15/2/2016

The story of a Belgian in the USA. The paperwork struggle.

So, I decided to take the plunge. I was going to leave Belgium for an American adventure. There are many things involved with moving to another country. One of the most intriguing parts is changing payroll. Delaware Consulting does not offer a classic expat package. If you want to change offices, you must change payroll.

Comparing payrolls

In my case, this means I get paid in the USA, get US holidays, and US healthcare. No more Belgian company car, weeks of holidays and no more Belgian taxes (hooray!). I very quickly discovered that comparing compensation and benefits is not as easy as it seems.

All parties involved only see the nice parts of every package and ignore the less interesting aspects. I also learned that everything is relative in this area. Whereas a Belgian moving to the USA experiences the income taxes as very low, people joining our offices from other parts of the world experience those same tax rates to be rather high. It creates interesting discussions during lunch. It depends on your family situation as well. The cost of living and how society works (schools, healthcare, transportation) is different between countries, and you only realize most of these things once you have moved already.

The visa experience

Getting a work visa is an interesting, yet frustrating experience. Being a Belgian, or a European, many people never have to deal with visas. You just travel around and worst case you need to pay a nominal fee to enter a country (e.g. using ESTA to visit the USA). Having to go through the work visa process, I can tell you this is for sure the least fun experience when moving abroad. It takes time, and time, and then some more time. Going back and forth between the HR departments, lawyers, myself and the (US) government. I must admit that at a certain point I almost gave up.

To give you an idea: we started the process, and I got an appointment at the US embassy to do an interview 11 months (!!!) later. Not exactly the most flexible procedure. It seems governments have yet to realize globalization is real, and in order for companies to be successful they need some flexibility in moving people around the globe. Patience is key, don’t stop your life while you are applying for a visa. It is never guaranteed until it is approved!

The easy part

While getting a visa organized and figuring out cost of living are relatively hard, when you actually arrive,  some things are surprisingly easy: opening a bank account, finding an apartment, getting your driver’s license and social security number. I can imagine this being much harder in some other countries. The USA is pretty difficult to get a visa organized, but once you are in, the system is really easy to use and get around. It is clear that especially in the larger cities the US government organizations are used to dealing with foreign nationals. Although there are weird or conflicting rules, generally things are pretty easy to manage.

And now paperwork and all practical things are done… let’s get started!
Stay tuned for part 3!

 

Author: Nigel Grillet, a Belgian in the USA since 2013. You can connect with Nigel on LinkedIn.