Images by John 'K'

Life as seen through my lens…

New to the US – watch out for the bureaucracy!

Random rant number 2: So what is this Social Security Number thing all about?

Coming from the UK, the one thing that surprised and frustrated me more than anything on my arrival in the US was the need for and dependency on the Social Security Number, and this was closely followed by my shock at how difficult things are when you have no credit history.

If you want a ‘normal’ life, you really need both, or you need a lot of freely available cash. For example – try getting a car loan with no social security number and no credit history. Try getting a credit card. Try opening a back account (well actually that wasn’t as hard as I thought, but I did have some help). Try getting a driving license. Try getting a car….

Without a social security number you’re a nobody. The government will happily take your taxes (at an inflated rate), but you can’t invest in a pension plan. Without a social security number it’s difficult getting a loan or a credit card. Without a credit card or a loan you can’t build a credit history. Without a credit history, it’s difficult getting a loan or a credit card…..

I was lucky in that in the UK I’d used a particular international credit card for some time, and the company were happy to set me up with an American one based on my UK credit history, but not all credit card companies will do that.

I was also lucky enough to have come to the US under a company transfer, and so had a load of documentation proving I had valid employment, so opening a bank account wasn’t too difficult (as it meant they could get the money they could see I’d be getting!). I couldn’t however apply for my California driving license without a social security number, and the application for one of those takes 5-6 weeks to process thanks to post-9/11 security changes.

Herein lies an interesting issue, as California driving law states that if you are to be resident in the state, you need to apply for your California driving license within 10 days of taking residency, however you can’t apply until you have a SSN, and that takes 5-6 weeks to come through.

It takes at least 6 months to make enough ‘noise’ to actually get anything to show on a credit history. I ended up using the credit card I was able to get for almost everything (and paying it up at the end of each month), and taking a car loan at a stupid interest rate for a few months just to get some activity to show.

Oh yes – one I almost forgot. Try getting a cell phone on a regular plan just after you arrive in the country. Most companies will let you take a contract IF you can provide proof of income and pay a stupidly large security deposit.

The whole system seems stacked against people who have just arrived in the US to live and work. I think if I ever quit what I’m doing now, I’m going to set up as an immigration consultant.

All I can say is thank God (or whoever/whatever you worship) that I was dealing with all of the above while it was just me here. While the issues above inconvenienced me for a while, they would have made things pretty difficult (if not unbearable) if I’d moved across with my family. As things stand, I should be pretty well settled in when my wife and kids join me in a couple of months.


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