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Moving to the USA

With 50 states and an area size of nearly 4 million square miles (nearly 10 million km²) which covers a massive swath of North America, the United States is a country as diverse as it is huge. And its diversity not only applies to its varied landscapes and topography, but also to its population, which is why it remains a favourite among expats from all over the world.

Since the country's founding, the US has found success through immigration, attracting thinkers, leaders and businesspeople from around the globe. Now with its own distinct identity, the country is a melting pot of colours, flavours and ethnicities of all kinds living 'the American Dream' in their own pursuits of happiness.

Living in the US as an expat

Throughout the country's history, immigration has always been a constant, this principle enshrined by the inspiring plaque on the famous Statue of Liberty which reads: 'Give me your tired, your poor, your humbled masses yearning to breathe free.' Indeed, roughly a million people move to America each year – and the influx of foreigners is still responsible for the majority of the country's population growth. These numbers dropped during the notoriously anti-immigrant Trump presidency, but are predicted to climb to its previous heights during President Biden's term. 

With the world's largest economy, cities that are bustling hives of commercial and cultural activity, and plenty of job opportunities, it's no wonder that so many people are choosing America.

Some of the benefits of living in the US include high wages, rewards for those with a bit of go-it-alone pioneer spirit, excellent and varied accommodation options, a mostly safe and child-friendly environment for the family-oriented expat, and efficient infrastructure that makes systems like education and transport some of the best in the world.

As a downside, the US does tend to have a thin safety net and limited aid for those in need of monetary assistance, and healthcare is still a contentious issue with only those that can afford private insurance able to access the best medical staff and facilities that the country has to offer.

Cost of living in the US

The cost of living in the US varies from region to region and from city to city. The chief cosmopolitan centres such as New York City, San Francisco and LA are the most expensive places to live in the US.

In fact, the cost of living in a major city can be 50 percent or more above the national average. To compensate, wages in these cities do tend to be higher, but competition for jobs in urban areas is intense. 

A large portion of the high cost of living in the US is due to high accommodation prices, a burden that can be somewhat alleviated by living outside of city centres.

Expat families and children

Most of the US is ideally suited to families, with safe neighbourhoods and parks aplenty. Parents can opt to send their kids to public, private or international school. While the standard of public education in the States varies dramatically, there are a number of advantages for expat parents who opt to utilise this public education system. Firstly, costs are minimal and a lot less than the cost of a private or international school education. Secondly, as school placement is determined by geographical location, the public school system allows children to attend a school close to home, meaning they tend to have more interaction with local children in the neighbourhood.

Besides getting a good education, there is loads for children to do, and American society generally invests a lot in their youth's safety, happiness and future.

All in all, the United States is a fantastic destination for expats, be they single career-driven go-getters or families looking to raise their children in a safe and prosperous environment. 


Fast facts

Population: 330 million 

Capital city: Washington DC

Largest city: New York City

Neighbouring countries: Canada to the north and Mexico to the south.

Geography: The United States is one of the world's largest countries with diverse geographic features ranging from the grasslands of the Great Plains in the east to the harsh desert terrain in the southwest to the infamous Great Lakes in the north.

Political system: Federal presidential constitutional republic

Major religion: Christianity

Main languages: English and Spanish

Money: The US Dollar (USD), divided into 100 cents.

Tipping: Standard 15 to 20 percent in restaurants and taxis.

Time: The USA spans six time zones from GMT-5 to GMT-10. Daylight saving time applies between March and November in all states except Arizona and Hawaii.

Electricity: 120V, 60 Hz. Standard plugs have two flat blades but three-pin plugs are also used.

Internet domain: .us

International dialling code: +1

Emergency contact: 911

Transport and driving: Traffic drives on the right. There is a comprehensive public transport system in place, including subways, cabs and buses. Cities are well-connected. 

Weather in the USA

The United States of America covers a large region, stretching from east to west across nine time zones. It's therefore no surprise that the country has a varied climate, ranging from arctic regions to deserts.

California, on the West Coast of the US, has a pleasant, Mediterranean climate, while the Pacific Northwest Coast has more of a maritime climate, with cooler summers and mild winters influenced by westerly winds.

The central part of the US has extreme temperature variations and a continental climate, with cold winters and hot summers. The eastern central US tends to be more humid, while the western central US is semiarid.

The east side of the country has a continental climate caused by air masses moving from west to east, with hot summers and a prevalence of tornadoes in the Mississippi River area. Florida has the warmest winters on the eastern seaboard.

It is recommended that expats research the climate in the specific state to which they plan to relocate to get a good idea of what to expect.

 

 
 

Embassy Contacts for the USA


United States of America embassies

  • United States Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7499 9000

  • United States Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 688 5335

  • United States Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6214 5600

  • United States Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 431 4000

  • United States Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 668 8777

  • United States Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 462 6000


Foreign embassies in United States of America

  • British Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 588 6500

  • Embassy of Canada, Washington DC: +1 202 682 1740

  • Embassy of Australia, Washington DC: +1 202 797 3000

  • South African Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 232 4400

  • Embassy of Ireland, Washington DC: +1 202 462 3939

  • New Zealand Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 328 4800

Public Holidays in the USA

 

2021

2022

New Year’s Day

1 January

1 January

Martin Luther King Day

18 January

17 January

President's Day

15 February

21 February

Memorial Day

31 May

30 May

Independence Day

4 July

4 July

Labor Day

6 September

5 September

Columbus Day

11 October

10 October

Veterans Day

11 November

11 November

Thanksgiving Day

25 November

24 November

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

*Public holidays in the USA that fall on a weekend are moved to the preceding Friday or the following Monday.

Safety in the USA

Although it's true that the US has a higher crime rate than many other developed countries, its reputation for violence is often exaggerated by the local media that tends towards sensationalism.

As a whole, the country is a safe expat destination; those relocating to the USA will just need to be wary of inner-city neighbourhoods or slums as these are where most criminal activity takes place. As recent years and countless brutal incidents have shown, it's also advisable not to provoke American police officers and to treat them with the utmost caution.


Crime in the USA

Loose gun laws, a glaring disparity between the wealthy and the poor, and growing prison populations are all contributing factors to the high crime rate, but these parts to a whole still in no way mirror the gun-wielding Wild West antics found on American television and cinema.

Violent crime is more of a concern in city centres than in suburban and rural communities. However, poorer neighbourhoods where crime is more common are avoidable, and downtown areas and business districts are generally safe. Expats in the US should become familiar with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sections of cities before they rent or buy property.

Some cities have much higher crime rates than others, but expats in the US can expect a strong police presence everywhere, though, as mentioned, police should never be provoked as they've acquired something of a notoriety over the years for a 'shoot first, ask questions later' approach. Not to tar the entire country's police force with the same brush, but caution is nonetheless advised.

Basic safety precautions which would be practised elsewhere in the world should be followed here too, such as locking car doors and avoiding walking alone or taking public transport at night.

Except for very wealthy and gated residential neighbourhoods, employing private security companies is rare and residents can expect quick responses by police or even a local neighbourhood-watch programme.


Terrorism in the USA

The threat of terrorism in the US has increased over the last two decades, aggravated by the conflict in the Middle East. Airline security measures are also extremely tight because of past incidents and travellers can expect to queue a bit longer than they might be used to in their home countries.

The attacks of 9/11 are often a sensitive subject for Americans – one that is generally best avoided by expats.

Since 2001, there have been a few isolated incidents of terrorism. Some of these incidents are random but others have targeted certain groups of people. However, these attacks are not a common occurrence. Should expats encounter any such incident, they are advised to contact their embassy

Working in the USA

Hard work is a respected virtue in the US and expats should expect a rigorous schedule that is often more than 40 hours a week. There's less holiday time than what's given in Europe with only two weeks' annual leave in many positions. Business etiquette in the US is similar to Europe, and it can be expected that the environment will be a bit more relaxed on the West Coast as opposed to the East Coast.

An Immigrant Visa will be needed by expats who wish to reside and work in the USA.


Job market in the USA

The American economy is comprised of many different industries that are largely driven by regional location. East Coast cities, such as New York and Boston, are strong financial players, while the Midwest heartland lays claim to sectors relating to agriculture and natural resources, and West Coast metropolises such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle are famous for technology and entertainment development.

Production and manufacturing contracts are increasingly being outsourced to smaller economies overseas, and Americans are becoming more focused on service jobs. Demand for low-wage service jobs, such as agricultural work and domestic help, have been fulfilled by a wave of Mexican immigration which has caused friction and made immigration a hot political topic.

However, Western and Asian expats in the US generally sidestep the tumult and fill in more skilled parts of the workforce. American companies can apply for foreign workers if they can clearly show a lack of qualified American citizens available to carry out the job required.

The demand for employees in the medical profession – such as nurses, medical assistants and technicians – is on the increase. Jobs relating to care for the elderly are also growing as the baby-boomer generation is reaching retirement. The US is particularly interested in skilled professionals for areas in which it competes for part of the global market, such as the burgeoning IT sector.  


Finding a job in the USA

Expats on the hunt for work can consult online job portals, social networks such as LinkedIn and local classifieds, or enlist the help of an agency. If already in the country, expats may find local newspapers useful, and it's always a good idea to ask around the neighbourhood and find out if anyone knows of an opening.


Work culture in the USA

The USA is a geographically large country, which makes it somewhat difficult to generalise about work culture and practices across its different regions, but there are a few traits that are worth bearing in mind, regardless of where in the country an expat hopes to work.

Most prominent US commercial hubs thrive because of a willingness to accept new ideas and nurture budding entrepreneurs. Business culture is individualistic, and the workplace rewards 'go-getters' while those who lack independence, initiative and self-reliance lag behind. Status and age are largely obsolete and, instead, merit, good ideas and hard work are the vehicles for advancement. 

Doing Business in the USA

Many expats are enticed by the idea of doing business in the US and are lured there by the fabled 'American Dream' – the belief that with hard work, every individual can succeed and prosper. And, whether it is myth or reality, the cliché remains the driving force behind immigration to what many perceive to still be the world's wealthiest and most powerful country.

The US remains the largest economy in the world and is undoubtedly still the destination of choice for entrepreneurs. However, those hoping to succeed in business in the US will need to have a solid understanding of the country's business culture and how Americans interact in the workplace.

America has a free market economy which has thrived because of a willingness to accept new ideas and nurture budding entrepreneurs. As testament to its solid business infrastructure and sound policies, the US was ranked 6th out of 190 countries in the 2020 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business survey. Specific areas where the country ranked highly were resolving insolvency (2nd) and getting credit (4th).


Fast facts

Business hours

The work week in the US is Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, although it's common to put in extra hours.

Business language

English is spoken in business circles.

Dress

Business dress varies according to industry and location within the US, but formal suits should be worn in corporate environments.

Gifts

It is not appropriate to give gifts at business meetings and some companies will not allow their employees to accept gifts. However, if invited to a colleague's home on a more social occasion, it is appropriate to give chocolates, flowers or wine.

Gender equality

Women have the same rights as men in the US and can be seen occupying top-level positions in business.

Appropriate greetings

A handshake is the usual greeting in business circles. While it's best to start by addressing business contacts formally, expats will find that most Americans prefer to use first names.


Business culture in the USA

The US is a geographically large country, which makes it somewhat difficult to generalise about business practices and culture across its different regions. However, there are a few traits that are worth bearing in mind, regardless of where in the country an expat hopes to do business.

Business culture in the US is incredibly individualistic. The working world rewards 'go-getters' while those who lack independence, initiative and self-reliance lag behind. Status and age are largely obsolete and instead, merit, experience and past achievement are the vehicles for advancement. Expats coming from societies where seniority is a consequence of social class, length of service or maturity may find acclimating to this idea especially challenging.

Management

In a similar vein, management is somewhat egalitarian, but ultimately big decisions and the responsibility for failure and success fall onto the shoulders of 'the boss'. Though many meetings may be had and much discussion may have taken place, senior managers may disregard the opinions of those in middle and lower level positions entirely; a particularly infuriating point for those who come from consensus-oriented cultures.

Communication

Americans tend to be very direct in the way they communicate and value logical thinking. Those able to express their opinions clearly and in a straightforward manner will find they can command greater respect in American business circles. Much of the USA’s business culture is based on the notion that time is money and expats will find that business associates get annoyed with those who waste time and beat around the bush.

Meetings

Punctuality is valued in the US, so expats should ensure they are never late for business meetings. Arriving late to an appointment will be regarded as a sign of disrespect. While business meetings may appear somewhat relaxed at times, they are taken seriously. Business does tend to be conducted quite quickly and Americans prefer to keep small talk to a minimum. In the US, the focus tends to be on reaching an agreement and signing a contract as soon as possible rather than building a relationship.


Dos and don’ts of business in the USA

  • Don't arrive late for business meetings or appointments with clients.

  • Do dress formally for initial meetings and interviews. Afterwards, follow the example set by business associates and colleagues.

  • Don't waste time making small talk.

  • Do take the opportunity to socialise with colleagues and clients. Business in the USA is often conducted in a more informal social setting and not only within the office.

Visas for the USA

Regardless of whether foreigners are travelling to the US on holiday or making a more permanent move to take up a new job, it is important to be aware of the different types of visas available for the US. Here are the main visa categories that expats are likely to make use of.


Visitor visas for the USA

Nationals of certain countries may be in the US for up to 90 days without a visa. Those not eligible for the visa waiver programme will require a visitor visa. This visa is designed for temporary stays by international visitors and allows entry for those wishing to come to the US to do business (a B-1 visa), those visiting as tourists (a B-2 visa), or a combination of both (B-1/B-2 visa).

All applicants must show evidence of funds to cover their expenses, evidence of economic and social ties abroad and evidence that they are permanently living outside of the US.


Temporary work visas for the USA

There are several visa categories available for those wanting to work in the US, with each category being specific to a particular kind of work. Most expats will apply for either the H-1B or the L visa. The H-1B visa is for people taking up positions in speciality occupations – in other words, workers with specific skills and knowledge who have completed higher education. The L visa is for employees of international companies who have been transferred to a branch in the US.


Permanent residence in the USA

To stay permanently in the US, expats will need to acquire a Permanent Resident Card, otherwise known as a Green Card. Expats moving to the US permanently for work or investment purposes will fall in one of the following tiers:

  • Employment First Preference (E1): Priority Workers
  • Employment Second Preference (E2): Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees and Persons of Exceptional Ability
  • Employment Third Preference (E3): Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Unskilled Workers (Other Workers)
  • Employment Fourth Preference (E4): Certain Special Immigrants
  • Employment Fifth Preference (E5): Immigrant Investors

In order to be eligible for an application for permanent residence, expats will generally need someone to petition for or sponsor them. Most often this is an employer or family member in the US, who must then fill out the relevant forms to confirm their sponsorship. If the petition is approved, expats can apply for permanent residence.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Work Permits for the USA

The Green Card is the official document issued by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to foreign nationals granting them permanent residency in America. This allows the holder to live and work in the United States.


Obtaining a Green Card for the USA

Generally, there are three parts to the process when applying through employment: obtaining labour certification, filing an immigrant petition, and finally, submitting the permanent residence application.

Expats can live in the US under a non-immigrant visa while their immigrant visa is being processed. Alternatively, they can wait in their home country until final approval, at which point they would emigrate. The waiting period will depend on the skill level each person is classified under. Before expats can apply for a Green Card, a US company must petition on their behalf. 

A Green Card can also be obtained through family members who are either US citizens or legal permanent residents (Green Card holders).


Employment-based non-immigrant visas for the USA

Non-immigrant visas allow applicants to reside in the US while processing their Green Card. There are numerous types of visas in this category. Here are the most commonly used.

H-1 visa               

H-1 visas are for skilled international professionals who want to live and work in America on a long-term basis. As these are non-immigrant visas, they are often quicker to obtain than a Green Card. In order to qualify for this visa, expats must have a US company sponsor their application or petition on their behalf. 

L visa

Available for international companies that wish to expand operations into the United States or who have an existing branch in the US that they wish to transfer an employee to. This visa is one of the most popular.

It can lead to permanent residency and is relatively easy to obtain with the right documentation and presentation. Expats would need to be transferred from a company’s offices in their home country to a branch in the US.

E-5 visa

This requires a direct financial investment into a new or existing business. The minimum funds required for the investment vary depending on the geographic area where the applicant plans to set up their business operations. The expat's new company can then sponsor their Green Card application.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Cost of Living in the USA

The cost of living in the USA varies from region to region and from city to city. However, the chief cosmopolitan centres – regardless of geographical location – are the most expensive places to live in the USA.

The cost of living in a major city can be 50 percent or more above the national average. To compensate, wages in these cities do tend to be higher, but they are often not in proportion to the cost of city living.

Some cities in the USA even rank among the most expensive cities in the world. According to the Mercer Cost of Living Survey for 2020, New York City is the 6th most expensive city in the world. Another 20 US cities also make an appearance in this survey of 209 cities worldwide.

On average, expenses are lower than in Western European countries. However, some expenses that expats may be unaccustomed to will also need to be considered. 


Cost of accommodation in the USA 

A large portion of the high cost of living in the USA is due to high accommodation prices, a burden that can be somewhat alleviated by living outside of city centres. In rural and suburban communities, property prices are much lower. The cost of utilities should also be kept in mind. In many parts of the USA, heating and air conditioning are also widely used throughout the year. These costs can quickly add up. 


Cost of transportation in the USA

Those living outside of major cities in the USA will have to invest in a reliable vehicle for getting around. Luckily, petrol tends to be much cheaper than in Europe, but expats will need to bear in mind that consumption is also likely to be higher.


Cost of healthcare in the USA

Although the healthcare facilities in the USA are some of the world's best, costs are extremely high. For this reason, comprehensive health insurance is essential. Expats relocating to the USA for work should find out whether this is included in their benefits.


Cost of education in the USA

The quality of public education in the USA varies widely. While public schools are free to attend, the best ones are often in expensive neighbourhoods due to the fact that schools are partly funded by property taxes. In turn, since schooling is zone-based, a good school will tend to push up housing costs in the surrounding area as well. Still, the absence of school fees helps to balance this out.

Expats who would prefer to send their child to a private or international school will have to bear high fees as well as additional expenses in the form of uniforms, stationery, textbooks and more.


Cost of living in the USA chart

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Washington DC in April 2021.

Accommodation (monthly)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

USD 2,400

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

USD 1,800

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

USD 4,400

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

USD 3,400

Shopping

Eggs (dozen)

USD 3

Milk (1 litre)

USD 1

Rice (1kg)

USD 4.70

Loaf of white bread

USD 3

Chicken breasts (1kg)

USD 11

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

USD 12

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

USD 8

Coca-Cola (330ml)

USD 2.30

Cappuccino

USD 5

Bottle of beer (local)

USD 7

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

USD 80

Utilities/household

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

USD 0.14

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month) 

USD 65

Basic monthly utilities (includes electricity, water and refuse)

USD 140

Transportation

Taxi rate per km

USD 1.60

Bus fare in the city centre 

USD 3

Gasoline/petrol (per litre)

USD 0.70

Culture Shock in the USA

Perhaps more than any other country in the world, American culture is a global mishmash of customs, traditions, languages and beliefs. Expats will find themselves already strangely familiar with fashions, entertainment, idioms, and even cityscapes thanks to the far reach of American culture and especially Hollywood.

The many influences and integrated cultural characteristics are too long to list, but each contributes a bit to the national ethos. This is particularly apparent in big cities rich with many ethnicities and cultures, whereas smaller towns often retain characteristics of their founding nationalities.

Still, despite its many inspirations, American culture still has a few distinct attributes of its own. In fact, there are a number of differences from other Western cultures that may take expats moving to the US by surprise.


Values in the USA

While the US is made up of a huge variety of different ethnic groups, each bringing their own distinct traditions to the country, expats will find that many Americans are very patriotic. This is especially apparent on holidays such as Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Labor Day. Expats should take any opportunity to get involved in these festivities and gain some insight into local culture.

Many people move to America with a view of the country being a particularly Christian country. However, this view is somewhat deceptive. While there are some parts of the US where religion is very important (such as the south with its famous ‘Bible Belt’), new arrivals often find that the vast majority of Americans hold quite moderate beliefs. Expats will find that Americans living on the West Coast tend to be more liberal, with cities such as San Francisco and LA being home to large artistic, bohemian communities. Big cities like New York, Chicago and Boston are also quite progressive.

Expats may notice that philanthropy is important to many Americans, who enjoy giving back to their community or those less fortunate than themselves. There are plenty of opportunities for people to get involved in various charity projects or volunteer schemes in the US. For expats, volunteering is a great opportunity to meet new people and get settled in their new home.

Some expats might find American culture to be materialistic. Americans are often seen as having a ‘live to work’ attitude, rather than the ‘work to live’ approach preferred in Europe.


Etiquette in the USA

Americans value punctuality and find it disrespectful for people to arrive late to an appointment. This is not only true in the workplace but also relevant in social occasions. Speaking of occasions, Americans like to rise to every occasion, be it celebrating Independence Day, dressing up for Halloween parties or participating in any sort of parade, so expats would do well to do the same.

Expats may find the American style of communication very direct and honest. While this can come across as rude to some, locals rarely mean any real harm.

While religion and politics are topics of conversation that may be passionately debated at social occasions in other countries, expats should take care around such subjects in the US. Americans often hold very strong beliefs and, due to the diversity of people in the country, expats can never really know what an acquaintance believes in. 

Accommodation in the USA

Expats moving to the US will find a range of high-quality accommodation options available to them. While housing is expensive in the larger cities, expats on a budget can mitigate this effect by living on the outskirts rather than in the city centre.

Ultimately, the choices are endless, and whether new arrivals are looking to rent an apartment or are eager to purchase a piece of prime real estate, they're likely to find a home well suited to their individual needs and budget. 


Types of accommodation in the USA

Accommodation in the US is usually divided into the following classifications:

  • Apartments (self-contained units in larger buildings; referred to as 'flats' in some parts of the world such as the UK)

  • Single-family homes (standalone houses, usually on a small plot of land)

  • Duplexes (two or more living quarters housed in the same building)

  • Condominiums (a community of similar-styled homes with shared amenities)

  • Mansions (large, extravagant, expensive houses)

All these forms of housing are widespread throughout the US, with apartments being the most popular to rent for expats, and single-family homes being the most commonly purchased.

Another option is house-sharing – renting an individual room in a larger house shared with others. This is a good option for single expats to consider, as it's budget friendly and a great way to make new friends.


Finding accommodation in the USA

Finding a place to rent in the US is a relatively straightforward process. Expats should begin by doing some research of the city that they are relocating to in order to get some perspectives on neighbourhoods that best align with their priorities.

There are a plethora of internet sites that carry both short- and long-term rental listings. It's free to browse these sites. There is also no need to register or share personal information. Any web portals that demand information or payment in order to search listings should be approached with caution or avoided entirely.

Another source is local newspapers and magazines, known as 'home finders'. These are widely distributed in most American cities. These often specialise in providing rental listings. In addition, many people find it useful to drive around neighbourhoods they like in search of 'for rent' signs.

Real-estate agents can also assist new arrivals in finding a rental property. However, in the US, realtors typically specialise in helping people buy homes rather than rent them. 


Renting accommodation in the USA

Making an application

Once expats have found a property to their liking, they will have to tender a lease application. It's important to note that, in most cases, potential tenants will need to prove that they are serious candidates for renting the property.

As foreigners, expats will need to demonstrate that they can afford the cost of rent. Credit and background checks are also commonly carried out. Those with references from previous landlords should be sure to include them with their application as well.

Deposits

When signing a lease, expats will be expected to pay first month's rent upfront and the equivalent of at least another month's rent to cover a security deposit. The deposit will be returned at the end of the tenancy once the home has been inspected and any damages have been covered.

Leases

Lease agreements in the US are generally signed on a six-month or one-year basis. Before signing, expats should ensure that they've read the contract thoroughly and have a good understanding of their rights and obligations.

Utilities

Sometimes utilities are included in the cost of rent. However, they're usually an extra expense for the tenant. Costs to consider include billing for gas, electricity, water, refuse, phone and internet. The lease agreement should specify who is responsible for which utility expenses.

Healthcare in the USA

Healthcare in the US is a contentious issue. For those who have private medical insurance and comprehensive coverage, medical facilities in America are some of the best in the world. For those without insurance, healthcare in the US is mediocre and sometimes completely inaccessible.

Major traumas can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and for those who can't afford it, medical treatment is limited. Emergency services must be provided by law to everyone. However, patients can expect to pay hefty fees afterwards.


Healthcare facilities in the USA

The majority of hospitals in the US are privately owned and are typically run by either non-profit associations or boards of investors.

The standard of medical facilities in the US is excellent. Patients who can afford it will have access to some of the best medical technology. Doctors are highly trained and many of the best specialists can be found in the US.

The advantages of private healthcare in America include short waiting times for operations and specialists as well as competing medical services.


Pharmacies in the USA

Pharmacies can easily be found in US cities. They are located in drug stores, grocery stores and large department stores, and are often attached to hospitals and medical clinics.  

Expats will be able to get almost all prescription medication at a pharmacy in the US. However, medication is generally expensive. It is therefore best to keep all receipts in order to claim the costs from the health insurance provider.

There are strict laws about how much prescription medicine can be brought into the US. Expats must have a prescription from a doctor to prove that any medicines being brought into the country are strictly for personal use. If regulations aren't followed, the drugs will be confiscated at customs. Customs officers are very stringent about these laws as people have been caught trying to import large quantities of prescription medication from Canada and Mexico to the US.


Health insurance in the USA

The USA doesn't require expats to have health insurance. However, it would be wise for expats moving to America to invest in the best health insurance policy they can afford or negotiate one into their contract of employment. Anyone without appropriate health insurance in the US runs the risk of paying colossal bills or alternatively getting no medical attention.

Long-term treatments are often denied to those without insurance. Dental and optical operations are often not included in general insurance and are both expensive on their own.

Expats who receive any sort of medical treatment in the US should keep all their receipts in order to make an insurance claim.


Pre-travel restrictions and vaccinations for the USA

Expats planning on settling down in the US for long periods must undergo a medical exam and will be asked to show proof that their immunisations are up to date. If requirements aren't met, the expat will have to receive the vaccinations during the medical exam. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an up-to-date list of required vaccinations for immigration.


Emergency services in the USA

Emergency medical services in the US are regulated by individual state governments and, by law, must be provided to anyone in need. 

In the case of a medical emergency, dial 911. The operator will then dispatch an ambulance to the location of the emergency. Paramedics in the US are highly trained and can provide an excellent level of care at the scene of an accident.

Alternatively, expats can make their own way to the nearest hospital with an emergency room for immediate treatment.  

Education and Schools in the USA

Compulsory education in the US begins at the age of five, when a child enters kindergarten, but most children attend pre-school from the age of three or four. While kindergarten falls under the public education system, and is therefore free, pre-schools are run privately and parents will be expected to pay fees.

Naturally, the schooling system varies quite considerably from state to state in the US. Generally, in most school districts, the system is divided into three levels:

  • Elementary school – Kindergarten to Grade 5

  • Middle school – Grade 6 to Grade 8

  • High school – Grade 9 to Grade 12

In most states, it's compulsory for children to attend school until at least the age of 16, but children will usually continue their education until they graduate. In other states, schooling is mandatory until the end of high school.


Public schools in the USA

Expat students will be eligible to attend a public school in their local area. The registration process is usually quite straightforward. As public schools in the US are largely funded by property taxes, expats will find that schools in wealthier suburbs are likely to have better facilities.

While public education is generally free, there are some fees associated with public schools, including the purchase of books, equipment and uniforms. These fees vary from state to state and between schools themselves.

While the standard of public education in the States varies dramatically, there are a number of advantages for expat parents who opt to utilise this system. Firstly, costs are minimal and a lot less than the cost of a private or international school education. Secondly, as school placement is determined by geographical location, the public school system allows children to attend a school close to home, meaning they tend to have more interaction with local children in the neighbourhood.

For expats planning on relocating to the US long term, having their children attend a public school is likely to allow them to mix with a wider, more varied and representative sample of American children.

Charter schools

Charter schools are public schools that operate on a performance-based contract with the local school district. They have more flexibility and are beholden to fewer rules and regulations from the state. This enables them to provide a more individualised education.

Charter schools in the US are a popular option and waiting lists can often be lengthy. Many charter schools operate admission lotteries to ensure that the allocation of resources is fair.

Magnet schools

Magnet schools are free public elementary and secondary schools that focus on a particular area of the curriculum such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), Performing Arts, International Studies or World Languages. These schools do, however, still cover all subject areas.

Most magnet schools in the US do not have entrance criteria, but instead embody a belief that all students have interests and talents that families and educators believe are better cultivated at a magnet school with a more focused subject base. There are a few exceptions to this, however, such as schools specialising in a skill-based subject area such as music.


Private schools in the USA

Generally, the standard of education in American private schools is better than that of public schools. Private schools in the US needn't conform to government educational directives and therefore teachers have more flexibility and opportunity to customise the curriculum and implement a variety of teaching styles.

Because of the higher fees charged by private schools, these institutions tend to afford greater extra-curricular opportunities to their students. They can also offer greater support to students with special needs.

Unlike public schools, securing a place at a private school in the US is not determined by geographical location. Children from outside the local area may be granted a place at the school and private schools often have boarding facilities.

Expat parents hoping to send their child to one of the more popular US private schools should be aware that competition for places can be stiff and schools can be highly selective about the students they accept.

In certain states, there are also private schools that are religious institutions. If a child meets the entry requirements for a school with a religious affiliation, parents will find that fees at such schools are considerably cheaper. Some religious schools are willing to accept students from other faiths.


International schools in the USA

The majority of expats who only plan to stay in the US for a few years opt to send their children to international schools as these schools follow curricula from their home country, allowing for a smoother transition into life in America. International schools can be found in all of the USA’s major cities, including New YorkBostonWashington DC and Los Angeles.

Expats hoping to send their child to an international school should be aware that the most highly acclaimed schools have long waiting lists, and so applications should be made well in advance. Fees at international schools can be extremely high, so expats should make sure that their budget can accommodate this expense before committing.


Homeschooling in the USA

Homeschooling is becoming increasingly popular in the US. Parents who choose homeschooling for their children often do so because of the flexibility it offers. Some feel that homeschooling provides a more natural atmosphere for children, where study and play can be adjusted to suit the individual needs of each student.

When it comes to homeschooling, state regulations vary and parents are advised to consult the state’s curriculum to ensure that they cover all the required subjects. Parents sometimes choose to teach the child themselves and others prefer to hire a private tutor. 


Special-needs education in the USA

America's education system is well equipped to provide for students with learning and developmental disabilities. There are multiple federal laws in place to ensure that children with disabilities have fair access to quality education at no cost, regardless of state.

Both public and private schools usually have special programmes in place to support students with learning difficulties. In cases where a person’s disability is too severe for them to benefit from mainstream education, there are special education facilities that are able to offer students with a special-needs programme tailored to meet their specific requirements.


Tutors in the USA

Whether a child has fallen behind in maths class or is in need of additional support to excel in their college entrance exams, there are plenty of private tutors in most American cities.

It’s wise to start by asking the child’s school or other parents in the area for a recommendation. Alternatively, one could utilise the services of established tutoring companies. These companies offer an array of packages from subject-specific intensive programmes to one-on-one home tuition and small group sessions. 

Enlisting the services of a private tutor is an excellent opportunity for students to address any gaps in their knowledge, excel at a certain subject, or simply build confidence in their new environment.

Transport and Driving in the USA

There are many ways of getting around in the US, from the affordable convenience of driving a personal vehicle to the many forms of well-priced public transport. An expat's choice of transport will depend not only on their location but also on their budget, how much time they are willing to spend commuting and how much they value convenience and comfort. 


Driving in the USA

A car may not be a necessity for those living in one of the larger metropolitan areas of the US such as San Francisco or New York City. Highly urbanised areas usually have extensive local and regional transit networks. However, expats in a smaller location are likely to need a car to do almost anything that isn’t within easy walking distance. 

The system of roads and highways in the US is relatively easy to navigate, even with the moderate to severe traffic congestion that exists in some urban areas. Driving a car also means having to find a parking space but in some cases free or discounted parking is available.

While fuel costs in the US are reasonable, the cost of driving a vehicle can become expensive depending on location, distance travelled and how frequently a person drives. However, the great majority of Americans still choose to drive for reasons of convenience, safety and freedom to travel as they wish.

Expats who already have a driver's licence from their home country are permitted to drive in the US until they become a resident of their state – usually after a period of a year, but this varies from state to state. It is usually not necessary to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) unless one's licence is in a language other than English. 

Once a foreigner becomes a resident of the state they are residing in, they should visit the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in order to obtain a US driver's licence. Expats may need to take a test to get a local licence, though nationals of some countries are exempt from this.


Public transport in the USA

Intercity trains

Amtrak provides intercity railway services in the US, linking more than 500 destinations. Tickets can be purchased online, at station kiosks, over the phone, at staffed stations and onboard trains.

Local railways and subways

More than half of American states have passenger railway services in some form, though the extent of the services available varies. While underground train services are generally described as subways, some railway routes have both underground and ground-level train stops.

Railway travel in the US is inexpensive and convenient, offering similar discounts as other forms of public transport. Some cities also have trains connecting to major airports, saving commuters time, money and the hassle of dealing with traffic and parking.

Buses

While some large cities and towns have their own rail or subway service, smaller towns or suburbs may not have this convenience. In these cases, there will usually at least be some type of public bus service available. Fares are reasonable in many cases, with discounts usually available to students, senior citizens and other individuals on specific tickets.

Several bus companies such as Greyhound offer economical intercity services compared to trains, air travel, and even driving. While lacking the conveniences of other types of transport, intercity bus services are a low-cost alternative.


Taxis in the USA

Taxis or cabs are usually found in inner-city and outlying suburban areas or even within smaller towns. Taxis can be hailed in the street, at special taxi ranks or cab stands, reserved over the phone or booked online. While taxis are extremely convenient for getting between short distances, they can be quite expensive.

Ride-hailing services such as Uber are also widely available in most US cities.


Air travel in the USA

There are several large domestic airlines in the US, such as Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and American Airlines. Smaller regional carriers provide services on more specialised routes but may partner with larger carriers for greater coverage and customer convenience.

Most travellers will purchase their tickets online to take advantage of special discounts, print tickets and even check in in advance of their flight. Of course, tickets can still be purchased through travel agents and at airports.


Cycling in the USA

For expats who enjoy eco-friendly travel that involves a bit of exercise, riding a bike can be a good choice. While some cities encourage cycling through designated bicycle lanes, conveniently located public bike racks and lockers, special events and thoughtful urban planning, there are still many cities that are more conducive and safer to get around in by other forms of travel, such as a car.

Shipping and Removals in the USA

The costs and logistics of shipping items to or from the US are largely dependent on the area of the country goods are being shipped to. 

Both the east and west coasts of America have a number of major ports, making shipping to these regions less expensive than inland. To deliver smaller cargo to landlocked cities it is much faster to use air-freight delivery. It is also a good idea to buy cargo insurance, and most reputable movers will offer this. 


Shipping household goods to the USA

Household goods can be brought into the USA duty free as long as they are not new and have been in use for at least a year prior to relocation. When transporting household goods into the US, it's important to ensure that a full and detailed inventory list accompanies the shipment.


Shipping pets to the USA

To bring pets into the country, expats will most likely need to be in possession of a health certificate. Rabies vaccinations are usually not required for either dogs or cats, but this may differ depending on country of origin and the state that one plans to live in. For this reason, it's a good idea to double check pet transport regulations before leaving.

Frequently Asked Questions about the USA

Expats considering a move to the United States often have all sorts of questions, particularly regarding the country's complicated visa and Green Card regulations. Read on for answers to the most frequently asked questions about moving to the US.

Do I need to hire an immigration attorney to apply for a visa or Green Card for the USA? 

It can be helpful to enlist the services of an immigration attorney when filing for visas or Green Cards but it isn't absolutely necessary. In some cases, companies hiring expats already have an immigration attorney and/or extensive experience with the application process.

Can my family work in the US?

Members of families are usually allowed visas if their spouse has been given permission to work in the US. Once residency is established, spouses can then apply to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for permission for employment.

Do I need a Social Security Number to live in the USA?

Only expats working in the USA will need a Social Security Number. This number is crucial in order to collect wages lawfully and to possibly qualify for and receive social security benefits in the future. For non-working expats, it's not necessary to obtain a Social Security Number, as alternative forms of identification can be used to obtain a driver's licence, register a child in a local school, or apply for health insurance. To learn more, see the Expat Arrivals social security number page.

Articles about the USA

Banking, Money and Taxes in the USA

The banking system in the US is sophisticated and safe. Expats will easily be able to connect with their bank accounts overseas. Using credit and debit cards to pay for goods both locally and internationally is standard practice in the States. 

Almost all international banks are represented in the US. Those with large operations include HSBC, Citigroup, Barclays, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse. Expats who have an account with one of these banks will find that they can assist in opening an account in the US as well. 

Major banks in America include the Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. All of these banks offer access to a variety of bank accounts, a network of ATMs, internet banking and branches in most major US cities. 


Money in the USA

The official currency is the US Dollar (USD), which is subdivided into 100 cents.

  • Notes: 1 USD, 2 USD, 5 USD, 10 USD, 20 USD, 50 USD and 100 USD

  • Coins: 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents, and 1 USD 

The US is both a cash and card society. Expats will find both methods of payment accepted almost everywhere, although some of the smallest outlets may not take cards. Bank branches can be found in all major US towns and cities. ATMs are well dispersed. 


Banking in the USA

Banking in the US is extremely competitive. An array of services and rates can make choosing where to open an account confusing. It is often easier to maintain an overseas account, open a US-based account at the same bank, and transfer money back and forth. It's possible to relocate successfully without opening an American account. Expats on short stays usually choose to use their overseas account.

To open a checking account, expats moving to the US should confirm with their bank what forms of identification are required. Generally speaking, passport, immigration information, social security number and proof of address are expected. Expats without a social security number will likely be able to substitute this with another number, such as a passport number, a tax number, or an alien identification card number.


Taxes in the USA

Tax laws in the US are hugely complex and made more so by expatriation. Individuals are subject to federal tax at graduated tax rates that vary from 10 to 37 percent of the individual’s income. In addition, immigrants and most non-immigrants are also subject to Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes, which is made up of Social Security and Medicare Taxes. The FICA tax rate is fixed at a certain percentage and is divided equally between the employer and the employee. 

Most states and some local jurisdictions impose an additional state income tax. State and local jurisdictions may also levy property and sales taxes that differ widely by state, county and city. State and local taxes differ considerably both in amount and regulation. 

Paying taxes as a resident in the US

The determination of tax residency is important as residents are subject to tax on their worldwide income in the same manner as US citizens. A 'resident alien' is defined as a foreign national who meets the provisions of either the Green Card Test (GCT) or the Substantial Presence Test (SPT). 

  • Green Card Test: A foreign national who is lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence (i.e. receives a Green Card) will be considered a resident alien for federal tax purposes.

  • Substantial Presence Test: A foreign national will be considered a resident alien for a given calendar year if the individual has been physically present in the United States for at least 31 days during the year and in total 183 days or more in the current and the two preceding calendar years.

US residents are required to file an annual individual tax return, disclosing their worldwide income received that given tax year. US residents who paid foreign income taxes on income from another country qualify for a foreign tax credit or deduction.

Paying taxes as a non-resident in the US

Individuals who are not considered residents for tax purposes are classified as 'non-resident aliens'. Non-resident aliens are subject to tax only on income derived from sources within the United States. US-source income includes remuneration from employment, self-employment and trade or business activities conducted in the US. 

Non-resident expats may also be exempt from some forms of taxation such as Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Tax advisors in the US

The United States has an extensive network of tax treaties that further complete the taxation of both resident and non-resident expats. Professional tax advisors are widely used by US citizens even with less complicated tax returns. It is thus highly recommended that expats moving to the US hire a tax planner specialising in expat taxes.

Expat Experiences in the USA

When considering a move to a new city, there is nothing more useful than hearing real-life stories from other expats who have had the benefit of living there. If you live or have lived in the USA and would like to share your experience, please contact us.


Laura Peruchi is a Brazilian writer and content creator living in New York City. Here she tells us about what she loves about America and its vibrant, melting-pot culture, and what she still struggles to deal with, like not having access to universal healthcare. Read more in her interview about living in New York.

Laura

Peter H. Fogtdal is a novelist, poet, human being, ex-astrologer, Beatles-fan, spiritual airhead, American resident and a Danish citizen. Living between Copenhagen and Portland since 2005, Peter is now based permanently in the 'City of Roses', where he writes full time. Read about his experience living in Portland, Oregon

 

Peter H. Fogtdal

Italian-born expat Simona has been living in Northern California for the past 25 years. She initially struggled with constantly having to speak English, but now sometimes feels like the US is more home than Italy. Read about her thoughts on living in Northern California.

Simona USA

Las is an Irish expat who lived in Houston for almost eight years. She has since moved back to Northern Ireland but misses the US every day. Las initially struggled with loneliness when she just arrived in the US but advises expats to get mobile to combat this feeling. Read more of her advice on expat life in Houston.

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Emmanuelle Joachim is a French expat and mother of two who has lived in eight cities and five countries and speaks four languages. She considers herself a French citizen by birth, but a global citizen by heart. Read more about her expat experiences in Miami.

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Janice Clow is a Canadian expat currently living and working as a realtor in Houston, Texas. Having lived as an expat before in both Australia and Indonesia, she uses her first-hand knowledge of the expat experience to advise new arrivals on their options for accommodation in Houston. Read more about her expat life in Houston.

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From a small oil city in Scotland to a sprawling metropolis in America, Victoria Smart made a life-changing decision to move to Houston, Texas two years ago. As a real estate consultant in Houston, her aim is to help others avoid the potential property pitfalls that can be encountered by expats. Read on to find out more about her expat experience of life in Houston.

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Josh is a 30-year-old Australian who moved to New York City in January 2017. While everything in his life was going amazingly in Australia he felt that it was time to shake things up. He sold almost everything he owned, packed two suitcases, and arrived in the East Village. Read on to find out about his impressions of expat life in New York City.

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British-born Molly moved to Toledo, Ohio, in 2013 to be with her American husband. Her blog, Transatlantic Notes, is a collection of tips, musings about American life, and even recipes. Read more about her expat experience in the USA.

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Jayne Buxton is a British writer currently living in New York. She is currently working simultaneously, and in a way that is driving her a little crazy, on her fourth and fifth books. For light relief, and to stay in touch with the friends, family and dogs she misses so much, she writes a blog based on her experience of living in New York.

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Swiss-born Sandra moved to Boston in 2016 to be with her husband. Learn more about her expat experience in Boston

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Karen is British expat currently living in Bentonville, Arkansas, USA. A blogger about the small positives in life, she also likes to write about the contrasts in life between the UK and the USA. Read on to learn about her experiences as an expat in Arkansas.

Karen- A Brit in Arkansas

Emma is an Armenian expat who has been living with her Minnesotan husband in Minneapolis since July 2015. Read her interview about her expat experience in Minneapolis.

Australian-born Katherine Fenech moved to San Francisco in mid-2015 to pursue a job opportunity. Now settled in, she reflects on life in the city and shares her expat experience in San Francisco.

Padmaja is an Indian expat living in Seattle. She moved to the USA along with her young daughter when her husband was offered a new job opportunity in Seattle. Read her interview to learn more about Padmaja's expat experience in Seattle.

Laura Keller moved to New York City in 2010 after completing her degree in Germany. In this interview, we find out more about life in the Big Apple and Laura's expat experience in New York.

Anne-Marie Watson, originally from Australia, moved to New Jersey with her husband and children in 2010. In an interview with Expat Arrivals, Anne-Marie describes the pros and cons of her expat experience in the USA.

Jessica Birardi is an American national who is now adjusting to life back in New York City after spending three and half years in Hong Kong. In her interview she discusses her experience of repatriation to the USA .

Kimberly Marie Freeman, a British expat living in New York City, can certainly feign American, but she still feels more comfortable embracing her local roots. The young actress hopped over the pond to "make it" in Manhattan, and after two years she still stands impressed by all the city has to offer. Read about her expat experience in NYC.

Siobhan Wilson was born and raised in Scotland, and decided to give America a shot for six months. Nine years later, she’s still there but with a lot more baggage than she arrived with. Read about her expat experiences here.

Brit Journalist Emma Smith married "The American" and moved herself and her "Meanager" to the even meaner streets of New York City. When not feeding her twitter addiction, she enjoys the dark arts of procrastination, vintage shopping and sniffing things she can't afford in Manhattan department stores. Read on for a particularly sardonic take on expat life in the Big Apple. 

Born and brought up in  England, Toni has lived in Chicago since 1991, when she moved there with her husband. Toni is a contributor to Expat Arrivals and the author of Rules Britannia, an insider's guide to life in the United Kingdom. Read her interview about living in Chicago.

Sara Delaney is a fashion stylist and freelance writer from London currently navigating the sticky sidewalks of New York’s fashion district. She shipped out at short notice from the United Kingdom with her husband and three children to bring her fashion savvy know-how States-side. Follow the link to read her advice on successful expatriation.

Marie Sardalla-Davis describes herself as a westernised Filipina living in rural California. After two decades as a corporate writer she is currently reinventing herself, blogging and sharing her considerable expertise of being an expat in the USA via her revealing expat interview on life in California.

Jennifer Dinoia was born in New Jersey, moved to Nashville, then Memphis, then Washington DC, and then finally Virginia. She then migrated with her husband to Iceland for three years, before settling in San Ramon, California. She lives here with her husband and three children. Find out more about Jennifer's expat experience.

Julie Musk lived in Beavercreek, Ohio for two years and has since returned to Dorset, England. She has travelled extensively, including three years living in Germany and is the author of a guide for expats on moving to the USA. Read all about her expat experiences of life in the USA.

Andrea van Niekerk arrived in the United States from South Africa in 1987. She lives with her husband in northern California, and has 3 children. She works as a personal consultant with students and families involved in their higher education search and college application process. Read more about Andrea and her expat experiences of life in the USA.

Marie Brice was born in New Zealand and made Australia her home many years ago. Since then she has lived and worked in 26 countries from India to Bogotá to Malaysia. She now lives in Houston, Texas with her husband where she practices as a life coach for expats. Find out more about Marie's expat experiences.

Veronique Martin-Place is from Lyon, France, but she defines herself as a world citizen and an experienced expatriate woman. She has already been relocated four times around the globe, including a move back “home” from 2005 to 2008. She lived three years in Norway and three years in Sri Lanka. She has been living in Chicago, USA, since July 2008. Read about her take on expat life in the USA.