First coffee, then relocating to Miami

Moving to a new country can be exciting and terrifying (and a pain in the… errr back) all at the same time.

To help you navigate the intricacies of moving to the United States of America (Miami to be specific),  here is a compilation of info and knowledge acquired through my own experience, and by helping family, friends and coworkers.

Grab a cup of coffee and read on!

Relocating to Miami

Or, the incredible adventure of moving boxes

I read this somewhere: “Moving to a new country can be an exciting, even exhilarating experience. In a new environment, you somehow feel more alive: seeing new sights, eating new food, hearing the foreign sounds, and feeling a different climate against your skin stimulate your senses as never before. Moving to a new country or city can also be stressful. There will be many decisions to make and numerous things to take care of prior to your departure and once you arrived to the new place.”

Compiled by Josybel Martinez, relocation survivor. Last updated on January 2021

Organization is going to be key.

Need to know

Here are some things to think about as you get ready to relocate…

You’ll want to seriously upgrade your office supply game.

Important documents

There are numerous documents that you should bring with you. Do not pack these in your luggage or with your household goods move.

  • If married, original marriage certificate
  • Driver’s license from home country
  • Employment verification Letter (stating salary and start date)
  • Birth certificates of your children
  • Credit Report from your Origin Country
  • School records are usually required when registering your child at a new school
  • Complete and accurate immunization records are required to enroll your child into a school in Florida
  • Doctors and dentists’ records are also helpful to have.

Miami has very pretty houses. Really.


Most likely, your first priority is choosing a place to live. Whether you plan to rent or purchase a home, your search for shelter is probably best started by selecting a neighborhood. Sites like Trulia and Zillow provide comprehensive school and neighborhood information on homes for sale and rent.

Home Miami Realtors may be able to help!

Plan to bring enough money to secure a rental property equal to two month’s rent; one month for the security deposit and one month for the first-month’s rent. In some instances, amounts equaling two month’s rent have been required for the security deposit because of lack of adequate credit history here. Traveler’s checks in large denominations are acceptable. If the landlord insists, they can be converted to a money order or a cashier’s check upon arrival.

To rent a home you may need the following documents:

  • Picture Identification
  • Checkbook
  • Rental application (provided by landlord or agent)
  • SSN (if you have one)
  • Copy of 2 recent pay checks (omit personal identification numbers)
  • Copy of Tenant Reference Letter (if currently renting)
  • Employment Verification Letter
  • Copy of bank statement (omit account numbers)
  • U.S. Credit Report (if you have established credit)

Bring your kids, they’ll love it.

School-Aged Children

Miami’s home to a large number of educational institutions. If you have school-age kids, Miami-Dade Public Schools is the fourth-largest public school district in the nation. Miami is also home to the University of Miami, Florida International University and a number of other colleges and universities. If you love to read, you’ll also want to apply for a library card. For more information on educational opportunities in the area, take a look at our list of Education resources.

Miami-Dade Public School

University of Miami

Florida International University

Public Library

School records are usually required when registering your child at a new school. Often, copies will not be sufficient, and records with a raised seal will be necessary. All documents must be in English or translated to English. Complete and accurate immunization records are required to enroll your child into a school in Florida. Doctors and dentists’ records are also helpful to have.

School Immunization Requirements

A different type of social network.

Social Security

Let’s start with some definitions:

  • SSA = Social Security Administration
  • SSN or SS# = Social Security number

The U.S. Government mandates a personal interview for anyone who is applying for a SSN for the first time and we strongly suggest that you wait at least ten (10) business days before applying from the date of your arrival so that the U.S. Homeland Security Department has had the proper amount of time to share your data with the SSA.

When you first reach to the United States you will go thru customs with a company sponsored VISA and will be required to complete an I-94 form. A portion of the I-94 form will be placed in your passport and stamped with your entry date. We cannot stress the importance of double checking that all of your I-94 information matches your passport exactly with hyphens, surnames, given names, etc.

To apply:

  • Complete an application for a social security card (Form SS-5)
  • Collect at least two original documents proving identity, work-authorized immigration status, and age.
  • Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) to proof immigration status ( I-94 can be accessed online – It needs to be printed out to bring to the SS office.).
  • Your birth certificate or passport may serve as proof of age
  • Same documents are required for your spouse along with marriage certificate, if they are getting a SSN as well.
  • Take your completed application and original documents to your local Social Security Office.
  • Your number and card will be mailed as soon as they have all of your information and have verified your documents with the issuing offices.

Social Security Office

Form SS-5

Access I-94 Online

All documents must be either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. They won’t accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents. They cannot accept a receipt showing you applied for the document. You may use one document for two purposes. For example, you may use your DHS work permit as proof of both your identity and work-authorized immigration status. Your birth certificate or passport may serve as proof of age. However, you must provide at least two separate documents.

United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Not death, but the other certain thing.


What You Should Know About Florida State And Local Taxes

You’ve probably already heard that the State of Florida has no income tax. However, if you own a significant amount of stocks, bonds, mutual funds or similar assets, you may be subject to the state’s intangibles tax.

Need help with your taxes? Here are some online tax services:

H&R Block


Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)

An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is a tax processing number issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). IRS issues ITINs to individuals who are required to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but who do not have, and are not eligible to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN) from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

ITINs are issued regardless of immigration status because both resident and nonresident aliens may have an U.S. filing or reporting requirement under the Internal Revenue Code. Individuals must have a filing requirement and file a valid federal income tax return to receive an ITIN, unless they meet an exception.

Click here for information on obtaining an ITIN

Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

Finance & Taxation Office in Downtown Miami
51 SW 1st Ave. Miami, FL 33130
Cross Streets: Between SW 1st St and W Flagler St/NW 1st Ave
(305) 982-5077

There’s more tax talk below, keep scrolling…

Don’t keep it in your mattress, dummy!


One of the first items on your “to do” list, is to open a bank account locally. You may open a checking account at any bank; however, it is recommended that you use a bank with international banking relationships. This simply makes it easier to transfer funds and obtain services that you will need to conduct banking between your origin country and the United States.

In the United States, many routine payments are made by check, especially rent payments. With on-line banking and debit cards, the use of paper checks has been reduced, but it is still necessary to have a checking account.

To get an idea of the different types of checking and savings accounts offered, most banks will have a web site. We do not recommend any bank over another.

A couple of suggestions for information gathering are:


Bank of America


Wells Fargo

In general, to open an account you will need:

  • Photo identification (passport)
  • Additional form of identification (credit card or driver’s license)
  • A minimum of $100 to deposit into the account–cash, travelers’ checks
  • United States mailing address (It may be possible to use your new work address temporarily; check with your employer first).
  • United States phone number
  • Social Security Number

For everything else, there’s cash.

Establishing Credit

This can be a challenge! Most United States banks, lenders and landlords do not accept your wonderful credit rating from your origin country. So, you are starting all over here.

You will be able to get a loan for your car, but it will be at a higher interest rate. You will be able to get a credit card from some banks, but it will be with a lower maximum amount than you would get with a good credit history here in the U.S. Some banks will not issue a credit card until you have had an account with the bank for six months. Others will issue a credit card only if you keep a minimum balance in your checking account. These are questions to ask before you open a bank account.

Start buying everything you purchase on credit. For instance, if you go to a department store to make some household purchases, fill out their credit card application and put your charges on it. Then, pay your bill promptly. You are now establishing a good credit rating in the United States. After six months of this, things will get a lot simpler.

Another option to help you build your credit is PayPal Credit. This is a service that lets you buy now and pay later. Think of it as a secure, instant, and reusable credit line without the plastic. PayPal Credit is available as a payment option at thousands of online stores and once you link it to your PayPal account, it can be used almost everywhere PayPal is accepted. You can apply today, or select PayPal Credit as your payment choice during checkout. You’ll be asked to provide your date of birth and the last 4 digits of your Social Security number, and then to agree to the terms and conditions. You’ll know within seconds if you are approved. PayPal Credit is subject to credit approval and offered by Comenity Capital Bank.

PayPal Credit

​Credit Report from your Origin Country

This is extremely helpful in the application process to rent housing. If this is not something that is common in your origin country, then any documentation that shows your payment history on a house payment, rent, credit card debt or anything else will be helpful. You are trying to show that you are a good risk as a tenant—someone who pays their debts in a timely manner.

In some situations, a letter from your bank stating how long you have been a customer, what your credit “rating” is, any past history with loans you have taken, for example, can assist you throughout the settling-in process here.

Or maybe not… take a look at these comments from a fellow relocated human #RealLife

Letters from America —  credit where credit is due… or not? by Shane Corstorphine

Safer than driving down I-95.


Check out mass transit options in Dade County.

Welcome to the DMV, you’re gonna (not) love it!

Obtaining a Florida Drivers’ License or Identification Card

If you’re going to drive, you’ll need to obtain a Florida driver’s license and Florida tags for your vehicle.

A drivers’ license is the picture identification most commonly used in the United States. If you plan to drive a car in Miami, you will need to apply for a Florida Driver’s License. An International Driver’s License is not valid in the state of Florida. Visitors can drive using their driver’s license from their country of origin as long as it is not expired.

You will need to have your Social Security number before starting the process to apply for a drivers’ license. You will need to take a written test and a driving test. Visit the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website to access the DMV Manual, take online practice tests, and make an appointment. If you don’t have a Driver’s License from your country of origin, you may have to attend classes prior to applying for your Florida Driver’s License.

If you do not intend to drive, you should apply for an identification card. A regular ID card is valid for six years.

Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)

We’re in Miami! Let’s take a bus! (said no one ever).

Purchasing an Automobile

Purchasing a car in the United States can be a confusing process. Here are some websites and services that can help you facilitate the process.

Expat Ride

Expat Ride – You can arrange for your car before or after your move to the U.S. Expat Ride provides car financing for new and used cars to individuals without a U.S. credit history.

This is a good website to use when determining what kind of car to purchase. It also gives a lot of information on how to negotiate with car dealers and financing tips.

Every other ad on TV.

Car Insurance

Most United States insurance companies will not give you credit on your driving record from another country. This means that when you find an insurance company that will write a policy for you with no United States driving experience; it will usually be at a higher rate than someone who has a good United States driving record.

Compare Car Insurance

*Even if you are not planning to drive right away, we recommend you get a Driver’s License as soon as possible to help you get better rates on car insurance when the time comes.

Isn’t this cute?

Child Safety Seats

Florida law states that children must be properly restrained in an appropriate child passenger restraint system in the rear seat of a motor vehicle.

Click here for information on choosing the car seat appropriate for your child.

Give it a minute, it’s going to space.

Purchasing a Cell Phone

If you are moving from another country and would like to purchase a U.S. cell phone, most of the companies require that you have a Social Security number and sign a two year contract.

You will need to have a debit or credit card to order the phone and start the service.

Some of the most popular cell phone carrier in South Florida are:




Useful tip: Some of these providers offer pay-as-you go plans, if this is something you would like to consider at first. International calls are usually NOT included in plans. This would be an add-on feature, which may be different from plans outside the US. If you decide to open a new line and buy a phone, you may be asked to pay a deposit of $1,000.

What are things you only remember when they cut your service?


In South Florida, your electric power will be provided by Florida Power & Light. They provide an online system for opening or reopening your electric service account.

Florida Power & Light

Water service is provided by the Miami-Dade Water & Sewer Department.

Miami-Dade Water & Sewer Department

Trash and Recycling in Miami-Dade

Along with your SSN, you may need to pay a deposit for opening utilities account (proof of address, visa and passport must all be faxed to activate the accounts).

It’s not the voting that’s democracy; it’s the counting.


There are a few other miscellaneous items you’ll need to take care of with the various branches of government.

You probably want to fill out the online form to change your address with the U.S. Postal Service.

Official USPS® Change of Address

If you are a US citizen, it’s also your civic duty to register to vote in Florida.

Register to vote in Florida

Pay for health insurance or pay a fee.

Health Care

If you don’t have Health Insurance, you will have to pay a fee. Hopefully by now, your employer will offer an option for you. If you can afford health insurance but choose not to buy it, you must pay a fee called the individual shared responsibility payment. (The fee is sometimes called the “penalty,” “fine,” or “individual mandate.”)

If you don’t have health insurance: How much you’ll pay

Final checklist.

Document checklist for international transfers

Bank Documents

  • Passport and Visa
  • Second form of identification (credit card or driver’s license)
  • $100 cash (minimum) to open a checking account
  • Local address
  • Local phone number
  • SSN

Social Security Office

  • Passport
  • Document showing immigration status (visa, I-94, DS-2019, I-20)
  • Employment verification letter
  • Marriage certificate (if spouse is applying for number)
  • Application form (Form SS-5)

Form SS-5

Department of Motor Vehicles

  • Passport and Visa
  • SSN
  • Driver’s License from your home country
  • Application form
  • Application fee

DMV Application Form

DMV Application fees

¡Bienvenida/o a Miami!

Compiled by Josybel Martinez, relocation survivor. Last updated on January 2021