Moving to the USA
The United States of America have inspired people to pack up their bags and travel to her shores in search of a new life for centuries. A multicultural collection of 50 states, each with their own charm and beauty, the USA has everything from the tropical sunshine of Hawaii to frozen wilderness of Alaska. Home to the Rockies, the Big Apple, Hollywood, the Golden Gate and the Magic Kingdom, the US does things on a grand scale. But it’s also a place of small-town communities, perfect if you prefer a family life in suburbia to the bright lights of a city.
Moving to the US from Australia can mean new career opportunities, the chance to study at a world-class college or finding the ideal place for a well-earned retirement. Americans are known for their friendly and hard-working attitude, making it a dynamic place to relocate. Whether you choose a complete change of scene and settle in one of the colder Northern States or you gravitate towards the familiar sunshine and beaches of the Pacific coast, joining the growing number of Australians in America can be just the exciting kick-start you’ve been looking for.
Popular American cities vs Australian cities
San Diego vs Perth
The Californian city of San Diego shares many similarities with Perth – great beaches, thriving waterfront scenes, endless cultural offerings, fantastic parks, friendly residents – and month after month of sunny weather to enjoy it all in.
Los Angeles vs Sydney
These mega metropolises may be on opposite sides of the globe but they have more in common than you might think. Booming financial districts, glitz and glamour, an edgy underground scene – and best of all, stunning beaches to spend your weekends at. The climate is similar too, with plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures.
San Francisco v Melbourne
From their hipster vibe to their stunning surroundings of vineyards and coastline, these two cities could be brothers from another mother. A vibrant gay scene, independent stores, street food markets, thriving art and music venues – trendy San Fran is made for Melbournians.
Becoming a citizen of the USA
American immigration is among the tightest in the world. Australian citizens will require a US visa for any stays over 90 days and a US working visa/study visa if they plan to work or study in America. At the time of writing, the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) permits many Australians to enter the country without a visa for a stay of up to 90 days.
If your move to the States becomes long-term, you might want to become an official American citizen, with all the rights and responsibilities that entails. You have two citizenship application options:
Citizenship through parents
This generally only applies to children under the age of 18, who may be able to claim acquired citizenship if one or both of their parents are a US citizen.
For most Australians, the only route to citizenship available to them is through naturalization. You may qualify if:
- You have been a permanent resident (known in the States as a green card holder) in the US for at least 5 years, or
- You have been a permanent resident for at least three years and are married to a US citizen.
You will also need to demonstrate excellent English language skills, be of good moral character and pass a civics test on US history and government.
It currently costs A$855 to apply for naturalization and A$113 for the biometrics (or background) check. If you have to renounce your Australian citizenship, this will cost an additional fee of A$205.
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The US employment market may have tightened recently, but there are still a healthy number of opportunities for Australian job seekers – with over 5.7 million jobs in America added over the last decade.
Healthcare, wine production, care of the elderly, sports and leisure, gas and oil pipeline construction, translation and interpretation services and agriculture are currently among some of the most thriving industries for working in America.
The US is not known for it’s great work-life balance, although it varies between states and employers. There is little in the way of paid parental leave and no minimum holiday allowance – it’s up to employers how much they give their workers. The average number of paid vacation days after one year of service is 10 days per year and this usually increases the longer you are with the company. There are also 8 public holidays per year, which may be paid or unpaid. Americans are hard workers!
House prices and renting
How much you pay varies wildly depending on location. Rent or buy in Manhattan and you’re going to pay a premium. Move to the suburbs of a smaller city and you might find a family home goes for as much as 60% less than in Australia – particularly if you’re comparing with Sydney and Melbourne’s soaring house prices.
The median house price in the States is around A$260,000, but will be higher in the big cities. Rental prices are roughly comparable with Australia, with the average rent for a one-bed city centre apartment setting you back A$1,560 a month.
Instead of the Australian system with its primary and secondary schools, Americans have elementary, middle and high schools. Pre-school kindergarten may be attended before beginning elementary school around the age of six. Middle school, or junior high, is then attended between the ages of 11 and 13, before moving onto high school between the ages of 14 and 18.
Around two thirds of American children attend public state-funded schools, with the remainder attending private fee-paying, religious or international schools. This is a similar ratio to Australian schools – and you’ll find many more similarities between the two countries in their approach to schooling.
America’s prestigious Ivy League colleges are globally famed for their excellence. They don’t come cheap, especially if you live out of state, but financial aid packages maybe available for some students. There are also plenty of great public universities, community colleges and professional schools to choose from.
The top-ranking US colleges are:
Healthcare in the States is funded through a national health insurance system, which requires individuals to invest in health insurance to cover the costs of their medical bills. Unlike the Australian system there is no state funding of healthcare, even for medical emergencies. Doctors must still treat patients who do not have insurance, but the patient will then have to personally foot the bill following treatment.
Recent changes to the US health system are attempting to make medical care more affordable and accessible, but comprehensive medical insurance is a must. If you plan to work in America it is likely that your health coverage will be organised through your employer, but private insurance options, such as Medicare, are also available.
Things to do
Where to begin? The USA has a wealth of attractions with each state offering up its own gems.
The Big Apple is a good place to start, with hundreds of museums and galleries to explore. Art lovers can soak up some of the world’s best at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art or the Guggenheim – and that’s just to get things started! Don’t miss the city’s spectacular landmarks either, whether you climb the Empire State building or wave to Lady Liberty.
America’s capital, Washington, is the place to go if you love politics and history. Visit the iconic White House, Capitol Hill and the towering Washington Monument.
If you’re looking for child-friendly attractions, it doesn’t get much better then the world-famous Walt Disney World. If you prefer the the call of the wild, the US is home to staggering natural sights including the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and the Rocky Mountains.
Food and drink
America’s unique history as a cultural melting pot is truly reflected in its food. Cuisines from all around the world are embraced – and then amped up US-style. Generous portions are the order of the day!
Each region has its specialities, often influenced by the immigrant communities who settled there. Chicago pizza slices, New York bagels, Southern Buffalo wings, New Orleans Creole gumbo, Hawaiian fish poké, and spicy Cajun crayfish are among the highlights. And don’t miss the American deserts, they’re bigger and better than anything you will have tasted before. If you want to dine out in style, New York has a dazzling array of Michelin-starred eateries, such as Jean Georges and Masa. Make sure you book in advance.
The US may do junk food like nowhere else in the world, but there is also a strong healthy eating trend in many places – especially in sunny western states like California. San Francisco has a growing reputation as a foodie hotspot, while LA is a great place for clean eating noodle bowls and vegan dishes. Visit Café Gratitude or Shojin Organic and Natural for the best healthy bites.
Nightlife in the US is as varied as everything else in this great country – you’ve got a colourful selection with something for everyone.
Miami Beach, Florida is known for its hot clubs and summery vibe. Las Vegas, with its casinos and themed hotel bars, is literally the city that never sleeps. New York has everything from old-fashioned dance halls and nights at the opera to glamorous cocktail bars and edgy music bars. Austin, Texas has an amazing reputation for hosting the best in live music, while New Orleans’ late night bars and epic Mardi Gras are filled with all the intoxicating sounds you’d expect from the birthplace of jazz. San Francisco has the most eclectic and exciting gay scene, while those of you who prefer a more sedate evening will love the wineries and restaurants of Napa Valley, California.