Moving to the USA – A Guide for Expats

It is the land of the free and home of the brave. The USA is also a fantastic country in which to live as an expat. Roughly the size of Europe, with 50 diverse states, it is home to spectacular landscapes, varied climates, exciting cities and a welcoming population. You can see why so many British expats choose to call the USA home.

But there is a big difference between a holiday and choosing to live in a country. Here we take a look at some of the things you should take into account when planning your move. Keep in mind that each state has its own laws, taxation and even culture, but there is a lot that unites this fascinating country and here we aim to answer your key questions about moving to the USA

Lifestyle in the USA

In many ways, Americans are similar to their British cousins, however there are a few key differences that become apparent when living in the country. One is a greater reliance on cars. Distances are vast in comparison to the UK and outside of cities like New York and San Francisco public transport can be difficult, so households are much more likely to rely on driving – luckily, owning a car is more affordable than in the UK.

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Living costs will vary depending on the state and city you choose, but there are many places where your money will go a lot further when buying a house (Florida is one such example), particularly if you choose to live outside of the major cities. There are many affordable food and drink options when eating out and a dazzling variety of goods in the huge supermarkets, while clothes and electricals can also be found at lower prices than at home.

One aspect of life that will be more expensive is healthcare, which can be prohibitively expensive without insurance. Your US employer should make provisions for you, but make sure you have thoroughly read what is covered in case you need supplementary cover. If retirees are on the B-2 visa, staying just six months of the year, you don’t get a social security number, which makes securing health insurance more complicated. It is possible though, or you can opt for a longer term travel insurance from home. Whatever your status, health insurance is key if you don’t want to end up with soaring medical bills.

Retirement to the USA

If you dream of retiring to the USA, keep in mind that there are no specific visas for this, however there are some other options available. If you can invest $1million into a government-approved business, then you can obtain residency through the EB-5 visa. The business has to create job opportunities for 10 American citizens within the first two years, but you are free to hand over the running of the business to a general partner while you enjoy your retirement. The visa will give you a conditional green card for the first two years, and after that a full green card and citizenship after five years.

Another option is to apply for the B-2 visa, which allows UK citizens to spend up to six months a year in the USA, as long as you can show strong ties at home, such as a property, as well as funds to support yourself while in-country.

Expat Finances in the USA

It may slip down your to-do list when moving country, but make sure you study up on the basics of the US tax system before you arrive. It is also worth finding a local advisor who can help you with any queries you have. The US tax system works at both a federal and state level, but overall taxes are lower in the US than in the UK (just remember they don’t include healthcare). If you are a permanent resident, you will be expected to report your global income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you will be taxed twice, there is a system of foreign tax credits to take this into account, and if you are a non-resident you will simply pay tax on local earnings.

When looking to open a bank account in the US, a good place to start is with the UK banks that have a presence in the USA. If you have an account with HSBC or Barclays, it should be easier to open an account Stateside, possibly before you even leave the UK. Even if your bank doesn’t have a presence in the USA, it may be linked with an American bank so it is always worth asking. Opening a bank account as a recently-arrived expat is relatively straight-forward as long as you have a social security number, although requirements may differ from state to state and some may request a credit check, which can complicate matters.

Retirees living in the USA can claim their UK pension from there, receiving an increase each year in line with (UK) inflation.

Education in the USA

With an expansive state school offering (catering for about 87 per cent of school-aged children), alongside fee-paying options, the US education system is similar to the UK’s, albeit with a different curriculum. Children study at elementary school – which includes kindergarten – until the age of about 11, progressing to middle school or junior high until age 14, before completing their final four years at high school.

The standards at state schools can vary in different regions and areas as there is no national standard, so do your research before enrolling your child. Or if you would prefer to follow a British or international curriculum, investigate private and international schools in your area, although these can be expensive.

At age 18, your child will receive their high school diploma, but it is not just this that will get them into university, they will need to apply to each institution individually and may be required to sit a standardised test, such as the SAT or ACT if they want to complete a four-year Bachelor degree. State universities are often much cheaper and offer significant discounts to students from within the state, and there are also a plethora of private universities, where the cost of studying can quickly spiral. It is worth investigating the standards of both options before making a financial commitment, for example, keep in mind that the famous eight Ivy League universities are all private and at the very expensive end of the scale. Also make sure to investigate scholarship options (try, there are many available, from sporting to academic, to help with the fees.

For more info on US eduation, check out our guide to studying in the USA and getting to grips with the US education system.

Driving guide USA

The USA is the land of the car and as an expat you will want to take advantage of the great road network to explore spectacular scenery and fascinating cities and towns dotted along the routes. Beyond the famous Route 66, there are so many road trip options available to help you get to know your adopted country better.

As you explore, just remember that different states have different road regulations. One thing that will be familiar is the imperial system, with everything measured in miles per hour. Keep in mind that the drink-drive limit is a blood alcohol level of 0.8 per cent across the board and carrying open containers of alcohol in the car is illegal.

The great news is, buying a car, petrol (gasoline) and insurance are all more affordable than in the UK and you can drive for up to one year on your UK licence as a visitor before you have to get a local one. However, once you have residency, you have between 30 and 60 days to transfer your foreign licence to the state you are living in through the DMV, which involves a written test and can involve a practical in some states.

Moving with pets

If your move is all planned and you can’t bear to leave Mr Fluffy at home, there is good news. Animals coming from the UK are not required by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to have a rabies vaccination or health certificate. However, do check with the state you are travelling to as they may require a rabies vaccine and your airline may request a general health certificate before travel. Your pet will be checked on entry to the country and if there are fears that they look like they could have a communicable disease they will be checked by a vet at your expense. If you’re moving to Hawaii or Guam, there are mandatory quarantines for all pets. For more information on moving to the US with pets, click here.