Moving To The USA: A Guide For Expats

TransferWise content team
22.09.15
4 minute read

The world’s largest economy and political power attracts thousands of Britons a year to its 50 states. From new graduates working in New York and San Francisco to retirees enjoying the laidback lifestyle and year-round sun of Florida, the US is not short of British expats of all ages and ambitions wanting to make it their home. The sheer diversity offered by the land of opportunity makes it difficult to describe in a short guide, but we’ve put together some helpful pointers and resources.

Quick Facts About The USA

  • Population: 321.6 million
  • Number of British expats: 678,000
  • Most popular areas for expats: New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Florida
  • Currency: US Dollar
  • Official language: English
  • Main industries: All industries are represented in the USA

What Visas and Paperwork Do You Need?

Getting a visa to live and work in the US is a notoriously difficult and lengthy process. There are various visas available, depending on whether you want to move permanently or are just working there for a fixed period of time. Some visas require sponsorship from an existing US citizen, whereas others involve a more straightforward process.

There is also the annual green card lottery, which gives 55,000 lucky applicants a green card each year (which seems like great odds until you find out that more than 15 million people apply). The US Department of State website has all the information you need regarding visas suitable for employment, study, business and full immigration.

The Cost of Living

How long is a piece of string? The cost of living in the US varies enormously depending where in the country you are living. The Economic Policy Institute have recently put together a useful interactive tool: You can input the size of your family, and the area you are interested in, and it will give you the figures.

For example, a family of four in New York City will need a household income of just under $100k for a “secure but modest” standard of living - whereas the same lifestyle would cost just over $60k in Dallas, Texas. Check out the figure-crunching website Numbeo for some details as well - you can use their comparison tool to see the figures against the UK for a useful benchmark.

Setting Up Your Finances

Many banks familiar from the UK high streets are represented in the US, including HSBC, Barclays and Citigroup - so it is worth speaking to your UK bank to see what the options are for their expat customers. The US banking system will throw up few surprises to anyone used to the UK system.

Make sure you register with TransferWise in order to transfer money between your UK and US accounts without having to pay hefty bank fees. It is also useful if you want to transfer money from either account to somebody else’s account overseas.

Finding Somewhere To Live

Depending where you are moving, renting a house or apartment is a fairly straightforward process. Find a suitable place via a local rental site or local newspaper - or simply exploring an area for a “for rent” sign and then submit a lease application. If you are looking to buy somewhere, then you should contact a local realtor who will offer advice and support during the process (albeit at a price).

Education And Schools

Although there are regional variations, the American schooling system is generally split into three levels: Elementary School for ages 5-10; Middle School for ages 11-13, and High School until grade 12 (age 17/18). Children of expats will be able to access their local school - however take into account that American public schools (state school equivalent) tend to be funded by property tax. Therefore schools in richer areas often have better facilities.

There are also “Magnet Schools” which focus on specific subjects while still teaching the full curriculum, and “Charter Schools” which are non-profit and funded from private sources. The US also offer a huge variety of private and international schools, for parents who are willing to pay fees of between $10k and $30k a year.

Healthcare

With the introduction of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - the so-called ObamaCare - health and health insurance are currently hotter topics than ever. US residents are required to enroll in a minimum essential coverage health insurance plan. You can buy this via a broker, or direct from an insurance provider - or via your employer if they offer it.

Most businesses that employ over 25 people will be required to offer this option. Check out the ObamaCare Facts website for more information - or for a reality check of how difficult (and expensive) the American healthcare system can be, this Guardian article has some sobering information for expats.

Other Useful Resources For Expats In The USA

Before moving abroad, take a look at our handy time-sensitive checklist to remind yourself of everything you need to do to get organised.

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