Getting settled in the USA + where to next

We’re in the USA and ready to start the road trip across America after a wonderful time in Hawaii.

The girls were very excited on the plane and couldn’t help but list all the things they wanted to do.

First to go to Raleigh to see where Kalyra spent two years of her life. And of course Harry Potter World. (It’s on the list, Kalyra!)

We have a ton of content to come on our vacation in Hawaii, so be patient while we get it all written! It’s been a crazy few weeks getting settled into our new US life.

Flying Hawaiian airlines

We flew as guests of Hawaiian airlines into LA, which was a great way to transition from that Aloha spirit into LA. I loved how we had already cleared immigration in Hawaii so breezed through customs in LA for the first time ever.

Hawaiian airlines are definitely my favorite US airline.

Brief stay in Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach Los Angeles

Before heading to Raleigh, we stayed for two nights in LA. Even though the flight from Honolulu was only 5.5 hours, we were tired. The extra leg to get to the East Coast can be a killer when combined with other flights.

We stayed at the Hilton Doubletree near the airport for the ease of access. We had a few Hilton Honors points, which reduced the cost of our stay.

When we go to LA, we prefer hanging near the South Bay Beaches so the hotels near LAX work well, especially if our LA stopover is brief. You don’t have to mess around with LA traffic too much and the hotel had a shuttle to the airport which was good.

We have stayed at the Westin LAX before and loved it. They had great airport views, a shuttle to the hotel, and a free shuttle to Manhattan Beach which we loved.

Johnny Jet and Natali Discalia Manhattan Beach

We popped down to Manhattan Beach for the day so we could catch up with our friends Johnny and Natalie Discala and meet their gorgeous new baby Jack.

We had a delicious lunch at the groovy Lemonade – cheap and healthy meals and I had one of the most delicious smoothies ever at SunLife Organics. Be sure to order the Wolverine if you visit.

We then watched Johnny play a bit of beach volleyball.

It’s a great lifestyle near Manhattan and Hermosa Beach. Everyone is so outdoorsy and I love the volleyball beach culture. It is known as the beach volleyball capital of the world

Read More: 20 Fun Things to do in LA with kids

Raleigh-Durham

Durham Bulls Game Durham North Carolina

We’ve had a wonderful time in the Raleigh-Durham region while we get our lives set up in the US. We never expected anything different.

Coming here first has made getting set up so much easier as we are familiar with the area, we have friends and contacts, and the semi-remains left of our previous life here. That is bank accounts, addresses, social security numbers, and old driver’s licenses.

Raleigh-Durham region has to be one of the friendliest we’ve ever encountered. It’s incredible how many people stop to talk to us. This is just not people curious because of our accent, but people who chat away without even hearing you speak first.

I’ve had so many people yell out to let me know my dress is pretty, or pay some nice compliment. It’s like everyone is on a mission to help someone else feel good.

Raleigh-Durham has exploded in growth since we last lived here. We loved it before, but even more now. The food and craft beer scene has taken off and we are loving the options. It’s an incredible place to live especially for young families and millennials.

We’ve spent our time here getting settled and catching up with our old friends. The girls are making new friends and Kalyra even went to gymnastics class with her friend and is now hooked. Both girls are booking lessons in for when we settle and get a house!!

We had a fun evening at the Durham Bulls game. As our friend, Gary Arndt said,

“you’ve done the iconic American thing now!”

Make sure you follow our Instagram stories to catch all the behind the scenes travel fun!

Apart from doing a lot of eating and drinking, and a little exploring, we have been getting settled with the following:

Getting set up with phones

Samsung galaxy 8

Unlimited data!! Thank you, America.

We decided to get phone plans with Verizon Wireless. Many people recommended T-Mobile as the best, but on further research, we learned that is the best for Americans traveling overseas. If you plan to travel domestically, they are not a great option as their coverage is not as good.

We want to get the best coverage as we need it to be able to work as we travel. We had enough internet issues traveling Australia. We know the stress it puts on us and are not prepared to do that again.

We have two new Samsung Galaxy 8 phone on the plan, which we love! The camera on the S8 amazing and I love the infinity screen.

The data is unlimited. In reality, they say 10GB, but as was explained to us, it only kicks in if you are trying to access a busy tower and have already consumed a lot of data that day, then they’ll slow you down. Our customer service agent told us he has gone up to 60GB and been near a busy tower and has not been slowed down yet.

We also purchased a mobile hotspot with unlimited data on it, just so we aren’t tethering the computers to our phones all the time, which can put a serious strain on the battery within your camera.

So for the two phones, and hotspot and unlimited data we’ll be paying $255 a month. So far, it’s going okay, although the speed has been a little disappointing. The only issue seems to be when it comes to using Instagram, which could be a problem with their platform.

I LOVE the freedom of accessing anything on my phone and doing all necessary tasks and not having to worry about exorbitant fees.

Getting our NC Drivers license

getting us drivers licence

Lucky for Craig, his old North Carolina driver’s license had only expired last year. He could easily renew his license with a simple eye test.

Mine expired in 2010, which meant I had to resit the driving test – written and practical. I spent several days reading the North Carolina driver’s license handbook and taking practice tests.

I nailed it. It was easy and my road test was a simple drive around the block. This time I was very conscious to stop completely at the stop sign. I didn’t do that in 2004 and nearly failed. It’s because there so many stop signs in the US where a yield sign would typically be in Australia – like in a suburban neighborhood where there is no traffic at all.

It was easy and my road test was a simple drive around the block. This time I was very conscious to stop completely at the stop sign. I didn’t do that in 2004 and nearly failed. It’s because there so many stop signs in the US where a yield sign would typically be in Australia – like in a suburban neighborhood where there is no traffic at all.

Here’s a tip

The DMV in Raleigh and Durham was packed – at least an hour wait just to take the written test. Plus, doing the test there would have meant I was driving around the city streets.

Our friend, Rina, suggested I go out to Hillsborough, a small country town 15-minute drive away. There were no queues and my test was on rural roads. The whole experience only took about 30 minutes. Head to the rural DMV’s to get your licenses!

The importance of a good credit score

A good credit score is everything in the US. It’s the difference between a low and high-interest rate on a loan, or even whether you can get a loan.

When we first lived in the US in 2004, not having credit history made it almost impossible to do anything. We had to put $800 bond down just to get a crappy Nokia phone.

It took us time but we slowly started to build up a credit history. And then our financial disaster happened with our investment property in the US, and my credit score went to crappola.

We could not believe it when we checked our credit scores using Credit Karma and mine came back in as 727. That is considered a high credit score. Craig’s was even higher. The Universe was looking out for us! That’s one reason we got our phone plans so easily this time with no bond requested.

The Universe was looking out for us! That’s one reason we got our phone plans so easily this time with no bond requested.

Bank accounts

Thankfully, we had kept our bank account open with the North Carolina State Employees Credit Union. We’ve been able to use that again and the credit union are great to be with as it’s a smaller, more personal bank and they offer great terms and interest loan rates.

We like building a long-term relationship with them. It counts.

We have heard that Wells Fargo is a good bank to get set up with when first relocating to the US, especially if you don’t have social security numbers.

Buying a car on auto financing

USA road trip mini van

There was no way I wanted to buy a car using Australian cash. It would have wiped away most of our savings with epic currency loss.

Plus, we wanted a decent car that would last a long time and cover our road trip needs. We didn’t have the spare cash funds for that.

So we decided to get auto financing. The interest rates are so good, and length of loans flexible, that you don’t end up paying too much interest. We would have lost waaaay more in currency conversion.

The tricky part – auto financing. We had a problem. Our business is run by an Australian company – banks like to see two-year tax records, but they only look at US companies. We’re not on salary so our personal income couldn’t be verified. And because our visa is only three years, our credit union said they could only give a three-year loan.

Even though I had a high credit score, the foreclosure was still on my account, so the bank wanted to verify income, but they couldn’t verify our income as they don’t look at Australian taxes. They recommended we try a national bank or even a car dealer.

We looked at a couple of car dealers and learned that their auto financing had good interest loans and this time we just put Craig forth as the loan holder. They told us since his credit score was so high they didn’t even need to verify income AND they wouldn’t even ask about the visa terms. That’s how important a good credit score is.

We were stoked.

We originally found a Ford Expedition, which was everything we wanted. It was 4WD, had a ton of storage space, and had the ability to tow something. We were thinking future when we might buy a travel trailer. We were returning the next day to sort out the paperwork for it when our minds changed. A couple of things people said to us got our wheels turning.

The Ford had a lot of mileage on it, even though it was only a year old. It was a rental vehicle. It was also going to be a fuel guzzler. Were we prepared to spend all this extra money just in case we get a travel trailer in six months time?

We know for sure we wouldn’t before then. We don’t have the time at the moment to search for one, it’s not immediately pressing given we’ll be roaming up and down the east coast and in and out of Raleigh.

Then there was the thought of, can we afford a travel trailer? We’d have to get another loan and what if we couldn’t?

It’s always best to make decisions based upon your current circumstances, not on what might happen.

We decided to downgrade and get a minivan. If things change in six months or a year’s time and we are in the position, we can easily upgrade and won’t be too much out of pocket. It’s a much safer bet.

We found a Kia Sedona, perfect for what we wanted and it was half the price of the Expedition. Plus the mileage was less, and the fuel consumption much better.

It gives us the space we want. We can fold down the back seats for huge boot space, plus we’ll put on a skybox on the roof racks and a bike rack on the back for the bikes we intend to get.

It’s a 2016 model, with 14,000 miles on it, and we purchased for $21,000. We got the loan no problem at a good interest rate, no income verification, and for 60 months. No visa check!

I want to be clear, we can afford the repayments and will definitely make them for the length of the loan. We intend to stay here permanently. We’re so grateful we could get the loan and the repayments are less than $500 a month. The Ford would have stretched our budget too much.

We’re so happy with the car and can’t wait to get on the road for our first road trip in her. Now the trick is to keep her tidy and organized. We’ll be sharing how we do that as we road trip across the USA.

We want to give a shout out to Jamie, Ryan, Pa and the team at University Ford and Kia Durham. I’ve never had a pleasant car buying experience like that before. They were very helpful and honest and worked with us to find the right car.

They were also very kind to Savannah when she was throwing up on the grass bringing her water and ginger ale. Poor baby has a sensitive stomach and something had upset it.

Business structure

Hilton Garden Inn, Waikiki Beach

The hardest decision has been what to do with our business.

Because everything is flowing via an Australian company it is making everything so difficult here to get set up. We can’t get a US bank account for the business yet, which means we’re losing money with fees and currency conversion. I will do anything to reduce bank fees. I hate them.

We want to live in the US permanently so not having the tax history here will go against us in the future when we want to buy a house.

Plus, since we do have a three-year visa, we basically have intent to be residents here which means we have to switch over to the US tax system soon. Our accountant at home says we can technically push that back for a year and say we’re just trying to figure it out.

But we believe switching over is a clear sign that we are serious about making this happen. Both of us know without a doubt it’s what we want. Being back here, even after the first day, I knew this was where I’m meant to live permanently.

Our immigration lawyer knows an accountant who has Aussie clients in situations like that. So he is helping us make the switch to an LLC. I just can’t wait to get that setup and have a US business bank account!

If anyone else is in our situation, I recommend finding an accountant who understands a little of both systems, or at least how to deal with foreign tax laws. It’s so confusing to me and our US accountant Mario is making it much clearer.

It will be a challenging first year, as the US government will tax us on everything made since we arrived in the country. That means we’ll be double taxed, as income is still coming from the Australian side. But the accountant can sort out tax credits for us, but he said it will be a messy first year.

We’re trying to wind down and move over as fast as we can.

This could also fare stronger in our favor when we attempt to get a green card.

Health Insurance

The Diamond Head Walk - one of the best things to do in Waikiki with kids

So this is where we need your help. We have no idea what to do here. We currently have travel insurance. But, there’s a finite amount of time you can travel on that.

As mentioned we’re transitioning to be US permanent residents. We spend a lot in preventative care so we can avoid doctors and medication.

But, things happen, especially with kids. We want to be adequately covered for the just in cases. It feels like such a mess over here. I don’t understand it and I don’t know what will be the best option for us. And I don’t know how Trump will change things in a few weeks anyway and what to do from there.

Any tips would be most appreciated.

For personal updates, and our free travel planning toolkit, make sure you jump in our virtual suitcase and join our free VIP Travel Tribe.

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Our travel plans

We had no clue where we were going after Raleigh. I love how plans effortlessly slide together with a few great tips from the locals.

Here is a rough plan:

Huntsville, Alabama

TBEX Huntsville Alabama

I just finished attending the travel bloggers conference (TBEX) in Huntsville, Alabama. I spoke about how to work with travel bloggers on their own authentic story.

I had a fantastic time and will write a post about the event soon! Huntsville was a surprisingly cool destination. I did really enjoy traveling with only my phone for a camera!!

Huntsville video:

We returned to Huntsville on our RV trip across the USA.

Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry

Grand Ole Opry backstage tour with kids

I took the greyhound to Nashville to meet Craig and the girls, where we are now currently and will be until the 15th.

We are here for a couple of days working with Grand Ole Opry to attend and share this amazing experience. More to come on that, but it’s a definite US highlight. You can check our Facebook and Instagram for pics and video.

Music is a big part of my life and Nashville has such an amazing musical story which connects quite deeply with my childhood.

We are also now major fans of Nashville the TV show so are triply excited to be here. And we finally got to met our long-term travel blogger friend Kristin Luna from Camels and Chocolate and her husband, Scott.

Nashville video:

Memphis

We’ve decided to follow the music trail a little more so we decided to pop over to Memphis for a few days after Nashville. We might as well, we are only four hours away. I’m loving having this flexibility to follow our whims at any given moment.

We’ll then return via Nashville. I’m tempted to go to the Opry again.

Or, I am contemplating returning via Muscle Shoals in Alabama and Chatanooga. Any advice?

Memphis Video

Nashville road trip to Raleigh via Smokies

Now that we have our car, we’re going to use this opportunity to road trip back to Raleigh via Knoxville, the Smoky Mountains, and Asheville.

We love this area and are very excited to share it with the girls. We don’t have a plan as of yet and have no idea how long we’ll be in the area for. But, I am sure it will involve hiking, craft beer, and more music.

The Carolinas

We think that for most of June and July we will hang around the Carolinas, exploring a bit deeper and connecting with old friends.

Atlanta, Savannah, and Charleston are definitely on the list. We are hoping to organize a meet up in Raleigh at least over the summer.

BlogHer Orlando

I’ll be making a quick three-day detour down to Orlando in June for the BlogHer conference. Oops, that reminds me. I have to book my flight.

Michigan

We had several different Friends tell us that Michigan is gorgeous in the summer. So we thought, why not? We’re thinking of heading up there July/August. We’ll do Chicago and the Great Lakes while we are there, possibly going as far as Milwaukee.

New England

After The Great Lakes, we’ll head over to New England for the fall. That’s going to be epic.

East Coast

We’ll spend the remainder of the year probably heading down the east coast to hit Florida for January.

That is our rough plans for now. With us, anything is liable to change. Stay tuned!

Find your accommodation for your US trip:

Booking.com

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getting settled usa road trip (735 x 1102)

21 thoughts on “Getting settled in the USA + where to next”

  1. Brittney Mank

    You guys must go to Mackinaw when in Michigan! It is beautiful and so much fun! I go there and to Gaylord(about an hour south of Mackinaw) every year for the 4th of July. Hope to see you guys in Mackinaw!

  2. I would recommend heading back to Raleigh via Muscle Shoals and Chattanooga! We took a road trip from Dallas to Raleigh a couple years ago and spend time in Florence, AL near Muscle Shoals (we have family there) and Chattanooga. Both had fun family acitivies (we have 2 sons, now 8 & 6) and I thought Chattanooga was such a cute little city. There is also the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL that is right off the freeway en route from the Muscle Shoals area to Chattanooga. Enjoy your trip; that’s such a pretty part of the country!

    1. Thank you. That sounds like a good plan. We are tempted to come back via Nashville, but it might be better to see something different. It sounds like a good area

  3. What a fun update! How often people see the travel and don’t see all of the background work into living your lifestyle! My husband is self-employed and we have a family health insurance plan through Golden Rule- they are a contractor of United Healthcare. Here’s their #- Customer service: 1 (800) 657-8205. It can’t hurt to ask if they’ll work with you? We pay about $550/month for a family of 5 with a very high deductible- just an FYI.
    My friend was just telling me about Petosky, MI- how it has a super cute downtown area – maybe something to look into! I’ve also been wanting to go to Sleeping Bear Dune. It’s still a 6.5 hour drive from us in Ohio, though, so we haven’t gotten there yet.

    1. Fantastic Leah. Thanks so much for the insurance contact. I’ll definitely look into that. People keep telling us about Sleeping Bear Dune

  4. Hey guys Emma from PWG here! Enjoyed your blog, so much of it so familiar from when I was in NYC. We’ve left our bank accounts etc all open too and keep building our credit score from over here in case we want to go back! One health insurance option that lots of Aussie expats were using in NYC (when their employer didn’t give them any or they were freelance) was Oscar – maybe check that out. https://www.hioscar.com/ . Hope you’re all well! (We also have a couple of accountants in NYC that deal with both Au and US tax systems if you need – I have to go down the tax credits route too and it’s a nightmare, but thank goodness for the treaty!)

    1. Good idea to leave the accounts open and keep building that credit. Thanks for the insurance tip. I’m so grateful for the tax treaty!

  5. Tonya Wariner

    We’re going to Memphis in June. Beale Street, blues, BBQ, Peabody Hotel and the Peabody ducks, Gibson Guitar factory tour, Sun Studio, Stax Museum, National Civil Rights Museum, Mud Island, Graceland.

    I’ve heard Michigan is beautiful, too. Traverse City, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, car-free Mackinac Island with the Grand Hotel, where Somewhere in Time was filmed, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. While you’re up there: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and over to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, in Wisconsin. Split Rock Lighthouse, in Minnesota. Duluth. Minneapolis/St. Paul is a cool city. And if you’re in Chicago you might as well go up to Madison, Wisconsin, eat some cheese, walk around Geneva Lake Shore Path around a beautiful lake, through the lakefront properties of behemoth mansions of people like the Rockefellers, Wrigleys, Schwinns, Swfits, etc.

    As far as Chicago, I can’t add much that you can’t find anywhere about Chicago except point out my favorites; Buckingham Fountain, walk or bike the Lakefront Trail, Lake Michigan, Cloud Gate, walking the Magnificent Mile, taking a boat down the Chicago River, the Art Institute of Chicago, Oak Street Beach, Wrigley Field, United Center and Chicago Music Exchange. Great architecture and great food. This time around we’re going to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, a U2 concert at Soldier Field, the Navy Pier and probably the Shedd Aquarium, which is supposed to be great. Favorite restaurants so far in Chicago: Greek Islands, Lou Malnati’s, Gino’s East and Wildberry Pancakes & Cafe, the one right by Millennium Park. Uber and walking are the ways to go in Chicago. Avoid having to park downtown. Favorite hotel so far in Chicago: Hotel Palomar. It has an amazing view of some of the most famous buildings, from the pool.

    If you come down as far as Missouri, I recommend Kansas City. Deep Jazz and blues roots, famous BBQ, great museums, good shopping. It’s an up-and-coming city, like Nashville.

    In New England, after Boston/Cambridge, I’m most interested in Maine. Places like Bangor, Augusta, Portland, Acadia National Park and Camden.

    As you’re going down the coast I’d strongly suggest taking a trip to Pittsburgh. It’s a great city.

    Florida: Jacksonville. St. Augustine, oldest city in U.S., and supposed to be really nice. Cape Canaveral. Orlando. Miami. Everglades National Park. I’m most interested in the beautiful white sand beaches on the west side of the state: Naples, Siesta Beach, Sanibel and Captiva – Sanibel Island is covered with shells that you can collect. Tampa is a nice city. Clearwater. St. Petersburg. And then up to Grayton, Panama City Beach, Destin. Alabama has some nice beaches, too, like Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

  6. I love reading of your travels! But I what I really love is all the extra info like financing a phone, car, etc. We relocated to Bangkok for six months back in 2015 but couldn’t have done so without some extra insider information from friends whom had already lived there. It made our move so much more smoother. I think for people who intend to reside in another country, rather than just be tourists there, this information is far more valuable. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Thank you Daniel! It’s why we like to share this in-depth information. It can be so head wrecking so to have someone who’s done it before show you how is a life saver

  7. What an exciting story, I loved your script, I’ve been following your blog for a long time, always access to see if there are new things. I love these family adventures of you, I wanted to have the same courage.

  8. Great updates, my wife and I just moved to the US (RTP) from Australia and I (as an Aussie) am going through all the same things, so I couldn’t help but smile when you mentioned having to get your license, the issues with having no credit and trying to sort out health insurance. Looking forward to reading all about your upcoming travels.

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