First few days in the States

After nervously watching “Snowzilla” dump three feet of snow on exactly the area we were flying to Monday, we debated switching our flight to Tuesday. I knew the flight would probably leave, but I was more worried about my family driving on snow-covered roads to come get us. We even looked at booking a hotel on this end Monday night just in case they couldn’t made it out. In the end however, the roads were (mostly) clear, the flight left and arrived on time, and the three of us, plus the cat, plus 6 big bags, 6 small bags, and a stroller made it safe and sound to my parents’ house.

The flight was fine, bébé only slept 30 minutes, but wasn’t more than his usual cranky, so I’d call that a win. The cat slept the entire time. Customs was easy peasy for my husband, though it took forever because Christine Lagarde cut in front of us with her posse. 8 years in France and the first famous French person I see is on my first day back living in the States! My general travel strategy is to take my time, let the people in a rush go first, and be prepared for a wait. So overall, it went as well as I could have hoped. There was an indoor play area at the airport, which also helped a lot!

Despite not napping on the plane, I knew bébé wouldn’t sleep longer that night, since that’s just not how babies work. As expected, he was up at 2am the first day, then had a nap from 7am-9am, a failed attempt at an afternoon nap, then slept 6pm-4am last night. He napped today from 11am to 1:30pm and went down for the night around 6:30pm, so we’re slowly approaching his usual schedule. I figure a few more days and it’ll be back to normal. Having my parents and sister here to watch bébé while we take our own naps is very helpful. I anticipated a long adjustment period for him, so there was nothing special planned these first few days besides visiting friends.

Though visiting has been a bit hampered by all the snow! Not many people are working or at school, but you can’t go anywhere. Well, in my parents’ town it’s fine, and really all the major areas are clear (Target was open and empty of people so I had lots of fun yesterday stocking up on donuts essentials). But a lot of residential areas don’t have clear roads, which makes people a little hesitant to venture out if not totally necessary. My husband reminded me we live here now so we don’t have to run around seeing everyone in the space of a week like we usually do.

While “here” is currently my parents’ town, that may change very quickly as the job situation evolves. With a few promising first round interviews via internet and phone, I’m being optimistic and don’t want to unpack all the suitcases quite yet!

It’s a little too early to have any real culture shock, but once the snow melts and we get out and about a bit more, I’m sure I’ll have lots to say on our adaptation to life here. For now, we’re just enjoying a nice snowy vacation at my parents’ house.

Spouse visa joint sponsorship

A big problem for US citizens who’ve been abroad for a longer period who want to bring their foreign spouse to the States is the sponsorship requirements. You need proof of a certain level of income on your taxes (for a family of 2 it’s around 19,000) and, unless you’ve been making serious bank, all foreign income is excluded on US taxes while living permanently abroad, so your official income is actually zero. This was my situation.

This was also my sister’s situation, who had been in Japan for a few years before she came back and married a foreigner (it’s kind of a thing in our family…) so my mother was the joint sponsor. While she probably could have also done it for my husband, the amount of paperwork involved was a little more complicated than I was willing to undertake from abroad. My sister’s husband was already in the States, so he was changing his visa status, and they ended up hiring a lawyer to handle most of it.

For my husband, two friends were in financial positions to be joint sponsors, and willing to do it, which gave me all sorts of warm fuzzies thinking about how much these people love us and want us to be living closer.  There are legal considerations to being a sponsor, since you’re guaranteeing the immigrant will not be a burden on the welfare system. Should he apply for and receive certain things like Medicaid or food stamps, then the sponsor(s) would have to repay the government. You have to update your address when you move to be sure they can find you to get their money back! These obligations end after the immigrant works 10 years (well, 40 quarters), becomes a citizen, or leaves the country. But a divorce does not end the obligations! Nor does it mean the immigrant loses his green card, though depending on how long you were married, they’ll probably want proof it was a real marriage…

My friends’ paperwork was much simpler than my mother’s: job contract stating salary, recent paystubs, tax returns and W2s (or tax transcripts). Again, Visajourney was an amazing resource to figure out exactly what is best to send. Both friends were married, but thankfully made enough to not need to include their spouse’s income to meet the requirements (this would have added even more to the already endless paperwork!). I ended up using the friend that made slightly more, because I wasn’t sure if bébé was counted in the joint sponsor’s household size. He’s definitely in my household, so if I was going to be the only sponsor, I needed to have the minimum income for a household of 3, which, for reasons discussed above, I do not. Since he doesn’t need sponsorship, normally just my husband is added to the joint sponsor’s household, also making it 3 (sponsor, spouse, and my husband). But just in case they counted bébé and considered it a household of 4, I went with the slightly higher salary to be sure to fulfil the requirements. All these years in France have made me wary of unexpected, unwritten extra requirements that pop up, so I wanted to be sure the sponsor’s file has more than they asked for, just in case.

So hurray, I have wonderful friends, who have filed taxes correctly and have faith in us to not become too poor in the coming years. That’s all the paperwork done right?

Of course not! As a citizen living abroad, I needed proof that I intended to reestablish my domicile in the States. Because it would be a pretty sweet deal to just get the husband a green card so we could visit whenever we wanted but still live abroad and exclude my income (and his!) from my taxes…

What you can use as proof can vary a lot, depending on your situation. If you already have a job offer, that’s a pretty good thing to have. If you have a child, you can send in registration for school. If you already have property or housing set up, that works too. I included email exchanges with a daycare and shipping quotes. At first I thought it was too soon to do things like that six months before we were planning on leaving, but it’s stuff I had to do anyway, so it was good to get it done earlier. And now bébé has a daycare spot already set up for when we arrive!

My dad also wrote a letter saying we’ll be living with him, along with proof of address (very familiar to expats in France: copy of ID and utility bill!). I had kept my savings account open the past 8 years to pay my student loans, though I had closed my checking account. I opened a new one this summer, and send proof of both accounts. I also still had a (fee-free) credit card open (useful for emergency plane tickets), and my driver’s licence.

From reading the forums on Visajourney, this can obviously be really hard for some people who closed everything when they moved abroad. If I hadn’t had my student loans, I probably would have done that. They’re also much stricter about proof for people moving from Canada, and it seems like a lot of people there end up moving back before their spouse to get an apartment and a job. If bébé had been older and in school, we might have done that. One thing that was made very clear was that I need to arrive with or before my husband, not after. So when we started applying for jobs a few months ago, we waited on getting tickets, just in case I got an offer to start earlier I could take it. And while there was a promising lead for the beginning of January, in the end, we decided to leave together. (Also neither of us wanted to deal with bébé’s first international flight alone!)

So there’s a brief and by no way all-inclusive overview of the financial and practical aspects of getting your foreign spouse to the States if you’ve been living abroad for any amount of time. It’s not too terribly complicated, just make sure you have all the right documents! And having friends and family in the States is pretty essential. Though you can also fulfil the financial requirement by having proof of 5x the minimum income requirement in assets. So if you got your hands on one of those winning Powerball tickets yesterday and felt like getting a green card for your foreign spouse, you definitely could! (Though with that much money, I’d just buy an island and make up my own visa rules!)

The year ahead

Here it is, my recap/resolutions post! Moving across the ocean pretty much guarantees a crazy year ahead with lots of changes and new experiences, so I won’t go into too many details, but it’ll be nice to have a snapshot of how I’m feeling before it all happens…

When I paused to consider if there were things I’d like to commit to doing or stop doing this year, I actually couldn’t think of any. I made little changes throughout the past year that added up to a place where I’m happy most days.

Sure I don’t eat perfectly every day (and living chez la belle-mère has not been helping…) but I pay attention and tend to choose the healthy things. I work out almost every day, and lately have been doing tons of yoga to keep stress levels low. I’m glad I did one last race in Europe this year, but I don’t know if I want to do another in 2016. However, I might just being saying that because I dislike Winter running, so I’ll probably change my mind in the Spring!

I would like to get more focused and intense in my workouts, to gain more muscle, but I don’t want to add any extra pressure during the move to keep up a certain schedule. This goal can wait awhile before starting. My husband bought me a Jawbone UP3 for my birthday, so I’ve been working towards that 10,000 steps per day goal. It’s a little shocking how little I move most days, even with chasing after bébé, since there’s no big centre-ville here to go wandering around whenever we get bored. Good for money health, bad for body health.

Compared to this time last year, we’ve gotten used to life with bébé, which means we’ve gotten used to life constantly changing! We’ve been pretty consistent in having “couple time” as often as possible, though admittedly not as much as we probably needed during the move chez belle-mère in December. Her Christmas present to us was a gift certificate to the local thermal baths, and a restaurant gift card, so we’ll definitely be using those before we leave!

Work goals for the year are obviously pretty simple (“Find a job I like that doesn’t pay peanuts”) but beyond sending resumés and making contacts, I can’t do much else so there’s no point in worrying too much. Ask me again in three months however, and I definitely won’t say the same thing!

Since life will be completely different in a few months, I think I’ll end up doing a list of “New Country Resolutions” once we’re settled in and have an idea about what direction we’re going. I have a few ideas that will apply to wherever we are (exploring the city as a family once a week, not going crazy with eating out at all the places I missed) but so much depends on if we end up in big city (more cultural activities) or small town (more outdoors). Starting a new year without a definite plan is very unlike me, but part of the reason I wanted to move was to get to know a new me. So far, so good!