BY Margaux Buridant Vice President, Senior International Wealth Strategist, Bank of the West

Jan 13th 2020

International Perspectives

5 Essential Steps for Getting Started in the US

Moving to a new country can be daunting. These five steps can help you get on the right track for your new life in the US

Jan 13th 2020

Moving to a new country can be a daunting task. New schools, new language, new customs and foods, not to mention the mountain of paperwork. With so much to think about, it can be hard to know where to start. Maybe the first order of business should be finding a good spot for coffee. After that, these five steps will put you on the fast track to life in the US—and may help avoid any nasty surprises that could spoil the adventure.

  1. Open a Bank Account

    Let’s face it: It’s hard to go very far without access to money. So you should make it a priority to open a checking or savings account, along with a debit card, before you even have a Social Security number or permanent address. At Bank of the West, all you need to apply for an account is your passport and a secondary form of identification. Our accounts also provide online access to your account, electronic bill pay, and the ability to receive paychecks by direct deposit from your employer.

  2. Get a Social Security Card

    You’re more than a number, but you’ll soon discover that you’ll be asked for your nine-digit Social Security number time and again in the US Approximately a week after you arrive, you’ll want to apply for one at your local Social Security office. You’ll need your Social Security number for a variety of reasons—for example, to receive your salary, open various financial accounts, track your income for taxes, activate utilities, or sign up for health insurance. Visit the US Social Security Administration website at to see what documentation you’ll need when you apply.

  3. Get a Driver’s License

    Once you have your Social Security number, you’ll be ready to roll, so your next stop should be the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to apply for a driver’s license. Each state manages its own DMVs, but don’t worry—once you receive your license, it will be valid throughout the US Even if you don’t plan to drive, you’ll need an identity card from the DMV. This card will be your most important form of identification in the US (in addition to your passport), and you’ll need it to open various financial accounts. Check your respective state’s online DMV website for the required documentation you’ll need to apply for your driver’s license or identification card, as requirements may differ for each state.

  4. Register with Your Consulate

    Even though you’re living in the US, you may want to stay connected to your home country, so it’s a good idea to register with the nearest consulate. That way, you’ll be able to vote in elections and receive important information. Your consulate may also be able to connect you with local resources and social organizations that will make the transition easier.

  5. Get a Credit Card

    As you build your life in the US, you’ll want to build up your credit history and associated credit score, which are used as references in most financial applications. A credit card issued in the US is a good way to get started. Newcomers often find it hard to get approved for a first US credit card, even with an excellent credit history back home, but certain banks, including Bank of the West, make the process much easier for new US residents. Talk with us about the options, and we’ll be happy to help.

Now that you know where to get started, you can get back to exploring your neighborhood, making new friends, and lighting up social media with posts of your adventures. When you’re ready, take a look at our more detailed article about building credit in the US And feel free to reach out any time if you have any questions.


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