How to move to
The United States
Find A Job
With many varying landscapes, including sparse countryside and some of the world’s most vibrant cities, the US offers something for everyone. However, it can be a difficult country to gain entry to for work purposes, due to its stringent visa requirements and firm stance on immigration.
There are a range of visas available for certain categories of individual, which you will need to research in order to find the best fit for you and your circumstances. It is beneficial to have sponsorship from an employer, though being able to secure this can be tricky. The easiest way to gain a US work visa is to find a job within a multi-national corporation and request a transfer to their US branch – the L-1 visa is ideal for this type of negotiation.
Employers looking to fill specific vacancies can apply for H-category visas. These include H-1, for professionals, and H-2B, which is a temporary visa for skilled seasonal workers such as skiing instructors. These visas are limited in number and may only be applied for by the employer rather than an individual.
UK citizens are part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which means that individuals can travel to the US for short holidays. If you wish to stay longer than a short holiday, you can apply for a non-immigrant visa, which entitles you to stay for a long vacation, summer job or educational purpose, but is not a permanent residential visa. To live and work permanently in the US, you will need an immigrant visa; you will also need to apply for a Green Card.
Unemployment is currently lower than in previous years and some industries expect to see significant growth over the coming decade; these include manufacturing and healthcare. However, the job market is still very competitive and international graduates often struggle to secure jobs over their American counterparts.
You will need to apply for jobs before entry to the US, due to the strict visa requirements. Those with specialist skills and qualifications may find it easier to secure employment sponsorship.
Your first step is to select the cities or states you would like to work in. To do this, you can research areas where your profession is most needed and regions that you would most like to live in and cross-reference. Consider the cost of living, healthcare facilities, schools, places of worship and available housing to find an area that best suits your requirements.
Applying For A Job
Once you have found several areas you would be happy to reside in, start applying for available relevant jobs. The US application process is similar to that in the UK. Most job vacancies will require you to either submit a CV (resume) and cover letter or fill in an online application form.
If possible, you should provide references in the US. You may be expected to attend several rounds of interviews before the selection process is complete; offer an online interview if one is not suggested. To follow up after your interview, it is customary to send a thank you note within 3-4 days – this can be submitted electronically for international applicants.
Upon accepting a job offer, the process of obtaining your working visa will begin. Visas will always take several months to be issued, so you may wish to offer to do consulting work in your home country during this period. You could also offer, or may even be expected, to visit the company in the US to meet them prior to starting work officially.
It is possible to obtain seasonal work between June and September, particularly in theme parks, hotels, and ranches. Another option, popular with students, is a placement at an American summer camp, who employ thousands of young people every year. For more information on finding work at a summer camp, visit a website such as Gap 360.
There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer in the US, but you will need to ensure that you are travelling on the correct visa to undertake such roles. The business visitor visa (B-1 visa) is suitable for individuals intending to carry out unpaid work in the US, usually on behalf of a charitable or religious organisation.
Areas with large immigrant and refugee communities, such as New York, California and Texas, have a growing need for English languages teachers. However, such positions are often filled by natives due to the complex visa requirements international teachers face. For the best chance of securing a TESOL job, you will need a relevant qualification and a university degree.
Qualifications And Training
The official language of the US is English, and if this is not your first language, you may be required to sit an English Language Proficiency Test.
US employees typically work a 40-hour week, from 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday, though working outside these hours is common and generally expected if necessary. Standard annual leave is 14 days, though you could be entitled to as little as nine days paid holiday per year. Public holidays are:
• New Year’s Day
• Martin Luther King Day
• Memorial Day
• Independence Day
• Labor Day
• Veterans Day
• Christmas Day
Apply For A Visa/Permit
Foreigners who are nationals from any of the 38 visa waiver countries can enter the United States for tourism or business purposes, for a period of up to 90 days, without obtaining a visa. If you are entering under the Visa Waiver Programme, you will require an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), which must be applied for prior to travel.
Even if you are just in transit through the USA, you will require an ESTA. You will be denied an ESTA if you have a criminal record, or if you are a dual national of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria. In some cases, you may also be denied entry if you have visited Libya, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen within the last few years. The ESTA is intended for occasional/short-term use only. If immigration officials suspect that you are entering and re-entering the USA on an ESTA on a regular basis, you may be denied entry.
You may need to show proof of sufficient funds for the duration of your stay, even if you are staying with friends or family. For those who don’t qualify for an ESTA, you will need to apply for a visa at your local embassy or consulate.
There is a programme referred to as ‘Global Entry’, and this allows pre-approved travellers to pass through border control much more quickly at many USA airports. You may be eligible for this, providing you pass the background checks. UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are not valid for entry into the USA or for transit through any USA airport. A UK Emergency Travel Document that has been issued in the USA is valid for exit from the country only.
To apply for a visa to the USA, you will need to submit an application to your nearest embassy or consulate. Whether this can be done online, via post, or in person varies, so make sure you contact your local establishment to seek clarification first.
The types of visas for the US that foreigners can be eligible for include:
An employment visa is usually a temporary work visa that is designed for foreign nationals who want to enter the US for employment purposes. Such employment purposes would last for a fixed amount of time (i.e. the length of the employment contract), and employment visas are not considered permanent or indefinite.
There are two types of investment visa for the USA: the EB5 and the E2. The former allows for permanent residence, access to the education system, and the right to live/retire/work/study in the USA, if the applicant has invested into government-approved projects. It also includes residency for dependants (such as spouses and dependant children under the age of 21). The latter is designed only for nationals and citizens of countries holding an E2 treaty with the USA.
Study and Exchange Visas
The student visa is designed for academic, and sometimes vocational, studies, whilst the exchange visa is specifically for approved exchange programmes. If a candidate wishes to visit a school before they apply, they will need a visitor visa.
Tourism And Visit Visas
If you do not qualify for the Visa Waiver Programme, or if you wish to stay for a longer period of time, you will need either a tourism or visit visa. These two visas are applicable for tourism purposes, visiting family or friends, and medical purposes. If you are conducting temporary business and do not qualify for the Visa Waiver Programme, you will need to apply for a visit visa. This allows activities such as attending business conventions and/or conferences, seminars and negotiating contracts.
Other Visa Categories
This includes: religious workers, transit through the US to another country, diplomats, foreign officials, foreign military (stationed in the US), employees of NATO and ‘crewmembers’. It also includes special cases, such as refugees and humanitarian issues.
Work permits are for those who wish to legally work in the United States of America. Failure to produce a valid work permit can result in penalties, such as fines and/or deportation. A work permit is a photo identity card, issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). For certain people, this must be applied for prior to accepting or applying for work. It is also called an Employment Authorization Document or an EAD.
Green Card holders and US citizens through naturalisation automatically have the right to work in the United States. Some examples of foreign nationals that will require a work permit include: K-1 fiancé visa holders, asylum seekers, people with a pending application for a Green Card, spouses and dependants of various visa holders, and people with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). It can also include F-1 students suffering with economic hardship.
Becoming a permanent resident in the US, or ‘getting a Green Card’, can be done in a number of ways, although usually it is achieved through a family member or an American employer. Special circumstances can sometimes allow individuals, such as refugees and asylum seekers, to become permanent residents through humanitarian programmes.
You can usually apply for permanent residence in the US if one of your immediate relatives is a US citizen or a permanent residence holder. You can find out whether you are eligible for a Green Card on the government website.
Eligible investors will also be given permanent residence in the USA – see ‘Investment Visa’ for more details. In some extreme circumstances, victims of crime and/or human trafficking can obtain an American Green Card. Children who have been abused or abandoned in America can also obtain permanent residence.
Another way you can become eligible for permanent residence is if you are selected in the US Department of State’s Diversity Visa Lottery. And, according to the official government website, you may also be eligible ‘if you have resided continuously in the U.S. since before Jan. 1, 1972.’
Get Health Insurance
Many expats take out private medical insurance, even if this is not a requirement of residence, because healthcare is expensive in their destination country or because certain treatments and procedures are not available.
When taking out health insurance, be sure to check factors such as the annual and lifetime policy limits, whether there are any exclusions which are likely to affect you, whether you are limited to treatment from specific types of healthcare providers, and whether the policy covers emergency evacuation for medical treatment.
Too frequently, potential buyers of health insurance look only for the lowest cost of premiums before really considering the specific benefits and areas of cover they may actually need. Some plans are cheaper for a reason. Often they include large voluntary deductibles on any claim you might make in the future and may severely cap the benefits received under the plan. Clients should define their needs first, establish the particular area of cover they need, then determine their annual healthcare insurance budget. Only then should they look to premium comparisons, last of all.
Do not buy a plan without studying the policy wording carefully. If in doubt, ask, and only when completely satisfied complete all application forms fully, to the best of your ability.
Important questions to ask the insurance provider:
1. Does the plan allow for cooling off periods, cancellation and then repayment of premium in full?
2. Does the plan offer "Moratorium" or is it "Full underwriting" and do you need to have a medical examination before joining?
3. Does the insurer offer a 24 hour help line, 7 days a week, available from anywhere in the world (freephone)? Most insurers now offer this facility.
4. Are pre-existing conditions excluded when joining and if so, for how long are such conditions excluded?
5. Are all and any nationalities accepted or are there restrictions which apply to local nationals? Some insurers will only take expatriates abroad and not local nationals into an overseas plan.
6. Does the plan allow you to continue cover unbroken through your lifetime? In most cases insurers will continue to offer existing clients cover year on year, irrespective of age or claims history, although premium rates charged can increase dramatically with age.
7. Does the insurer allow for any doctor or consultant or hospital within the plan? Are there any restrictions in this respect? Most international plans do not place restrictions on either hospitals or doctors, but almost all demand that their help lines are called first, prior to approval of any inpatient care.
8. Does the insurer provide for the direct settlement of bills presented by hospitals worldwide, regardless of location (or do you have to pay first)?
9. What are the insurers procedures for outpatient claims? Do these require any pre-authorization or if stated in the plan can you just pay and claim? How long before you get money back from the insurer? 14 days? 28 days?.
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Rent Or Buy Property
When renting property in the USA, it is possible for expats to sign a lease before they arrive in the country. This can be arranged through most property companies, and viewings take place online. Most apartments come unfurnished, but they do still include some common appliances, such as fridges and cookers.
Once a property has been found, a security deposit and a month’s rent in advance needs to be paid. Leases are typically for one year, but some cities offer six-month tenancies. There are also options for flexible month to month rental agreements.
You will need to provide documentation to your landlord, including:
• Proof of employment
• Social Security Number
• Bank statements
• References from previous landlords
Deposit amounts differ from state to state in the US, and some states limit how expensive they can be. There are other expenses that might need to be paid too, including application fees, renter’s insurance, deposits for utilities, parking and maintenance, deposits for pets, and monthly service fees.
A break clause in the tenancy agreement is advisable, in case you have to leave the country early. This is usually the notice period (30 days) and a fee of two months’ rent.
Properties can be found online using search engines and property websites, but it is common in the US to use a real estate expert to do the search for you. However, they will charge a finder’s fee. The website realtor.com is a great resource for finding an agent, as is Zillow.com. Working with a realtor can make the process a lot smoother and help to avoid any rental scams.
If you choose to conduct your search on your own, then there are several online tools, social media pages and local newspaper classifieds that list rentals.
There are some cities in the US that are hugely popular among those looking to rent (e.g. New York and San Francisco), and they can therefore be very expensive for expats. In San Francisco, the average rent is in the region of $3400 a month. A two-bedroom flat in Sacramento might cost you between $800 and $1700, whereas in New York it might cost you between $3000 and $6000.
A lack of credit history in the US can be a big problem for expats. It may lead to you having to provide more documents to prove your financial stability. Some landlords might ask for a higher security deposit, which could equate to between two and 12 months’ rent. Having your international credit score and employment documentation to hand will help prove your income and ability to pay rent.
Buying in the US is very popular amongst expats. There are no laws or restrictions that prevent anyone of foreign citizenship from purchasing property, as long as they are eligible for a Social Security Number. If you are not, then you will need to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
In the US, there are buyers’ and sellers’ agents; you would sign up to a buyers’ agent. They would go to the sellers’ agents to find you a property. A buyers’ agent has access to all properties for sale, whereas a sellers’ agent will only be interested in their clients’ property. A commission is paid from the sale price and is divided between both agents.
When you have found your property, a verbal offer is made via your agent to the seller’s agent or sometimes to the seller personally. At this stage, you should engage a lawyer and have details of your financing. At the verbal offer stage, you can withdraw at any time, and the seller can accept a higher price.
Stage two happens over the next ten days, when the lawyers on both sides make basic checks and resolve any issues that may arise. After this, the buyer is ready to sign the contract and pay 10% of the purchase price. This is non-refundable, unless it has been agreed differently between the parties.
It usually takes 30 days for the deal to close, though it could be up to 45 or 60 days. The seller needs to prove that they are the genuine owner of the property and that the title is clean. A final visit is made to the property to do a check, and the buyer then transfers the balance, along with any taxes and fees.
Once the above stages have been completed, the keys are handed over to the new owner.
One benefit of house hunting in the US is that you can use the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which is an online database that shows every agent available and every property for sale in an area. This means that you don’t have to contact the agents directly. Popular property websites, like Rightmove, have US specific portals. Other places to search for properties include social media platforms and newspapers.
Expats face challenges when buying property if they don’t have a credit history in the US. When applying for a mortgage, you need to be able to prove how much money you earn, and mortgage lenders require two to three years of steady employment and income. Your tax return can be used as proof of income. One way to establish credit is to apply for a secured credit card, as this will give you a credit history, and have an account with an international bank that has branches in the US.
Foreign nationals can get mortgages from local US banks and lenders, as the key criteria for getting a mortgage is not citizenship but income. It is easier to get a mortgage if you hold a Green Card or are working in the US on a work visa than it is if you have no ties to the US. However, if you do not have one of these, you can apply for a foreign national mortgage, and these are available through most banks.
In order to get a mortgage pre-approved, you need to be able to show your credit history, proof of identity and past financial records. It takes a lot of paperwork to apply for a mortgage, so ensure you have easy access to what you need and comply with the lender’s requests.
Move Your Belongings
Consider if you want (or are able) to transport your belongings yourself or whether you will need the services of a removals company that deals with international moves. Unless you are travelling very light, or making a fairly short move by road, you will probably need professional help to ship your possessions. Ask for quotes from several companies first, ensuring that they visit your home to carry out a survey of your requirements. It may be worth paying extra for the removals firm to pack your possessions for you, particularly if they are going to be transported to a distant country and need special protection for the long journey. Make sure you bring to their attention anything fragile or precious that needs particularly careful wrapping and packing.
Before agreeing to a quotation, ensure that you are fully aware of exactly what is covered in the price, and that the service to be provided meets all of your requirements. For example, does the service include both packing and unpacking of your household effects? What about disassembling and reassembling of furniture? If you are planning to put anything into storage in your destination country while you find accommodation, does the price include final delivery and unpacking at your home, or will you need to arrange collection of the items? Obtain a firm estimate of the likely arrival date of your items and obtain contact details for any agents that will be dealing with the removal in your destination country. Ensure that the removals company is aware in advance of any practical considerations such as the lack of an elevator to your apartment, or likely parking problems.
If using a removals company, you may be required to take out their insurance cover for your possessions. Whether or not this is the case, ensure that you have adequate insurance for anything of actual or sentimental value that could get lost or damaged during the move. Take the time to accurately complete or check an inventory of your possessions to be moved, as this will form the basis for any insurance claim for losses or damages. Find out if insurance is included in the price quoted by the removals company, or whether you are required to pay extra for this.
The removals company should arrange any customs and importation documents on your behalf, but if you are arranging the move independently you will need to find out what documents are required and what import duties and taxes are payable (and whether you are eligible for exemption from these).
Make sure that you set aside the important documents you will need for the journey, such as passports and air tickets, and keep these easily accessible in your hand luggage.
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Register For Healthcare
QUICK LINK: United States health insurance
The USA does not have a national health insurance system, unlike many European nations, thus its citizens must take out private health insurance. A few categories of people are covered by Medicare and Medicaid – the closest to a national system that the USA possesses. Expats are usually not eligible for registering with this system, but can sign up with private providers. Healthcare in the USA has undergone a substantial overhaul in the last decade, with the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
If you are working for a US company, they will arrange health insurance for you.
If you are self-employed, you will need to take out cover through either the Health Insurance Marketplace, or a private provider.
Open A Bank Account
The United States of America has a single currency known as the US Dollar which is coded as USD and has the symbol $.
The dollar is divided into 100 cents. It is also the world’s most dominant reserve currency and is used by countries other than the United States. It is accepted in the Caribbean Islands such as Turks and Caicos. It is also used as accepted currency in other countries as a second currency. It is the world’s most used trading currency.
The American Silver Eagle is the name given to the pure silver dollar and is used to mint coins and paper dollars from one cent to fifty dollars. The word “dollar” is in the Constitution and is one of the first words in paragraph nine of Article 1. The term comes from the Spanish Milled Dollar. In the late 1700s Congress formed an act to establish a mint and a way of regulating coins in the USA. The American Dollar was born and was based on decimal value and its units, cents and dimes, were also formed.
The dollar is made of cotton fibre paper. Coins are brought into circulation by the United States Mint. Dollar notes are printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The bank notes are then issued by the Federal Reserve. Notes before 1929 were much larger than what is in circulation now; today all notes are the same size. Dollar notes come in at one, two (rare), five, ten, twenty, fifty and hundred notes. Each note contains an American President.
· One Dollar – George Washington
· Two Dollar – Thomas Jefferson
· Five Dollar – Abraham Lincoln
· Ten Dollar – Alexander Hamilton
· Twenty Dollar – Andrew Jackson
· Fifty Dollars – Ulysses S. Grant
· Hundred Dollars – Benjamin Franklin
There were higher denominations of the dollar and these are no longer in circulation; however, face value of the $500, $1000, $5000, $10,000 and $100,000 notes is now far more in collectors’ terms and these are highly sought after. They were stopped to reduce organised crime and ultimately they fizzled out in the 1960s under the presidency of Richard Nixon. The post-war era and the swinging 60s saw the larger notes used widely for large bank transactions.
The appearance of the notes has a green hue, although in 2004 different coloured inks were introduced to distinguish between denominations. There are further plans to bring in more colours in order to help those who are visually impaired to distinguish between the notes’ denominations.
The dollar is affectionately known as a "buck". Americans will usually describe the price of something ($8.99) as eight dollars & 99 cents when saying the numerical sequence of a price. The dollar bill is another term for dollar notes and a quarter is a 25 cent coin.
The dollar has declined in value since the Global Financial Crisis and the rise in inflation. Other periods of the dollar being low in value include the war-time periods of the country; this is nothing unusual in terms of world currencies. Both the 20th century wars declined the value of the dollar and the American Civil War in the 19th century showed an earlier decline.
The value of the dollar was originally pegged against the value of gold and this became untenable from the post-war era and was finally unable to be swapped for gold in the reign of Richard Nixon. This was one of many Nixon shocks. Since then the value of the dollar has been controlled by the Federal Reserve. The 70s saw a large decline in the value of the dollar as the Federal Reserve kept up a ready supply of money and this resulted in the worrying stagflation. This is when inflation is high and the economy is low and leaves a huge gaping chasm between the two. The dollar during this period lost almost two-thirds of its value. In 1979, the value stabilised as The Federal Reserve stopped printing money and inflation lowered. Between 1981 and 2009 the dollar has lost almost half of its value due to increased inflation rates.
There are many ways of sending money from one country to another. As always, expats can save themselves a lot of trouble and expense if they do a little research and shop around for the best deal.
International Bank Transfers
For most expats, currency transfer involves transferring small to medium sized amounts regularly from an existing bank account back home into a new overseas bank account in the local currency. These may be pension payments, benefits, or any other form of income.
Your home bank will usually be glad to oblige. You can set up facilities with them "on demand" whereby you fax or call them on the phone, provide a secret code or two, tell them the amount in question, and they will transfer it to your new bank, automatically converting it into the relevant local currency. Some banks also allow you to make international payments online. Whatever method you choose, transfers normally take between 3-7 days although 1-2 day transfers are often available but be prepared to pay more for these.
You can also set up regular transactions that are processed automatically on a fixed day of each month. Many state pensions and benefits can be paid directly into your new bank abroad without going through your home bank at all. Some private pension organisations may also offer the same facility.
When you first set up a transfer of funds abroad, the sending bank or institution will ask you for various codes that identify the destination bank. Often they will ask for IBAN (International Bank Account Number), BIC (Bank Identifier Code) or SWIFT codes but don?t panic - your new bank will give these to you and they may even already be listed in your new chequebook or bank statements.
As far as charges are concerned, you will probably be required to pay a flat fee per transaction. Additionally a percentage fee is often charged for the currency conversion itself. You may also find that your receiving bank charges you for receiving the transfer. Charges vary by bank but can quickly add up - ask your bank(s) for an indication of the fees involved.
As a general rule, transferring larger sums less frequently usually works out cheaper than transferring smaller amounts more often. However, if you need to transfer regular amounts of at least a few hundred pounds/dollars or need to make a larger one-off payment (e.g. for a house purchase) you should consider the services of a currency broker.
Cash Machine/ATM Withdrawals
Thanks to modern technology, most people abroad can go to a cash machine/ATM and withdraw local currency funds directly from their home bank account. This is a useful option to have for expats but exercise caution - many banks make hefty charges for using this type of facility. You may also find that withdrawal limits are in place (as a security measure) even if you significant funds in your account back home.
You can also use VISA or Mastercard credit cards to obtain cash in this fashion and if you pay the amount off quickly and avoid interest charges then fine - but once again credit card charges for cash withdrawals can be high. Check the rates carefully.
Currency brokers (also called foreign exchange brokers) offer significant advantages over traditional banks. Firstly, brokers will often be able to offer you a better rate than your bank. Secondly, the entire process is more transparent - many banks require you to accept the exchange rate available on the day they process your transaction, whatever and whenever that may be, but a specialist broker will offer greater flexibility, even allowing you to specify the rate you want in advance.
Currency brokers are smaller companies than major banks so always check their background carefully. Ask existing expats for their own experiences and recommendations before choosing a firm to handle your own foreign exchange requirements.
A good broker will discuss all the options with you and enable you to make the best decision for your circumstances. Using a broker will typically off the following advantages:
1) Currency brokers generally provide superior exchange rates to the high street banks. The currency brokers have access to the interbank rate and do not have the high costs that the banks have. This means that they can usually offer better exchange rates.
2) Use of a free Market Watch/Order Service: This allows you to tell your currency broker your target or budget exchange rate and they will ring you if that exchange rate level is reached. As the rate moves every few seconds, currency brokers can act as your eyes and ears on the market.
3) Ability to fix the exchange rate in advance using a Forward Contract. If you know you need to convert/move funds in the future but don?t yet have the money you can reserve a rate in advance using a Forward Contract. During this period, you are exposed to exchange rate movements and therefore, a forward contract is ideal if, for example, you have agreed to buy a house and want to fix the rate now but will not be making payment for a couple of months.
Savings from currency brokers can vary from between 1 and 4 per cent on the exchange rate alone, and specialists do not typically charge any fees for transmitting the funds abroad, unlike banks which often levy expensive fees or charges. If you are emigrating and transferring a large sum of money - such as the proceeds of a property - a foreign exchange company could potentially save you thousands.
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Learn The Language
If you are coming to the USA to learn English, then you are coming to one of the most extensive homes of the English language on the planet. Will you be able to get by in your native tongue, however, or will you need to speak English in order to survive in the USA? You may be aware that the population of USA speak other languages, too – what are they and will you need to learn these as well? We will answer your questions below.
English is the most widely spoken language in the USA: a legacy of its origins when settlers first came to the country from England. It is the language of the government and of media, but it is not the official language of the country: the States does not have an official language. Three states have an official language besides English, however:
• Alaska: has adopted 20 indigenous languages such as Tlingit and Inupiaq
• Hawaii: Hawaiian Pidgin English
• South Dakota: Sioux
Many other languages are spoken in the multicultural melting pot of the USA, however. Spanish is the next most widely spoken language after English, also a legacy of colonialism; and in addition, Chinese, Filipino, French and Vietnamese are in strong currency here. The USA is an immigrant culture and it is a relatively young country in terms of the non-indigenous population, thus there are a plethora of languages here which people have brought with them.
American English has a number of dialects and you will find many different accents across the country: there are, for example, significant differences between northern states and southern states, and between the east and west coasts. America is an enormous country and the variations in English reflect this.
Non-native speakers often ask what the differences are between American English and English in the UK, and in fact apart from the accents, they are relatively slight and can usually be pinned down to some variations in vocabulary. So if you have learned some English already in Australia or the UK, you will find that you are able to communicate with relative ease once you are in the States.
The language of the workplace will be American English, particularly if you are working for an international company. English is a lingua franca not only in the US work environment but also across the business world: a reflection of America’s dominant political and economic position on the planet at this time.
If you are travelling in the country, you may well encounter people who are not bilingual and who only speak English, particularly in rural areas.
If you are learning English as an adult, you will also find extensive provision in the USA. Tens of thousands of students come to the USA every year to learn English and many people who have immigrated into the USA are not native English speakers and want to learn the language once they are there. If you are working for a large company, you should check with your employer if they have an arrangement with a local language provider and if they offer in-house training.
Also check with your local university to see if you can sign up for English classes here. Many private language schools offer courses for all different levels, from elementary to advanced, and many offer summer schools and summer camps for English learning. Although many Americans speak other languages, English is the lingua franca and thus you will be learning in the context of an immersive environment. You may already be familiar with English from American media: the popularity of US TV and film spreads across many countries.
A full range of English for special purposes, such as academic training, medical and business English or English for engineering is also available in most schools and some offer online sessions.
You may be coming to the USA in order to teach English, perhaps if you are from an English-speaking country such as the USA, Canada or Australia. Although the USA is obviously a competitive market due to the number of qualified native-speaking teachers here already, there are jobs available. It is always easier to get work in international education if you have at least a certificate in either TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages).
It is also preferable if you have experience in teaching schemes such as the Cambridge English exams or IELTS (International English Language Testing System): the English test for study, migration or work. Some teaching experience in the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) will also be helpful. This assesses analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to graduate management programs, such as the MBA.
You may also find work more easily if you are experienced in teaching English for particular sectors, such as tourism and hospitality, or in summer schools. Some schools also consider it valuable to expose students to English speakers with different accents and English accents in particular are popular.
It will also be helpful to have at least a Bachelor’s degree as most language schools require this: basically, the rule of thumb is that the more qualifications you have, both in TEFL and in academic subjects, the easier you will find it to get work. Average yearly salaries are in the region of US$38K: teaching jobs are not the most highly paid in America but this obviously depends on your sector, qualifications and experience.
Choose A School
Most American children attend state-funded public schools, which are compulsory and free. The mandatory age of education may depend on individual states (usually this is between the ages of 5 – 18).
Education in the public sector is divided into:
• kindergarten (5–6-years old)
• first grade (6-7 years old) which runs up to:
• twelfth grade (17–18 years old) as the final year of high school
This culminates in the high school diploma: a school leaving qualification awarded upon high school graduation. Subjects for this are typically taught over the course of three to four years, from grade 9 to grade 12. In comparison to the UK, five GCSE passes at grade C or higher are considered to be roughly equivalent to a US High School Diploma (without Honors or 'Advanced Placement' (AP) classes).
Education in the country scores highly on international rankings, with American students scoring above average in the OECD PISA rankings across a range of subjects with the exception of maths. However, a study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington found that the US ranked 27th as of 2016, behind the top-ranking Nordic countries of Finland, Iceland and Denmark, and the Netherlands. This is a big decline from its earlier position as 6th in the world, although GDP educational spending per capita remains high. The Pew Research Center places the US in 38th place out of 71 countries in maths scores and 24th place when it comes to science. Experts say that this is almost certainly due to a reduction in US spending on elementary and high school education.
Although the standard is declining, however, it still remains good and many expats choose to enrol their children in American public high schools. However, should you wish to opt for private education for your child, you will find plenty of provision in the States. The private sector here is of an extremely high standard: students in private schools consistently score well above the national average.
There are around 34,500 private schools in the United States, serving 5.7 million PK-12 students. This sector accounts for 25% of the nation’s schools and enroll 10 percent of all PK-12 students. Most private school students (78%) attend religiously-affiliated schools.
Curricula will vary, and you will find some schools offering the International Baccalaureate and A Level.
For example, Pine Street School is an IB World School offering English, Spanish and Mandarin Immersion, Nursery to 8th Grade. Fees annually range from US$39K – 50K.
Nord Anglia International School New York is a British international private school which collaborates with MIT and Juilliard. It offers British and international curricula. Fees are around US$24K – 44K annually. Nord Anglia also offers instruction in the Cambridge IGCSEs followed by the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme in its British international schools across the USA, in cities such as Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Florida, Houston and Washington. Apply to its separate branches for their annual fees.
Founded in 1872, Dwight School, also in NYC, is a independent school (nursery-grade 12) which offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum for a fee range of US$28K – 51K per year.
On the West Coast, the Lycée Francais de San Francisco is an independent French immersion school in the SF Bay Area. LFSF provides an educational program accredited by the French Ministry of Education. Fees range from US$25K – 34K per year.
Also in San Francisco, the East Bay German International School is a dual-language immersion school offering Early Childhood, Elementary and Middle School programs. EBGIS’s integrated curriculum combines bilingual German and English instruction, teaching ages of 2 – 14 at a fee range of US$20K – 23K.
The Yew Chung International School Silicon Valley teaches preschool through grade 8 in both Chinese and English from US$22K – 26K per year.
In Washington DC, Georgetown Day School teaches students for a fee range of around US$43K per year.
The Potomac School offers instruction for students from K-12 grades and fees are around US$37k per annum.
You will find international schools throughout the US in smaller cities too, such as the International School of Tucson, which provides an internationally-based and internationally-grounded bilingual programme of instruction in Chinese / English, French / English, German / English and Spanish / English. There are pre-school and junior classes.
Thus you will have a wide range of multilingual provision in the States, depending on your child’s needs.
You may find that you need to make one-off or regular payments such as capitalisation fees or enrolment fees: these can vary so do check with the school and make sure that you are aware of what you are paying. You may be able to pay in termly instalments. Check if there are any sibling reductions. Competition can be fierce in the private sector so make sure you contact your selected school early on.
Enrolment policies will vary from school to school, but your child may be asked to take a proficiency test (for example in English or maths). You can also check the accreditation of your selected school with organisations such as the Association of French Schools in America (AFSA), a membership organization of elementary and secondary schools in the United States, or the Council of International Schools (CoIS).
Homeschooling is possible in the USA although the majority of students attend public sector schools. A number of home schooling groups are faith-based and a Christian ethos has probably been the impetus behind the recent increase in homeschooling.