A UK Expat Guide To The US

The US needs no introduction. It’s the land of the free, home of the brave – and an estimated 678,000 British expats. Cultural centres such as New York and San Francisco are a major draw for Britons heading stateside, while many head for a retirement in sunny Florida. The US remains the land of opportunity for many expats, although its self-image has taken a knock since the financial crisis.

The country has its faults, but expats appreciate the low taxes, cheap eats, better weather, ethnic diversity, national parks, strong work ethic and 24-hour doughnut shops. The US has given us Apple and Mad Men, and it is one of the few countries in modern history to elect a member of a racial minority as its leader.

Things you need to know before you go

Getting a visa to work in the US isn’t easy, although it’s a lot easier if you have a job that is relocating there or you have an offer of employment. If you want to work in the US you can apply for several types of visa. The H1-B non-immigrant visa is for skilled, educated individuals working for a sponsoring employer in specific occupations such as engineering, maths, medicine or law.

The Temporary Non-Agricultural H-2B is available for foreign workers doing seasonal work where there is a shortage of local workers. Alternatively, there is the J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program for people looking to teach, study, work or conduct research in the US.

Finally, the green card entitles you to become a permanent resident. You can get a green card through a job or offer of employment, provided there aren’t enough US workers who can do the job. If you don’t have a job you could take pot luck in the annual green card lottery. Every year, 55,000 win permanent residence through the scheme. In 2010, more than 15 million people applied.

You still get your UK state pension if you retire in the US, and importantly it will increase in value each year. Under the government’s “triple lock” guarantee your pension will rise in line with the UK consumer prices index, average earnings or 2.5%, whichever is higher. This means it could increase at a faster rate than US prices, or it could fall behind.

In other good news, you won’t need any vaccinations.

Things you need to know when you get there

What airport will you arrive at? You are spoilt for choice. British Airways alone offer 15 direct flights a day from London to New York, primarily to John F Kennedy but also Newark. BA/American Airlines offers one expensive direct flight to San Francisco, but you can get cheaper connecting flights. Delta, United Airlines, KLM, Virgin Atlantic and many others also fly to the US from London and some regional UK airports.

Local currency The mighty US dollar, or greenback, which also happens to be the world’s unofficial reserve currency. There are 100 cents in a dollar. On 12 November 2012 $1 was worth 62p, and £1 was worth $1.57

How do I spot a cab? You won’t have a problem in New York – the iconic bright yellow cabs are instantly recognisable. Since June 2012 they’ve had competition from a new fleet of apple green livery cabs called Boro Taxis, which passengers can hail outside central Manhattan. The classic New York taxi is being steadily replaced by a boxy-looking Nissan with anti-microbial seats to reduce unpleasant smells. The Checker Taxi, as driven by Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, disappeared from New York’s streets more than a decade ago.

Price of a hotel room You can pay from £250 a night for a double room in midtown Manhattan, five minutes from 5th Avenue, or from £100 a night further out in Brooklyn. Alternatively, you could stay in a budget hostel for £35 a night and still be just 10 minutes’ walk from Central Park if you don’t mind sharing a bathroom. Hotels.com put the average cost for the first six months of 2012 at £113.

Price of a house If you’re feeling flush you could buy a New York penthouse on the Upper East Side for a mere $60m (£37m). That makes a Greenwich Village studio look a steal at $500,000 (£312,000).

Price of a pint of milk A litre of milk will cost you $1 (62p) on average, although prices range from $0.79 (50p) to $1.32 (82p).

What language do most people speak? The US has no official language, but in practice it is English. An estimated 45 million people speak Spanish as a first or second language, concentrated in states such as New Mexico, California and Texas.

What tax will you pay? The moment you become a lawful permanent US resident with a green card you are liable to pay tax in the US on your total worldwide income. You will also be considered a US resident for tax purposes if you meet the “substantial presence test”, which means you are in the US at least 31 days during the current year, and 183 days over the past three years. If you are a non-resident you will only pay US tax on the income you earn locally.

There are currently six income tax brackets ranging from 10% to 35%. These are due to rise from the end of the year to between 15% and 39.6%, unless new legislation prevents it. Each state and local government has its own set of tax rules, which complicates matters. Remember, you may pay less tax in the US but there is no NHS, which means you could spend the money you save on private health insurance.

How long will it take to send a letter home? If you’re lucky, your letter could make it home in just two or three days, although you should plan for four or five. Sometimes you could wait as long as seven days.

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LDN Wealth is an independent registered financial advisor throughout the United States, LDN Wealth has partnered with top specialist international service providers to help UK Expatriates and US residents with their Pension Transfers and Financial Planning needs.