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How to move to the USA from the UK

So, you want to know how to move to the States? There are many factors you’ll need to consider before you decide whether or not to cross the pond. In this article we’ll outline the major issues at hand, from laws and visas to accommodation and healthcare.

Planning and preparation

Everything contained within this article should factor in your planning and preparation. As a UK citizen moving to the USA – whether for a short-term contract, a permanent job offer or even retirement – you’ll need to prepare yourself for a host of cultural, logistical and financial differences.

To emigrate to the USA, you will need the right visa. Visa applications can take many months, so it’s best to get the process started as soon as you’re sure you want to move. The basic options are a Sponsorship Visa, Working Visa or Family Visa.

● A Sponsorship Visa requires an employer recommending you for entry in order to work for them
● A Working Visa means you will need to convince the authorities of your usefulness to the American work community – a postgraduate degree or many years of experience in your field will help
● A Family Visa is only available to those people who have a family member who is already a US citizen

If you’re thinking of retiring to the USA, your only options are a Family Visa or entering the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, also known as the Green Card Lottery. The program is run by the US government, and offers the winners a US Permanent Resident Card. The lottery creates 55,000 immigrant visas per year.

Cost of living

The cost of living can vary dramatically across the USA, so be careful to research whichever state you plan to live in. Unsurprisingly, California and New York are the most expensive, and most of the north-eastern states are also at the higher end of the spectrum. Move a little further west, though, and you’ll discover that Ohio and West Virginia actually rank in the top 10 cheapest states. Head south, and you’ll find things a lot cheaper still: Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee are all in the top five cheapest states to live in.

Lifestyle and culture changes

Although the UK and the USA share a common language, there are many differences in culture to consider. The USA is a vast country, and the customs and habits vary accordingly. In general, you’ll find Americans to be open, welcoming and friendly; although, as with anywhere else in the world, you may find that people are a little more brusque in the larger cities. Minnesota was recently named America’s friendliest state, while the classic southern hospitality of Texas ranked in fourth position.

Keep in mind to exercise added caution when travelling or walking alone, especially at night. Crime rates vary wildly across the country, so be aware of your surroundings and don’t take unnecessary risks. A few final tips: if you’re driving, drive on the right, and if you’re walking, wait for the green man – jaywalking is an offence in many US states.

Accommodation

Accommodation can be a big expense, but prices will vary depending on where you want to live and in what kind of house. If you dream of a beachside condo in Southern California or a penthouse suite in NYC, you’re going to need some serious capital. However, if you’re content with a modest apartment in the suburbs or a small house in a town, you’re much more likely to remain solvent.

The likelihood is that you’ll be looking to rent in the first instance, and the rental market is much the same as in the UK. Start checking out real estate websites such as Zillow and Realtor in advance to get a feel for the pricing and locations in the area in which you’re looking to settle. Usually you’ll be required to pay one month’s rent in advance plus another month’s rent as a deposit, and you will likely be subject to credit checks.

Money

In order to pass those credit checks, you’ll need to be able to prove your solvency. This can be difficult in a new country where you’ve yet to build up any kind of credit history, but there are ways around it. Many of the USA’s largest banks, such as Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, already have a significant presence in the UK. Many major UK banks also have a presence in the US.

If your bank doesn’t have a US presence, don’t worry – you can apply for a US bank account while you’re still in the UK. In fact, whichever way you choose to proceed, you should ensure you’ve got an account set up and verified before you reach the US. Otherwise, it will be difficult to prove your credit history. The USA is a highly credit-driven society, so ensuring your financial affairs are in order before you leave could prevent a lot of stress and bureaucracy upon your arrival.

Sending and receiving money from abroad

Even if you’re planning on staying in the US forever, chances are you’ll still need to send money back to, or receive money from, the UK. If you’re able to keep an account in your name open in the UK with the same bank with which you’re banking in the US, you should be able to make quick, safe, commission-free transfers through your online banking system.

If not, there are many other options available:
● Sending/receiving money through your bank or building society
● Using a foreign exchange (FX) broker
● Using a high-street money transfer service
● Using a money transfer app

The pros and cons of these methods can be found in our article on sending money abroad. One of the best new ways to send money abroad is PagoFX, an international payment service backed by global bank Santander. PagoFX is a transparent app, with no hidden fees – delivered with the security that comes from a renowned bank. Having all the flexibility associated with financial technology (fintech) or digital payments services and the security of a high-street bank, the app offers the best of both worlds.

Healthcare in the US

One of the most contentious issues surrounding life in the USA, especially for Brits who are used to the NHS, is healthcare. America is infamous for its expensive private healthcare, and there’s no real way around it; if you don’t have medical insurance, you either don’t get treated or you pay an astronomical amount for medical assistance.

If you’ve received a Sponsorship Visa, it may be that the company employing you has its own healthcare plan. In a lot of instances, this will cover not only you as an employee, but also your family. If you’re not on a Sponsorship Visa or your company doesn’t offer healthcare benefits, you’ll need to pay for your own private medical insurance. There is a government scheme, but you won’t be eligible for it until you’ve lived in the US for at least five years – and even then, there is no guarantee.

There are international insurers who specialise in policies for expatriates (travel insurance won’t cover you if you’re living and working in the US). These policies don’t come cheap, but some form of medical insurance is a necessity for living in the States. On the plus-side, once you’re insured, you’ll receive some of the most advanced and top-class medical care in the world.