that won’t be achieved by reading, however, are the experiences you have in the U.S. as a newcomer. In that respect, some things will be touch and go.

The first step is to acquaint yourself with the way finances work in America. You’ll also want to have a good idea of your financial goals (short and long-term) and a good feel for the cost of living where you’re settled. Cost of Living Calculators are easy to find through Google but also keep a tally of how much you spend on a regular basis (this can be done by looking at bank statements, keeping a check register or tracking activity through online banking).

Decisions, Decisions

The first thing to consider is what kind of account you’ll want to open up when coming to the States. Since you probably have accounts back home, do a little shopping around to find out which accounts you definitely want or need and how to avoid being charged a service fee on your personal deposit accounts. You can get this information right on the website of your new bank or by just asking a banker there.

Most accounts are automatically insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) for up to $250,000 (sometimes more for special accounts or accounts with special ownership titles). Importantly, accounts like checking and savings accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs) are covered, however, many investment accounts like annuities, life insurance policies, stocks, and bonds are not covered. If you’re ever unsure which accounts are insured or not, just ask your bank! Or, look at the fine print online or in the personal bank documents you received upon opening the account.

There are of course more benefits depending on the kind of account you open and your personal preferences. For instance, opening a savings account and keeping a certain amount in it each month, will award you with interest which is paid to your account by the bank. If you’re the kind of person who likes visuals and special tools to help you save money and track spending, then you may like online banking, especially with banks that provide special tools, graphs, and other visuals to help you keep track of your money.

After opening an account in the Netherlands, I can say that most American banks that offer online banking tend to have more services available and more advanced interfaces, however, wire transfers usually cannot be done online for U.S. accounts.

It Takes All Kinds

If you’ve looked into getting a new account, you’ll realize that there are A LOT of different accounts available. In most cases, you likely have similar account types in your home country and know how they work. If not, the easiest ways to figure out the difference between all of them are to look at the information published by the bank on their website or make an appointment to have someone sit down with you and go through the different kinds.

Something that may be new to you is how your citizenship can affect which accounts you can open up. For instance, if you don’t have a Social Security Number (SSN), in most cases you can still open deposit accounts. Usually, banks can assign you a special numeric identifier so that you don’t have to use an SSN to open an account or set up features like online banking, however, you need an SSN to open a credit card.

This is because credit tracking uses your SSN. Without that, you can’t start to build up credit in the U.S. and there is no record of the payments you made or did make in the country. Under certain circumstances, you may qualify for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to open a credit card account without an SSN. Whether or not you qualify can be checked with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Even if you do have an SSN or ITIN, you may be surprised to find that, despite having a great track record in your country, you don’t have one here so obtaining loans and other advances are difficult. Most financial institutions offer a secured credit card, however, which is a great option for those building new credit. You put money down on a secured credit card. The money you put down is your credit limit on the card and your on-time payments will be reported to the credit bureau the same as a regular card.

A Loan Again, Naturally

So you’re settled into your new life in the States and a friend back home asks if they could borrow a few bucks. Easy enough right? Those of us who do business abroad or have lived abroad for a while will see the issue immediately. Transferring money abroad (especially when it’s not Europe to Europe) is a bit more complicated.

If you’re transferring from your bank, you’ll want to make sure that you won’t be charged for it as a transfer through your US bank to another country is usually done as a wire transfer. There are third-party services for making funds transfers internationally but a lot of them have a fee and some may have an extensive sign up process so depending on where and how much you’re transferring, you’ll need to do some research on which service to use (maybe I’ll write an article with a rundown on that!).

Some Parting Words

Moving abroad can be stressful and frustrating, no matter how prepared you are. It’s important to remember though that you have a lot of support. If your account(s) aren’t working for you, schedule an appointment to talk to a banker or give them a call. Some places even let you chat online.

Don’t let language get in the way! Many banks provide you with a translator by phone or in the branch (check ahead if you’re coming into the bank). If you’re using online banking you can use Google Translate to help you with some information or see if the bank has a site in your preferred language. Remember it’s your money and you’re in control!

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