America has drawn people from around the world for a long time. The Statute of Liberty invites the world to send, “your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”. And for all the millions of hopeful new arrivals, the mighty lady standing off New York’s shores always seemed like the warmest welcome to a land of freedom and opportunity.Today’s new arrivals might be less likely to be escaping famine or pestilence than their destitute forebears. But they are still arriving with hope in their hearts, seeking a quality of life and the chance to live a life packed with chances for improvement.
Even expats who don’t intend to stay forever can enjoy America’s freedoms, entrepreneurial spirit and glorious landscapes. But the home of ‘big sky country’ is a massive continent with distinct regional identities and variations in laws.
An argument that has raged between rappers, writers, politicians and millions of residents is one that expats should consider before heading to the ‘Land of the Free’ and the ‘Home of the Brave’. The East Coast versus West Coast debate has raged since cowboys roamed the landscape and San Francisco was wooden huts on a hillside.
The USA is a coastal nation; the majority of the country’s big cities are to be found next to an ocean. But the question of which ocean can define a city’s lifestyle, business opportunities and the way of life its citizens lead.
Expats bound for a new life stateside should know, is west really best for them? Or should they look east?
The East vs West argument covers the entirety of both coastlines, each separated by several thousand miles of farms, mountains and deserts. But the discussion is usually distilled into a comparison of two champion cities, which seemingly embody the best of each coast: Los Angeles for the West and New York for the East.
So when commentators celebrate the west coast’s creative industries, they are usually thinking of Hollywood and the media juggernauts that play in California. But New York offers great support to small media houses and freelance creatives.
American immigration law is such that you are probably moving to take up a specific job in an already established office. But if you do have a choice in where you go, make sure the opportunities are there for you to thrive.
Despite being a giant continent, there are still parts of America which are the home of particular industries. Detroit, for all its economic woes, is still in the driving seat of the nation’s motor industry. So make sure you are in the right place, not only to avoid competing with the big boys, but to reach out to your market and also to find the support you need.
It may sound like an odd consideration, but think of the kind of lifestyle you want to live. You can’t find a Manhattan-style brick loft apartment in the low-rise bungalows of California.
Even as a long-term resident, you’ll still want to indulge in sightseeing, getting to see a little of America’s short but fascinating history. If rugged miners carving gold out of the rocks piques your interest, the wild west will interest you most. If the revolutionary war, founding fathers and political history are more your bag, the east is for you.
Of course you can always travel to see the things that interest you, but evening trips to landmarks and weekend visits to nearby towns are more manageable, fun ways to get away with the family.
It’s not just day trips to neighbouring cities that expats should seek to pack in. Living in another country is a great opportunity to visit nearby nations.
From New York, it’s a sort hop over the border to Canada; San Diego is a piñata’s throw from the Mexico frontier. America is also an airborne nation; it’s pretty common to jump aboard a ‘puddle jumper’ to fly just a few hundred miles to visit another city.
But if you want to visit Europe it’s just six hours from the east, whereas flying from the west coast adds a considerable amount of time, making a business trip to visit clients a bit of a time sink. Of course, visiting a partner in Hawaii is a hell of a flight from the east.
It’s easy enough to fly to Hawaii from LA, but there aren’t many other destinations beyond South America. The wide expanse of the Pacific means you’re looking at an 11-hour haul to Tokyo.
It’s not just business that you’ll need to consider; flying home to visit family or going somewhere for a little vacation time should also be taken into account.
America is known as the land of liberty, where people are free to do just about anything in the pursuit of happiness. These high ideals are all well and good, but there are parts of the country which aren’t wildly supportive of alternative lifestyles.
Button-down morals and a serious outlook on life can place a lot of pressure on new arrivals to conform. Large metropolitan cities tend to be less bothered by eccentricities and weird behaviour, but there are locations where the bizarre is celebrated.
San Francisco is the world capital of alternative lifestyles, home of the hippy movement as well as gay pride.
Melissa Curtin, writing for askmissa.com states, “I have truly lived more in the last four years than I have lived in the last ten before I moved from the East Coast.” Curtin left Washington DC, a city she found stifling, to settle in LA.
Curtin has swapped late nights of overtime and work stress for hiking in canyons, surfing the ocean and enjoying the freedom to meet unusual people. “I have traveled all over the world and there are only few places that compare to the grandeur of California.”
Older cities on the east coast are often pretty tightly packed, making even the most compact of apartments an expensive proposition. That’s not to say that bargains abound in the sprawling west coast settlements, but further out from the more desirable neighbourhoods, you can find reasonable accommodation for a budget.
The cost of transport needs to be accounted for. Many east coast cities have comprehensive public transport systems and roads clogged with traffic. Even the most powerful of business executives rides the rails with students and janitors. Much of the west, though, relies on private vehicles and buying a car is a must for anyone looking to get around town.
The climate on the west coast is more even, meaning homeowners are less likely to be hit with high energy bills after running heating or air conditioning for hours on end.
Staying fit and healthy is important for everyone, but even more so for expats. Living overseas is a stressful, busy experience; without looking after yourself mind and body will start to let you down.
Health is a way of life on the west coast, and not just for fitness-freak enthusiasts. Maybe it’s the sun, the surf or being surrounded by all the beautiful people of the movie industry, but California leads the way in celebrating careful eating and getting plenty of exercise. This seems to have spread all the way up the west coast.
Surfing, hiking, jogging, skating, yoga – you name it and it can be enjoyed, from the meatheads of muscle beach to the soul-cleansing retreats of Big Sur. There’s also a celebration of healthy eating, packing fresh fruit and vegetables into home-cooked as well as restaurant food.
Looking back to the east, even the most ardent of active athletes has to fit their fitness regime around long working hours and inclement weather.
West coast culture may be quick to adopt the latest fad diet, from carb-free to ‘juicing’, but these crazy food fashions seem to be working. West coast residents are so much healthier than their east coast cousins that their health insurance premiums are lower.
It’s important to remember when LA residents praise the West coast’s climate that icy Alaska also sits on the same coast whilst sunny Miami basks on the East.
But in terms of what to expect, we all know that California is warm and stays warm year-round. Seattle is famous for the rain, with the north Pacific chill keeping temperatures low but even. The east, on the other hand, is much more varied.
New York, Philadelphia and DC can all bake during summer, but then disappear under snowdrifts and blizzards just a few months later. Either extreme can make for difficult working conditions and can drive up living costs.
Some people enjoy a calendar filled with seasonal variation, but the west coast may have the last laugh. It’s possible to surf on a sunny beach in the morning in California but to be skiing on the slopes around Lake Tahoe by the afternoon.
This is a big dividing line between the two coasts. The west coast is a little more stiff, but enjoys a wealth of cultural assets.
A night at the opera, or in a swanky restaurant with champagne and caviar is more likely on the east coast. High fashion, high art and classical music can all be enjoyed in New York or D.C.
Vegetarian cuisine, cafe culture, impromptu music festivals and shabby chic fashion all call the west coast home. Whatever you enjoy, you should know on which coast to find it.
California especially suffers from a lack of funding in the public school sector. There’s a myriad of reasons for this, most of which provoke intense debate, but the result is that high school diploma rates are higher on the east coast.
East coast kids can enjoy a good standard of state education whilst also having the option to pay for some of North America’s most acclaimed private schooling.
From prep schools to Ivy League Universities, the east coast is regarded as leading the way. That’s not to say that the Universities of Washington, Southern California, Berkley and California at both Berkley and L.A. aren’t world famous.
Expats with school age kids should consider their options; international schools and private schools might be the best solution to ensure the quality of their education. Many employers will offer funding support for such schooling.
Ensure also that your employers offer financial support for university education. College fees have long been expensive in the USA and can take years to save up for.
This argument could be embodied by Mark Zuckerberg and Don Draper of TV’s Mad Men.
Facebook’s baby-faced CEO, Zuckerberg is a business whizz and the figurehead for Californian cool corporations. Laidback and easygoing, the hoody-sporting boy wonder is a great ambassador for the dress-down tech giants of Facebook, Apple and Google.
Don Draper, though a 1960s style icon, typifies a New York that takes its business seriously. Up and down the east coast, men and women sport shined shoes and smart-looking suits for their commutes into the office.
Where east coasters rely on trains, taxis and public transport to get to work, the opposite coast may jump on a bicycle, a skateboard or drive their own car along the multi-lane highway.
The stereotypes are reinforced by expats who see the formal, serious attitudes carried into the offices of the east coast, whilst the relaxed eccentricities of the west coast are actively encouraged by bosses there.
Of course, there is more to life than work, and everything outlined here should be taken into account when considering a move. Take the time to think about what you want from your life abroad.
Did you move to either coast of the USA? What do you think are the advantages and challenges of each? Let us know in the comments!
Article by Andy Scofield, Expat Focus International Features Writer