Expats moving to South Carolina, or to anywhere in the USA, for that matter, encounter what feels like insurmountable dangers and challenges. One of the biggest challenges of moving to America is simply all the unknowns.
- How can I get a driver’s license in the USA?
- How do I find a house?
- Where can my children study?
- What will my spouse do?
- Where can I learn American conversational English?
- What is a credit rating?
- How can I rent furniture for my house?
These questions and more plague the expat who relocates to America.
Companies frequently send their employees from the headquarters abroad to spend a short time working at a US subsidiary, which means that the employee needs to go through a stressful relocation process just for a short-term assignment.
Fortunately, resources exist to help make the transition easier. To help our readers get a better idea of what challenges exist when moving to South Carolina we interviewed a couple of specialists, Elissa Hardy-Schafer and Jacki Jesch at Wetzel Services, a Greenville area company that focuses on helping expats move to the USA and get adjusted.
As Relocation Specialist at Wetzel, Elissa helps expats get adjusted to life in the USA. She also helps them with language training needs.
As real estate Broker-in-Charge at Wetzel, Jacki helps expats find a home in Greenville, SC.
We interviewed them about challenges expats face when moving to the USA. See below for our interviews.
Elissa, Relocation Specialist
Darren: What kind of expats do you typically work with? And why do they move to the USA?
Elissa: We’re typically working with expats who have been transferred here for their jobs and they’re working with large, usually automotive-related, corporations. They’ve been brought over here for usually two to five years.
How Expats Deal with Difficult Tasks
Darren: What are some of the most difficult chores, legal requirements, or must-do tasks that expats need to deal with when they relocate to South Carolina?
Elissa: A lot of practical things. They have to:
- Get a driver’s license.
- Get a Social Security number.
- Set up all of their utilities.
- Figure out schooling if they’re coming over with children.
- Ship their goods here.
- Get a bank account.
- Find language lessons or extra tutoring for their children.
Darren: What kinds of resources can they use to help them do those things?
Elissa: A relocation company, such as Wetzel, can help expats with a lot of things. It just depends on what their employer is willing to offer them.
Some companies will have us go with expats to the DMV or to the Social Security office or help them set up utilities. As for other people, we may just have in-service meetings where we give them specific instructions on what they need to do to get their Social Security number or their driver’s license. And we also help them fill out applications with utilities.
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Darren: What if the company that sends them to America doesn’t offer them any help? What would you suggest?
Elissa: Probably they should go to their HR department and see what they can negotiate.
And that’s where people who’ve gone on assignments in the past can be very useful. They’ll say, “Yeah, the relocation company helped us resolve these things.”
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Activities for Spouses
Darren: Relocation can be stressful for spouses because while the children are in school and the other spouse is at work, they are just stranded at home. What do you recommend for them?
Elissa: The times I’ve seen people have the most success and really integrate are the times when they find volunteer opportunities. They don’t even need a high level of English to volunteer. I’ve had expat students that volunteered with something like a special needs dance class.
Then they’re like, “I’m out doing something and talking to people and really feeling integrated into the community.”
I also recommend: if they have a certain interest, go find a group to join. I had a student who joined a walking group. The women in it were actually much older than she was. She thought maybe she wouldn’t have much in common with them. But she ended up loving it.
Spouses with young children can go to mommy-and-me groups or Gymboree.
If they have a strong English level, they can take classes, such as at a community college.
Also here in the South, we often take small gifts to the neighbors. It’s a great way to meet your neighbors, especially if the gift is something from your home country. Americans love that.
Resources for Expats
Darren: What resources are available that you think might be helpful to spouses?
Elissa: Well I think Google is everybody’s best friend.
Most cities have local websites or Facebook pages about things to do in the area. Here in South Carolina there is a website called SCIWAY.
We also have a website specifically for families called Kidding Around Greenville. It has stuff to do with your kids.
Meetups are another option. At Wetzel, we try to let our expats know about different websites that will help them integrate into the community.
Darren: Where can they get American English conversation practice or classes?
Elissa: In Greenville, Wetzel has a lot of English classes. We do individual one-on-one lessons. We have conversation classes that we run twice a year. We have tutoring for children and we have business classes, various cross cultural seminars, and a professional English class.
There’s another organization here as well called Upstate International. They have group classes and various activities as well.
Learn More: How Much do Translation Services Cost?
Darren: So you help international people who are moving to Greenville to find a home. What are expats typically looking for in a home?
Jacki: We help expats from all over the world find homes. I would say primarily the expats are from Europe.
- And they are looking for homes that feel comfortable to them compared to what they’re used to.
- They look for a bright space with an open floor plan.
- They typically prefer a more modern design.
- They really care a lot about the yard space if they’re renting a single family home.
- They look for a backyard with privacy.
- They want an adequate number of bedrooms and bathrooms.
- They need space, usually a bedroom for every child and then a guest bedroom. They get a lot of visitors from their home countries. So that’s important.
- They really want a clean home. I think especially in Europe the homes are typically cleaned up between tenants much more than here. And so they really want something that’s well taken care of, in good condition, and clean.
As far as location goes, they want to be close to where their children will go to school, where they work, and where they can go grocery shopping.
And also having a place where they can go on walks, such as a walking trail or biking trail, is important. In Europe and in a lot of other parts of the world, they’re much more used to going to the grocery store on a bike or walking to places.
Challenges Finding a Home
Darren: So what unique challenges do internationals usually face when they’re looking to buy or rent a home or to rent an apartment? And how can they overcome these difficulties?
Jacki: The challenges are greater if they’re trying to buy a home rather than rent. The main challenges are: not having a Social Security number and not having a credit history. So without those things they’re going to have to pay higher fees or higher deposits on things than most Americans would.
For example, the security deposit for their rental might be higher because they don’t have established credit.
When they go to set up utilities like their electric power, natural gas, and water, they will typically have to pay an upfront security deposit.
However, once they move here, get a Social Security card, and then start building up their credit, that will help them get past some of these things.
I always recommend that as soon as possible they use their credit card as much as they can and then pay it off every month; that will help build a good credit score.
Fortunately, they can get the deposits back. For example, utility companies will typically refund an expat’s deposit after a year of good payment history. The expats just have more upfront fees when they first move here.
Darren: Interesting. So there’s some difficulty with credit. And what about the Social Security card? How do they deal with that?
Jacki: Nowadays, a lot of rental places can still run a background check without a Social Security card. So there are still ways to get approved for a home without a Social Security number.
Some companies, like certain cable companies or Internet companies, require a Social Security number, so you have to weed through them to find ones that are a little more expat friendly.
Some properties also will try to ask for a cosigner if you don’t have a Social Security number, but it’s hard for someone who’s new in this country to have a cosigner. So a higher security deposit is kind of their standard in that situation. Then it’s refundable when they move out.
They also may need to show proof of their visa. A lot of times the landlord will ask for proof from the company that it is moving them here and that they’re entering the country legally.
How to Furnish the Home
Darren: What can short-term expats do about furniture?
Jacki: There are short-term options that I would recommend depending on how long they will live here; you can actually rent furniture through a couple of different companies.
So from FSI you can rent just the furniture and have it placed in the apartment that you rent.
But ACRS will actually rent the apartment for you in their name and then furnish it in one package. That’s a pretty good option.
Renting is going to probably be a better short-term option than buying furniture. You don’t have the hassle of trying to resell it later.
You can also get a housewares package that includes dishes, pots and pans, all of your towels and linens, and a vacuum cleaner. So you really just move in with your toothbrush and some groceries and your clothes. Everything else you need is there.
Other Real Estate Resources for Expats Moving to South Carolina
Darren: So what other kind of real estate resources are available for expats to help them find a place to live and get settled?
Jacki: As an expat you can find an international relocation company similar to Wetzel that can guide you through the process because there are a lot of things that you need to consider when moving here that people don’t always know about.
There are also websites you can use to familiarize yourself with the market before you move.
- Zillow to see what sort of rentals and houses are available. You can look at pictures so you know what to expect.
- Google Maps is really helpful to get an idea of where it is and how far things are from each other.
- Apartment websites are good to look at to compare prices of different apartments.
Educating yourself on what a rental looks like here before you come is important.
But I think that the best resource is to work with a company that focuses on real estate for expats because there are so many things that you need to know.
This was an interview of Elissa Hardy-Schafer and Jacki Jesch at Wetzel Services by Darren Jansen at IVANNOVATION Language Management. For information about translation services for immigration, law, education, or other purposes, contact us today.