Love the idea of retiring in the United States? It’s a popular choice for UK retirees, particularly the sun-soaked coastal states like Florida. Many parts of the US offer a great quality of life for expats, but also a slightly lower cost of living than the UK. Plus, the US was ranked 16th in the world for retirement security in the Global Retirement Index 2020¹.
One of the first things you’ll need to do to make your US retirement dreams a reality is get a visa. In this guide, we’ll look into whether there’s a specific retirement visa for the USA, along with alternative visa types which could be suitable for you. We’ll even show you how to apply, what documents you’ll need and how much it costs.
And when the time comes to apply, you can save money on visa fees with Wise. Open a Wise multi-currency account and you can whizz money over to the US for tiny fees and the fairest exchange rate around. It could save you a bundle on visa fees as well as all your other relocation expenses.
But more on this later. Let’s start by figuring out the situation with US retirement visas.
There isn’t a category of USA visa that is specifically for retirees². But there are other options available, so let’s take a look.
If you’d like to spend your post-work years in the US and you aren’t a citizen or permanent resident, you’ll need to apply for a family-based immigrant visa.
To do this, you’ll need to be sponsored by an immediate family member who is a US citizen or permanent resident. This can be a spouse, parent, son/daughter or brother/sister, depending on whether the sponsor is a US citizen or permanent resident².
If you don’t have family connections to the US, this doesn’t mean your US retirement dreams are over. There is another potential route to an immigrant visa for UK expats, through the EB-5 investor scheme.
There are 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas for the US made available every year, divided into a few key categories. One of these is the EB-5 investor visa. This requires an investment in a qualifying commercial enterprise, of at least $900,000 (approx. £645,000) in a rural or high unemployment area, or $1,800,000 (approx. £1,290,000) otherwise.
There are quite a few hoops to jump through with this scheme, starting of course with having this amount of money available to invest. You can’t borrow in order to make this investment - you must already have the capital available. In order to qualify, your investment will also need to create 10 full-time jobs for US citizens within two years.
Whether you’re applying for a family-based immigrant visa or going through the EB-5 investor scheme, you’ll need to apply in the same way.
For both routes, you’ll need to file a completed application form (also known as a petition) with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)⁴. This can be done either electronically or through the mail. It’s also possible to submit your application form from outside the US, through an intermediary such as the US Embassy in London.
You’ll also need to provide supporting documents and pay the application fee, both of which we’ll look at in just a moment. Once USCIS approves your petition, it’ll go on to be processed at the National Visa Center. You’re likely to need to attend an interview and a medical examination before your application can proceed⁴.
The documents you’ll need to apply for an immigrant visa depend which route you’re taking - using a family sponsor or making an investment.
But generally speaking, you’ll need to have the following ready⁵:
- Valid passport
- Recent photographs of yourself
- Your birth certificate
- Marriage or adoption certificates (if applicable)
- Police Certificate from the UK
- Appointment letter and courier confirmation page
- Affidavit of Support completed by your sponsor
- Court, prison or military records (if applicable).
If you’re applying for the investor visa, you’ll also need to provide evidence that you have the required investment amount available.
The processing time for US visas varies from case to case. If your application is straightforward and you provide all the required documents and information, it could take as little as six weeks⁶.
However, some cases take months or even years, so make sure you apply long before you plan to retire to the US.
The fee to apply for a family-based immigrant visa is $325 per person, while applying through the investor visa scheme will cost you $345 in processing fees⁷. These fees are non-refundable, so you won’t get your money back if your application is rejected.
If you apply through the US Embassy in London, you can potentially pay these fees in GBP on the day of your visa interview. But for all other application routes, such as filing your petition through the National Visa Center, the fee is due in USD before processing starts.
In the second scenario, there’s a risk of losing money through bank transfer fees and poor exchange rates. But luckily, there’s a way around this, which we’ll look at next.
Getting ready to apply for a US visa for your retirement across the pond? Make sure you have the most cost-efficient and secure way to cover your visa fees and relocation expenses.
Open a multi-currency account with Wise and you’ll be able to send money over to the US for tiny fees and the real, mid-market exchange rate. This is ideal for paying visa fees, real estate agents and whatever else you need to plan your big move.
Plus, you’ll even have a handy, low-cost way to spend in USD from the moment you arrive. The Wise debit card automatically converts currency at the fairest exchange rate when you spend. There’s no need to hit the Bureau de Change, and there are no foreign transaction fees to worry about. There’s only a tiny fee to convert the currency, or it’s free if you already have USD in your Wise account.
So, that’s pretty much it - everything you need to know about the retirement visa situation for the US. There’s not a specific visa for retirees, but you can still move there if you have family ties or enough money to invest. Good luck and enjoy your well-earned retirement!
Sources used for this article:
- Natixis - Global Retirement Index
- US Embassy in the UK - family immigration
- Travel.State.Gov - immigrant investor visas
- Travel.State.Gov - the immigrant visa process
- US Embassy in the UK - required documents
- Esta Form - how long is the immigration process to USA
- Travel.State.Gov - fees, visa services
Sources checked on 19th April 2021
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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