About working in the US
Hard work is a virtue in the US and expats should expect working more than 40 hours a week. Less vacation time than what is given in Europe is normal with only two weeks annual leave in many positions.
The American economy is comprised of many different industries that are largely driven by regional location. East coast cities, such as New York and Boston, are strong financial players. The Midwest heartland lays claim to sectors relating to agriculture and natural resources, and the west coast metropolis, such as Los Angeles and Seattle, are famous for technology and entertainment. Production and manufacturing contracts are increasingly being outsourced to smaller economies overseas.
Despite the downward spiral of the recession, there are still a number of employment areas that have plenty of job opportunities. The demand for employees in the medical profession - such as nurses, medical assistants and technicians – is on the increase. Jobs relating to care for the elderly are also increasing in availability as the baby-boomer generation is reaching retirement.
American companies can also apply for foreign workers if they can show that there is a lack of qualified US citizens capable of carrying out the job required. The US is particularly interested in skilled professionals for areas in which it competes for part of the global market, such as the burgeoning IT sector.
Being such a vast and cosmopolitan country, business etiquette varies from state to state in the US but social norms can be applied throughout: punctuality, a smart appearance and a respectful attitude are good starting points. A firm handshake and the use of titles (Mr, Mrs and Ms) are good for introductions, and business cards may be offered before parting. The business week goes from Monday to Friday, with business hours generally from 8am to 5pm, including an hour-long lunch. In many business areas and positions the working hours can be considerably longer than the general business hours suggest.
Banking in the US is extremely competitive and an array of services and rates can make choosing where to open an account confusing. It is often easier to maintain your overseas account, open a US based account at the same bank and transfer money back and forth. It is possible to relocate successfully without opening an American account, and expats on short stays usually choose to use their overseas account.
Passport, immigration information, social security number and proof of address are often expected to open a checking account.
Credit histories can be transferred to the US, although this is a hassle many expats choose to forego in favour of making major purchases through their overseas account. Property can be bought without a US bank account.
Tax laws in the US are complex and made more so by expatriation. There are both state and federal taxes on income. Property and sales taxes also differ by state. State taxes differ considerably both in amount and regulation.
Paying taxes as a resident in the US
A resident alien (foreign national; living in the US) is generally taxed in the same manner as a US citizen. Resident aliens can be classified in two ways, either according to the lawful permanent residence test (“green card”) or the substantial presence test.
Green card test: An alien who is a lawful permanent resident of the United States under US immigration laws (receives a “green card”) will be considered a resident alien for federal tax purposes.
Substantial presence test: An alien will be considered a US resident if the individual is physically present in the United States for at least 31 days during the calendar year and 183 days for the current and two preceding calendar years.
US residents are required to file an annual individual tax return and to disclose the worldwide income received that given tax year. If you have income from another country while you are a US resident – from assets such as interest, dividends, or rental income - and you pay taxes to the other country, you may qualify to receive a foreign tax credit on your US tax return. Through this method it is possible to avoid double taxation on the same income.
For the first and last year in the US as a resident, you simultaneously may be considered a resident and non-resident; and consequently may still be required to disclose your worldwide income for the portion of the year that you are considered a US resident.
Paying taxes as a non-resident in the US
Non-residents who are doing business in the US are taxed on the income they received in the US if it is significant. Expats in the US may be exempt from some forms of taxation such as social security. All of this is further complicated by tax treaties with other countries. Professional tax advisers are widely used by US citizens even with less complicated tax returns, thus it is highly recommended that expats in the US hire a tax planner specialising in expat taxes.
US Visa options - getting your Green Card
A “green card” is the official card issued by the US Immigration Service (USCIS) to foreign nationals granting them permanent residency in the US. A “green card” allows you to live and work in the US.
Obtaining a Green Card
Generally, the process takes three steps when applying through employment:
(1) the Labour Certification; (2) the Immigrant Petition (I-140 or I-526); and 3) the Adjustment/Permanent Residence Application.
You can either live in the US under a non-immigrant visa while your immigrant visa is being processed; or, you can wait in your home country until final approval. The waiting period will depend on the skill level you are classified under. A US company must file the application petitioning you. The company can be owned by you or not, depending on the visa classification.
The “green card” can also be obtained through family members who are either US citizens or legal permanent residents (“green card” holders); this includes a parent, child, son/daughter over 21, spouse, sibling or fiancé(e). These are generally easier and sometimes faster than employment-based “green card” applications.
The “employment based” Non-Immigrant Visas which allow you to reside in the US while processing your “green card” include:
Available for companies that wish to expand operations into the US by opening a branch, a warehouse or an office. It can lead to permanent residency and is relatively easy to obtain with the right documentation and presentation. You would be transferred from your company’s offices in your home country to the new office in the US With your US company sponsoring you for a “green card” you can skip the first step (Labour Certification). The waiting period is relatively short, from 8-15 months.
This is probably the quickest way to obtain US residency, but does require a direct financial investment into a new or existing US business. The minimum funds required for the investment is either $500,000 or $1,000,000, depending on the geographic area. Your US company can sponsor your “green card” application.
Service and trading companies may qualify for the E-2 treaty trader status. Financial services companies, software companies, attorneys, accountants, and the like, along with companies trading goods, may qualify for E-2 treaty trader status.
You must buy or start up a company in the US with personal funds; you must be the principal owner (at least 50%); a “significant investment’ is required - you must cover at least 50% of the funds required to start up or purchase the business; and the money needs to be at “risk”. Though most countries are eligible for E visas, there are some that are not.
Your US company may not sponsor you for the “green card”. You must find another company to sponsor you.
H-1 visas are for skilled international professionals who want to live and work in America on a long term basis. As these are non-immigrant visas, they are often quicker to obtain than green cards, thus they are ideal for those looking to work in the US for a long duration, but not permanently. In order to qualify for this visa, you must have a US company sponsor or petition for your employment.
Other possible visas include:
And various study visas
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* Public holidays in the US that fall on a Saturday/Sunday are moved to the preceding Friday or the following Monday.