Moving to the USA from the UK: A starter guide

Zorica Lončar
12.05.21
8 minute read

Thinking of moving to the US? You’re not alone, as it’s one of the top three destinations for British expats¹, along with Australia and Spain.

Being such a huge country, the United States offers a wide choice of destinations for newcomers. Whether you want the excitement of a big city, or to experience the US’ beautiful natural landscapes, there’s something for everyone. The US also entices expats with a shared language and culture, lower living costs (depending where you live), and in many places, a warmer, sunnier climate than the UK.

If you’re starting to plan your move to the US, read on. We’ve put together a handy guide covering all the essentials you need to know, including visas, healthcare and finding a place to live. We’ll even run through helpful information for UK retirees looking to spend their post-work years in the US.

And of course, you’ll need a low-cost way to manage your money if you’re thinking of moving to the USA from the UK. Open a Wise multi-currency account before you go, and you can send money worldwide for tiny fees and the real, mid-market exchange rate. This can make your relocation costs much cheaper.

Learn more

But more on this later. Let’s get back to your essential guide to moving to the US.

Living in the USA - what you need to know

Let’s start with a few of the basic facts you need to know about the USA if you’re considering moving there:

  • Currency - United States Dollar (USD)
  • Main languages - English and Spanish²
  • Population - approx. 330 million³
  • Number of British expats - approx. 678,000¹
  • Most popular cities for expats - Florida, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Boston, Portland, San Francisco.

Cost of living in the USA⁴

Prices in the US are broadly comparable to the UK, although it depends where you live. For example, cities like New York tend to be very expensive, whereas a more rural location may be much cheaper to live in than the UK.

To give you an idea of cost of living in the US compared to the UK, here are a few examples:

  • A three-course meal for two people costs around £43 in the US, compared to £50 in the UK
  • A beer (draught) costs around £3.60, compared to £3.70 in the UK.
  • A litre of milk costs £0.61, compared to £0.92 in the UK
  • A monthly public transport pass costs £46, compared to £65 in the UK.

When it comes to property, rent tends to be more expensive at around £962 a month (compared to £745 in the UK) for a one-bed apartment in the city centre.

But if you want to buy a property, prices per square metre tend to be between 40-50% cheaper than the UK depending whether you buy inside or outside a city centre.

Healthcare system

Healthcare should be one of your top priorities if considering moving to the US. There’s no equivalent to the NHS there, so you’ll need to take out comprehensive health insurance for all the family.

The cost of health insurance in the US varies depending on your age, health conditions and other factors. But the average monthly premium is around $495⁵ (around £356).

Bank accounts

Having a US bank account can make life much easier, especially when it comes to paying rent and receiving your salary. But can you open a US bank account as a non-citizen?

The good news is that UK citizens should be able to open at least a basic checking (current) account with one of the major banks. You’ll need a few key details and documents, including:

  • US address and contact information
  • Passport or driver’s licence
  • Immigration documents - such as your visa or Green Card
  • Your Social Security Number (SSN).

If you don’t yet have an SSN, some banks may accept an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead. You can apply for an ITIN if you’ll be filing a US tax return, or if your spouse is a US citizen. Find out more about opening a bank account in the US here.

Finding somewhere to live in the US

Before you can move your family and belongings over to the US, you’ll need to secure somewhere to live. Renting is one of the easiest options for newcomers, as you can get a roof over your head immediately.

To start your search for a suitable rental property, try:

If you’re ready to buy a property in the US, you’ll need either a Social Security Number (SSN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). But otherwise, you’re free to snap up a home or apartment as a non-citizen.

Start your search for property to buy in the US at sites like Zillow, Trulia.com, Realtor.com, Homes.com or perhaps even a UK-based estate agent website with an overseas property section.

Finding a job in the US

If you’re eligible to work in the US, you’ll need to start job hunting quite soon after you arrive - if not before. Here’s where to start your search for a suitable role:

It can be tricky to secure a job at first as a newcomer to the US, partly due to restrictive visa requirements. If you’re applying for an employment-based immigrant visa, you’ll need a job offer first. But for some jobs, you’ll need to have your visa confirmed before you can apply.

While you’re waiting for visa documents to come through, it could be a good idea to work on your résumé (CV).

How to get a US visa

One of the most important things to get sorted before you can move to the States is your visa. Let’s take a look at a few of the options for UK citizens:

There are a few different routes into the US, including temporary employment and study visas. But if you’re moving to the US permanently, you’re likely to need an immigrant visa. There are two main routes to get this visa - the first is through a family member or spouse who is a US citizen, while the second is through a US-based employer.

Family immigrant visa

To qualify for a family immigration visa, your application will need to be sponsored by a spouse, child, parent or sibling who is a US citizen. For some family relationships, you can also be sponsored by a US permanent resident.

You’ll also need to meet other conditions and supply supporting documents including the following⁶:

  • A valid passport
  • Recent photographs of yourself
  • Birth certificate
  • Police certificate from the UK
  • Medical examination
  • Evidence of support.

You’ll also need to pay a visa application fee and attend an interview at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in London.

Employment immigrant visa

To be eligible for an employment immigrant visa, you’ll need a valid and confirmed job offer from a US-based employer. All applications are assessed in priority order, based on skills, education and experience.

You may also qualify for this visa as an immigrant investor.⁷ To meet the requirements, you’ll need to invest at least $500,000 to $1,000,000 in a qualifying business (depending on whether the business is in a rural or high employment area) over two years. The investment must also create jobs for at least 10 people based in the US.

A quick guide to retiring in the USA from the UK

The US is a popular spot for retirees, especially the sun-soaked destinations of Florida and Miami. But how easy is it to retire to the US from the UK?

Let’s walk through a couple of the most pressing issues for UK retirees, including visas and pension arrangements.

Visas for UK retirees

There is no specific retirement visa for the USA. This means you’ll need to apply for a family-based immigrant visa, if you have a relative who is a US citizen or permanent resident.

If you have no family connections to the US, the other option is investment. As we’ve discussed above, you can potentially get an employment-based immigrant visa if you invest from $500,000 in a qualifying US business.

Find out more about US visa options for retirees and other helpful info about retiring in the US here.

Pensions

The good news for UK retirees living in the US is you can claim your UK state pension there. All you’ll need to do is apply to the International Pension Centre within 4 months of your state pension age, and payments can then be made to you in the US.

You may also be able to transfer personal pensions, but you’ll need to find a US scheme that is on the HMRC Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (ROPS) list - and there aren’t many, if any⁸. Unless you transfer to a ROPS, you could face a large tax bill.

Remember that if you use your bank to receive UK income such as your UK state pension, you could lose money to poor exchange rates and currency conversion fees.

A cheaper alternative could be to use the Wise multi-currency account, which gives you access to a UK account number and sort code (without actually having to open a bank account) so that your pension can be paid in GBP. Then, you can convert to USD at your leisure for just a tiny fee and the real, mid-market exchange rate.

Moving to the USA from the UK - a checklist

Relocating half-way across the world is never going to be simple and straightforward. You’re likely to have an enormous list of things to do. To help you with your planning, here’s a quick checklist of the most important tasks to focus on:

  • Apply for your visa
  • Look into getting health insurance
  • Choose the right US city or town for you and start searching for property to rent or buy - this could involve a few trips out to the US to scout out potential destinations.
  • Get quotes to have your furniture and belongings shipped over to the US
  • Tell HMRC that you’re leaving the UK - if you’re a retiree, apply to have your UK state pension paid to you in the US
  • Contact US banks to check eligibility for opening a US bank account
  • Look into applying for a US Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
  • Start searching for a job - remember that you may need to do this and secure a job offer in order to get your visa.

Save on your relocation costs to the US with Wise

You’ll have a lot of costs and fees to cover before you can move to the US, from rental deposits and realtor fees to visa application charges. Use your UK bank to send these payments to the US and you could be stung by currency conversion fees, plus an expensive mark-up on the exchange rate.

Luckily, there is a money-saving alternative. Open a Wise multi-currency account and you can whizz money between the UK and the US, and all over the world. It’s quick, convenient and secure, and you’ll only have tiny, transparent fees to pay.

Better still, you’ll always get the real, mid-market exchange rate - with no mark-ups added on top.

And while you’re waiting for your US bank account to be opened, you can use your international Wise debit card for low-cost spending. This clever contactless card converts the currency automatically to USD whenever you spend, and you can use it from the moment you step off the plane.

Join Wise and start saving today


So, that’s pretty much it - all the essentials you need to know about moving to the USA from the UK. Whether you’re a worker or a retiree, a family or an entrepreneur, you should now be all set to start planning your big move.

Good luck and enjoy your US adventure!


Sources used for this article:

  1. International Investment - top destinations for UK expats
  2. Babbel - most spoken languages in the US
  3. Census.gov - US and World population
  4. Numbeo - cost of living in the USA compared to the UK
  5. ValuePenguin - average cost of health insurance in the US
  6. US Embassy in the UK - family immigration, required documents
  7. US Embassy in the UK - Fifth preference
  8. Gov.uk - ROPS scheme

Sources checked on 6th May-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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