Moving to USA

Moving to USA can be both an exciting and daunting process. The United States is one of the most powerful countries in the world in terms of politics, economics and trade. The cost of living in many cities within the country is relatively low and the majority of people who are based there find that they have a very comfortable standard of life. The US Dollar remains one of the strongest and most influential currencies in the world and it is this that has helped the country out of past economic slumps. The sheer size of the USA in comparison to its population means that there is an abundance of land. Many people make use of this by constructing their own houses outside the city.


Living in America as an expat

Living in America as an expat can be a life changing experience. It is a popular expat destination and is one of the most multi-cultural countries in the world with large communities of Mexican, Spanish, Italian, African American, Puerto Rican, Indian and Chinese communities. It attracts students from all over the world as well as trainee doctors, surgeons, dentists and lawyers.

Real estate in the United States is relatively low when compared with other developed countries but expats do find that prices are higher in the major financial cities such as New York City.

The US boasts some of the most successful educational institutes in the world. Harvard and Yale are two of the most famous and well-regarded universities but places at these are highly competed for. There are also a number of international schools and colleges that offer a very good education for all.

If you are moving to USA for a long time, it is important that you have full and comprehensive medical insurance, not just holiday cover. You may be refused treatment without it and you do not want to run the risk of getting thousands of dollars into debt because you cut some corners.

Overall, the USA is an excellent place to base yourself as an expat. There is an abundance of attractions to keep you occupied and you will gain invaluable life and work experience if you spend time as an expat living in America.

Living cost comparison

When performing a living cost comparison between cities in the USA and abroad, it is important to note that the cost of living in the United States really does depend upon the area and city in which expatriates base themselves. As with most countries, the cost of living in the bigger cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Houston is significantly higher than in some of the more rural areas.

In the 2012 Mercer cost of living survey New York was named as the most expensive city in the United States and the 33rd most expensive city in the world in which to live. Los Angeles (68) and San Francisco (90) are slowly catching up, however, having jumped a respective nine and 16 places since last year. Amongst other major US cities, Washington was named as the 107th most expensive place in the world in which to live, Miami (110) was up five places and Chicago, also at 110, was down two places. Portland, Oregon (178), and Winston-Salem, North Carolina (195), remain the least expensive surveyed cities for expatriates in the United States. Discussing the cost of living in North America a representative from Mercer said: “Although price increases have remained moderate overall, most US cities have gone up in the ranking, mainly as a result of the strong US dollar.”

The United States of America is one of the richest countries in the world and this means that it can often offer expats a very good standard of living. As a country it doesn’t suffer the land shortages that are prevalent in many Asian cities and this entails that property here is not as expensive. Expatriates who are willing to relocate outside the major cities will find that they can get a lot for their money property-wise.

Food and drink in the US is available at very low prices, especially fast food and there is no shortage of restaurants and food outlets. Clothes, utilities and electrical goods are also cheap.

Healthcare in the US, however, is privatized and can be very expensive. The Expat Info Desk has published a number of relocation guides for living in America. These contain full and comprehensive details of the cost of healthcare and anyone considering international relocation to the states will find these to be a valuable source of information when arranging medical care.



The USA does not have an official language, but English is the most commonly spoken language and is used by government and federal agencies. A large percentage of the population in America speaks Spanish. This is a direct result of the influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants from across the border.


When it comes to the weather, the US is so large that different parts of the country experience different weather patterns. Much of the eastern coast is plagued by hurricanes and monsoons between August and October; however the weather the rest of the year is very pleasant. States in the deep south experience hot, muggy temperatures with little rain while those states and cities further north have a much more temperate climate with four distinct seasons.

Expat job and career opportunities

Wall Street is the most famous financial districts in the world and many expats are based here if they are engaged in any type of finance related job.

Those looking to find work in the entertainment world should head straight to LA while those looking to set up a business should look at any of the major cities in the northern part of the country. The Deep South is a notoriously difficult place for foreigners to find any type of work.

The biggest challenge expats will find when they attempt to find work in the US is to gain an appropriate work visa. The current unemployment levels in the USA make obtaining such a visa even more difficult and you will generally only be able to work in the US if you have already established sponsorship and a job.

The biggest prospects for expats in the USA exist in high technology or niche markets. The US Department of Labor have forecast a requirement for 900,000 engineers by the year 2014 in fields pertaining to biomedical, software and life sciences.

Key facts every expat should know about the United States

  1. Residents are legally required to remove any snow or ice from the front of their properties (unless the building has an assigned caretaker). You are legally liable for any injuries that occur as a result of your neglect of this duty.
  2. In some areas and states people are legally required to sweep the street immediately outside the entrance to their home.
  3. Within the majority of rental properties you are not permitted to make copies of keys. You will usually need to seek permission from the landlord before doing so. In the event you lose you key you will be required to replace all the locks.
  4. In some states you can turn right on a red light if there is no traffic approaching. In such circumstances you will be likely to face angry horn blowing from cars behind you if you fail to turn right and stop at the red light.
  5. When driving in the US, if you come across a school bus that has stopped to drop off passengers you should not overtake it. It is illegal to overtake a stopped school bus and you will face a heavy fine if you are caught.

Living in America: International relocation guides

If you're considering living in America then our international relocation guides may be just what you're looking for. Expat Info Desk currently has city guides available for moving to Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and relocating to New York City. These exhaustive guides contain everything you need to know about moving to USA and will assist you to:

  • Relocate efficiently and effectively with minimum stress.
  • Settle in to your new life quickly and easily and find the help and assistance you need, when you need it.
  • Identify areas to live in that suit your lifestyle and budget.
  • Find the right places to meet like-minded people.
  • Find schools that are suitable for your children and their learning needs.
  • Ensure that your family get the most of their experiences abroad.
  • Prepare for the new culture in advance and avoid any cultural traps.
  • Deal with any transition challenges.
  • Cut through red tape and avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.

Unlike a book, the our international relocation guides are regularly reviewed and updated in order to ensure that the information is accurate and reliable and because the guides are written by real expats who live and work in the US, you can be assured that you are accessing the information that you need as written by people who really are in the know.

Working in the US

There are plenty of opportunities for work experience and internships in the US, but non-citizens will find it tough to secure graduate jobs.

The job market

What are your chances of getting a job?

The outlook for the US economy remains rather depressed, but there are some signs of positive growth and a number of industries are expected to expand over the next few years. Unemployment remains high, so the jobs market is competitive, making it particularly difficult for non-US citizens to find work in the country. Until the situation improves, an easier route may be to gain work with a UK-based employer who also has an office in the US and work towards a transfer there.

Where can you work?

  • Major industries:petroleum, steel, motor vehicles, aerospace, telecommunications, chemicals, electronics, food processing, consumer goods, lumber and mining.
  • Recent growth areas:research and development in biotechnology means the green industry (renewable energy and energy efficiency industries) is growing. An increasing number of jobs are arising in the industry, particularly in the area of sustainable agriculture using biofuels and other alternative sources of energy.
  • Industries in decline:manufacturing (except chemical and pharmaceutical), especially textiles due to an increase in imported clothing. The motor vehicle industry was in serious trouble but saw a steady recovery throughout 2010. According to reports, the construction industry is no longer in decline and in fact has seen a small recovery but it could take a long time to reach pre-recession levels.
  • Shortage occupations:nursing and skilled trades such as welders, electricians, machinists
  • Major companies:Wal-Mart, ExxonMobil, Chevron, General Electric, Bank of America Corp, AT&T, Ford Motor, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Hewlett-Packard, Procter & Gamble.

What’s it like working in the US?

  • Average working hours:approximately eight hours a day, 40 hours a week (although overtime, without pay, adds to the number of hours worked each week). It is roughly the same as European nations.
  • Holidays:two weeks' annual leave is standard. Paid leave also includes national holidays such as 4th July, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Annual leave entitlement increases with long service.
  • Tax rates:if you become a resident alien with a green card, you are usually subject to the same tax rates as US citizens and will need to declare all your income in a tax return. You can contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for more information. Don't forget to check your UK tax and National Insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to ensure that you are not losing any UK pension rights.

Applying for jobs

The methods of application are much the same as in the UK. You may be required to fill out an application form for some positions, using the employer’s standard form. Alternatively, you apply with a CV, which is usually called a résumé in the US. A CV in the US is usually a longer document (three pages or more) and is commonly used for jobs in academia. Résumés should always be accompanied by a cover letter. For tips and more advice see applications and CV advice.

Unless you are already studying in the US or have secured work experience, you will need to apply for jobs before entering the country due to the strict visa requirements. If you have highly specialised skills and knowledge, you can try applying directly to companies in the US and request that they sponsor you for a visa.

The interview process in the US is similar to that in the UK. Some companies may do a couple of rounds of interviews before deciding who to hire. Others may also require a psychological/psychometric test to be taken as part of the selection process. You might want to send a short letter after your interview to thank the employer for their time and to show how interested you are in the job.

Will your UK qualifications be recognised?

UK qualifications are generally well recognised around the world, but check with the employer or the relevant professional body prior to applying for work.

Getting work experience

Work placements and internships

A number of organisations offer work experience programmes and internships in the US. The programmes generally include help with visas, accommodation for the first few nights, an orientation programme and help with finding work. CIEE Internship USA is designated by the US Department of State to organise internships and traineeships. BUNAC also offers help with internship visas.

Exchange programmes

There is the opportunity to participate in a professional work exchange programme, as well as study exchanges. The US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsors some exchange programmes and has a list of organisations it has approved as sponsors for exchanges. The Mountbatten Institute offers year-long paid internships in New York along with the opportunity to study at evenings and weekends for a postgraduate qualification.

Casual work

It is not possible to get a visa purely for casual work, as all US work visas depend on a specific offer of employment (see the Embassy of the United States in the UK for more details).

There are a number of short-term opportunities available in the US. One of the most popular is Camp America, which consists of a nine-week placement working at a US summer camp in a variety of roles. BUNAC also offers a range of working holidays including a summer camp counselling programme, flexible work and travel programmes and volunteering/teaching placements.Camp Counselors (CC USA) arranges summer camp jobs, and work and travel experiences.

Gap year and volunteering opportunities

There are opportunities to volunteer in America and the Fulbright Commission has details of what is available and any visa issues that need to be considered. Organisations that arrange volunteering projects in the US and many other countries include BUNAC and Volunteers for Peace.

There are plenty of opportunities to spend a gap year in the States, with organisations such as BUNAC and Real Gap Experience offering lots of placements and projects.

Visa information

Do you need a visa?

The US Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) allows most British citizen passport holders to visit the US for up to 90 days without a visa. If you’re arriving by air or sea, you must get an authorisation via the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) before you travel.

If you are not a UK national, contact the American embassy in the country where you are currently residing about how to obtain visas and work permits. If you are living in the UK, go to the Embassy of the United States in the UK.

Entering the US for non-study purposes, such as employment or permanent residence, is much more difficult due to the tight restrictions on immigration. To gain a Green Card (known officially as lawful permanent residence), you would need to be sponsored by either a close relative, who is a lawful permanent resident, or an employer. See the US Citizenship and Immigration Services for more information on temporary work visas and Green Cards.

You might also find it helpful to contact your ministry of foreign affairs (or your own embassy if you are not living in your home country) to ask whether there are any issues to be taken into account when considering working in the US.

How do you become a permanent resident?

A Green Card holder (permanent resident) is someone who has been granted authorisation to live and work in the US on a permanent basis. You can become a permanent resident several different ways, but most individuals are sponsored by a family member (spouse or parent) or by their employer in the US.