Immigrating to USA: Guide to living and working in America
The United States of America is the world’s largest economic powerhouse and the second most popular destination for emigrating Brits, second only to Australia.
Millions of foreigners hope to relocate to the USA in pursuit of the “American Dream” which promises to provide those willing to work hard with success, prosperity and upward social mobility.
While the worst possible crisis arrived in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic, which tugged at US President Trump and the economy’s every weakness, those planning to relocate to the “Land of Opportunity” can still look forward to starting a new life abroad.
Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, the ability to start a new business, find a job and boost income remains unsullied.
However, as the US continues to be an appealing destination for prospective expats, the country’s immigration system is as competitive as ever.
That comes as no surprise given that America is rife with opportunity, from the cosmopolitan metropolis of New York to the Hollywood glamour of Los Angeles, trendy nightlife in Miami and the peaceful lifestyle of the midwest – the US offers something for all.
That being said, the process for obtaining a visa or permanent status in the country can be tedious and lengthy as you must meet specific criteria to be eligible.
Whether you’re an ex-pat already living in America, considering relocating for work or with family, it’s essential to understand the legal requirements for moving to the US.
With our complete guide on immigrating to the USA, we’ll walk you through the steps needed to acquire a US visa and citizenship, as well as how best to manage your finances to ensure you avoid any unnecessary financial troubles when you move overseas.
Emigrating to America: visas and residency requirements
According to the American Immigration Council, one in seven US residents is an immigrant, equivalent to 14% of the national population, or 44.7 million people.
Yet, while immigrants make up a significant proportion of the population, obtaining a visa to live in the United States is a notoriously laborious process.
But don’t be put off! Some 577,000 people were granted permanent residency in the last fiscal year, while 834,000 became citizens – an 11-year high.
The US has an abundance of visas available depending on whether you want to live and work temporarily or permanently. We’ve outlined some of the most commonly applied for visas.
Work visa – USA
Employment is one of the most popular routes taken to stay in America for an extended period legally.
Those considered “exceptionally skilled” and possess the right education and experience, may be eligible to enter the US on a work visa providing they meet a specific set of requirements.
There are several types of work visas for permanent workers, including the following:
- EB-1: an employment-based, first-preference visa for those of extraordinary ability, or in high-level positions such as an executive or manager.
- EB-2: an employment-based, second preference visa for those with postgraduate degrees or possessing the equivalent.
If government officials approve a work visa, your spouse any unmarried children under the age of 21 will also be eligible for admission into the US, providing they apply for the relevant immigrant status.
Investor visa – USA
The United States also offers an EB-5 investor visa for those wanting to obtain legal status to engage in commercial enterprises that benefit the US economy.
According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a minimum of USD 1.8 million must be invested to be eligible for this visa. In contrast, a minimum investment for TEA is USD 900,000.
The investment must also create or preserve employment for 10 US workers, excluding the investor and their immediate family.
To access further information on available visa types, head over to The US Department of State website.
If you’re already living in America or considering relocating permanently, you may be more concerned about how to obtain US citizenship.
Obtaining US citizenship
In the United States, you can apply for citizenship through descent, marriage or naturalization, providing that you meet a set of criteria.
While permanent residents can enjoy much of the same benefits as US citizens, they do not have the right to vote, run for public office or apply for an American passport.
More importantly, they could have their residence rights revoked by the government if the individual violates the terms and conditions of their residency.
While a permanent resident card (green card), permits indefinite stay, it must be renewed every ten years else this status could be revoked.
If you are a US citizen, the government cannot repeal your status unless you become involved in acts of terrorism.
To obtain US citizenship by naturalization, which is one of the most common ways for expats, you must:
- Be a permanent residence for a minimum of five years, or three years if applying for citizenship through marriage
- Be age 18 or over
- Demonstrate proficiency in spoken and written English
- Be a person of good moral character
- Go through the 10-step naturalization process which includes taking a biometrics appointment, interview and an oath ceremony
If you are making an application for citizenship by descent, at least one of your parents must have been a US citizen at the time of your birth for you to be eligible.
Can I apply for dual citizenship in USA?
Though the United States permits dual citizenship, if your home country forbids secondary status, you may have to revoke your first nationality.
To find out whether you’re eligible for dual citizenship, contact your home country’s embassy or consulate for further information.
If your country of origin permits dual citizenship, then you’ll be glad to know that you can live, work and own property in the USA and at home.
However, suppose you’re splitting your life between two countries. In that case, this could expose you to undesirable costs and fees, particularly if you have to exchange a substantial amount of your income into US dollars (USD), and vice versa.
Applications for US citizenship alone cost USD 640. At the same time, the biometrics appointment will set you back an additional USD 85, the USCIS fee USD 220 and the certificate of citizenship USD 1,170, taking the total fee to USD 2115.
Should you need to make regular international currency transfers, you could avoid high fees by using a foreign exchange specialist such as Halo Financial. Halo Financial can offer you a competitive advantage with better exchange rates and same-day delivery.
While banks offer foreign exchange services, most tend to offer poor exchange rates and levy hidden fees in international transfers to profit on the transaction.
Fair and transparent fees, tailored advice and hedging against currency risk are just a few of the services Halo Financial can offer you.
Halo Financial is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and can mitigate the risk of fluctuating exchange rates and offer maximum flexibility on your currency transfers to save you on your overall costs.
As exchange rate volatility can have a significant impact on your income and your savings, Halo Financial keeps costs and rates competitive and pass the reduction rate onto their clients.
Whether you’re retiring, temporarily relocating or considering emigrating permanently, by avoiding unnecessary costs and protecting your funds against adverse exchange rate movement, you’ll be able to enjoy more of your life in the USA.
Cost of living in America
Given the diversity of backgrounds and incomes in the United States, the cost of living can appear somewhat ambiguous, particularly as salaries differ from state to state.
According to Numbeo, the cost of living in America is 6.42% higher than in the UK, while average rental prices are a staggering 35.61% higher.
Mercer also confirmed that the USA is home to some of the world’s most expensive cities in their Cost of Living 2020 survey. New York City places fifth in the rankings, while an additional 21 states make an appearance of the 209 cities in the survey.
However, the high cost of living is primarily compensated by wages, as workers tend to earn 50% more than the national average in expensive cities.
Courtesy of the US dollar’s (USD) strength, Brits living and working in the United States now earn 40% more on average than they would in the UK
The average starting salary for a teacher in New York is USD 57,845, whereas a newly qualified teacher in London earns between GBP 25,714 and GBP 32,157. Even at the highest end of the spectrum, this is the equivalent of approximately USD 41,589, which is more than USD 16,000 less than what a teacher would earn working in NYC.
Minimum wage in USA
While expats can benefit from higher salaries in more expensive cities, the cost of living here will also be higher. Hence, we advise researching the kind of lifestyle you can afford before you move to the US.
Remember that rental prices, consumer goods and grocery prices are all considerably higher in America, so managing your finances is crucial to ensure your money goes further.
The United States also has a relatively low minimum wage compared to other countries at USD 7.25. Should this impact your lifestyle, you might want to consider how to balance your salary with the cost of everyday living expenses in the state you choose to reside.
Healthcare costs in USA
It is essential to factor in healthcare costs when moving to America, as unlike the UK and other European countries, the US does not have a free public healthcare system.
There have been many stories about outrageous bills for the uninsured party who needs emergency treatment, so ensuring you have comprehensive healthcare insurance is essential.
Without healthcare insurance, you could be faced with pressing costs, with prices for hospital services and medical procedures starting from:
- USD 500 for an ambulance call-out
- USD 10,000 – USD 30,000 for pregnancy care and delivery
- USD 5,000 for overnight stays
- USD 35,000 for a knee replacement
However, while medical services in the US are expensive, the United States devotes more of its national income to healthcare than any other country in the world.
After President Obama introduced the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, many Americans, including residents, can now access essential healthcare at a lower price, or through their employer.
Education in USA
Whether you’re considering starting a family in the United States, or it’s in your plans to immigrate with your family, it’s important to understand how the education system works in the country and how this will impact your family.
The USA has a decentralized education system, and each state is responsible for setting educational standards, which has a direct influence on the structure, funding and curriculum in public schools.
Public schools are free for permanent residents and US citizens; however, the quality of teaching varies across the country. That being said, US public schools get especially good results for immigrant students compared to other countries.
Should you decide to enrol your children into a private or international school, you’ll have the ability to choose the syllabus and exam system you think is best for your child.
However, you should note that fees for international schools and private schools are expensive. The annual national average for private schools in the US is USD 11,004, and international schools tend to carry similar fees.
Although the system varies from school to school and state to state, education is mandatory from the ages of five and six until the age of 16, with the exemption of few states where academic teaching is compulsory until the age of 18.