HomeExpatsLiving AbroadMoving to the United States: The Ultimate Guide for Expats

Moving to the United States: The Ultimate Guide for Expats

Moving to the States was synonymous with getting a better life for more than a century. And even though some of its glory might have faded, in many ways it is still the land of opportunity. The birthplace of jazz, home to many different cultures, a place built by immigrants, it's a wonderful place to visit, or even start a new life.

In our article, we will cover everything you need to know if you're thinking about moving to the US, including information about healthcare, visa requirements, info on the cost of living, and more.

Money Transfer Comparison
Fill in the form and we’ll find you the best rates.
United Kingdom

A Checklist for Moving to the US

Now of course, before you begin your journey you need to have a checklist. Here’s what you need to do before you move.

  • Check all the requirements for permanent, temporary, and work residence.

  • Brush up on your English and learn about American culture.

  • Consider your job opportunities, and whether you have some lined up already.

  • Research how US healthcare, taxes, and bureaucracy work.

  • Research the city (or at least the State) you want to live in.

  • Plan out your accommodation and your transport.

  • Budget properly.

If you think you have everything from the above list handled, then you are good to go. If not, check out the article below and learn more.

Differences Between Citizenship and Permanent Residence

Before we continue with the article, we need to make a distinction between citizenship, permanent residence, and temporary residence - as well as how the term “Green Card” factors into all of this. This is a necessary distinction if you are to properly understand US citizenship and immigration.

A Green Card is a visa that provides its holder with permanent residence, ergo, all Green Card holders are permanent residents. They can work and live in the US indefinitely, with no restrictions. However, while they can freely exit and enter the States, they are subject to more thorough checks upon reentry.

Furthermore, US immigration policy says that being outside the States for longer than six months at a time can lead to the immigration authorities re-evaluating whether the Green Card holder has decided not to keep the US as their permanent home. If this absence lasts for more than a year, their permanent residence status is revoked (unless they file a reentry permit), and they will be deported.

They also do not have the right to vote, and can lose their permanent residence status if they commit certain crimes.

A temporary resident has the same rights as a permanent resident, but can only stay in the country for a limited time.

On the other hand, citizenship means the individual can vote and cannot be deported. One becomes a citizen through acquisition (i.e. one parent is a US citizen) at birth, or through naturalization.

Visas and Residency

Perhaps the most important part of our moving to the US checklist is figuring out which type of visa you need.

There are five categories, which include:

  • Immigration visas (Green Card)

  • Employment visas

  • Study/Exchange visas

  • Tourism/Temporary Business

  • Other

The documentation varies from visa to visa, but most include:

  • The appropriate form

  • A passport

  • A current photograph

  • Receipt for your application fee

You will also most likely need bank statements, employment letters, letters of recommendation from sponsors, and/or flight tickets. Always double-check with both your embassy and the US embassy on whether you need any additional documentation.

Green Card

The immigration visa, or Green Card, is necessary if you want to immigrate permanently to the United States. According to United States visa laws, one way to acquire a Green Card is through the Diversity Visa Lottery (or Green Card lottery), about which we wrote more in our FAQ section below.

More common ways include acquiring a Green Card through a family member who is already a US citizen or a permanent resident. Children born outside of the US but adopted by Americans can also acquire a Green Card.

Permanent residency can also be granted to special categories, which include asylum seekers and the family members of US government employees who live overseas.

Finally, suppose you are a skilled professional holding advanced degrees and exceptional abilities (like researchers, scientists, artists, and educators, to name a few). In that case, you are also eligible for a Green Card.

Employment and Study Visas

When moving to the USA, keep in mind that study and employment visas provide temporary residence.

Employment visas can include professionals who have come to work in a specialized field and have higher education degrees. They also include visas for athletes, artists, and entertainers, as well as participants in international cultural exchange programs.

Employment visas (so-called O visas) also include people who have shown extraordinary achievements or abilities within the fields of education, business, television, science, art, motion picture, or athletics.

Study visas include international students coming to study in the US. This includes all educational levels, from elementary school to university, as well as vocational (nonacademic) institutions. These can refer to both regular studies, and exchange programs.

Tourism, Temporary Business, and Other Visas

Individuals who wish to visit the United States either for pleasure or business need to file for an appropriate visa. The duration can vary, but it's usually for around six months. Keep in mind that a business trip visa is not the same as moving to the US for work.

The “other” visa category includes permissions for things like transit visas, diplomatic visas, visas for NATO and employees of other international organizations.

Relocating to the USA: The Core Steps

Once you have a handle on what the right visa is for you, you need to take some practical steps when it comes to actually relocating.

First, you want to plan out your trip. This means hiring a moving company, planning out all your travel costs in advance, and arranging your accommodation before you enter the country. You should also learn how to send money from the UK to the US or from your own country of origin.

The next important step when moving to America is applying for a social security number, in order to work and have social insurance as well as other government services. To obtain it as an immigrant who is already in the States, you need to go to your closest social security office and fill out the proper forms.

Cost of Living and a Living Wage in the US

A big part of moving to the United States is understanding the average cost of living. Of course, these differ from state to state - but we’ll look at some averages across the country and provide some examples.

The average cost of living for a single person, which includes most living expenses, amounts to $3,189 per month, or $38,266 per year. However, the average cost for a four-person family amounts to $7,095 per month, or $85,139 per year.

A single person can expect to spend around $300 on utilities, $819 on transportation, $243 on entertainment, $131 on gas, and $120 on clothing.

Rent and Housing in the US

It's difficult to present all the information for every single state. However, below we have provided some averages, as well as examples of high-cost and low-cost places of living.

When it comes to rent and housing, the average rent is around $1000. The US cities with the highest cost of living can be found in Massachusetts ($2,100 per month on a one-bedroom apartment), the District of Columbia ($2,400), New York ($1,600), and Maryland ($1,500).

When it comes to the lowest cost of living in the US, also for a one-bedroom apartment, you can check out South Dakota ($550), Arkansas ($600), and North Dakota ($650).

When it comes to actually buying a place, West Virginia is the most cost-effective, where the average price per square foot amounts to $98, and the average listing sells for $140,000. It also has a low property tax rate of 0.57%.

On the other end of the spectrum, in San Francisco, the average price of a square foot is $1,070, making it one of the most expensive cities in the world.

On a state level, Hawaii’s average price per square foot is $743,86, while California's is $442,70. Of course, these prices will be much higher in places like LA, a city which is at the top when talking about cost of living in the US.

Note that as an expat, finding a place to rent, or buy, might be more challenging. You won't have any US credit records, something that landlords usually consider when checking your rent application. You might be required to pay a higher security deposit, and to provide an international credit score.

Cheapest and Most Expensive US Cities

We’ve already mentioned San Francisco, but what about other cities? And how does San Fran rank? If you have a higher budget than most at your disposal for your move to the States, then check out the most expensive cities in the US:

  • Washington, DC - cost of living: 58.8% above average

  • Brooklyn, New York - cost of living: 74.9% above average

  • San Francisco, California - cost of living: 84.2% above average

  • Honolulu, Hawaii - cost of living: 92.7% above average

  • Manhattan, New York - cost of living: 137.8% above average

Of course, if you're looking for something more affordable, check out the top five cheapest cities in America:

  • Amarillo, Texas - cost of living: 19.3% below average

  • Jackson, Mississippi - cost of living: 20.4% below average

  • McAllen, Texas - cost of living: 23.2% below average

  • Harlington, Texas - cost of living: 23.4% below average

  • Kalamazoo, Michigan - cost of living: 24.3% below average

If we had to choose, then we would recommend Colorado Springs as the best place for expats in the US. Found in Colorado state, it's a town filled with great schools, amazing parks, and a lot of access to sports.

The place itself is family friendly, with a small-town feel, but it's actually just an hour away from Denver, so you can get some big-city life as well.

Its overall cost of living is just 8% higher than the average US cost, with somewhat expensive housing, but really affordable healthcare.

US Healthcare

American healthcare is known both for its high quality and expertise but also for its kafkaesque bureaucracy and notorious costs. Perhaps one of the bigger shocks of moving to the US from Canada or from the UK comes down to figuring out American health insurance.

The best place for us to start is to quickly explain Medicare and Medicaid. These two public programs serve as a kind of universal free healthcare system, dedicated to the elderly, low-income families, and for people with disabilities. The majority of the population, however, has to get health insurance directly, through their school, or through their employer.

If you do not have health insurance, you will need to pay much more for most medical treatments in the United States.

If you're moving to the States on a work or student visa, your job or your university will provide you with their own specific plans. If you arrived without a job while moving to the US as a foreigner, you would need to find an insurance provider on your own.

Note that the cost of insurance varies significantly. First, the region you are in matters a great deal. Second, it also depends on your age, your general health, lifestyle choices (like whether you smoke or not), and how many people will be covered by said premium.

Note that in 2022, the national average monthly premium amounted to $541. However, some places with expensive insurance, like South Dakota, can have premiums cost up to $800. However, cheaper places, like Maryland, cost, on average, $375.

US Education

Are you looking to move to America with children, or do you or your spouse want to continue your education? Whichever one may be, you need to understand how the US education system works, it's vital for a good life in America.

The first thing you need to do is be certain where you will relocate to. The quality of public schools depends greatly on the district they are in.

As far as levels are concerned, you have:

  • Elementary school - kindergarten to the 5th grade, ages 5 to 10

  • Middle school - 6th to 8th grade, ages 11 to 13

  • High school - 9th to 12th grade, ages 14 to 18

  • University level - ages 18 and up

Note that most private and international schools offer bilingual curriculums, making it easier for your children to adapt.

Many consider moving to the US just for the chance at a better education. America is famous for the quality of its higher education system, but also infamous for its costs and the everpresent student debt.

The average cost of tuition (and accompanying fees) amounted to $38,158 in 2021-2022. On the other hand, public college costs and tuition amount to $10,338 in the same period. Of course, the same caveat applies - these range from university to university and from state to state.

Taxes for Residents and Citizens

Finally, let's talk about US taxes for expats and immigrants. Every single person making money in America is obligated to pay their taxes, whether they are a Green Card holder or a citizen. However, the process differs whether you are a resident “alien” or non-resident “alien”. Note that alien is a term referring to non-citizens.

If you are a Green Card holder or if you pass the substantial presence test, you are considered a resident alien. If you neither have a Green Card nor fulfill the requirements under the substantial presence test, you are considered a non-resident alien. Non-resident aliens most likely own a business that makes money from their operations based in the US, but have shown no intention of immigrating to America.

Resident aliens need to pay taxes on all income they receive, whether it comes from the US, or from abroad. Non-resident aliens only pay taxes only on US-based income.

Next, Non-resident aliens pay, on average, 30% property tax rate if they have any property found within the United States.

Residents and citizens pay the same rates on their property. These rates vary from State to State, with Hawaii being the lowest at 0.28%, while New Jersey having the highest rate at 2.13%.

Is Moving to the US a Good Idea?

The final choice, of course, is up to you. Relocating to the US, even temporarily, is not an easy feat. But we do hope that the above information has provided you with everything you need to make the right decision, one congruent with your lifestyle, your means, and your expectations.


What is the easiest way to move to the USA?
How much money do you need to immigrate to the USA?
Who can sponsor me to move to the USA?
Can I move to the US without sponsorship?
Can you live in the US permanently without citizenship?
Can I move to America without a job?
How long can a foreigner live in the United States?
What is the 4-year 1, day rule for US citizenship?

Aleksandar Hrubenja
Aleksandar Hrubenja
With a BA in English literature and linguistics, training provided by veteran licensed court interpreters, and direct SEO management experience, Aleksandar Hrubenja knows what good content looks like. He’s tackled any topic thrown his way, spending the last six years writing articles on SEO, digital marketing, and finance - just to name a few.