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Returning to the US after living abroad: a checklist for returning US expats

This simple checklist is designed to assist US citizens who are planning to return home to the US after living abroad

Written on 16 April 2022

Planning to return home to the US after living abroad may seem overwhelming, but it certainly doesn’t have to be with the right preparation in place. The same as it would have been leaving America to live elsewhere in the first instance, it remains just as large a transition to return, with a lot of factors to consider and plan in advance.

We have created an overview checklist, as well as taking a more in-depth look at the most important factors within it, to help you to understand the basics of the process, ultimately helping you find exactly where to start with your return home.

We also take into consideration that every expat’s circumstances will differ, and that not all the following steps will apply to everybody. This checklist can simply be used as a useful guide to assist with ensuring that no important steps of the transition are missed or forgotten.

The importance of organised documentation

If there is anything to look at first in your move back to the US, it is your own documents and records. You can plan everything else down to the last detail, but without your documents and identification being correct, valid and up-to-date, your re-entry into the US can be denied and all of the time put in to making your careful plans will have been unfortunately wasted.

Organisation is key with these documents. Upon re-entry to the US, it is very likely that you will need to present certain parts of your records during your travel and having them easily accessible, filed in an organised manner can help keep the process simple and much speedier.

The types of up-to-date documentation that you may need for your travel will likely include:

  • Birth certificates
  • Social Security cards
  • Driver’s license
  • Medical/ Vaccination records
  • Tax records
  • Insurance cards
  • Marriage certificate

Plan financially for the unexpected

It is very important to hold some form of emergency funds in preparation for any unexpected issues that may arise on your travels.

Holding an emergency travel fund will provide you with some peace of mind that if you are to run in to any delays or big problems with your travel, you are already covered with your own safety net ultimately alleviating all unnecessary anxieties.

Making plans for banking in the US

Depending on decisions you made when leaving the US originally, you may still hold a US bank account. If this is the case, ensure that it is still active and usable in advance, before your return.

If you do not have an existing account, you can follow the necessary steps before your travels to open either a US or international account. It is crucial you do this in advance, before your arrival to ensure you have access to your money upon arrival in the US.

Planning financial adjustments for your return

The full extent of your financial adjustments will vary hugely depending on both where you currently reside, and which specific area you chose to reside within the US.

You will need to calculate the current exchange rate of the currency you use where you live now into US dollars to get a grasp on exactly how far your current funds will go after your return to the US.

Depending on how long it has been since you left the US, the overall cost of living may have also increased a significant amount.

The full potential of your funds and savings will depend on where you chose to live within the US, with metropolitan areas (such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles) being much higher.

The best way to plan and budget for your upcoming return is to calculate both the exchange rate and known cost of living expenses in your chosen area to work out how much you will be spending against how far what you already have saved will go.

Doing this thoroughly with care can help you to avoid steady decline into any accidental debt.

Travel arrangements

There are multiple arrangements to make when it comes to the travel part of your return to the US. You need to think ahead and cover every basis of your journey, which can include:

  • Plane tickets
  • Car/ taxi services to the airport
  • Stop-over hotels
  • Shuttle/ car transport from airport to destination

These are best to be made at least 3 months in advance before your day of departure to return to the US.

Not to mention, with travel restrictions due to Covid-19 and bookings filling up spaces fast, it is definitely wise to get these sorted as early as possible.

Another crucial thing you must monitor throughout your travel preparations is the global travel regulations related to the everchanging Covid-19 virus developments.

Long awaited, carefully laid out plans can change in an instant due to this, so leading up to your trip will be a vital time to keep up to date on all travel restriction updates.

(It may also be worth checking for any mask, vaccine and isolation updates leading up to your travels, to ensure all guidance is followed correctly to avoid any issues on your trip).

Making property arrangements

Another area of high importance on your list should be your property management.

What is key in avoiding issues is ensuring you do not wait too long to either sell your current property or give your notice on a property you are currently renting. The property market is incredibly unpredictable and could ultimately end up delaying your already-made travel plans.

It is important to remember that the further in advance the better with this, and that most buyers are usually more than happy to be given a set date from when the house will be vacant and available to move into (as long as informed in advance at point of offer/viewing).

Another crucial arrangement you must make before your arrival is your new or temporary residence. You may want to make arrangements to stay with family while you view new properties (although this is not your only option).

Many US realtors became very fluent in virtual home showings due to the pandemic’s restrictions limiting their buyers' options, which can be something you might like to do within the months leading up to your return.

Seek professional tax advice

After moving from the US and living abroad, knowing your exact tax liability is not an uncommon issue.

It is possible that you may now have altered/ earlier filing dates than expected, as well as other tax issues that may be unresolved from your time abroad.

As well as this, holding a pension or retirement account overseas can complicate tax regulations even more. A US tax specialist will be able to assist you in having everything in line in time for your return to the US, as well as manage any plans or questions you have regarding moving these certain funds over into a US account correctly.

Overview Checklist

Above are some of the larger, more immediate factors that should be on the top of your list when planning your return home to the US, but are not solely the only areas to focus.

Below is a list of the necessary things that should be used as a guide for your return, worthy of planning and ticking off as you make your travel arrangements and living plans;

  • Ensure all documentation necessary for your return is up-to-date and organised well
  • Hold emergency funds for unexpected issues on your travels
  • Make plans for your US banking
  • Plan for financial adjustment and cost of living changes
  • Confirm all detailed travel arrangements
  • Make property arrangements for both your current and US property
  • Ensure you have provided a forwarding address where necessary
  • Plan the import of your belongings back into the US
  • Research what documentation is needed for bringing any pets on your return travels
  • Ensure you are aware of any immigration laws that may apply to any person returning with you to the US
  • Take out appropriate health insurance
  • Make a plan in advance for work/ job interviews
  • Seek the appropriate professional tax advice