Ogechi: So You Want To Move To America


I never really planned on moving out of the country. I was studying law at the University of Lagos and had just completed my first year when I got my visa. Before I could say UniLag, I found myself in an unfamiliar place that I had to get used to… very quickly.

Coming to America was an entirely different experience for me. I wasn’t one of those we-spent-our-summer-in-America kids. Matter of fact, I had never travelled outside Nigeria before and it was also my first time on a plane. So whatever I knew about America was from movies. I thought it was all peaches and cream. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. I remember wanting to move back home the moment I landed and still feeling that way, months later.

You see, I read interesting stories about people who did whatever they could to migrate. From those who joined missionaries and singing groups only to disappear upon landing, to others who signed up as sports supporters and somehow forgot to return with the team. A few years ago, the trend was seemingly middleclass people selling their belongings and migrating to start over. For many others, it became a do or die affair. I didn’t understand the craze.

Regardless of how any Nigerian who migrated to America got here, that person has a story which includes a period of adjustment. This period of adjustment will vary based on age, state, and the circumstances under which you migrate i.e. legal or illegal and if you have family. If you’re planning on moving, here are a few things you should know.

In Nigeria, family members have been known to just pack their bags, show up to your house without much notice, and stay till forever. Don’t expect the same in the States. If you stay with someone other than staying for holidays (meaning your holiday has a start and end date / a relatively short period of time), they will expect you to pay a portion of the rent or bills. Expect the same treatment even from your own family. If you refuse to pay, you may find yourself on the streets. I know people who have been kicked out from their relatives place. Should a person house you for free and not ask a dime from you, be grateful! Before you get upset with your friends or relatives, it’s not entirely their fault. People rarely own their house outright. One of the major reasons people borrow from the bank is to buy a house and there are many bills associated with owning a home; the mortgage, home insurances, taxes, heat, electricity, and maintenance among many others. Also, rent can be expensive depending on the state and city they live in.

America is a credit based society. People make major and minor purchases on credit. Because it is a credit based society, the country has a great record keeping system. This means if you like to own nice things and not pay, this place will not work well for you. For instance, people have gotten dressed for work and found their cars ‘missing’ because the bank sent someone to repossess it for lack of payments. They know everything about you. i.e where you work or live. If you reside in the States legally, you will be given a social security number (SSN) and you will also need to start building your credit immediately. This credit issue is tricky for some of us because we are not used to it. A credit score is a numerical number from 300-850 used by lenders to determine your creditworthiness. The higher your number is, the greater your chances are of being approved for any loan at the best rate. Every time you don’t pay your bills or pay late, it affects your credit score negatively. The good news, things work. As long as you pay your bills, you can enjoy everything in abundance.

From university and beyond, you are in control of your schedule. You get to decide when and how you want to attend your classes i.e. in person or online, morning or night. If you are migrating to the States, and already completed a bachelors degree in Nigeria, migrate with your transcripts and send it to WES (World Education Services). They will evaluate it and tell you what courses will or will not transfer. Most likely, courses that don’t transfer can be taken at the local community college in your area. Also, if you have already obtained a bachelors degree in Nigeria, go for a masters even if it takes you the same amount of time it would have taken you to get an American bachelors degree. Another major difference is the method of teaching and the teachers. Some university level teachers in Nigeria take pride in knowing only one or two students passed their class. I remember hearing teachers brag about this like it was a badge of honor. It is the complete opposite here. A few students passing a teacher’s class is nothing to brag about; it means you have not done your job. Your teachers are supposed to help you learn and a teacher could get in trouble for that. In contrast, graduating high school (secondary school) is a big deal for Americans partly because some don’t go further than that.

This is not free and is very expensive –  in comparison to London and Canada. Paying expenses out of your pocket will easily put you in debt. An ambulance ride alone can cost you over $500 and you haven’t even seen a doctor yet. You will need insurance and the easiest way to get one is through your employer.

We don’t have drivers or cooks over here. How dare you? Are you JLo? That isluxury for the average mother in the States. Paid maternity leave for most private companies is only 3 months. Sure you can take  additional time off but it will be unpaid. If you stay out too long, you might not have a job anymore. Babysitters/daycare is expensive! It is not uncommon for couples to sit down and calculate if it makes sense for both parties to keep working or one person staying home to avoid paying daycare. An ex coworker had to make that decision and decided to quit. Some Nigerians file for relatives to stay with them temporarily. Whatever you decide, plan ahead. Plan way ahead.

There are different seasons; winter, spring, summer, and fall. The severity of each will differ based on your state. For some cold states, it is so cold you can’t feel your face or fingers with some states experiencing blizzards. Trust me, it is not a time to be homeless or not pay your gas or electricity bills. If you’re a woman, in a cold state, be careful with your hair. You might lose some of it because our hair is used to the Nigerian heat.

That being said, I have resided here for years now and wouldn’t change all my experiences for anything even the bad. What has your experience been like since migrating? How long would you say was your adjustment period was? I would like to write about credit but will only do so if you express interest. You can also ask a specific question about finances in America.

Let me know in the comment section below.