Key information when you move to the US

 

 

The United States of America has long been the symbol of the ‘greener pasture’ for thousands of citizens from all over the world who are searching for success. From the historic California Gold Rush of 1984 to the ever mesmerising lights of New York that point people to their dreams, the USA has undoubtedly proven that somewhere in its 50 states is the door that will lead every expatriate to a prosperous future. 

With a total inhabitant of 324 million people, the USA is ranked as the third largest country when it comes to population. It doesn’t just pose as the most dynamic economy in the world by Gross Domestic Product but is also considered as a highly influential nation when it comes to politics and military. 

The eyes of every country are usually focused on the USA since it has been a global leader in technology and science but most of the time expats see it as the gleaming symbol of a better life. Even with recent changes under their infamous new president, Donald Trump, the US is still seen as the most influential country in the world. Start living the American Dream by learning more about Uncle Sam through information below. 

"The one thing I don’t like is how they live a very fast paced and working life. Work is life instead of working and living simultaneously. Too much stress and unsatisfaction, always striving for the next best thing."- Mani, Expat in the USA

Essential matters you should know

1. The many visa categories for expat workers

US visas are divided into two groups: the nonimmigrant and the immigrant visas. There are currently 39 categories of nonimmigrant visas and at least 32 immigrant visas. For expat workers on temporary assignment, there are several categories:

  • H-1B: Person in Specialty Occupation
  • H-1B1: Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Professional – Chile, Singapore
  • H-2A: Temporary Agricultural Worker
  • H-2B: Temporary Non-agricultural Worker
  • H-3: Trainee or Special Education Visitor; L: Intracompany Transferee
  • O: Individual with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement
  • P-1: Individual or Team Athlete, or Member of an Entertainment Group
  • P-2 and P-3: Artist or Entertainer (Individual or Group)
  • Q-1: Participant in an International Cultural Exchange Program

"For my three J-1 Student and Intern visas, it was fairly easy because I had the assistance of my school and my sponsor to get me on track with the documents I needed. The H1B is another story altogether, there are A LOT of paperwork that needs to be done and each lawyer, if you decide to use one, has his/her way of doing things, on which you have no regards, until you get a Request for Evidence, like me, and realized they filed under the wrong terminology."- Sarah Waddington, Expat in Philadelphia, USA

There are certain visa categories that require prospective employers to secure a labor certification or any other form of approval from the Department of Labor on the worker’s behalf. The certification are needed before filing the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129), with the United States Citizenship And Immigration Services (USCIS). Once the USCIS approves the petition, the applicant may then apply for a visa.

To apply for a visa, you should:

1) Complete the online visa application form

2) Print the application form confirmation page, which you should present during your interview. Take note of the format of the photo required in your application.

2. You may need to undergo a visa interview

Consular officers may require to interview you as part of your via application. Applicants aged 13 and younger and 80 and older are generally no required to have an interview, but those aged 14-79 are mandated to undergo this step subject to some exceptions for renewals.

Your interview appointment wait time depends on your visa, location and the season you’re applying. The earlier you apply for a visa, the better. To prepare for your interview, take note of the following items:

a) Pay the application fee – This is non-refundable, and required before the interview. The visa issuance fee is charged on some applicants, based on their nationality, after their visa is approved. Intracompany transferees, or those applying for an L visa, are required to pay the Fraud Prevenation and Detection fee, any may need to pay the Border Security Act fee.

b) Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the US.

c) Take note of the receipt number of your approved petition

d) For intracompany transferees, bring the Nonimmigrant Petition Based on Blanket L Petition (Form I-129S).

3. Your family may apply for the same visa category

If your spouse and unmarried, minor children are joining you to the US, they can apply for the same visa category. An exemption is if you’re applying for a Cultural Exchange Visitor Q-1 visa.

In bringing your family with you, you must be able to show proof that you can financially support your stay in the US.

4. Know your tax obligations

Under US laws, all citizens and residents must pay taxes on their worldwide income. Non-resident aliens, such as those on temporary work assignment, are taxed on their US-source income only. The personal income tax rates for single taxpayers for 2017 are as follows:

Taxable Income (USD)

Tax on column 1 (USD)

Tax on excess

Over

Not over

 

 

0

9,325

0

10

9,325

37,950

932.50

15

37,950

91,900

5,226.25

25

91,900

191,650

18,713.75

28

191,650

416,700

46,643.75

33

416,700

418,400

120,910.25

35

418,400

 

121,505.25

39.6

The maximum federal tax rate on capital gains is 20%. This is applicable on assets held for more than 12 months.

Aside from the federal tax, you also need to settle state and local income taxes. The states of Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming don’t impose income tax, and New Hampshire and Tennessee only levy on dividends and interest income.

5. Mark your calendar with federal holidays

Federal public holidays are observed in all 50 states. If a federal holiday falls on a Saturday, the preceding Friday is declared a non-working day. If the holiday falls on a Sunday, the following Monday is a day off.

Date

Holiday

January 1

New Year’s Day

January 2

New Year’s Holiday

January 16

Martin Luther King Day

February 20

Presidents’ Day (not all states)

May 29 (last Monday in May)

Memorial Day

July 4

Independence Day

September 4 (1st Monday in September)

Labor Day

October 9

Columbus Day

November 10

Veterans’ Day

November 23 (4th Thursday in November)

Thanksgiving

November 24 (day after Thanksgiving)

Day after Thanksgiving

December 25

Christmas Day

New Year’s Day, the day after New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day are public holidays in all 50 states. State holidays, such as Emancipation Day observed in Washington DC, are observed in government and public sectors. Not all private businesses observe state holidays.

6. It’s a big country, be wary of the weather

Though its 50 states experience various types of weather due to their geographical makeup such as Alaska which is dominated by a landscape of ice and Hawaii, a volcanic island in the central Pacific, the country, in general, has a climate that ranges from humid continental to humid sub-tropical. The USA has four astronomical seasons:

  • Spring (March equinox to June Solstice)
  • Summer (June Solstice to September Equinox)
  • Fall or Autumn (September equinox to December Solstice)
  • Winter (December Solstice to March Equinox)

Cities in south-western regions such as Las Vegas (Nevada), Palm Springs (California) and Phoenix (Arizona) have a hot desert climate where the temperature during summers can reach 38⁰ C. The states of Florida, Houston, and New Orleans have mild winters and humid summers while New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio and District of Columbia experience hot summers and occasional snowfall during the winter season.

Interesting things about the US

 

 

1. The US is the home of the best universities in the world

You must know by now that the US is home to the best educational universities and colleges in the world. According to the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, 14 of the top universities are in the US, namely:

  • California Institute of Technology
  • Stanford University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Harvard University
  • Princeton University
  • University of Chicago
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Yale University
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • Columbia University
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Cornell University
  • Duke University

Before applying in these institutions, it’s important to know that the US government “does not provide loans, grants or general scholarship assistance for international students”. Thus, you should be able to find ways to fund your education via your income, private scholarships and grants and exchange programs.

2. Same-sex marriage is legally acknowledged anywhere in the country

In 2015, the US Supreme Court made a landmark decision that changed American society. In the Obergefell v. Hodges case, the highest court in the land ruled that same sex-couples have a constitutional right to marry. All states are required to issue marriage licenses to, and recognize the marriages, of these couples.

Justice Kennedy, who penned the decision, wrote:

“The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons.”

3. Laws differ from one state to another

There are laws and rules only applicable to people living in a certain state. These are called state laws. An act may be legal in New York, but prohibited in North Dakota. It’s important to be abreast of the laws in your host state, and when you’re visiting other parts of the country.

How can you inform yourself? You can browse the Law Library of Congress, which offers free information on constitutions, executive enactments, judicial opinions, state bills and other legal guides.

What’s life like in the US

1. They are a very diverse nation

A number of religions are practiced in the US, but Christian faith dominates all affiliations. The unaffiliated or the “religious nones” account for nearly a quarter of the population. The Pew Research Center reports the religious groups in the country:

Christian                                                                       70.6%

Evangelical Protestant                                 25.4%

                Catholic                                                          20.8%

                Mainland Protestant                                      14.7%

                Historically Black Protestant                          6.5%

                Mormon                                                           1.6%

                Orthodox Christian                                         0.5%

                Jehovah’s Witness                                           0.8%

                Other Christian                                               0.4%

 Non-Christian Faiths                                                      5.9%

                Jewish                                                               1.9%

                Muslim                                                              0.9%

                Buddhist                                                            0.7%

                Hindu                                                                 0.7%

                Other World Religions                                      0.3%

Other Faiths                                                        1.5%

 Unaffiliated (religious “nones”)                                     22.8%

                Atheist                                                                3.1%

                Agnostic                                                              4.0%

                Nothing in particular                                         15.8%

 Don’t Know                                                                        0.6%

The US is a melting pot of cultures. It is home to more than 322 million people of nearly all races in the world. English is the official language, but hundreds of tongues are spoken in the country. The second widely used language is Spanish, followed by Chinese and Tagalog. According to the US Census, more than 231 million Americans speak English only. About 37 million are well-versed in Spanish, nearly 3 million speak in Chinese and 1.6 million communicate in Tagalog. The other languages used are French, Vietnamese, Korean, German, Arabic, Russian, Indian and Italian.

"One thing I respect about American culture is the spirit of questioning that they inculcate even in small children. I am an individualist at heart, and I appreciate being in a place where there is an emphasis on individuality and personal expression."- Ritu Kaushal, Expat in San Francisco, USA

The Native American languages spoken in certain parts of the US are Chrokee, Choctaw and Muscogee.

2. Crime is not as high as you think it is

The status of crime rate and violence in the United States has always been exaggerated by the media, but in reality, the country is a safe place to be. Each of the 50 states has different levels of security so to be on the safe side, expats moving to the USA should start by choosing the right neighbourhood. For example, New York’s ghetto areas are notorious for gang-related crimes, so it is best to live in areas near the city centre or gated communities. Expats should also list the emergency numbers in their state such as 911 and the contact info of their embassy in the US.

3. They take food to the extreme

Food servings in American restaurants and fast food chains are quite big. You may be surprised to find out that even a familiar fast food chain would have a much bigger portion in the US. Aside from food portions, they have a wide variety of foods that expats must taste once they arrive. McDonald's, KFC and Burger King are considered as pure-blooded American food chains. Aside from those three, numerous restaurants that serve international cuisines such as Italian, Mexican and Asian can be found scattered across the country. Each state also has its speciality like Texas, Tennessee and Kansas which are popular for their BBQs that are slowly wood-smoked to perfection.

Drinking is a social activity practised in all parts of America. Expats will not run out of pubs, bars and nightclubs to go whichever state they live such as California where some of the best wines in the country can be found. Alcohol prohibition usually varies in every state, but in general, establishments are restricted to sell liquors to anyone under the age of 21 and after 2 in the morning. Also, expats should never drive under the influence of alcohol unless they want to be heavily fined or spend some time behind bars.    

4. Kids like it here

 

The country offers a myriad of activities that your kids can enjoy. After you have enrolled them in an independent, where they can get the best of exclusive schooling in the country, you just have to make the right choices for their weekend itineraries.

You don't have to go too far from home on weekends. The country is popular for their many and varied national parks. Aside from the usual picnic or camping trips, these parks also offer plenty of outdoor activities such as biking, hiking, bird watching, and even horse-back riding.

For kids who prefer nature trips, sights like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, and some of the many nature reserves are but few of the places you must visit when you come to the US.

Museums and art galleries are also great places to take your kids for fun, yet educational weekend. The Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C is a must-see. One of the most popular of the Smithsonian museums is the National Air and Space Museum, which would be a sure hit for both the parents and the kids.

And, of course, one should not forget to visit the land of magic called Disneyland Park in Anaheim California or Disneyworld in Florida. Suffice to say that a trip to this place is a part of every kid (and kid at heart's) dream. 

 

 

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