The Move: Part 2

We woke sleepy-eyed bboarding passut excited at the ungodly hour of 3:30am on the 10th Feb,ready to say goodbye to our beloved home of Melbourne and start our journey to the U.S.
We had to be at the airport at 5 am for our 7 am flight to Sydney, as  Virgin unfortunately stopped flying MEL-LAX directly in October last year, so we had a layover before our international flight.  Our cab arrived at 4.30am and we loaded our few suitcases and bags of everything we now owned in the backseat/boot. 20 mins and $55 later we arrived at Melbourne International Airport. As we were lucky enough to be flying Business Class (thank you sneaky point accumulating!) there was no wait at the priority check in desk. Our check in agent was friendly and chatty and asked us if we had an ETSA. It was a great feeling to be able to tell her, nope, we don’t need one – we have a Permanent Residency visa in our passport as we won the Green Card lottery! Funnily enough, she was well versed with the lottery as she had also been applying for it for the past 3 years and is eager to win as her boyfriend lives in NYC. We had 3 checked bags each (1 over the limit) and were prepared to pay the extra $150AUD each for the extra 2 bags, but our lovely check in agent said “don’t worry about it” and kindly sent them through for free -saving us $300AUD! If you’re reading this friendly Virgin Australia check in lady, THANK YOU!
It was nerve racking to see what was now our only belongings go down the conveyor belt, and we crossed our fingers that they would meet us un-damaged at the other end in LAX!
Virgin Australia no longer runs direct flights from Melbourne so we were on a domestic flight through to
Once in Sydney we headed to the Etihad Lounge, as I believe Virgins is under renovation and passengers on the flight to LAX had access to Etihads. It is a very nice lounge with a  range of food. It was still pretty early in the morning for us so we did not eat a lot. We took the time to make phone calls to our family members though before we left the country!

We definitely could not complain about the leg room on this flight! I am now spoiled for life after flying business (again 😉 ) A glass of champagne before take-off didn’t hurt either!

 

For anyone interested in flying business with Virgin Australia the below are some images of their menu as well as the meals. (Note – if you are vegetarian and you put in a special meal request just be aware you won’t have the option of ordering from the menu – you will get the prepared special meal only-which may not be as good 😛 ! )

13.5 hours later we arrived at LAX at approximately 6.30am LA time! The immigration area was virtually empty, it seemed everyone else went to the left side for citizens and visa waiver entry, and we went through the “Visitors” line. We only had to wait behind one person before being called up to the desk. We handed over our yellow “Do Not Open” envelopes and our passports and had our fingerprints taken. We were then escorted over to another area, handed over our passports & envelopes again and were told to wait for another officer to process us. After a short wait he asked us to sign both sides of a form and took an ink print of our right index finger on each side too. Another short wait while he did some paperwork (we assume) and then he handed back our passports and a “Welcome to the USA” sheet of paper about our green card and that was it, our Permanent Residnet status was officially activated!

 

We collected our many bags and went and caught our transfer van to Echo Park, where we had booked a room in an awesome AirBNB house for a month! She allowed us to bring our French Bulldog, Kira, to stay too as she also has a Frenchie (a deciding factor in renting there!)

Our friend took us out the afternoon we arrived and helped us get set up with US cell phone number… that was the moment that it all felt real – this was not a holiday, we were not going home..

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The Move: Part 1

The past month has been a very very busy one! After receiving our approval at the U.S Consulate in Sydney and spending some time with family afterwards, we headed home with only 18 days to finish packing up our lives and move to Los Angeles. We halved our wardrobes, listed many things for sale on eBay, Gumtree and Facebook “For Sale” groups, including all of our furniture and donated bags of clothes to the local op-shop and Bridging the Gaps (a group that collects items of need for newly arrived refugee families in Melbourne). Luckily we have family that were happy to keep some boxes of things for us in storage, so we packed up all of our books, CDs, personal keepsakes and a few other items and shipped them back to Perth for the time being.

We made sure we had been to see our GP one last time, went to the dentist for a final check up and clean and I had my hair done one last time with my hairdresser.  On the 30th of January we had a big going-away party at a friends bar/club The Liberty Social  to see as many of our friends as we could before leaving.

We did a preliminary pack of our luggage to take with us last Wednesday, to make sure we didn’t need to cull even more of our clothing! Seeing it all packed away made things feel very real!

Luggage

We have been in our rental unit for over 4 years, so the process of cleaning every single inch of it for our final inspection was quite the effort!

It is now Saturday the 7th of February, our flight is Tuesday the 10th, and our rental is almost empty. There are still many things we need to do! Here is a bit of a list of things we have already done in lead up & things we need to do before we leave:

  • Cancel Foxtel, internet & set up electricity/gas disconnections
  • Authorise family on bank account so they can close it for me in a few months
  • Change mailing addresses on bank accounts/super accounts/anything that may get mail to a family address
  • Cancel private health insurance
  • Get copy of optometrist prescriptions
  • Sell shares
  • Get driving records from VicRoads  (may help with car insurance in US)
  • Get copy of dogs vaccination/vet records
  • Pay USCIS fee
  • Send boxes to storage with family interstate
  • Book a hire car for a few weeks once we first arrive
  • Purchase some temporary health insurance till we get a proper policy
  • Check to see what we are covered for with travel insurance under my credit card
  • Confirm everything is ready to go with our dog’s flight on the 11th!

We transferred some of our savings over to USD at the beginning of the week (the rate sure isn’t getting any better, so we thought it was time!). We used HiFX as they allow you to exchange and provide the beneficiary account (US bank account for us) at a later date, whereas OzForex did not. As we couldn’t set up a US bank account before leaving Australia, this was the best option for us. Once we have the US bank account we can then get our USD transferred into it. For the interim, we will use my 28 Degrees Mastercard for credit card transactions (no fees) and to withdraw a small amount of cash.

The countdown is definitely on!

Our Consulate Interview: Part 2

After double, triple & quadruple checking that we had all of the documents we needed, we flew to Sydney a few days early, on the 10th of January. We spent this time with friends, and when the morning of the 13th came around, we got up early, checked all our documents again and walked to Martin Place. Despite knowing that the interview process would be pretty straightforward for us (no children, no criminal history, never lived in any other countries etc) we were still nervous!

The U.S Consulate is on Level 59 of the MLC Building but you have to head to Level 10 first to go through security. We took the elevator up, showed our passports at the entry and went through the metal detector. Our bags, phones and the CD’s our X-rays were on were checked in at Level 10 and we kept only our documents, passports, wallet and a book to take up.  An official then escorted us to the elevator and sent us up to Level 59. Before the entry to the consulate there is another official behind a glass divider who checks your ID again and then lets you through the very heavy reinforced door.

Inside the Consulate is similar to a Medicare or other government office – waiting chairs and officials behind windows.  When you walk in you press the button on the machine for Immigrant Visas to receive a ticket and wait on the seats to the right for your number to be called.

We got there a little early but didn’t have a long wait before our number was called. The woman at our window went through all of our documents to make sure they were all there, including the Document Checklist  they had emailed us at time of interview notification – you complete this before you go to the interview with your intended US address. Interestingly she handed back the printed confirmation of our DS-260 submission, even though the checklist says we need it. She then advised us to go to the cashier window, pay our fee and then bring the receipt back to her, which we did. She then advised us to sit down and wait again and we would be called for our interview.

Another short wait and we were called to a different window with a male CO for our interview. First he took our fingerprints and we took an oath and then he went through our paperwork, handing the original back and stamping the copy. I was feeling a combination of nerves – like a child thinking “only speak when you’re spoken to” or a teenager on a first date “don’t say anything stupid!” Overall it was quite casual and he asked us a few simple questions, mostly directed to my husband as he is the primary applicant – “Why do you want to move to the US?, So you have a Bachelor’s degree?” (he replied he has a Masters) and “What is your Masters in”, “Is it your first marriage, for the both of you? Are there any children involved? Are you taking your husband’s name? Have you been to the States before?” He then advised us that we had been approved and would receive passports back in 1-2 weeks!! And that was it! It felt so strange… not even a slip of paper as proof!

We left the Consulate and headed to the Sheraton for a big breakfast and celebratory mimosa!

Our passports only took 2 days to arrive back to us – seeing it in print made it 100% certain – WE ARE MOVING TO THE U.S.A !!!

USvisa

 

Our Consulate Interview: Part 1

On the 25th November, after what felt like an eternal wait, we finally were given our interview date at the Sydney Consulate for our DV Lottery interview – 9am Tuesday 13th January.

Finally, we could start planning!! The first thing we had to do is let our employers know. It was sad for me to leave a great work team and career opportunity but they were very supportive and understood. My final work day would be the 9th January, after which we would head to Sydney for a few days to see friends, attend our interview and then head interstate separately to visit family for 9 days.

We booked our 3 night stay in Sydney at the Travelodge Sydney on Wentworth Avenue – just over $100 a night for our dates and a short walk to our friends in Surry Hills, as well as to the U.S. Consulate in Martin Place.

The 7 weeks between being notified of and our interview went by quickly, with the welcome distraction of the festive season and New Years to stop us counting down each day.

We scheduled our medicals with Medibank Health Solutions for the 17th December and sent in our applications for our Police Checks (which came back promptly).

I contacted Medibank Health Solutions by phone and they advised me to email them with medical type (i.e US Immigration), preferred medical date, full names, DOB’s and contact phone numbers.

In preparation for the medical we had gotten our blood work done to see what we were already vaccinated against (as did not have records any earlier than 2009) and so we could obtain any required vaccines from our GP.

Be prepared to waste a few hours in the waiting room on the day of your medical. We got there a bit early and filled in the required forms – have your Case Number, intended US address and copies of your vaccination records/blood test results with you. After a bit of waiting we were called to get a blood test, height, weight recorded, eyesight & blood pressure recorded by the nurse. After that, more waiting… until we were finally called by our doctors (separate appointments for my husband and I). It was a lot simpler than I expected – general medical history questions, then the doctor checked my vaccination records and filled in the vaccination form – she noted that I had everything that was required. I found it interesting that she noted a few as not ‘age appropriate’ (including Polio and Meningococcal ), however my husbands doctor made him get vaccinations for those!! She then listened to my heart, lungs etc, checked ears, eyes and mouth, took my pulse, got me to do some stretches/movements and a quick external genital check but that was it! Very simple and easy. Obviously it may depend on your medical history as to whether it is as straightforward for everyone but we are lucky to have always been in good health!

After paying (Medical with no other vaccinations = $518.76 inc GST) and supplying my passport photos (as my Dr didn’t ask in her office so I reminded them at the front desk!) we were then sent to a different office up on Collins St to have our chest x-rays and Tuberculosis sheets completed, and the results would be sent back to Medibank directly for us to collect in a few days.

We decided to book our international flights before the interview as we were using our Virgin Velocity frequent flyer points and didn’t want to risk doing a last minute booking. We had been doing a bit of point-hacking and finally had enough to fly business !!! Our one way ticket to LA was set for 10th February!

We gave notice to our real estate at the start of January, our lease is month to month, so that was no trouble. We started doing some general disconnections of things we didn’t need (such as Foxtel), a lot of eBay listing and halved the clothes we own.

The interview date slowly crept closer and closer! Nothing would feel real until we had the approval from a CO at the Consulate!

Adding up the costs of the DV Green Card

Today I lodged my application for my National Police Check from Victoria Police so I decided to do a short blog post of our understanding of the costs of the DV Lottery process. (This is for us personally, in Melbourne, Australia).

The National Police Check from Victoria costs $43.70. But first it cost me $5 to have my documents and photocopies sighted and signed at the pharmacy, $8.95 for the money order, $3.50 for the postal envelope and $3.70 for registered post. We will both have to apply for them separately as well, so costs are doubled.

$130AUD

The Medical will cost approximately $500 each as per the Medibank website.

$1000 AUD

The interview fee is $330USD per person PLUS the cost of return flights to Sydney – luckily we have some flight credit to use so this won’t cost us anything 🙂 and we have friends in Sydney so at least we don’t have to pay accommodation.

$920AUD

USCIS Immigrant Fee of $165USD each to be paid online so we can actually receive our physical Green Card.

$380AUD

Total: $2430

 

Add on travelling costs:

Our flights are only going to cost up some taxes, as we have frequent flyer points – $145! Let’s say we take 1 extra bag each, thats $200.

$345AUD

Flying our dog over:

approximately $2000

Grand Total: $4775

 

…and then there is the cost of a months accommodation in LA before we find a rental… Rent upfront… Getting a car.. and living expenses in general till we get jobs! It certainly adds up, but it is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we are going to make the most of it!!!

 

DV journey progress…

The DV Lottery, also known as the “Green Card Lottery” is a strange and confusing yet wondrous thing for anyone who wants the chance to live in the US permanently!

Since Clint was selected in May, I have been researching it every spare moment I have, to understand how it all works. Initially I thought that if you were ‘selected’ you have won! Congratulations, here’s your green card! But no, there is so much more to it than that! First of all, you are merely ‘selected’, and it is not guaranteed that you will get a green card. What you have gotten is the chance of applying for a Green Card! There are many other factors to actually getting it in your pretty little hands.

Let’s start with the basics of the DV Lottery for those who have never heard of it. Every year, the US government gives people a chance to enter a lottery to receive one (or several if a family) of 50,000 Green Cards (worldwide). Entry is open to anyone who was born in an eligible country and has 12 years or the equivalent of high school.  Entry is open each year for one month from October to November via the Government DV Lottery website. You enter all of your details plus a photograph(specific size requirements) on the website and then wait till May the following year to check your entry. This will tell you if have been selected for processing that October-September (one year after entry!). For example, apply October 2013, find out May 2014 if selected, and then wait to be interviewed sometime between October 2014 and September 2015 for the fiscal year of 2015. You can view the full instructions for the DV here

Most people will see YOU HAVE NOT BEEN SELECTED stamped across their entrance check screen in May, including me year, but thankfully my partner C was luckier. For the few that receive the YOU HAVE BEEN SELECTED notification, life is about to change!

Around 15 million people worldwide enter the DV Lottery yearly, so to be one of the 100,000 to be selected is pretty incredible when you think about the numbers. Upon selection, you get assigned a “Case Number”, which determines your interview date. Each month a “Visa Bulletin” is released which gives the Case Number (CN) cut offs for the upcoming 2 months, indicating which range of CN’s will be allocated an interview. So if the Visa Bulletin (VB) is saying the cut off is 400 for your region for October, and your number is under 400, you will be getting interviewed in October!

You may have realised from the numbers I have quoted above, that the selectees outnumber the actual green cards to be awarded (100,000 selected / 50,000 visas). This is done, I imagine, due to the number of people that may end up not being eligible or that won’t even submit their forms/rpoceed further. Being selected does not necessarily guarantee you that visa, as there is a chance you may not receive an interview date before the allocated visas for your region run out. This is often the disappointing case for a lot of selectees with high CN’s. Boy do I feel lucky we got such a low CN and I feel for those who don’t!

Now the waiting game begins. You can “guesstimate” when your interview may be by looking at previous years VB’s, but the one thing I have learnt over the last 4 months of DV researching, is that there is so much you can’t predict. We expected our interview to be January based on previous years…but now November has been announced with a cutoff of 400 which means we should be getting our  second notification letter (2NL) with interview date soon!

The US Government site provides all the information you will need to have for your DV process which you can find here.  The basic process is as follows:

  • If selected, the first step is to make sure you are 100% eligible to proceed! The main requirement is that you have a Highschool qualification equivalent to 12 years in the U.S  or 2 years work experience in the last 5 years (further details at above link)
  • The next step is to fill in the DS-260 immigration form once it is announced that it is open for submission, which is now all online! There is a LOT of information you need to provide in this, including every address you have lived since 16 years of age and your work history for the last 10 years!
  • Then you wait. Wait for your CN to become current and to receive your interview notification. It’s good to prepare any documents which may take a while to get to you in advance. See the list here. Things like official marriage/divorce certificates, overseas and Australian police checks, etc.
  • You will also need to schedule and complete a Medical Interview prior to your interview. You will need vaccination records for required vaccinations, or blood-work to show what vaccinations you have received, otherwise you will be required to pay for and have administered any necessary vaccinations at the medical.
  • Go to your interview and (hopefully) be successful in obtaining your green card!

The other thing I have discovered that may be useful to any new applicants/selectees is the plethora of fees/costs such as:

  • Interview fee @ Sydney Consulate $330USD
  • Medical fee (example is Medibank, Melbourne) $447AUD for medical, X-rays, syphillis test PLUS any vaccination costs either prior at GP or at the Medical
  • National Police Check (Victoria ) $43.70AUD
  • USCIS Immigrant Fee  $165USD (must be paid BEFORE you plan to enter the States!)
  • If you’re not in Sydney, cost of return airfares and accommodation for your interview date!

However, the MOST useful source I have found is this immigration forum. An absolute WEALTH of information with a specify DV Lottery section.

To update where we are at the moment, the October VB has been released with Oceania being 500, so we are expecting our 2NL sometime soon for a November interview date! We are hoping it will be anytime after the 8th November as we will be in Fiji from the 1st-8th, though that will obviously be cancelled/rescheduled if our interview does fall on the first week. Life is revolving around the Green Card at the moment! So just waiting again… waiting for the 2NL! Waiting to have a date so we can plan the rest of this year and figure out when we will make the big move. Continuing to ‘purge’ our belongings, culling our clothing, putting up so much stuff on eBay, figuring out how to transport other belongings back to our parents for storage, and getting quotes for shipping our beloved dog to LA with us. Plan, plan, plan!!! I love planning..but will feel a lot better when I can pinpoint a date!

UPDATE: Despite our number being current for November interviews, it appears there’s a backlog at the KCC which means we won’t get a Nov interview after all. We didn’t submit our forms till July 19, and I think only people who submitted forms by mid June will be going though in Nov. Ah well…just another month then and wait for a 2NL for December!

DV Lottery & Green card!

20140519-083334.jpg

The plan this year is to move to the US of A.
My boyfriend of 5 years has had an infatuation with Los Angeles since he was young (most likely due to his love of Guns n Roses and rock’n’roll). He has traveled there as a tourist 4 times in the last 6 years, and one of those times was to see what the job market was like, in hopes of obtaining a job offer and E3 visa (A 2 year renewable non immigrant visa for Australians based on employment in a qualified field of work).

This year was to be the big year of all or nothing. He had resigned from his position as a Senior Developer at a company he genuinely enjoyed working for and we had flights booked to for May 24th. The plan was for him to go to Los Angeles for up to 3 months to job (and visa) hunt…but the morning of the 2nd of May changed all of this for us!

He stumbled out of bed that morning before work while I stayed under the covers, reluctant to face the day, mostly having forgotten about the DV lottery being announced today.  What did get me put of bed was his voice from the study, slightly higher pitched than usual, saying, “Buttons…! Come here!!!!”
My heart skipped a beat as I jumped out of the tangle of sheets and rushed into the room next door.
“What!?”
“Look at this!!”

And there on the screen was that glorious letter announcing:

You have been randomly selected for further processing in the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program for the fiscal year 2015 (October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015).

10325341_10152456885477216_700257222067954710_nI believe my reaction was something along the lines of “WHAT!? OH MY GOD! IS THIS REAL??? ARE YOU SURE?!! Let’s me read it again!”

The next half hour was spent between trying to get ready for work, exclaiming “OH MY GOD!” and “I can’t believe it!!!!!” as well as texting everyone I was close to to let them know!

Suffice to say, I was late to work and barely focused on anything work related that day. Instead I trawled the internet to try and understand how the DV lottery process actually worked.

We cancelled Clint’s flights for a credit to be used later and Clint had to find out if he still had a job, as he had technically resigned and his last day at work was the day we found out!

There you have it – the moment our life changed and we were one (big) step closer to our dream of living in the US of A!