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How Living The American Dream Can Turn Into An Expat Nightmare

The American Dream, rooted in the Declaration of Independence, proclaims that all men have been created equal and have the right to life, liberty, equality as well as the pursuit of happiness. In the past, this ideal only applied to white men; however, it has undergone a significant change over a period of time. Today, men, women and children in the United States of America are entitled to these rights, regardless of their race, color, nationality, age, gender and social status.A life of high standards and equal opportunities can be quite tempting, especially for citizens of developing nations. As a result, each year, thousands of foreigners migrate to the US, in the hope of realizing their expat dream, which is quite close to the American Dream. Unfortunately, life is this country is far from perfect and immigrants could soon regret their decision to settle down here.

In fact, Bernie Sanders (American politician serving as the Junior US Senator for Vermont) recently said “For many, the American Dream has become a nightmare”. While many of the citizens strongly disagreed with this sentiment, a number of foreigners could actually find themselves relating to it. No one can deny the fact that the US is currently undergoing a difficult trial politically, economically and socially.

Everyone will have their own reasons for staying in or leaving the country they have migrated to. While some foreigners choose to stick it out, they may not be very happy with the life they are living. Others could give up and go home within a couple of months. Either way, the whole experience of residing in the US will become a bitter one. Below are some of the reasons why the American dream can turn into an expat nightmare within a short period of time.

Obtaining residency permits

Getting a legal residency visa or permit for the US can be quite a challenge for foreigners that are neither medical professionals nor engineers. Even the most well-qualified and experienced managers, bankers, finance experts, teachers and so on, find it difficult to get a job that will get them a work permit.

In other nations, you may be able to make a trip on a visit visa, find a job and have your new employers sponsor the paperwork for your work permit. For places like Australia and Canada, it is possible for people to apply for a permanent residency and then make the move. However, that is not how things work in America. This is mainly because the authorities discourage local companies from hiring outsiders, if the same position can be filled by a US citizen. The only way to get a legal permit is by finding a job, where the company is willing to apply for your work permit and residency. Alternately, if you work for an MNC overseas that moves you to the US, they will help you get the required paperwork.

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There have been numerous instances of people from Europe, Africa and Asia moving to America on a tourist visa, in the hope of finding a job. However, most of them don’t find success, primarily because they don’t have a work permit. Those who cannot afford to go back home sometimes make the decision to become illegal immigrants. They then live in the constant fear of getting caught and being deported.

Living costs

While citizens from the UK, France and other parts of Europe find the cost of living in the US fairly reasonable, most other expats believe the opposite. However, it is strongly recommended that a couple should have an income of at least US $ 3,000 (£ 2,397; €2,699) per month if they would like to lead a comfortable life. Some of the main expenses that you are likely to incur include rent (along with a deposit), utilities, groceries and healthcare.

While food in the US is on the reasonable side, your bills could be high if you eat out regularly. This is mainly because it is a norm to pay anywhere between 18% and 25% in tips at most establishments. In fact, Americans tip almost everywhere, restaurants, bars, clubs, hair dressers, spas, salons and taxis.

It is possible to minimize commuting expenses by using trains or buses on a regular basis. However, these facilities are not available in every city and you may have to use taxis, which can be extremely expensive. In fact, the US is one of the places where you have to pay a huge amount for using an ambulance service.

Education in this country is among the most expensive across the globe. Public schooling is free but the university fees for higher education are exorbitant. A majority of the Americans can only afford to go to college if they get a student loan, which takes them decades to pay off. This is the reason why a number of students from the US are now seeking admission in universities and colleges overseas.

The cost of living in some cities is definitely higher than the others. These places include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis, Washington, Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, Pittsburg and Miami. While many outsiders believe that the US is extremely expensive in comparison to their home countries, it is possible to minimize expenses in several ways.

For more information on the cost of living in this country, visit Numbeo.

Taxation liabilities

People who earn an income in the US often complain about paying heavy taxes to the federal and state governments as well as other hidden and unexpected taxes. Even though the amount gets deducted directly from your salary, you are required to file your tax returns on an annual basis. Those who are on a temporary work permit will be taxed at the source but do not have to file an IRS return.

Interestingly, if you are a permanent resident of the US, you are liable to pay taxes on any income that you earn in any part of the world, even your home country. You could end up paying a huge amount in taxes each year, because of this policy.

Fortunately, the US also has a few double taxation relief treaties in place with several nations. If you are planning to live in this country for a longer period of time, it may be worth seeing if you can avoid paying double tax on your income overseas. For more clarity on international taxation, you can visit the IRS website.

Employment opportunities

The majority of the organizations in the US prefer hiring Americans and will only consider employing an outsider if a position cannot be filled by a local. It is therefore very difficult for immigrants to find suitable jobs, even if they have the required qualifications and experience.

Many of them settle for jobs that they are over qualified for. In fact, a majority of the immigrant taxi drivers and laborers in the US actually have professional degrees from foreign countries, but have not been able to get the right employment opportunity.

Moreover, there are numerous expats, who are living in the US on an H4 or Dependent Visa. Such people cannot get jobs in spite of being qualified. They are literally dependent on their family members for everything.

Lack of suitable employment opportunities is one of the factors that kills the American Dream for many expats.

Foreign certification

Professionals from many parts of the world realize that some of their degrees and experience credentials are not really recognized in the US and will not help them find the job they are looking for. This means that they need to undergo training for a certain number of hours, clear an assessment and get certified from a licensed establishment in the US in order to pursue their career in that field.

This obviously comes at an additional cost; you may have to invest thousands of dollars and several hours just to get certified on a topic in which you already have ample knowledge and experience.

Difficulties integrating into society

Contrary to what outsiders believe, most Americans are quite tolerant of immigrants living in their country. However, they do not necessarily trust outsiders or go out of their way to welcome them into their society. You therefore may find it difficult to make friends even though everyone around you is very cordial and polite.

If you live in one of the major cities, you will probably find many other expats from your home country, which makes things much easier. However, if you live in a smaller town, this could become a problem and lead to a severe case of loneliness.

Working hours

The standard working week in the US is 40 hours, which is on par with most places across the globe. However, due to severe competition at the workplace, people have the tendency to stay on after office hours; working on the weekends is not uncommon in this country either.

According to the law, people who work more than 40 hours a week have to be paid extra at the rate of 1.5 times the hourly rate. However, this practice is more prevalent for people in junior positions, not at middle management and upper management levels.

When it comes to work-life balance, the US ranks low on a global level. According to the PBS Newshour, America was 29th among the 36 advanced nations that were surveyed. To find out more, visit PBS.


Almost all the major cities have a robust public transport system, comprising taxis, buses and trains. Daily commuters can minimize their travel expenses by using the bus or the train. However, those who live in the smaller towns have little choice but to travel by taxis, which are very expensive.

It is possible to get by on public transport if you live in one of the bigger cities. However, there is a very high dependency on cars across the country, especially in the smaller towns. A majority of the residents prefer owning their own car, even if they have easy access to public transport. Almost all families will have two cars. This allows for easier mobility, but could mean a significant increase in monthly expenses for an expat.

One of the other factors that has further killed the American dream is a lack of universal healthcare, despite the fact that this country spends more on healthcare than France and other developed European nations.

Yet, the US remains one of the most sought after expat destinations in the world, in spite of all the potential challenges listed above. This is because there are numerous advantages of living in this nation too. Thousands of expats from across the globe have been based in this country for decades and consider it their home. A majority of immigrants believe that moving to the US was one of the best decisions they could have made, not just for themselves but also for their families. Some of the factors that make this country an expat magnet are its good standard of life, quality of education, infrastructure, diversity, safety and so on.

It is also essential to bear in mind that the US is so vast and varied that generalizing is unfair. What might be the norm in one state could be literally unheard of in another. Similarly, the people or even the conditions in a particular region may be completely different from the rest of the country.

It is therefore absolutely essential to conduct a detailed research of the area that you are interested in moving to. Make sure that you consider all the positive and negative aspects of living in this nation, before you decide to settle down in it.