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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.


How to apply for a social security number and card

Expats moving to the United States will need a Social Security Number (SSN) before formally starting a job. This is used to report one's earnings to the government, and in this way it is similar to the National Insurance (NI) number in the UK.

Those residing but not working in the US are generally not eligible to apply for a Social Security Number.

Some businesses, such as credit companies and banks, will ask for a Social Security Number, but in most cases alternative identification methods are accepted. It isn't necessary to have a number in order to get a driver’s licence, register children for schools, or to get private health insurance.

All social security cards should be kept in a safe place, but it is possible to get a replacement if it is lost.

There are two ways to get a Social Security number depending on whether one is an immigrant or non-immigrant. Immigrants, or permanent residents, can apply in their home country before departing for the United States as part of the process of filing for an immigrant visa. Alternatively, a social security office can be visited in person on arrival in the US. Non-immigrants only have the latter option and can only apply once in the country.

There are offices in all towns and cities. Wait 10 days after arriving in the US before applying at a social security office to allow time for the necessary documents to be available online. There is no charge for a social security number. The process takes about two weeks. When completed, applicants will receive a small card bearing their Social Security Number.

For more information on how to apply for social security and book appointments during the pandemic click here.


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.

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. 

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.

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. As a whole, the country is an extremely safe expat destination. Those relocating to the US will just need to be wary of some inner-city neighbourhoods as these are where most criminal activities take place. 


Crime in the USA

Loose gun laws and a glaring disparity between the wealthy and the poor are contributing factors to the high crime rate in the US, but expats generally tend to live in neighbourhoods unaffected by serious or violent crimes.

Violent crime is more of a concern in city centres than in suburban and rural communities. 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. Basic safety precautions which would be practised elsewhere in the world should be followed here too, such as avoiding walking alone through less busy areas of the city at night.

Residents can expect quick responses by police or even a local neighbourhood-watch programme.


Terrorism in the USA

Although two decades have passed since the attacks of 9/11, they are still a sensitive subject for Americans – one that is generally best avoided by expats. 

There have been a few incidents of terrorism in the US since 2001, such as the horrific Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, but the country's various security agencies have largely cracked down on terrorism and are able to intercept any plots before they are carried out. The terrorism threat is now low, and the main risk comes from local individuals inspired by terrorist ideology to carry out so-called ‘lone actor’ attacks targeting public events or places. School shootings have also increased at public schools, but most schools have various security measures in place to prevent any such violence, and the risk to children is low. 


Dos and don'ts of avoiding crime in the USA

  • Do remain aware at all times. Many crimes are opportunistic, especially when someone looks like an easy target. A person who is vigilant of their surrounds and potential risks is less appealing to criminals.
  • When you move to a new city, ask for recommendations about which neighborhoods are safe and which are not so safe. Don't visit known dangerous areas if possible. Avoiding crime hotspots significantly decreases the risk of becoming a victim.
  • Do keep valuables and flashy items hidden when out and about, or better yet, leave them at home. Don't carry lots of cash. 
  • Where possible, don't travel alone at night. It is more difficult for criminals to assail more than one victim and it creates a potential witness.
  • Do stay in well-lit, public areas, avoiding isolated areas such as alleyways.
  • Do be aware of popular scams. Protect your money and your identity. Don't share personal information like your bank account number, Social Security number, or date of birth. 
  • Do use reputable taxi companies. If using an app like Uber or Lyft, double check your driver's vehicle information and verify their name before getting in the car.
  • Do treat police officers with respect. If stopped, remain calm and keep your hands where the officer can see them.
  • Do know the number for the emergency services: 911.

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. 

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 2022, New York City is the 7th most expensive city in the world. Another 18 US cities also make an appearance in this survey of 227 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 expensive accommodation prices, a burden that can be somewhat alleviated by living outside 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, gas (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. The lower gas prices also translate into more affordable public transport services for commuters. 


Cost of healthcare in the USA

Although the healthcare facilities in the USA are some of the world's best, the costs are quite steep. 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 February 2023.

Accommodation (monthly)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

USD 2,360

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

USD 1,880

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

USD 4,900

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

USD 3,230

Shopping

Eggs (dozen)

USD 3.98

Milk (1 litre)

USD 1.02

Rice (1kg)

USD 4.40

Loaf of white bread

USD 3.21

Chicken breasts (1kg)

USD 11.80

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

USD 11

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

USD 10

Coca-Cola (330ml)

USD 2.42

Cappuccino

USD 5

Bottle of beer (local)

USD 7.25

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

USD 88

Utilities/household

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

USD 0.18

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month) 

USD 58

Basic monthly utilities (includes electricity, water and refuse)

USD 154

Transportation

Taxi rate per km

USD 1.34

Bus fare in the city centre 

USD 2.75

Gasoline/petrol (per litre)

USD 0.99

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.

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, make your way to the nearest hospital with an emergency room for immediate treatment, or head to a nearby Urgent Care clinic.


Emergency Department or Urgent Care?

Emergency Departments are staffed 24/7 with physicians and nurses trained in administering emergency care, while Urgent Care clinics are ideal for urgent but non-emergency situations. They are typically staffed with physician assistants. Urgent Care providers can do basic lab and imaging tests, such as X-rays, and provide diagnoses and offer treatment plans. Urgent Care clinics have set hours and an established list of conditions that can be treated. As a result, Urgent Care clinics are generally less expensive and have shorter wait times than Emergency Departments.

Public Holidays in the USA

 

2022

2023

New Year’s Day

1 January

1 January

Martin Luther King Day

17 January

16 January

President's Day

21 February

20 February

Memorial Day

30 May

29 May

Independence Day

4 July

4 July

Labor Day

5 September

4 September

Columbus Day

10 October

9 October

Veterans Day

11 November

10 November

Thanksgiving Day

24 November

23 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.

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. 


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.

Articles about the USA

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

Relocation companies in the USA

Relocation companies are a one-stop solution to the moving needs of individuals, families and companies. When moving to the USA, expats may find the amount of bureaucracy and administrative hoops they have to jump through rather intimidating. Relocation businesses offer a full suite of services, from visas, pre-departure briefing and removals to neighbourhood orientation, home-finding services and school selection. 

Below are two international firms we recommend to ease the move to the US. 


International companies

relocation company

Sanelo

With 130 years of experience, Sanelo specialises in providing customised end-to-end domestic and international moving services. Clients get five-star protection and coverage, first-rate packing, and expert guidance for their move to the US – all through a single point of contact. With 69 offices in 38 countries, Sanelo is made to move clients wherever their heart takes them!

Website: www.sanelo.com

crown relocation company

Crown Relocations

Crown Relocations provides transportation, destination and immigration services, as well as family support, to assist people relocating internationally. With experts throughout the US and in over  50 countries worldwide, they provide the support, guidance, care and the personal attention needed to ensure a successful and seamless move for you and your family.

Website: www.crownrelo.com 

santa fe

Santa Fe Relocation

Santa Fe Relocation has been in the business for more than 50 years, and provides comprehensive relocation services to both corporate and individual clients relocating to the US. Santa Fe Relocation is an international firm of excellent repute that knows what it takes to relocate individuals, families and companies, and caters for a full spectrum of needs.

Website: www.santaferelo.com

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.

 

 
 

Diversity and inclusion in the USA

With the USA's reputation as a melting pot for all sorts of nationalities, cultures and ethnicities from around the world, those moving to the States can expect to meet a diverse range of people from all walks of life as they settle down in their new home. Here are some aspects of diversity and inclusion in the USA that new arrivals may encounter.


Accessibility in the USA

The level of accessibility in the USA varies widely from state to state – this is due to the variety of physical environments throughout the country, as well as the fact that states are able to set their own laws and policies regarding accessibility. Some states, therefore, have particularly good reputations for accessibility, while others may be more difficult to navigate for those with disabilities.

Some of the cities noted for being particularly accessible are Las Vegas (Nevada), Seattle (Washington), Orlando (Florida), Portland (Oregon) and Washington DC. Despite being renowned for its diversity, New York City’s subway is currently only 25 percent accessible for people with disabilities. That said, the city has plans to make the subway system completely accessible by 2034 and there are plenty of wheelchair friendly restaurants and historic sites to enjoy throughout the city.

Across the country, minimum accessibility standards are set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These standards must be met by any new construction, and older buildings undergoing renovation or add-ons also need to abide by these rules. This applies to all public accommodation, government and commercial facilities.

Public transport will generally have accessibility features such as ramps and lifts. Assistance is usually available for those who need it, and service animals are generally allowed on all forms of transport.

Further reading

www.wheelchairtravel.org
www.access-board.gov
www.visittheusa.com


LGBTQ+ in the USA

The USA has a generally progressive stance towards LGBTQ+ rights. In 2004, Massachusetts was the first state to legalise same-sex marriage – by 2015, same-sex marriage was legal in all 50 states. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is outlawed in over 20 states, including California, Virginia and New York and most other states on both the east and west coasts. Discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression is outlawed in around the same number of states, though not all ban both forms of discrimination. The Equality Act, currently proposed in the US Congress, would make these forms of discrimination illegal throughout the country, should it be passed.

In 2022, the US became one of the few countries in the world to allow a third gender option on official documentation – passport applicants filling out the gender section now have the options of “M” for “male”, “F” for “female” or “X” for “unspecified” or “other gender identity”. In future, the same options will be included on Social Security card applications.

Lively LGBTQ+ communities can be found in just about every corner of the USA. Traditionally liberal states like California, New York, Virginia and Illinois are still home to some of the largest and most vibrant LGBTQ+ communities, but gay-friendly bars and activities can be found in even the most conservative of states, such as Alabama and Wyoming.

Further reading

www.thetaskforce.org
www.hrc.org


Gender equality in the USA

Since 1920, when women in the United States gained the right to vote, the country has made significant steps in improving gender equality. In its 2022 Global Gender Gap Report, the World Economic Forum ranked the US 27th out of 146 countries, placing it between Latvia and the Netherlands. Despite the steps that the US has taken to decrease gender inequality, some barriers to true gender parity still remain.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the gender wage gap in the US is 17 percent in 2022, compared to 38 percent in 1979. The global gender wage gap is currently 12 percent. Persisting gender norms are a factor; women were traditionally expected to put their home life first while men were expected to be driven and successful breadwinners.

In the US, expectant parents are not entitled to any parental leave, and the question is left to employers, some of whom do offer parental leave as a perk. That said, the state of Virginia recently introduced a law mandating that insurers issue short-term disability policies for childbirth, which would allow new mothers to claim benefits for 12 weeks. While this may not be a cure-all, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Similarly, the US government does not protect abortion rights, and each state sets its own regulations.

Useful resources

www.now.org
data.unwomen.org


Women in leadership in the USA

The American public is largely supportive of women in leadership positions, but the reality often doesn’t live up to the ideal. Despite making up more than 50 percent of the workforce, women hold the minority of senior leadership positions. In Fortune 500 companies, only 8 percent of CEOs are women.

Progress has been made in female representation within politics, most notably with the presidential nomination of Hillary Clinton in 2016. Though Clinton did not win the election, numerous women in politics have stated that she inspired them to run for Congress. The election of Kamala Harris as the first female Vice President in 2021 has also been held up as a sign of major progress.


Mental health awareness in the USA

Rates of mental illness in the USA are fairly high, with one in every five people suffering from a mental illness at some point in their lives.

Significant progress has been made regarding stigma around mental illness – three quarters of Americans say they consider mental health to be as important as physical health. Six in 10 Americans say they are currently seeking or wanting to seek mental health treatment either for themselves or a loved one. However, there are other major barriers to treatment, with high cost and insufficient insurance coverage being chief among them.

To address these challenges, New York’s mayor recently announced an 11-point plan to ensure that the under-served individuals with severe mental health issues living on New York’s streets and in its subways receive compassionate mental healthcare when they are in crisis.

Mental Health America ranks Virginia 48th out of the 50 states for youth mental health, in response to this crisis, Virginia’s governor has proposed a more than USD 200 million investment in the state’s mental health services. This boost in funding is set to reduce the strain on the state’s behavioural health system and increase access to mental health services for its population.

Studies show that expats are at higher risk of depression and anxiety than the general population, with increased stress and loneliness being common precipitating factors. Tackling mental health problems early, rather than waiting to seek help, is associated with better treatment outcomes – so it’s important that expats keep an eye on their mental wellbeing and take action if needed.

To ensure easy access to treatment, expats should ensure that any health insurance provided by their employer is comprehensive, including full coverage for psychiatric and psychological services.

Further reading

www.mhanational.org
www.mentalhealth.gov
www.samhsa.gov


Unconscious bias education in the USA

Unconscious bias is an implicit set of often stereotyped ideas an individual carries about groups of people different to themselves. These ideas are not purposefully adopted but rather develop subtly over time, and people tend to hold unconscious biases about groups they never or rarely come into contact with. As a result, they're often inaccurate and based on assumptions.

Unconscious bias can profoundly affect both personal and work conditions. In the workplace, unchecked bias undermines vital aspects of the company, with negative effects on employee performance, retention and recruitment. In a bid to create a better work environment, many companies are beginning to institute unconscious bias training. There are also a number of online resources that can be used to improve self-awareness regarding bias.

Useful resources

implicit.harvard.edu
www.nonprofitready.org/unconscious-bias-training


Diversification of the workforce in the USA

Home to over 45 million foreigners, the USA has a long history of immigration, its reputation as a melting pot well earned. People from all over the globe – the majority hailing from Mexico, China and India – continuously flock to the USA in pursuit of the American Dream. In exchange, the USA has a plentiful source of labour, and this diversity has been key in strengthening the US economy.

Expats moving to the USA will find themselves in good company – in fact, the USA has the world’s largest immigrant population in pure numbers, and 17 percent of the labour force is made up of foreigners. Management, business science and the arts are the main employers of foreign-born workers, with 35 percent working in these industries, while 23 percent work in the service industry.

Studies show that diversification of the workplace is hugely beneficial to companies and employees alike. In recognition of this, many of the largest companies in the USA are setting up diversity and inclusion programmes, ensuring that a wide variety of people is represented among employees.

Further reading

www.immigrationresearch.org


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.

Loose gun laws and a glaring disparity between the wealthy and the poor are contributing factors to the high crime rate in the US, but expats generally tend to live in neighbourhoods unaffected by serious or violent crimes. Violent crime is more of a concern in city centres than in suburban and rural communities. Poorer neighbourhoods, where crime is more common, are avoidable, and downtown areas and business districts are generally safe.

Some cities have much higher crime rates than others, but people living in the US can expect a strong police presence everywhere. In fact, cities such as Richmond have seen a downward trend in homicides recently thanks to the city’s efforts in preventing gun violence. Basic safety precautions which would be practiced elsewhere in the world should be followed here too, such as avoiding walking alone through less busy areas of the city at night.

There have been a few incidents of terrorism in the US since 2001, such as the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, but the country's various security agencies have largely cracked down on terrorism and are able to intercept any plots before they are carried out. The terrorism threat is now low, and the main risk comes from local individuals inspired by terrorist ideology to carry out so-called ‘lone actor’ attacks targeting public events or places. School shootings have also increased at public schools, but most schools have various security measures in place to prevent any such violence, and the risk to children is low.


Calendar initiatives in the USA

4 February – World Cancer Day
March – TB Awareness Month
8 March – International Women’s Day
19 May – Global Accessibility Awareness Day
June – Pride Month
10 September – World Suicide Prevention Day
October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month
10 October –World Mental Health Day
14 November – World Diabetes Day
1 December – World AIDS Day

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.

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 types:

  • 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 terrific option for single expats to consider, as it is budget-friendly and a great way to make new friends.


Renting accommodation in the USA

Most newcomers to the US typically choose to rent initially and consider homeownership once they have settled in the country and found a city they want to call home long term. Renting not only provides new arrivals with flexibility, but also shields them from the often prohibitive costs of buying a property. 

Finding rental accommodation

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

There is a plethora of free websites that carry both short- and long-term rental listings. Registration is optional, and house hunters should note that any web portals that demand payment 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. Additionally, 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. In the case that they do assist with a rental, realtors will usually charge a month's rent as commission for helping tenants find a home. 

House-sharing is a fantastic option for thrifty expats and students, as it is an opportunity to meet new people while saving money on rent. Several websites specialise in student accommodation and house-shares. Roomi is one of the most popular websites in the US that connects verified prospective roommates.  

www.zillow.com
www.realtor.com
www.trulia.com
www.roomiapp.com

Furnished vs unfurnished

There are plenty of furnished, semi-furnished and unfurnished accommodation options available in the US. New arrivals who are in the country for a short assignment frequently choose to rent furnished housing for convenience. Unfurnished housing in the US generally comes bare bones, with the essentials only. These include appliances such as a stove, refrigerator, dishwasher and occasionally, a washer and dryer combo.

Expats looking to make a space their own without spending on the basics should consider semi-furnished properties. Although they can vary significantly, semi-furnished accommodation typically includes a couch, dresser, dining table and chairs and a bed frame. A furnished property is the perfect turnkey solution, with everything from furniture to utensils included.

New arrivals should note that while furnished and semi-furnished accommodation may be the most convenient, they are also likely to be pricier than unfurnished rentals. Newcomers who opt for unfurnished housing will be spoilt for choice when it comes to furniture shopping as the US market is inundated with discount furniture retailers such as Home Depot, Wayfair and Ikea.  

Short lets and temporary housing

Short lets are a good option for newcomers establishing their lives in the US. Temporary housing allows new arrivals to look for long-term housing while saving money on hotel fees. They also give expats the opportunity to get a feel for their new city before making commitments. Airbnb and Vrbo are some great places to start the search for a short term rental property. 

Signing a lease 

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 rent. Credit and background checks are commonly carried out. Those with references from previous landlords should be sure to include them with their applications.

Leases in the US are typically for 12 months and are extendable once the initial agreement has lapsed. Expats must give the landlord 30 days' notice before moving out, but some landlords may request a 60- or even 90-day notice period. Landlords are legally obligated to give tenants the same notice should they wish to terminate the agreement. 

When signing a lease, expats will be expected to pay the 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.

Pets

Expats with furry, feathery or scaly friends shouldn't have too much of a difficult time finding a rental property in the US. Although many apartment buildings and properties do not allow pets, expats can always negotiate with their landlord when discussing the lease agreement.

It is important to note that some properties restrict the types of pets and breeds that can be kept on a residential property, so it's best to consult with your landlord and obtain written consent. Landlords also have a legal right to charge a pet deposit for non-service animals, so new arrivals should be prepared for this. 

Utilities

Utilities are sometimes included in the rental cost but are more commonly an extra expense that the tenant should budget for. Costs to consider include gas, electricity, water, refuse, phone and internet. The lease agreement should specify who is responsible for which utility expenses.

Termination of the lease 

When moving out, tenants should leave the property completely clean, which includes sweeping, mopping and vacuuming every room. All appliances and electrical outlets should also be in working order to avoid losing out on the security deposit. Landlords are likely to deduct cleaning or painting fees from the security deposit should the tenant fail to return the property in the same condition they found it in.

Most landlords will account for normal wear and tear and will typically not charge tenants for this. Landlords usually have two weeks to one month to return the security deposit, should everything with the property be in order.

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.

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.

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. 

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.