My Immigration Checklist - U.S. to U.K.
Moving to a new country is never easy, even if everything runs smoothly, they speak the same language or you feel the culture is pretty similar. You will always hit some bumps in the road that you just didn't think of before and are completely unprepared for, or maybe you did think of it but your information is out of date and now you need to improvise. Government regulations and policies in this matter seem to change often no matter where you are, from simple forms being updated to new policies that may try to keep you out.
I figured my first Culture Shock piece for moving from the United States to the United Kingdom should be as practical as possible for others that may be considering it. I try to be a very organized person to lessen my stress in such situations, so I created a Google Sheet checklist of sorts about 3 months before my move. This still did not remove stress, but I am sure it could have been MUCH worse if I had not prepared as much as I did. I will try to share as many of learnings in as much detail as possible with you. Keep in mind this is specifically for going from the U.S. to the U.K., but I am sure this can still be used to some extent for generally moving out of the country.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE the United States of America
First, hire an immigration solicitor/adviser through the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC). My friend Sarah Browne recently moved from Ireland to the U.S. and she said this was imperative for her. I fully agree now and urge you to do the same. There are hundreds of options on the U.K. government website and you can look up reviews to find one you trust (maybe even find one you might be able to visit when you move). It'll cost you about $200 USD or so to get continual advice on your situation and they will help you throughout the process as well. They will advise you on everything - visas, what to say to border control, what forms to fill out, etc.
Once you know what visa you need to apply for, you can apply online or have your new adviser handle everything for another fee. Keep in mind, you may visit the U.K. for six months every year starting from your first visit. For example, I visited the U.K. on July 27, 2017 for a couple weeks. Therefore, between July 27, 2017 and July 26, 2018 I can visit for exactly 6 months in whatever increments I like (couple weeks here, couple months there). Once July 27, 2018 rolls around, I may visit for another 6 months. The U.K. government site has a lot of information on visas here.
If you have a proper visa (you got a transfer at work, etc.), then you can start on transferring your residence. Since I am not at this stage yet, I do not have any personal experience to give. However, in addition to everything else below, you must also follow proper steps to bring over your car and other stuff from your home. You can drive for up to 12 months on your U.S. driver's license, but after that you need to take a theory test and practical test to get a Great Britain issued driving licence.
Unless you have a job right away, you will need access to your money in the states. I found it best to open an account with a global bank that is widely available in the U.K. as well. I went with HSBC. I went to a local branch in Los Angeles, opened a U.S. account with them and asked about my options to open a British account if need be. Basically as long as I keep my American account at a certain level, I can open a British account at any time in London's HSBC locations.
Also, make sure you order a debit card and checkbook. HSBC offers debit cards with contactless ability. The U.K. is completely contactless everywhere, as in they use a "tap" system to pay for everything. You can tap your ATM card to pay for riding the train, food, services, etc. Almost every single thing you would need money for has a contactless system, so getting this was imperative (much harder and unsafe to carry pounds everywhere). Keep in mind you cannot get a credit card in the U.K. without a U.K. bank account yet, so this was the best way I could find to have some way to pay.
Get an Amazon account. Since you do not have a U.K. bank account and therefore no U.K. credit card, this means that most of your online accounts now are useless. You won't be able to buy something from Ikea in the U.K. and have it shipped to your new U.K. address. Online accounts must always have the billing address in the same country as the shipping address. This is probably still my biggest obstacle right now because that means I basically have to physically go places to buy anything. My savior here? Amazon! Their accounts are global, so I simply switch to the Amazon U.K. store on my app and now I can buy from there and have things shipped to a U.K. address! Amazon does the money conversion itself when charging your U.S. card, and that's it!
Make sure you have all your medical affairs in order (medical, dental and vision), notify them of your travel, and check if you are covered abroad in case of emergency. I have Kaiser Permanente and they cover abroad for emergency services. I scheduled an appointment about 2 months before my travel with my primary care doctor to get all updated shots, check-ups and 6-months worth of prescriptions to cover my travel. For girls, don't forget your Obstetrics and Gynecology doctor as well. I also got an updated prescription for my eyes and 1 year supply on my contact lenses. Finally, I saw my dentist for x-rays, cleaning and check-up to make sure everything is ok for a while.
If you are renting in the U.S., there are a couple of things you need to close out before leaving. First thing, get yourself off the lease. Depending on your agent or how your current living situation is handled, this may take a couple weeks so leave yourself time. After that, you can make sure to close out any utility accounts that you pay for. If there are any late or missed payments on these, your credit score in the U.S. will be affected and you want to keep that clean (you are still a U.S. citizen so don't ruin your identity there).
Finally, I am a pet owner and intended on bringing my cat with me to the U.K. This was the worst part of the whole process. I will try to keep it brief and you can contact me with any questions. I have made a separate category below for this.
Photo credit: Furtographs
BEFORE YOU LEAVE the United States of America: Pets
This entire process will take about $1,300 USD and should be started at least one month before your flight. By the way, when booking your flight for you and your pet, make sure you are arriving in the U.K. when the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre (or wherever you are picking your pet up from) is open. For instance, I was arriving around Christmas time and they close early for the holidays. So I had to change my flight to be a few days earlier so that I get there before they close. Not sure what would have happened if my cat arrived when they were closed, but it could not have been good (may quarantined in U.K. or sent back to the states).
Make sure your new home has food and litter waiting for you. You can use Amazon for this (see #5 above).
Look up a local vet and get your cat registered there. You will want to make an appointment as soon as you can after arriving, so just make sure he is ready to get set-up and they know you are coming.
Change the address on the microchip registration (if your cat does not have one, get one immediately) to a permanent address in the states that you trust (I put my parents' home).
Look up travel requirements for your pet on both the airline site (make sure you get the right carrier and paperwork) and government site. Be very familiar with everything here. I promise you, you will be so very sorry if you are not. I had to use IAG Cargo since that is what British Airways uses. They have specific kennel requirements, so make sure you set up your pet just right.
Be familiar with the drop-off location for your pet. Depends on the online, but you most likely will not be able to take your pet with you on the flight itself. Which means your pet will go as "cargo" and you will have to drop it off at a different location at the airport. I had to drop off Castle at the British Airways World Cargo/Mercury Air Cargo hold at LAX at 6040 Avion Drive at least four hours before our flight. When I dropped him off, they took my paperwork (EU Health Certificate below at #7) and charged me the $1,300 USD it cost for their service.
Get your EU Health Certificate: must take pet to an accredited veterinarian to get a rabies vaccination more than 21 days before travel, get the veterinarian to fill out appropriate paperwork within 10 days of travel, and get that paperwork endorsed by the USDA within 10 days of travel (this step takes hours as you wait in an office that is only open for a few hours each day, so leave enough time). Make sure you have the right paperwork for all of this! I have seen it many times now where people are turned away at each step if something is slightly off. The USDA website is very helpful for this step. WARNING: Make sure the paperwork the veterinarian fills out has all the rabies vaccination on it - the date of vaccination, the full name, and the product information (what company made the vaccination they used? what model number or serial number is the vaccination? what is the product name?). I was delayed 5 extra hours when picking up my cat Castle at the airport because the veterinarian did not put the product name of the rabies vaccine she used. They had to wait for my vet to open and resubmit paperwork.
Be familiar with the pick-up location for your pet. I arrived into London Heathrow Airport and the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre was a bit away from my terminal. I asked someone at the airport how to get there and they told me I could take the local bus. Several things went wrong here: the bus dropped me off about half a mile from the centre, I had to drag my three large suitcases through mud that whole way, and found out that I had to wait at least 5 hours for them to release Castle to me. Also, I am no longer near a designated Uber pick-up, so how was I going to get all of my luggage with Castle to a terminal for Uber to pick me up? Cold, tired and hungry, I was saved by my boyfriend Mike who ended up leaving work from London to come pick me up with an Uber once Castle was released to me about 8 hours after my arrival. Things could have been worse, we got home around 10:00pm and Castle dealt with the 24 hours in captivity well! But please prepare yourself for this. I fear for other pets and travelers less fortunate than I. Please learn from my mistakes here!
AFTER YOU ARRIVE in the United Kingdom
You made it! But your work is not over. A couple more little things now.
For your pet, schedule that first visit with the local vet to get updated vaccines and turn the EU Health Certificate into a Pet Passport. You only get a couple months to do this and it is worth it! The local vet should only need the health certificate, medical records (which you should have sent over before when registering your pet), and a small fee (mine was about 20 pounds).
Once you have the pet passport, you can now register your pet's microchip in the U.K. My vet recommended and gave me the form for PETtrac. I just mailed in the form and received a confirmation via email about a week later.
If you have a proper visa and are officially a resident, you can now buy a rail card for easier travel and get a local phone number (just get a new SIM card and put into your phone).
Moving to the U.K. has been one of the most stressful but enlightening and rewarding adventures in my life so far! I am very happy with my decision and sincerely hope my learnings can help you as well. I know my situation is a little more fortunate than others since I have a U.K. native for a boyfriend to help me and therefore an established residence. But I also do not have a job and am facing that trial right now. I will post my experience on that in a few months once I see where this takes me.
Please feel free to contact me with any further questions or if anything was unclear! I look forward to sharing more of my Culture Shock findings with you soon.