If you’ve made the decision to move back home to the US after living abroad, we understand you might be feeling overwhelmed. You might be sad about leaving the country you’ve been calling home, or maybe you’re excited to get back home and see your family again.
Either way, you’ve made the decision, but you might not know where to go from here. The nice thing is, you’ve done this before. You made the move abroad, which was probably a lot scarier than the move home will be (although some nervousness at the prospect of your return is normal, too). With a transition this big, it might feel like it’s all chaos until suddenly it’s not.
But you have to start somewhere, so we’ve created a checklist for global citizens who are planning to return home to the US. This checklist isn’t exhaustive, and everyone’s situation is different, but we hope you’ll take this checklist as a good starting point and adapt it to your unique situation.
Checklist for global citizens moving back to the US
1. Make travel arrangements
About 3 months before you plan to leave, make your travel arrangements. Buy your plane tickets, book hotel rooms, and figure out how you’ll get transportation from the airport to your first destination. As things get more hectic leading up to your moving date, you’ll be glad you took care of this step first.
With the global pandemic still in full force, making travel arrangements is more complicated than it was before – especially for international travelers. It’s important to stay informed of global travel regulations throughout your preparations, which could change at any moment. You should also learn about any isolation regulations your destination may have imposed, as some regions are requiring mandatory isolation upon arrival depending where you’re traveling from.
2. Update and organize your records
Make sure all the documents you need to travel are up to date, such as your passport and other identification papers. You should also check that any documents you brought with you are organized and easily accessible, because you’ll need these upon reentry to the US. These documents likely include:
- Birth certificates
- Driver’s licenses
- Social security cards
- Marriage certificates
- Medical/vaccination records
- Tax records
- Insurance cards
3. Give notice on your rental property, or sell your property abroad
Giving notice on your rental property or selling the property you own abroad should be next on your list. Waiting too long to put your home on the market can end up delaying your travel plans, especially if you’re held up by pandemic-related delays.
4. Provide a forwarding address to utility companies
Even if you don’t yet know where you’re going to live when you get back to the US, provide a trusted family or friend’s address where your utility companies can mail your final bills.
5. Save up an emergency travel fund
An emergency travel fund can help alleviate unnecessary stress and anxiety during this process. Trust us, you’ll be stressed enough during this move. Having a safety net of savings will make any delays or problems you run into much easier to deal with.
6. Open a US bank account
You’ll want to be able to access your money as soon as you return to the US. If you still have a US bank account, make sure it’s active. If not, take the steps to open a US account or an international account. Check out this list of US banks that are convenient for expats living abroad.
7. Get tax advice
Paying your taxes correctly after living abroad can be tricky. You may have earlier filing dates and other tax-related ‘loose ends’ to tie up. We recommend getting tax advice from a licensed tax professional so everything is in tip-top shape when you move back to the US.
And if you have a pension or employer-sponsored retirement account overseas, the tax regulations can get complicated. If you plan to roll these funds over into a US account, consult with an international tax specialist.
8. Import your belongings back to the US
Importing your belongings has some considerations as well. You may be able to deduct your moving expenses from your taxes, but you’ll also have to follow customs regulations. You can learn more about clearing your goods legally into the US here.
9. Get your pet ready for travel
If you’re returning with any fur-children, make sure you have their records updated and you know what kind of documentation you’ll need for your airline and when you arrive on US soil. This guide from the US Department of Agriculture provides all you need to know about bringing your pet with you, depending on the type of animal(s) you’re traveling with.
10. Ensure your professional qualifications will be recognized
If you work in a licensed professional capacity, be certain any qualifications you need to continue working are recognized in the US. To do this, you’ll need to contact the relevant licensing board in the state you plan to live and work in. You can find more information about licensing boards from the International Affairs Office within the US Department of Education.
11. Contact schools
If you have children returning with you, contact local schools in the area you’ll be living to let them know your children are returning to the US. Ask them how they will help your children make the transition back to a US school, and get a list of required documents you’ll need to enroll them.
12. Check the guidance on bringing family members back with you
You may want to bring family members back with you who are not US citizens. Depending on your familial relationship, you’ll need to learn about US immigration law and which family members you can petition for. Find more information about US immigration laws pertaining to family members here.
13. Calculate your budget
You’ll need to calculate the exchange rates of the currency you use now to US dollars. It’s quite possible your money won’t go as far once you move back to the US, and costs-of-living may be much higher, especially in metropolitan areas. To avoid going into debt, calculate the exchange rate and expected cost-of-living expenses so you can save accordingly.
14. Find a place to stay upon your return
Unless you know exactly where you want to live when you move back to the US, you should locate a temporary residence you can stay in when you arrive. The housing market is very competitive right now, so it might be better to wait to look at properties until you return home.
Although the pandemic has caused realtors to rely more heavily on virtual showings rather than in-person showings, finding a permanent place to live now might be more stress than it’s worth, and you may want to get to know a neighborhood and surrounding location in person before committing to it.
15. (Re)build your credit history
Depending how long you’ve been abroad, you may need to start from scratch and completely rebuild your credit history. This is important, as potential lenders use your credit score to evaluate your eligibility as a borrower. If lenders can’t assess how reliable of a borrower you are, you’ll have a hard time getting approved for a mortgage loan, a car loan, or even a rental property.
Establishing your credit history is an important part of the repatriation process, but it can be frustrating to start over. One great way to start is with Loqbox, a free tool that can help you build your credit history and boost your savings. Find out more about how Loqbox can help you rebuild your credit history here.
16. Research where you want to live
Are you moving back to a familiar hometown, or exploring a new part of the US? Whatever you’re thinking, research that area’s average cost-of-living and what locals have to say about living there. Then, hop on Zillow to view properties for rent or for sale, which will also give you information about schools and the surrounding neighborhoods.
17. Purchase ACA-approved health insurance
You’ll probably need to purchase health insurance upon your return to the US. If you plan to find a job that offers health insurance benefits but haven’t secured employment yet, you may have to purchase short-term health insurance.
US healthcare laws and requirements are complex. You can find out more about health insurance requirements from HealthCare.gov, but we recommend consulting with a tax professional to determine what type of ACA-approved health insurance is best for your situation.
18. Bring enough medication back to tide you over
It might be difficult to find time to visit a healthcare clinic immediately upon your return to the US, so you should work with your doctor abroad to make arrangements for your prescriptions to last long enough to tide you over.
19. Stay up-to-date on COVID-19 travel restrictions
COVID-19 travel restrictions could change at any time. As an expat, you can enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so that the US Embassy can contact you with information about safety conditions, emergencies, and instructions for returning home if necessary.
20. Make a plan to purchase a car
Unless you’ll be living in New York City or Chicago, you’ll probably need to purchase a car. For now, you can plan to rent a car from the airport you’ll be landing in and travel with the rental car until you have time to make a car purchase. Keep in mind that it may be tough to get vehicle financing without adequate credit history, so factor this into your savings plan.
21. Find a job
Some people decide to move back to the US for career reasons, but if you’re moving back for family, homesickness, or something else, you’ll need to start looking for employment. Through sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, or profession-specific job search sites, you can let your network know you’re on the hunt and even set up job alerts to have opportunities sent right to your inbox.
22. Make fun plans with friends and family
Your family members may know you’re coming back, but some of your friends might not! Be sure to let them know and make fun plans (even if it’s a virtual happy hour for now), so you have something to look forward to when you get back amidst all the stress of moving.
23. Change is hard; take it easy and make a plan for handling it
Reverse culture shock can be just as draining as regular culture shock. Give yourself plenty of time, space, and patience to make this transition. As with all things, this too will pass.
We wish you the best of luck with your move back. For more great information and tips for moving back to the US, check out our specialized blog for expats.