BY Thomas Simonney Head of International Desk, SVP

Jan 10th 2020

International Perspectives

Your Ultimate Checklist for Getting Started in the US

This master checklist can help you focus on the most important issues and tasks first when building your life abroad.

Jan 10th 2020

Arriving in a new country can feel overwhelming, with new administrative hurdles lurking around every corner. While you’re still unpacking your boxes—or waiting for them to arrive—the tasks are piling up around you. The office says talk to this agency, but that agency says they need a form from your office. Well-meaning people could give helpful advice that turns out to be wrong. How can you possibly keep track of everything you need to do when there are so many things to juggle?

A good place to start is creating a master checklist, which helps you see all the tasks in one place and gives you a hard-earned sense of accomplishment as you cross them off one by one. More than likely, you’ve already taken care of some of the items on our master checklist below—nice work! And here’s something you’ll be glad to hear: If you work your way through the rest of it, you’ll be well on your way to a life after paperwork.


Here are recommended steps to formalize your status in the United States while maintaining strong ties to your home country:

  • Schedule a meeting at your local Social Security office to obtain a Social Security number and card.
  • Register at your home country’s nearest consulate so you can receive important communications and potentially vote from abroad, if desired and qualified.
  • Meet with a tax expert to find out if the exit tax applies to you and to determine your tax liability after you move.
  • Visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles or relevant agency for your state to apply for a US driver’s license or an identity card (if you don’t plan to drive in the US).

Banking and Finance

Starting a bank relationship can make it easier to receive and transfer funds during your transition, build credit as you begin your new life in the US, and protect and plan for the future.

  • Open an account with a bank in the US so you’ll be able to transfer money between countries and receive wages easily.
  • Build up your credit score by making informed choices about getting a credit card, car loan, or home loan.
  • Organize a meeting with a financial advisor or wealth planner to protect and optimize your financial life while you are in the US
  • Open a 401(k) or IRA to begin saving for retirement.
  • Meet with an estate attorney, if necessary, to plan for emergencies. This may include a power of attorney for financial and medical decisions and a guardianship plan for your minor children.

Health and Education

Healthcare and schooling systems in the US may differ from those in your home country. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the options and ensure you’re well-prepared.

  • Explore US health insurance for you and your family, either through your employer or through state or federal exchanges, where applicable.
  • Register children at school if they are age five or older and choose a daycare for children under five.

Important Dates

After all these tasks, a holiday is in order—10, to be exact. Mark these American holidays in your calendar, and start planning for some vacation days in the year ahead:

  1. NEW YEAR’S DAY: January 1
  2. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. DAY: Third Monday in January
  3. PRESIDENTS DAY: Third Monday in February
  4. MEMORIAL DAY: Last Monday in May
  5. JUNETEENTH: June 19
  7. LABOR DAY: First Monday in September
  8. INDIGENOUS PEOPLES DAY: Second Monday in October
  9. VETERANS DAY: November 11
  10. THANKSGIVING DAY: Fourth Thursday in November
  11. CHRISTMAS DAY: December 25

No matter how organized you are, it seems like there’s never enough time to get everything done, and there are bound to be some bumps along the way (and hopefully some classic stories to send to friends and family back home).

Remember, you’re not alone. Reach out to the expat community for tips and life hacks. Don’t settle for doing business with anyone who doesn’t make you feel welcome. The US is the country that originated the phrase, “The customer is always right.” You should feel that way in the place you’re trusting with your finances. A company that shares your values with a multilingual staff with international experience and familiarity with the challenges newcomers face might be a good choice. After working your way through the list above, a friendly smile will probably go a long way, too.

Disclosures small arrow indicator

Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender. © 2023 BMO Harris Bank N.A. Bank of the West is a trade name used by BMO Harris Bank N.A. Banking products and services are subject to approval and are provided by BMO Harris Bank N.A.

Securities and variable annuities are offered through BancWest Investment Services, a registered broker/dealer, member FINRA/SIPC, and SEC Registered Investment Adviser. Financial Advisors are Registered Representatives of BancWest Investment Services. Fixed annuities/insurance products are offered through Bancwest Insurance Agency in California, (License #0C52321) and through BancWest Investment Services, Inc. in all other states where it is licensed to do business. BancWest Insurance Agency is a trade name of BancWest Investment Services, Inc., a subsidiary of BMO Harris Bank N.A.

This is not an offer or solicitation in any jurisdiction where we are not authorized to do business.

BMO Harris Bank N.A. and its various affiliates and subsidiaries are not tax or legal advisors.

Investment and Insurance Products:

International PerspectivesRead Next