Please note that this information is very old, but we still get many people to read it and a lot of feedback so we keep it live for now
Moving from Germany to the U.S.
Like with every situation in live, this will not completely cover all the possibilities and variations you might face when moving to the U.S. My intention here is just to give you some information on what can happen and what you might face. You will most likely have a different situation based on your companies contract and guidelines for a move. It is also important to know you move for an assignment or as a local hire. Your visa situation will be totally different.
Housing situation in Germany:
Depending on your options you have to decide if you store your household in Germany, move it to the U.S. or if you just keep your house or apartment and pay for the rent. Whatever you do, make sure that when you keep it in place, that you have enough people to watch after it, forward your mail, pay your bills, are there when the meters (heating, electricity etc) are read by the officials. And be prepared that they will do this for a looooong time. Your contract might simply extend for a few more years and people can get quite sick of doing these tasks for you.
Housing situation in the U.S.A.:
You can actually start quite early finding the right place to live. Depending if you have ever been in the area, you might know what to expect. Ask a co-worker to send you the little booklets which can be found in supermarkets which list apartments or houses for rent (if you have that option). You can also go by the relocation service company but their taste might not meet yours. It is better to really see where you will be living for the next few years. Don't trust the pictures in the booklets. They have been taken during the day, when none of the neighbors are home. So you can't see the beat up cars in the parking lot (except of course if they are bums and don't work). If you have the option for a pre-assignment trip, take it. Drive around during the late afternoon and evening and look at apartment complexes. See who swims in the community pool and who washes laundry in the same machine as you will later.
Luxury apartment means nothing in the U.S., except that the rent is much higher. Look for a fitness room, pool and if washer and dryer are installed in your apartment. Stay for a while and watch for people who take their mail out of the central mail box location. This will give you a good idea about who lives there. Check if the gates are closed at night or if anyone can drive in and out.
If you move into a house, the same applies. Drive through the neighborhood in the evening hours or even at night. Hear any shots being fired? How often do Police drive around the area? Too many cars parked on the street? That could mean that the area goes down the drain. My agent didn't even like wooden fences but only stone walls between the houses. And again look for the cars in general. Old and beat up cars, don't mean anything good.
If you buy a house - well that's a completely different story and I might handle this in some sub pages later.
Your income will of course depend on your arrangements and contracts with your company. If you get paid from Germany it's a different story. If you get paid as an expatriate, your company will re-emburse you for a lot of stuff - or not, depending on your contract. However, if you go as a local hire with a U.S. contract you might have to reduce your expectations a bit. Earnings in the U.S. might not be the same of what you had before in Germany. But again it all depends on your contract, the area you are moving to as well as the exchange rate.
Insurances in Germany:
Rentenversicherung - you can stay in the German system and continue to pay monthly. Just make sure that you earn enough money (if you get paid in the U.S.) with the exchange rate and transfer the money to Germany. You will also need someone to administer the yearly increases. Your employer has to apply for this with the German officials.
Krankenversicherung - you have the option to stay in your private health insurance plan for the time you are gone. You have to pay a minimum amount monthly, so when you get back you will fall into the same category as you were in before you left. Ask your employer or insurance company for details.
Haftpflicht - check the fine print. It might not be valid after a certain period abroad and might not cover any claims in the U.S.
Once you arrive in the U.S.:
Check with your company if they work with a credit union (some kind of membership bank). They have the best rates and will give you everything you need to a certain degree. It depends on the state and city you will be in. I had VERY bad experiences with banks during my few years.
All of them will want you as a customer. They will give you tons of checks, take your money and eventually give you a credit card. That can take a while or not. Took over two years in my case. So, you better keep your German credit card for a while or have debit card of a broker ready. American Express will honor their international cards with great service! U.S. banks don't think very internationally. Don't worry about telling them about your overdraft in Europe - they don't care. Also, be prepared to do a lot of stuff manually. Well, at least you can do it through the drive through window. Americans are not as big with automatic deposit as we are, but they are getting there. They pay mostly by check or credit card, which then has to be paid by check again. But, as in my case, the credit union offered the payment option through the telephone.
This is really important. Depending on how long you will stay and what you intend to buy (house, car) or if you want to use a credit card. You can care less if you keep on using your German credit cards. Otherwise, start early on building a credit history. Get a card from one of the many department stores, i.e. SEARS just to mention them since they were the first to offer me one. (Actually - everyone offers you a card but not everyone is willing to give it to you once they realize that you don't have credit history). Then go off and charge something to the card and pay it off in regular payments over about 6 months. Then you have a credit history and you will get cards offered through your mail.
Don't make the mistake to just sign several credit card applications at once or in a certain time frame. The rejections will appear in your credit report and look like nobody wants to give you credit. Nobody will ever give you a card, or only with a secured credit card where you have to put down i.e. 500$ and then have that as your credit limit. Looks great on your report.
You can actually see your report if you become a member with one of the many credit services i.e. Credential Services in Allen Texas (Tel. 1-800-262-7432). They inform you about your credit and your history, listing every company who inquired about you, if they gave you credit and what is currently open with them. You will be surprised.
Oh, and banks and brokers do two different things. You need to invest through brokers and will get the best deals ever. Germany's low cost brokers can only dream of the prices you can get in the U.S. There you will also get checks and debit cards but those don't qualify for a credit history, even if you spend a lot of money with them.
Social Security Number (SSN):
You will need this number a lot. Everyone asks for it and before long you will remember it and repeat it like your phone number. There is a social security office where you will "take a number" and wait like everywhere else as well. They will issue you a card and a number based on your visa and INS approval (immigration and naturalization services). You need this number for your apartment, bank account, employment, credit card application, basically for everything. This number is like an open book of your life! And don't ask for whom. So, go get this number and card in the first three days.
Yeah, I know. Sometimes it looks like a lot of people driving in the U.S. don't have one (actually some don't) but you still have to go, pick a number, wait, fill out forms, take a test of (in my case) 25 questions. You should if you are a good driver pass with 100% correct answers. I actually had people next to me asking their spouse for the correct answer. Then they take a picture and off you go with a great looking plastic card. No driving test in my case.
Now, this is the other important item you will need to show everywhere. When renting an apartment, renting movies, paying by check. So, also get your drivers license in the first few days. You need your SSN for this one, so get that first.
Bring some money with you or get a few hundred dollars from your employer before your first pay check since you will need to put deposits down for your apartment, your electricity company, your telephone company.
You will probably be part of your employers health plan. If you were privately insured in Germany, forget everything you knew about being treated like a private patient. You will, pick a number, fill out forms and wait! Even if you have an emergency you will wait! You can not choose your own doctor but have to pick one as your PCP whom you will visit from then on. You best ask your co-workers where to go. You will most likely only have to pay about 20$ per visit (co-payment) but that is it. I was not too thrilled with my doctors. Dentists are a completely different story and I still go and see my dentist during U.S. vacations and trips because I feel that they are much better than in Germany. Be prepared for a great learning experience if you need anything out of the norm. Like getting your Tetanus shot (which you should every 10 years) or a new prescription of glasses or anything. There is most likely a lot of paperwork and a lot of miscommunication.
Some words of caution:
If you are an observant person, you will realize how quickly you will be and act like a foreigner in the U.S. No matter how hard you try, you will act differently. Watch how people drive, don't expect the same reactions like in Germany. People might have the turning light on for a few miles, realize it but then turn without the signal.
Depending on the state, too much eye contact (or any at all) might not be recommendable. Specially at a traffic signal I realized that Germans check out the next driver, while in the U.S. they might not do that at all.
Don't be too aggressive when driving or approaching people. You might scare them and you never know what the reaction is going to be.
If you ride your bicycle with the same attitude as some people in Germany, you will probably get run over. You might have been right but you might die.
If you are a single (maybe also as a married person) you will end up with a largest collection of phone numbers in your live. Don't be disappointed if they really don't expect your call.
If you buy a car (see also Car Export) or even if you just want to shop around be prepared to have the most stressful moments in your life while buying it. I actually met the dumbest sales person on earth!
You will have the most wonderful customer service in the world. You can return anything at anytime and even earn a "thank you for shopping at xyz". And you will never forget the shopping experience that it is in the U.S. It's heaven!
Oh, and don't be too blunt. Think twice about what you say and whom you touch!