Category Archives: US Life

Advice for foreigners who are living and who want to live in the US to navigate daily US life

Pros & Cons of a Foreigner Working in US

So many people from around the world desire to work in America and most of what we devote words to here relate to the Immigration reality of that process. Today we will largely focus on the major Pros & Cons of the professional worker in terms of daily reality vs. what you may be used to in your home country. Some of which will crossover with the US Immigration reality but a lot just the general benefits and issues with working in the US that are experienced by anyone working here that may be different to your life previously.


1. Salaries and Potential For Earning Are Higher In Most Industries:  The US Dollar while not as strong as it used to be (meaning you don’t get quite the currency benefit you used too) is still the best currency to be earning in for most professions especially in areas like Technology, Finance, Entertainment, Biomedical/Health, Education, etc. where US companies dominate the world stage and then areas like Law where the earnings rates are astronomically higher. The reality is for the average professional worker they can negotiate and command a six figure salary ($100K+) far more easily, in far greater number, far earlier in a career and across a broader swath of professions than anywhere else in the world. There are countries like Singapore and Switzerland that have become havens for expats to earn a lot and the BRIC nations (Brazil, China, India and Russia) for fast growing opportunities and wealth but in all cases the relative proportion and raw totals of those earning the higher salaries are far smaller than the US and certainly harder to access for foreign citizens. When bonuses are added to package which can sometimes exceed the salary in sectors like Finance, the entire package can be very lucrative.

2. Benefits Paid For Like Healthcare: Often when we speak about healthcare it is the negative aspect of the US vs. other countries, however given that most salaried employees still have healthcare fully or almost fully paid for by their employer along with life insurance and in some cases expense accounts, travel allowances, transport benefits, etc. the total value of the salary package becomes even larger. Of course in other countries healthcare may be totally or largely free or already come out of some sort of single-payer tax on all incomes, however this benefit payout effectively puts the US worker almost on equal footing and higher than those countries like Australia which have a Public/Private system.

3. Tax: While the US doesn’t have the very low tax rates of Singapore or even more generous tax haven smaller nations like Monaco, it does have very low tax rates by world standards and depending on whether you live in states like Texas (which has no state income taxes), you can have very low overall taxation on your hard-earned income. Also as US has jobs in most industries it allows opportunities for all types of workers which does not exist in most of the lower tax nations of the world.

4. Equity: The way most Americans get to the very and hyper wealthy stage is not usually from salary but from equity. Many companies and particularly those in the Technology sector offer equity in the form of either grants or options to employees as part of the overall package. These can become very attractive if a company does very well and for example approximately Facebook’s first 1,000 employees became millionaires instantly when they had their IPO in 2012.

5. Quality of Life: This is a tricky one as quality of life can be found anywhere depending on what you value. The one thing that can be said for the US is that assuming you choose a city that suits your personality (i.e. NYC for the urban lovers or maybe Denver for those who love nature or LA for those who love the warmth), the range of options and freedoms to pursue activities are at worst the equal of what you would find elsewhere. Then because so much of the Entertainment industry is located in the part of the world that socially you can enjoy a very fun time. If you like Travel within the US or the North AMerican, Caribbean, South American areas, then the ability to travel as well is great.

1. Work Hours: In terms of world standards, US working hours tend to be longer in terms of starting earlier, finishing later and being more open to work in off hours. Certainly many companies are trying to be more flexible to worker needs with work from home, different working hours, however the reality regardless of your sector chances are you will be working more hours and it is viewed as a marker of success in many industries. With the mobile revolution the idea that people are always working is possibly even more prevalent.

2. Vacation & Sick Time: US laws around vacation are not very strict and essentially the minimum any company really has to give is 2 Weeks (or 10 business days) and that can include any Sick Days. Additionally even though the US has Federal holidays like July 4th, Thanksgiving, etc. no private company is mandated to give their employees the day off. In practice of the 12 or so federal holidays in a year an average company might given 8-10 of them off. More and more companies are being more flexible and newer companies are likely to have around 3-4 weeks for workers for Vacation time and some are moving to unlimited models. However the majority of companies will have less vacation time than you are used too in your home country. Sick leave is often an after thought for many companies and results in the fact that many employees work when sick to avoid waiting vacation days.

3. Healthcare: This may seem funny since I put Benefits and paying for healthcare in Pros, however here I am speaking about the nature of healthcare itself although not necessarily the quality. US healthcare standards are certainly high and cutting edge and the range of options are excellent however because of things like co-pays, in and out of network providers, mandatory referrals for some specialists, covered and non-covered procedures, coverage caps and a strong desire to medicate and over-test patients means that a lot of your time and/or money can be wasted in the healthcare system and not necessarily to make you any healthier at all.

4. Travel Costs & Experience: Whether it is comparing US Airlines to Foreign Airlines, US Airline Lounges to Foreign Lounges, Amtrak vs. European/Asian Trains, Options for Discount Carriers, the US falls short of what you may be used too elsewhere. The reality is you are not going to get any free meals on domestic travel in almost all cases regardless of flight length, your trains are going to be slower and more expensive, Airport security more intrusive, airline lounges are largely nothing more than nice lounges with mini amenities and discount air travel is virtually non existent. Two small wins are the comparatively low price on fuel for cars and the fact the baggage allowances per traveler are greater than particularly Europe.

5. Filing Taxes: This is another one where I list Taxes as a benefit but filing taxes as a Cons. Filing Taxes in the US has a number of annoyances not the least of which being that it largely not possible to do it free for most professional workers. Many online tools do streamline the process and charge comparatively little $15-30 but the principal that something you are mandated to do has no option for you to do it free is frustrating. Now while your taxes are somewhat simpler to do if all you have is a salary and standard deductions, the moment anything deviates from that in to other assets, incomes, education expenses, etc. it becomes exponentially more complex and confusing. The online tools do a decent job of demistifying this, however it is the complex laws that are the problem. Additionally in most states you have to file a state tax return as well in the states where you have earned income and reside which adds to the process. The IRS have extraordinary powers so not complying can be very costly financially and to any future immigration prospects like Permanent Residency.


Moving to US to Live & Work – Horror Story

Where ever you live and what-ever you think of ‘Americans’, it cannot be denied that the chance to live and work in America is an exciting opportunity that would be difficult for anybody to turn down.

Such an opportunity was presented to my family nearly two years ago. Now, as we look back at the way our lives in the UK were too casually discarded, and stress again at the difficulties we had building new lives in North America, we feel a duty to pass on our experiences as a warning to anyone following in our path.

Although I had enjoyed many work related visits to Connecticut, the major influence of American people and culture had, for the rest of the family at least, come from the television. This is, of course, an extremely misleading and distorted channel for information. I am sure that there was a time when the box in the corner (or now more likely on the wall) was an informative and serious source of knowledge. Those days are long gone in our generation of dumbed-down quick-moving entertainment. It seems that no-one under the age of thirty wants to dwell on an idea for longer than ten seconds without the interlude of a joke or an explosion. America does not have jokes – it has slapstick; it does not have explosions – unless, some would have it, specifically arranged by the government.

So the first piece of advice is a scouting visit for all concerned to see what it is really like. This will, I assure you, both dispel wrong notions and delight in new experiences. You will find that Americans are not loud and arrogant, as you may have come to think from those sit-coms; but friendly individuals who work hard and play hard. If you can do the same then they will welcome you most heartily.

This initial adventure should be designed for two purposes: firstly to have a jolly good time but also more seriously as a reconnaissance of the area you expect to make your new home. It is important to see some of the sights and so make the visit a ‘holiday to remember’, but you should also travel; eat and stay in the local towns. Wherever you currently call home will have areas that you would not want to live in – and America is no different. You may want to have a second scouting visit, if possible, to find a home to rent so that it will be waiting for you when you arrive.

If it is at all possible you should arrange to have a relocation officer. This will not always be available to you, but we came across people who had a much easier transfer because of the assistance of a local representative.

As early as possible in the organization of the move, you must start the process of obtaining the American visas. Due to many reasons, our visas arrived just one week before we were due to travel and this caused us no end of problems. If you can get them sorted early then it will reduce the stress on arrival substantially.

Our lack of visas meant that we could not book flights or removals or even sell our cars in a controlled manner. These all, in particular, cost us significantly due to late fees and desperate sales. Being able to plan your last few months in sure knowledge of your move will vastly decrease the stress and anxiety from that we had to endure.

If you own your home then part of your plan includes the decision of what to do with it. Should you sell or rent it out? We are by no means financial experts, and so we can only tell of our own experience, but it has worked well for us in obtaining a long term tenant. This was the beginning of the recession and we had attempted to sell our house for a full year prior to our American opportunity being presented to us. The prices had dropped dramatically and so we would have been selling at a time of great loss of equity.

If you can obtain your visas early then you can carry out the task which will absolutely change your experience of the new country – you can obtain a Social Security Number.

These nine digits are your key to unlock a multitude of doors and without it you almost do not exist. If you arrive on American soil without this number then you will have to live an expensive and dreadfully frustrating life until the obligatory weeks of waiting for your allocation are over.

Without this number you cannot rent or buy a house. You cannot get paid for your work and certainly not obtain medical insurance. You cannot lease or buy a car and so you have the extensive car hire costs to contend with. You cannot have a phone (other than pay-as-you-go) or arrange for an internet connection. You cannot set up a television service either, but not such a bad thing perhaps as the family will be forced to actually talk to each other.

We had to basically pay upfront for everything by existing on the cash we had brought with us and the use of our English credit cards. The banks had great fun continually cancelling our cards due to ‘potential fraud’, however much we protested.

Whatever you do, do not bring your local currency as there are no facilities for currency exchange. We were astounded to find that there are no travel agencies or exchange bureaus and we had to laugh when we asked the bank to change money – they said they would have to send it away and it could take up to five weeks before we could receive the equivalent in dollars.

With the arrival of our Social Security Number we were finally able to lease a car and we then had the fun of arranging insurance. It is essential you take evidence of no claims with you and obtain insurance within thirty days of arrival in America. We were stung badly by our delay such that we are paying many hundreds of dollars per month which takes a significant chuck out of our income.

Another thing that you can arrange if you obtain your visas early is for the work permit for your spouse. Our visas included the ability for us to apply for a work permit but we did not appreciate that it would cost us so much or that it would still take so long.

The above can really be summarized quite simply in the advice to start your plans to move to America early and arrange as much as possible before you travel. When you obtain your visas then immediately apply for a social security number and a work permit for your spouse. Arrive with these documents and the proof of no-claims on your vehicle insurance. With these and hopefully a home waiting for you to move into, then you will be much more able to enjoy the adventure of new experiences in the land of ‘yes we can’.

Guest Post Author
Dave Corby

For more information about our experiences with relocating a family of 4 and a dog from the UK to America come read our blog at: