What is life like for British expats in the USA

07th March 2017
What is life like for British expats in the USA

Each year many British expatriates move to the USA often hoping to achieve a better lifestyle than they had at home. There is a lot that is transferable between the two countries; the shared language and similar economics breaking down barriers and making for a smooth transition. Many large companies have their global business headquarters in America, and the sheer size of the nation means that there is a city to suit everyone’s tastes.

It’s a popular country of choice for relocation, for lone travellers, families and retirees, but what is life really like for British expats in the USA?

Cultural differences

The USA has a long history of attracting people from all over the globe, drawn to its seemingly limitless opportunities. However, there has been a turn in the tide over the last few years and the country can appear less open to expats wanting to make America their new home. The HSBC Expat Explorer Survey is a well-regarded annual study of what life is like for British expats in different countries around the world. The USA once ranked quite highly in terms of integration – in 2016’s results it was 10th in the world in this area – but it is slipping a little in the rankings. Overall Integration has dropped to 12th in regards to the expat experience, and when it comes to families both Tolerance and Integration lie in 30th place out of the 46 countries covered.Still, many British families make the USA their home every year and enjoy the experience.

One thing to bear in mind is that the country is so vast that the expat experience can vary massively from state to state, so it is wise to do some research before moving to find out about particular customs, traditions and expectations. There isn’t a huge culture shock in daily life, but it might take time to get used to the huge sense of patriotism typically displayed in communities and how seriously national holidays are taken. Also, it does depend on which area of the country you’re moving to as some of the mid-south states, for example, hold much more conservative views and uphold deeply rooted beliefs. The more traditional expat locations, like New York, Washington DC, Seattle and San Francisco are more cosmopolitan and liberal.

Also, it might be worth bearing in mind that ‘British humour’ can get a bit lost in translation, so to speak. Some Americans can be very direct and say what they mean, which can come across as blunt, but they are very friendly and welcoming in the main. They often hear things literally, and the traditional British self-deprecation and sarcasm could be taken the wrong way.

Family life

Many British expats who choose to relocate to America, do so with their families. The schooling system is fairly similar to that of the UK, so day-to-day life can be easier to adapt to for children. Children start school at the age of five in kindergarten and stay until they are 16, though most will opt to stay on until they are 17 or 18 to graduate and get a High School Diploma.

It is worth considering sending your children to the local public school, as this will help them to integrate into their new life and make friends in their area. Luckily, as a general rule, the USA has a very good school system and offers world-class education. However, public schools can vary in quality, often determined by the location they are based in (given that they are funded by property taxes – wealthier areas have generally better schools). This is a key consideration when looking for somewhere to live. Education at a public school is free, which makes it one less financial concern when relocating.

Depending on your child’s age and the length of time that you are planning on living in America, there are also private schools and international schools. These can have long waiting lists, competition for places and high fees. A school that follows the British curriculum can be a good option for continuity of education, as well as giving children the chance to meet other expat families to help with the transition.

Working culture

Except for retirees moving to the USA for sunnier climes and a better lifestyle, most British expats will be relocating for work, which means getting used to the American work culture.

There can be quite a variance in business culture depending on where in the USA you are based, so it can be hard to make general statements. However, in most companies, there is a strong work ethic and hard work is both expected and appreciated. All employees are expected to give 100% and sometimes more, as unpaid overtime is not uncommon to get work finished. This may include long weekends, travelling cross-country to meetings and 40+ hour weeks as a regular occurrence. There is also less annual leave for US workers.

Adopting a direct attitude to business is required, as there is a very no-nonsense approach to getting things done. There is often a good social side to work as well, and it’s not unusual to mingle with colleagues and clients in informal settings.

There is a strong economy, and great scope for career progression and good earnings. Job growth and recruitment appears to be staying stable for now, which is good news for potential expats.

The lifestyle

The lifestyle is one of the main attractions for British expats. With wonderful wide open spaces and some of the best sports facilities in the world, the USA is a great place to undertake a healthy lifestyle, particularly in the coastal regions. The climate varies massively across the nation, so there is scope for soaking up the sun on the beach at the weekends or heading into the mountains and trying some winter sports.

Travelling across the country for holidays is worthwhile. There is a good network of long-distance trains, as well as airports for quick domestic transfers. Therefore, having a new base in the USA opens up the whole country for family trips and excursions during vacation times.

With some of the top tourist attractions in the world, particularly for children, there is certainly no shortage of ways to make the most of a stay in America.

For those considering a move to the USA, read our in-depth guide to help plan shipping and logistics.

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