Advise. Contact prospective schools (or at least the school district )in the area that you think you might want to live in. Though they won't place your girls without the proper validation off residency (for the school district etc)- you might want to find out exactly what is required. REMEMBER schools are address bound. In smaller communities you might have only one middle school (gr 6-8- some states incl Gr5) and one high school, but you most likely will find atleast 2-3 elementary school for your school district. Sometimes a street will be separated between 2 school zones. (do not assume that you are in a specific school zone, double check on your school district website etc).
are you planning to ship over your household goods or buy new?
Has your husband secured a job or will he be seeking?
both these answers will influence the rest
also if the girls would have to write placement tests (which grade is your 11 year old currently in?)-
here is some helpful links
The main schools you get: Public, Private (usually religious based- Baptist, Catholic etc- differs widely), Magnet(not lottery system- kids form outside feeding area can also attend) & Charter Schools. Their admissions policies all work differently.
Estate Agents or brokers are not allowed by law to ''tell'' you which school zone is good. You will have to do your own research and confirmations.
You will need a transcript from the current schools. And it doesn't hurt to have recommendation letters from teachers and any after school programs that your kids participated in. Also make sure that you leave the current school with an up to date school report and contact details. Somewhere on this forum is some info on the US grading system and how it differs from SA> Make sure you print out the comparison sheet when you visit schools. Your girls might be pushed forward 6 months or back 6 months. Be prepared for that. In some states there are NO school sports / teams in Elementary and even Middle schools. You join a town sport team. Say your girls play hockey (field hockey), they will join the Ponte Vedra Beach Hockey team.
Renting / Buying (getting a roof over your head)
Both Zillow.com and Realtor.com is great sites for rentals and buying
You will most likely have to pay a deposit and 1-2 months off rent upfront.
You might find it challenging in securing a rental during the summer (july - aug), as you are looking for property in a Holiday destination. You might have to stay in a long stay hotel or furnished apartment for a few weeks. (specially if you plan on shipping your belongings. Depending on this, if you do decide to rather buy all new (electrical appliances from SA won't work here anyways, not without a step down transformer), the US has a fast variety off furniture stores and outlets that cater for every budget and every style. (if you do not mind second had furniture - and boy can you find real good quality stuff sometimes(specially in older well kept neighborhoods)- keep a look out for estate sales in your area, https://www.estatesales.net/FL, and tag sales for smaller stuff (electrical appliances, bikes, seasonal goods etc.)
If you are in the fortunate position to immediately buy, be sure that you choose your own BUYERS Broker (you can negotiate that they split the commission with the listing agent, don't double pay commission), this will usually be the real estate agent that shows you around or someone from their firm. The listing agent off a property are loyal to their seller. They are employed by the seller. They will NOT "look out for you". you will need a Buyers broker that you can trust. Most agents will want to sign a "sole agent" agreement with you, some even before setting a foot in the car (showing you around- rental and buy). But do make sure that you choose someone that you connect with well and that understands you and what you want.
You need a 'party'' to look out for you at closing and inspection. That can negotiate with the sellers / their broker. It works totally different to SA.
When signing a rental, sometimes the rental agent (if they are also selling agents or their firm sells)- will have a clause that states that for a duration (usually 12 months) from the rental agreement, you are bound to pay them commission when and if you decide to buy in the area that they have shown you. (this might be only one town or a whole county, double check this). This commission can be anything from 2,5-5%. You don't have to agree to this, but make sure you disclose 0% then, and if you are not willing to work with the said person or firm, don't agree to the clause. (you might think you will rent for 12months and then start looking, but you might as well find something you like before hand and plan to move in just after your rental agreement come to and end.)
Most homes / apartments are rented and / or sold with Big appliances (even the dishwasher/ dryer and washer). Don't buy any off these until you know have a place secured.
Public transport will be mostly buses. Only in Metro Areas NY / NJ / CT etc will you find Metro (under ground) trains. Amtrak trains are more for long distance commute and works out expensive for shorter and day to day commutes.
Uber is real.
You might battle to lease a car without a credit record.- Leases require a down payment and usually is for anything between 24-39 months. The car doesn't become yours, you return it to the dealership. Don't look at the car value, shop for lease monthly payments. (remember that TAX will be added to the monthly payment:(). loads of manufacturers have specials running, when we leased my car, the manufacturer had a special running on the top model, which turned out more than $100 pm cheaper than the ''entry'' model I was looking at to start off.
But you can buy (either purchase in full or do a normal purchase agreement as in SA- over 48-70 months, where you become the owner off the car). You will require a deposit. You might also battle to buy on credit but loads off Credit unions and banks are willing to do a purchase agreement if you can show them permanent employment. They might charge a higher interest rate though. AGAIN shop around. Ask around. Don't hesitate to negotiate.
Get your US drivers license as soon as possible (unfortunately you won't be able to just convert your SA's). You can drive on your SA drivers for up to a year (in most states, do make sure on your local/ state DMV site. https://www.dmv.org/fl-florida/
insurance on an international drivers license is more expensive. (do get your international license from your nearest AA shop in SA).
you will have to follow the links on the dmv site to make appointments. Some states require you to re do both your Learners permit (they issue you a Adult drivers permit), and the road test (driving)
Insurance, it is billed quarterly. Meaning that you will fork out 3 months off insurance premiums once off in advance. Hence my comment above on getting your US drivers asap. Do bring your proof off no claim bonus and or drivers experience, some insurance companies give you ''discount'', though they would tell you that they only take US drivers experience into consideration. AGAIN shop around. And you can change after the quarter is up. Or renegotiate your premium.
Arrival (port off entry)- this should go at the top.
When you receive your VISA, you will receive a sealed packet- do not open. Take on the plane in your hand luggage. Your first US stop/ airport will be your PORT OF ENTRY, and this is where you will be ''processed". The US address you gave during the visa process (maybe your lawyers; employers or friend / family in US)- will be where your GC 's will be sent too.
Though most people opt to have their SSN (social security number) issued as soon as you are ''processed'', this rarely happens in reality. I do suggest you visit your nearest SSN offices in the first 2 weeks from arrival. Just to make sure that its in process. Without this you / husband won't be able to start to work. (Ponte Verde FL's zip codes are 32081 & 32082
When you take up a contract, make sure the provider has great coverage in your area. They differ. There are great packages- shop around. :Local phone calls and texts (sms's) for free and then you have even unlimited data- $40 a line/ number.
The big companies are: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint.
If you choose a month to month contract - ask that they report this so that it counts for your credit record. (its not automatic)
I do suggest you DONT get a phone number / contract at the airport you enter, as even Mobile numbers are area code bound. Its not an issue, but your number will then not be a ''local'' area code. Its just easier if it is.
Beds and Linen
Bed sizes differ. If you plan on bringing your beds, buy enough back up fitted sheets and duvet covers and pillow cases. Or plan to buy new here.
Don't be surprised when you rent / buy a house/ apartment and there's no curtain rails. Just blinds. In fact, I yet have to find curtain rails as we know it. You do get loads off Curtain Rods for sale. Those that take rings with hooks or eyelet curtains.
Even then, its not custom to hang curtains.
As mentioned above, this will change with your initial decision. (shipping or not etc)
Sadly enough, the American way of you get what you pay for is true in this case. Designer and or solid pieces have designer and solid prices.
Again, your budget and needs will influence where you will shop. But great websites to peek around so long is:
Nice bargain hunt stores to look out for (they have seasonal goods, so it changes every week)- you get decor, furniture, bed linen, kitchen stuff
Then you get you old trusty Ikea everywhere. https://www.ikea.com/us/en/store/jacksonville/indexPage
Other branded franchises you can look out for is: Ethan Allen; Ashley's; Lilly August; Restoration Hardware (high end) and too many to name here
The chains differ from state to state.
BUT STILL NO WOOLIES HERE.
Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are your best alternatives
and then the bigger Grocers comparable to PnP etc would differ from state to state. I think in Florida your best bets will be Publix.
Other shops worth mentioning:
Target (one off my fav); Walmart; Marshalls (branded clothing for 1/2 prices); Michaels (Craft store); Joanns (Craft and Fabric store); Bass Pro Shop (outdoor camping etc); Bed Bath and Beyond (personally I think they are over priced); and then the millions and millions of other options.
Don't forget about AMAZING, I mean AMAZON.:) I do think amazon prime will come in very handy, atleast for the first year (2 day free delivery).
This is what I could think off for now. Please feel free to ask more specific questions.
and lastly, welcome