As promised back in August, I’m finally continuing my post about the DV lottery. In this part I’m going to explain how I finally got the physical green card (compared to the temporary stamp in my passport) and what else I’ve been doing the whole time. Make sure to check out the first part if you haven’t read it yet.

After successfully going through the application process for the green card at the US embassy in Frankfurt, Germany I received my passport (with a temporary visa) and an envelope with my immigration documents. This envelope is sealed and under no circumstance are you allowed to open it or remove anything attached to it. The temporary visa has a shortened validity depending on the date of the medical examination plus 6 months. The soon-to-be resident must immigrate to the US prior to the expiration of this visa or the medical exam has to be repeated and a new visa needs to be issued. So here’s what you need to know about the pitfalls of using this visa until you receive the final document.

Immigration and Green card

The first thing to do is of course flying out to your prospective home country and handing over the sealed envelope at any port of entry. The officer will open the envelope to make sure the documents are complete and put the info into the system. He’ll then ask you about your home address because that’s the corresponding address for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to send your green card to once you paid the issuing fee of 165$. Furthermore, he’ll welcome you to the USA :+1:. What next? Well technically nothing needs to be done at this point in time except for wait for your social security card (which should arrive within 30 days) and the green card (arrival supposedly within 120 days) in your mailbox. In my case this totally didn’t work at all so I needed to reach out to the Social Security Administration (SSA) and manually apply for the card. Also I started to getting appointment notices for the so-called biometrics appointment at the USCIS field office located next to my home address. These notices usually don’t apply for diversity visa recipients as they have their biometrics taken already at the embassys. Even after attending one of the appointments and having my biometrics taken again, I continued receiving these notices which proved my suspicion that something is wrong. I called the USCIS multiple times and was finally able to talk to an immigration officer who didn’t know what was going on with the notices and also not why there’s such a long delay in processing my case (120 days were long overdue at this point).
There was one last hope: The CIS ombudsman. The office of the ombudsman can be consulted for cases which are long overdue or in order to file complaints, etc. Two days after filing my case with them there was an update on my case (the green card has been mailed) and I closed my case with them immediately again which must be a coincidence, but usually this office is a good point of contact.
Just to let you know: Once the physical green card has been sent out, the temporary visa in your passport becomes invalid. I learned it the hard way through second screening in Austin, TX but that’s a different story…

SIM Card

As a German I was shocked about the prices for cellular service of any kind in the US. You can easily pay up to 70$ for unlimited data, text and voice here which is almost double the price of what I’ve been paying back in Germany but anyway… There are four major networks that operate in the US: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint. I’m not going into detail on this any further except for this tiny remark: There’s a difference between GSM and CDMA, so make sure your phone is compatible ;)

Personally, I decided to go with what is called a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). They share the frequencies of major networks (sometimes even all of them at once, i.e. Google Fi) and usually offer better deals compared to walking into the name brand stores. My MVNO is called Mint and operates on the T-Mobile network. At times, there might be reduced speed if the network is busy since direct T-Mobile customers are preferred over MVNOs but I haven’t experienced it yet and I think it’s fair with regard to the cost benefit. A downside of MVNOs is that they usually have very few or no stores at all, so you need to order it online which can be a little inconvenient especially if you need a phone right from the beginning (i.e. to Uber home from the airport). Be sure to check the coverage maps of the network operator, no matter if MVNO or direct brand as there might be huge differences depending on your area.

Bank Account

One of the first things you probably want to do is opening up a bank account. I’ve been a huge fan of online banks and looked into Simple only to find out that they’re exclusively serving US citizens. So I did some research for comparable offers and finally found Capital One to be a good alternative. They offer a great ATM network, no fees and everything is easily managed through their website or app. There are multiple types of bank accounts one can open but since I’m not here to provide financial advice by any means let’s stick with a traditional Saving’s acccount. Opening up the account is straight-forward online or through one of their very few branches across the country. All you need is an address for shipment of your card, a phone number in your name and your social security number.

If you apply for a credit card right away, you probably will be denied or get a very low limit on it. To build up credit, it’s best to start out with a Secured Credit Card. There’s another possibility if you happen have a credit card from an international operating institution such as American Express already in your home country. They offer to transfer your history with them and issue a new card for the US with comparable conditions as in your home country which simplifies things a lot.

Note: If you try opening up the account right after your arrival, there’s probably no credit history on you in any of the systems they check against. This means they won’t be able to verify that you are an acutal person and this is why you need to have a phone number in your name. I believe the idea is that i.e. if you went to an AT&T store to get a SIM card, they have already seen you in person.

Credit history

You’re new to the country and nobody knows about your spending habits and whether you are a reliable customer or not. Expect huge down payments and/or insane interest rates as companies try to mitigate the risk of you not paying your bills. A common approach to build up your credit without wasting huge amounts of money on interest payments is to buy everything with a credit card and pay it off in full every month prior to doing bigger investments such as getting a car or buying a house (if you can wait that long). Also make sure to put your name on the utility bills of the place where you are staying if possible which also increases your credit.

That’s it for now. I’ll continue in the next part on how to find a job, travel as a resident and much more, stay tuned!