It used to be said that moving to the United States of America was the thing to do if you were an actor or a singer and wanted to make it in Hollywood. Times have changed, and nowadays you're more likely to want to head off Stateside if you work in healthcare, finance or the tech sector. If you have the right CV and the right credentials then America truly is the Land of Opportunity. But don't forget to pack your ambition...
It has to be said, moving to and getting a job in America is not exactly straightforward. For the best part of a century America has been the main immigration country for international dreamers and drifters, with some of the highest salaries in the world combined with an affordable cost of living. Because of this, an American visa was often seen as a golden ticket to prosperity and the American Dream.
Times may have changed somewhat, and the cost of living in the USA is higher than it used to be, but if you are placed in the right sector your salary package is likely to be very generous. Here are some of the top jobs in the US and the average salary associated with them (all figures from CNBC):
You'll notice that the top three highest paying professions are in the medical sector. In fact, it is not until much further down the list that other professions begin to appear:
So, if you have the right qualifications and are interested in moving to the USA then what is your next step?
To work in America you'll need to have a work permit in the form of the correct US visa. The immigration service in the USA takes a hard line, and if you are caught working illegally you can expect to be deported, at the very least. That said, if you do have the necessary skills and qualifications and you have identified a need for your expertise then your first step will be to get the right visa in your passport.
In general, there are two paths you can take when applying to work in the USA: the permanent residency option, or the temporary work visa route.
If you are a British citizen living in the UK and want to permanently move to America then this is probably the easiest option for you, assuming you have the right connections. Be warned however, the application can be tedious, it's tough to qualify and it takes time. In general, you are only likely to receive a Green Card if you have close family already living in the US, or if your US-based employer sponsors you. A common option is to apply for a Marriage Green Card via your (American) spouse.
There is a cost of application involved, which ranges from around $500 to $1,200 depending on the complexity of your application.
If you don't think you would qualify for a Green Card but want to try your luck, you could always enter the Green Card lottery which occurs every year. In it, up to 50,000 people are randomly selected from international applicants to receive a Green Card.
The non-immigrant work visa is the most popular option for British citizens who want to dip their toes into the American way of life and work in the USA for a while. Known as the H-1B, the temporary immigrant work visa allows for stays of up to six years, but you'll normally need a job in advance and your employer will have to sponsor you. This type of US visa does not lead to permanent residence, and there is currently a processing backlog due to Covid-19 meaning it can take from 5 - 7 months to get one.
Anyone aged between 14 - 79 can apply for a temporary work visa if they plan on doing any paid work in the USA, with the first step being the completion of the DS-160 online form.
Once this has been filled out you will need to pay a fee (usually $190) and schedule an interview. You will be required to present a number of documents, including a valid and undamaged passport, a colour portrait photograph, evidence of your legal and residential status in the UK, any relevant health or criminal record files, and a letter from your sponsor or employer stating what position you will be filling and how much your salary will be.
For UK applicants hoping to move to the USA, an interview will be scheduled at the US Embassy in London, where they will also process your documents and electronically scan your fingerprints. The process generally takes from two to three hours and the embassy will hold onto your passport afterwards.
If your visa application is successful you can expect to have your passport delivered back to you by courier within seven working days. Should your application be unsuccessful, or if further checks need to be made, the process is likely to take a lot longer.
There are many other types of US visa you can apply for, such as to study, do seasonal or agricultural work, or to work in a religious capacity, but the above two visas make up the majority of international visa applications.
Compared to the UK, it is generally thought that Americans work harder and longer hours than us Brits. The average American gets three weeks of paid vacation per year, rather than the five weeks we are used to in the UK - although there is no actual right to paid annual leave at all. Prospective employers will want to see evidence that you will dedicate yourself to working hard and making their company a success.
If you see a job opportunity that appeals to you, before you apply you must make sure your CV (known as a resume in America) is in tip top condition, with plenty of evidence showing your work achievements. Moving to America, you will notice the work ethic is strong, and you'll likely have to try hard to convince would-be employers that you're the right person for the job.
Furthermore, if you can demonstrate that alongside a strong work ethic and team player spirit, you are the kind of person who takes the initiative and is not afraid to stand out from the crowd, then you'll increase your chances of getting a decent position in an American company.
George Bernard Shaw was reputed to have said the UK and America are two countries divided by a common language. Sure, English is the spoken language for both, but there are lots of variations between the two so you should brush up on your American idioms before you leave.
Language aside, most Brits have trouble with the American service charge convention, which often seems excessive to us. You'll be expected to leave a sizeable tip in a restaurant, cafe or bar, regardless of how good you thought the service was. Employees often rely on their tips for pay, and refusing to leave one is considered disrespectful.
Another thing that might or might not affect you is the American use of the imperial system of measurements. Yes, although many people in the UK still use pounds, inches, yards and ounces, in America almost everyone does. If you're into making food from recipes you'll likely be baffled by the 'cup' measurement. Just to clear that one up, a 'cup' is 237ml.
Finally, patriotism is a big thing in the US. Although American may not agree very much on political matters, nearly all of them feel a strong sense of patriotism towards their country and will stand for the national anthem. Some sing along to it, while others simply place their right hand on their heart.
Unless you are 'young, free and single' and have few worldly possessions, you'll likely be faced with a few planning headaches as you make the move across the pond. Most likely you'll have family members to consider, a property to sell (and buy), and numerous loose ends to tie up. Finding the right international removal company will help you shift your possessions, although you may have to wait several months for your cargo container to arrive at a port such as New York.
One of the first things you'll need to do on arrival, however, is arrange for health insurance. There is no reciprocal agreement between the US and the UK for health cover, and publicly funded provision is limited to those most in need. You may find that health insurance is provided by your company as part of your salary package, but if not you will need to arrange it yourself.
You will also need a Social Security number (similar to a National Insurance number in the UK) in order to do simple things like open a bank account. You will in fact need to provide it when you start your new job. Applying for a Social Security card should be done as soon as you arrive.
Obtaining a new driving license is another aspect of moving to the USA that you will need to consider. Each state has its own rules about driving licenses, and the bad news is that you will not simply be able to convert your UK license but will have to take some form of written and practical test in order to get a new one. Nevertheless, you are given a period of grace of 30 - 60 days, during which you will usually be allowed to use your UK license.
Once you have settled and lived in America for over five years you may decide to become a naturalised US citizen, meaning you would be entitled to a US passport and other privileges. To do so you will have to take a pledge of allegiance, pass an English and civics exam, and attend a naturalisation ceremony. Becoming a US citizen gives you the same rights as all other Americans.
You don't need us to tell you how large and diverse the United States is. That said, picking a place to live will no doubt depend on your job. The population of the US is highest on each coast, with the densest level of population in the northeast, in cities such as New York, Boston, Washington and Philadelphia. Your economic opportunities and employment options as an expat are likely to be the highest in these areas, although West Coast cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco are home to much of the tech sector.
Buying property is an individual affair, and the US real estate market is huge and varied. Prices vary widely, with a New York City condo (apartment) going for over $1.5 million, while a full sized house in a Chicago suburb costs as little as $300,000. You may decide to rent somewhere until you get settled - that way you will know if you made the right choice with regards to the job and area.
If you are going to be buying property, or any other large purchase such as a car, you will likely need to transfer money from the United Kingdom. The best way to do this is by using an international currency provider, such as Currency Solutions. This way you'll avoid many of the charges typically levied by banks, and you'll get a good exchange rate too.
Whether you decide to give the American Dream a go, or if you think immigration to the US is not for you, always make sure you do as much research as possible before you make any life changing decisions. That said, if you decide to go for it we wish you the best of luck and hope everything goes well for you.
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