I just wanted to share some of the things we've done that may be helpful to others. POE is, of course, cause for major celebration for all of us on the journey, USC and immigrants alike. It may take a while to go back into the planning / browsing forums / document gathering stage, and even when you do that, with wedding, insurances, medicals, and all that it's a bit less straightforward what you should be focusing on. So, I'm going to list what we've done and some lessons learned on the way.
1. Get SSN early. Here is VJ guide.
- some states require it for marriage
- you will need it for most of other legal papers
- tip: If possible, be at the office about 20-30 min before they open, it really saves time in my area, as the lines can get long.
Seriously, though. Do it on the first week if you can. You won't be able to get much done without it.
2. Credit Score / Finances (since mine is, ahem, showing a bit of reckless youth experiences, we wanted to start building my husband's Credit Score ASAP)
- if you trust your partner, add them as a joint holder to the banking account (we did it next day after POE). This is one of the very few action items you don't even need SSN for
- you will need SSN to apply for a Credit Card
- tip 1: on a lot of web sites when you apply for a Credic Card you can include USC income in the applicant's income, even though your partner is not working yet.
- tip 2: try applying to a bunch of cards on the same day. Same-day inquiries get bundled as one and don't hurt your non-existent Credit Score as much.
- tip 3: if you can, go to a bank where someone speaks your native language. They are more likely to help you get an Unsecured Credit Card (helps build up score quicker)
- tip 4: apply for DiscoverIt Card. Even if you don't get it, they will offer you a Secured DiscoverIt Card, and that's what will help you start building your credit history
- tip 5: pay all of your credit card accounts in full 3-4 times per month, that helps building the score. Try and diversify your accounts later (get a small car loan on a used car, or do a cell phone "loan" - anything that you pay of over the course of a few payments reflects positively on your score, as long as you make all of your payments on time)
- go over monthly budget with your partner and be as open about it as you can. In some countries, 100$ can buy a lot of things, so it will take a while to re-adjust to how much things cost. Go over things like Internet provider service costs, phone costs, mortgage, car lease, food. you partner is not allowed to work for (roughly speaking) 2 months after you filed AOS/EAD/AP; but they should still get how much life in America costs to have realistic expectations of things.
- tip: schedule the medical paperwork required for AOS done as soon as you can. Use USCIS find a doctor web site. Some of the doctors will tell you they are booked for next 2-3 months, but if you live near a city (I live in Boston) and have many options, just keep calling. If you call 20 of them, you will find one that allows booking appointment next week, if not next day. Just don't give up! You need this to file for AOS, so put it on your radar early.
- tip: make sure you get the results of the medical in a sealed envelope. Ask for a copy!
- tip: FLU shot! If you are applying for AOS in the flu season, having this year's flu shot is a must. No options. Try to get it done before the medical, or doctor will be more than happy to upcharge you for it.
- add your partner to your medical insurance after marriage. Since this is a life changing event, most insurance companies will allow you to change your election mid-year.
- allergies. Ouch! If you partner got them, I feel your pain. Moving to a new country can do that to you. Don't despair, ionize the air. Ahem... Of course, see a doctor if the condition worsens, but also be ready to clean like crazy, give your pet up for adoption (my parents will be keeping my cat... tear, tear) - be ready for this, get your priorities straight, have a good air humidifier / ionizer / purifier, and you'll pull through this.
4. Cars / Driving
- tip on car insurance: get a form stating your partner's driving record in plain and simple English to get an experienced driver discount. I've done rounds of back-n-forth with Liberty Mutual and ended up doing, ahem, a liberal "translation" of my husband's EU driver license (which has a "First Licensed" year) by a Russian agency telling them what I need the paper to say. It was an honest representation of the license, not a fraud, but it spelled out the field labels missing in the EU version. It's tough work, but it will save you a lot of money.
- if you are buying / leasing a car, put both names on the title / lease. This is your proof of bona fide marriage, think about it in advance!
5. Driving License
- (MA residents): you don't need to wait for green card to apply! Even if your partner is still on K1 status, the license will be good for 5 years, not till K1 expiration date!This differs by state, so check your state laws. We were pleasantly surprised by this.
- if you've added your partner to a joint backing account, print that statement and it will serve as a proof of residence.
- you can take the written test in your native language.
- scheduling the road test is tricky. You may need to wait for a couple months or drive for 2 hours, your pick. We did the latter and my husband now has US Driving License and it's not even 2 months since POE.
- you will need a car with e-brake between the front seats for the road test!
- don't wait too long. Chances are, it will take you a week to gather all documents (remember that medical?), and it's time that your partner can't work or travel
- file all 3 (AOS, Advanced Parole, Employment Authorization) as a bundle, and fee for the two last ones is waived.
- check out fellow VJs posts to double-check you're not missing anything. My special thanks to authors of those two posts: here and here.
- anywhere you go to apply, keep your I-94, Marriage Certificate, Birth Certificate + Translation and Passport with you. This should be plenty for anybody, but check the required documentation ahead of time.
- think of any new paperwork as future proof of bona fide marriage: "Can I put both of our names on it?": If you trust your partner, any kind of paper trail, be it joint bank account (can be done with SSN), Title on a car, adding your partner to Medical insurance / beneficiary on Life insurance / doing the medical will - it's all going to work for you.
- check out some English classes if your fiance's English is not perfect. It's good socialization (not to mention it gives your significant other something to occuply themselves with while you work), good practice and generally a nice welcoming environment.
- don't forget to breathe. Adjusting to your life in America is *a lot* to take on, so do it in baby steps and you'll be fine. :)