Moving to USA : Ultimate Guide

The United States is a country of immigrants. As American President Roosevelt once said, “all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” Since it’s founding and up until this very day, the United States has been a melting pot for people from around the globe. 

Did you know that one in seven people in the United States was born aboard? In fact, nearly 20 per cent of all migrants on the planet are now residing in the US. With 47 million immigrants, it is the country with the most migration in the world. If you’ve been considering moving to the USA, you are in good company. 

That said, immigrating to the United States is notoriously complicated. Wondering how to make your American dreams a reality? Let’s walk through the process step by step and talk about what to expect.

Living / Lifestyle

What Is It Like to Live in the United States?

You probably already know that the US is a big country but it’s hard to fully grasp how huge it is. To get a better picture, the continental United States is about three times as big as India. In the amount of time you would spend crossing Britain, you would barely get across Texas. 

The sheer size of the country creates incredible diversity. There are half a dozen different climate zones ranging from polar to desert conditions. There are 350 languages spoken within the country. If you love watching movies and tv shows set in New York City and arrive in a Latin neighbourhood of steamy Miami or a quaint fishing village in Montana, you’re in for a surprise.

An interesting bit of research came out recently saying that there are 11 distinctly different cultural regions in the United States. These regions are as different as foreign countries and, of course, within each region, you will still find variations between urban, suburban, and rural lifestyles.

Los Angeles, USA - Muscle Beach Sign
Los Angeles, USA - Sign on the beach declaring "Muscle Beach" at Venice beach

What Is The Cost of Living in the United States?

Like the culture, the cost of living in the United States can vary significantly. While the average rent in California is $2,518, you could get the same place in Indiana for $1,113. In Massachusetts, you might pay $2,252 for rent while in Oregon, you would only pay $1,707.

If you are interviewing for jobs in the United States, it’s key to get a clear idea of the local cost of living. A place like Cleveland, Ohio, which has numerous Fortune 500 corporate headquarters, a salary of $50,000 would be a comfortable wage. 

Meanwhile, to live in New York City, you would need to earn nearly $120,000 to maintain the same lifestyle that you would have with $50,000 in Ohio. In other words, taking a salary offer that is twice as much could actually leave you with less money. Research carefully.

Moving to USA

The Most Expensive and Least Expensive Places to Live

While you might already know that place like New York and California are expensive places to live, a few other states might surprise you. Keep reading for a full list of the most expensive and least expensive places to live in the United States.

Least Expensive States to Live in the USA

  • Mississippi
  • Oklahoma
  • Arkansas
  • Missouri
  • Michigan
  • Alabama
  • Tennessee
  • Kansas
  • Indiana
  • Wyoming

Most Expensive States to Live in the USA

  • Vermont
  • New Jersey
  • Rhode Island
  • Massachusetts
  • Alaska
  • Oregon
  • Maryland
  • Connecticut
  • New York
  • California
  • Hawaii

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Legal / Visas

How Do Visas Work in the United States?

When it comes to working in the United States, you will find an array of work visa options. You might opt for a seasonal work visa, temporary work visa, exchange worker visa, or permanent residency (a green card).

Eligibility to Work in the United States

Before moving to the USA or even seriously looking at American work visas, you will want to start by looking at your eligibility to work in the US. An Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is the official sign off that gives you permission to accept employment. To get this document, you will need to complete an I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. You can find the full instructions as well as the application form on the United States government visa website

Types of US Work Visa

There are a few common types of work visa that give you permission to work in the United States. Look through these options to get a better idea of which work visa is the best match for you.

Exchange Visitor Visas

From doctors to au pairs to college students, the U.S. Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visas is a popular option for anyone looking to stay in the US temporarily. It could be a period of a few months or several years and the goal is to allow you to expand your skillset or further your career. 

Options for the Exchange Visitor visa include studying, teaching, researching, or getting on-the-job training. Within this visa option, there is a wide range of programs catered to different career paths. Visit the US government exchange visitor program website to see a complete list of your J visa options

If you are looking to live in the US temporarily and get an opportunity to experience the life and culture first hand, this is a great option. Note, however, that this is best geared to those who have no intention of moving to the USA permanently.

Employment Visas

There is a wide range of visa options available for workers. The best visa option for you depends on your skillset and the industry you work in. 

Common work visas include the Visa EB-1 (workers with extraordinary ability); Visa EB-2 (workers with exceptional ability); and the Visa EB-2 (workers with strong skills). If you are an entrepreneur, the EB-5 is a strong option as well. This is, of course, is a nuanced topic so the best way to get started is on the employment-based visa government website

Green Card Lottery Programs

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program is a popular visa lottery program that gives legal permanent US residency. The so-called Green Card Lottery was created to bring a more diverse population to the country. There is no cost to the program and you can easily sign up your chance on the Diversity Visa website.

To get ready, keep your eye on the DV Program state website. You will need to apply during a specific period of time and you can watch the DV-2021 and DV-2020 Entrant Status on the site. To participate, you need the equivalent of high school education and at least two years of experience. You must also be from an eligible country. These countries do change from time to time so carefully check the new list when the new entry window opens. 

Seasonal Agricultural Worker Visas

The H2-A U.S. Seasonal Agricultural Worker is available for up to three years for people from a set group of countries. The position can be a highly skilled job or a manual labour role that works directly with the agricultural aspect of the food supply chain. While a range of jobs may be covered, you must be working in a temporary or seasonal role. Read the full details on the official H2-A U.S. Seasonal Agricultural Worker visa info website.

Farmer in greenhouse hydroponic holding basket of vegetable

Temporary Worker Visas for Skilled Workers

If your career is in an in-demand specialised sector, you might be eligible for an H1-B visa. This type of visa can cover anyone from a fashion model or an academic researcher. If you work in a relatively uncommon position or a highly-skilled position, check the details of the H-1B Specialty Occupations, DOD Cooperative Research and Development Project Workers, and Fashion Models on the US government website. 

Non-Agricultural Temporary Work Visas

An H-2B U.S. Temporary Non-Agricultural visa is available for any role that is temporary or seasonal in its nature and not related to the food supply chain. This is a common visa option if you’re looking to work temporarily in the tourist industry. Ski resorts, beach resorts, amusement parks, and a range of other tourist-geared options are included here. If you work in the travel sector or another industry where you think this might apply, read up on options at the US government’s Non-Agricultural Temporary Work Visas site

Money & Taxes

How Do Taxes Work in the United States

The American tax system use as a progressive tax plan. When your income is low, you pay little to no income tax. As your income gets higher, you pay increasingly more.

Before moving to the USA for a job offer, it is key to understand the rate of taxation. Read the chart below to get an idea of what to expect.

Do note, however, that there is a range of exceptions so you won’t necessarily pay this full amount on your income. If you have kids, your obligations will be lower but this is a good starting point:

Tax Rate Income for Single Tax Payers Income for Married Taxpayers
10%
$ 0 - $ 9,700
$ 0 - $ 19,400
12%
$9,701 - $39,475
$19,400 - $78,950
22%
$39,476 - $84,200
$78,951 - $168,400
24%
$84,201 - $204,101
$168,401 - $321,450
32%
$160,726 - $204,100
$321,451 - $408,201
35%
$204,101 - $510,300
$408,201 - $612,350
37%
$510,301+
$612,351+

How to Open a Bank Account in the USA

In order to open a bank account in the United States, you need to verify your name, birthday, address, and ID number. This can be really simple or extremely time-consuming, depending on the bank that you go with. The complexity largely comes from the need to have a social security number (SSN).

When you are moving to the United States, you will quickly realise the importance of having a social security number. From getting started at a new job to opening a bank account, having a social security number is a very big deal.

If you have an employer helping you with the process, you might be able to get set up quickly with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). This can always be accepted in place of a social security number.

To open a bank account before you have all of your documents in place, look for a foreigner-friendly bank. Luckily, these types of options are fairly common. In general, bigger banks are easier to work with since they are more likely to have specialised non-resident programs. Banks like US Bank, Chase, and Wells Fargo are known to accept non-residents. Note, however, that some large banks are managed differently in different regions so always check with your local bank before you make any plans.

Climate & Weather

What’s the Weather like In the USA?

While you will certainly find a wide range of terrains and climates in the United States, in general, the country has a continental climate. This means the winters are very cold and the summers are very hot.

The coldest place in the US is Fairbanks, Alaska, which has recorded temperatures lower than -50 degrees C. Meanwhile in the hottest places in the US, Death Valley, California, you can find temperatures above 50 degrees C.

Before moving to the USA, get to know the climate in your new hometown. You might be surprised at how much the temperature varies both by location and time of year. Places like Alaska that see -50 degrees C temperatures also see days at 35 degrees C!

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Buying & Renting a Home

Best Websites for Finding a Place to Rent in the US

There is no shortage of places to search online for your new home. Here are a few of the most popular rental sites in the US:

It is quite common to find large developments all owned by the same corporation so you might work with a professional landlord who will give you a tour of a “show” home that features the same layout as every place in the development. Likewise, it’s also common to work directly with the property owner. Different options have different requirements and there’s no standard process.

If you are moving to a large coastal city, you might be facing a whole new set of challenges. Places like New York and California are notoriously difficult for renting. Even in high-income hotspots like San Francisco and Manhattan, it’s not unusual for residents to spend 50% of their income on rent. It’s an extremely competitive market and the usual rules are often out the window. 

Most Difficult Cities to Rent a Home in the US

While most of the country enjoys a simple apartment-search process and large spaces at a low cost, it’s a different world in many coastal spots. According to Forbes, these are the most difficult cities for rentals.

  1. Los Angeles
  2. San Francisco
  3. Manhattan
  4. San Diego
  5. Miami

How to Find a Place to Live in the USA?

Homeownership in the United States is common. More than 65% of Americans own their home and housing is relatively affordable. When you are moving to the USA, however, you will likely start out in the rental market.

In most areas of the United States, finding a home to rent is relatively simple. The majority of Americans search online then set up a viewing.

Healthcare

How Does Healthcare Work in the USA?

Healthcare is a particularly hot topic in the United States. 46 million people have no health insurance and it’s the biggest cause of bankruptcy. That said, there are a couple of public healthcare programmes: Medicare and Medicaid.

Medicare covers Americans over the age of 65. Meanwhile, Medicaid is for low-income families, including those without US citizenship.

If you are moving to the USA to work, it’s essential to ask your employer if they offer health insurance. The quality of healthcare in the United States is very high and, if your employer contributes to the cost of health insurance, it is usually affordable. If your employer offers healthcare, there will often be a choice amongst different policy options.

How to Choose a Healthcare Plan

The best healthcare plan is highly subjective. The best option depends on you, your family, and your medical history. If you are young, single, rarely visit the doctor, have no regular prescriptions, you may be better offer to pay a lower monthly fee for a lower level of coverage. If you have a family and need regular doctor’s visits, you will want a more complete level of coverage. 

When you are looking at healthcare plans, keep a list of questions handy. Ask where you can access care. Learn exactly which services are covered. Get detailed information on the monthly costs and what you pay at a doctor’s visit. 

Planning Tip: As you are shopping healthcare plans, use this clear and detailed Standford guide to choosing a healthcare plan.

Education

How is the Education system?

The American Education system, public school is free and broken down into primary and secondary school. From age six, kids begin attending a primary school (also called an elementary school). Each year is broken down into a grade. Grade one starts around six years old and kids leave primary school in grade six when you are 12 years old. 

A secondary school is broken down into two schools. There is typically a middle school for three years or a junior high school for two years. After this, teenagers then move into high school, which ends with grade 12. Most students finish high school around age 18 and, in many states, school is obligatory until age 18. 

Depending on where you move, you will find a range of private and public schools. The quality of public schools depends on your exact address so it’s wise to research schools when looking for a long-term home for kids. Approximately 90% of kids in the United States attend public school so choosing the neighbourhood with the best public school is often a prime concern for parents. 

To better understand the full spectrum of school options, check out this in-depth guide to the 13 most popular school options in the country

Education system in the US and how to move there

Final Thoughts

The United States offers a high standard of living with countless career opportunities and lifestyle perks. It’s a prime destination for short-term ex-pats as well as families looking to build a bright new future.