Empire State Building in New York

Download the Brief Guide to Studying or Working in the USA

Your short guide to moving to and living in the US 

If you’ve decided to move to the USA, this guide will provide helpful information on what you can expect: from socialising, working, studying, and more.

From understanding the cultural nuances to adapting to the American way of life, our guide aims to equip you with the knowledge needed for a smooth transition. 

Working in the USA 

The United States hosts a range of large corporations and innovative startups. Its job market is extensive, accommodating a wide variety of professions and skills. Key areas include the technology sector in Silicon Valley, financial districts in New York, and the expanding renewable energy sector in states such as Texas.

This diversity reflects the various professional opportunities available in different American industries. Work culture in the US varies across regions and sectors. Generally, it emphasises innovation, productivity, and individual achievement. Many workplaces value collaboration, with open workspaces and team projects being the norm.

The idea of the "American Dream" — where hard work and determination can lead one to success — is valued in many professional settings. At the same time, companies tend to appreciate proactive employees who take the initiative on projects.  

Throughout America, English is the primary language of business communication. This means that English proficiency is critical to professional success

Learn more about working in the USA 

Studying and Higher Education in the USA 

The USA attracts students from all over the world, home to renowned universities including Ivy League institutions like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Other universities such as Stanford and MIT also contribute to the country's status as a centre for study and research. 

For international students, the first step involves selecting a university and academic programme in the US. The next stage is to navigate the competitive admission requirements. US universities generally look for well-rounded candidates who can bring diverse perspectives to their campuses, in addition to academic achievements.  

English proficiency is a cornerstone in this selection process, especially for international students. IELTS, as a globally recognised English proficiency test, plays a pivotal role in proving your English skills for university admission. 

Learn more about studying in the USA 

Cost of Living and Lifestyle in the USA 

How you experience the USA, the cost of living, and the lifestyle options available to you will vary significantly based on where you choose to live. Cities like San Francisco, New York, and Boston, for instance, are famous for their high living costs but excellent lifestyle options. On the other hand, cities like Austin, Raleigh, or Denver can be a cheaper alternative without sacrificing on lifestyle. 

It's hard to make general statements about the cost of living and lifestyle in the US, as it varies greatly. To get a better idea, research the areas you will be living in.

Living in America 

Food in America reflects the country's multiculturalism. From the Creole dishes of Louisiana to the deep-dish pizzas of Chicago, every region offers its culinary signature. Depending on where you are, festivals like Chinese New Year, Diwali, and Cinco de Mayo are celebrated as much as Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July.  

Sports, too, play a pivotal role. American football, baseball, basketball, soccer, and ice hockey are popular sports. Arts and entertainment are also important parts of American life, with each city being home to a unique collection of theatre, live music, and art shows.  

The immense size of the US means that the country has many national parks and rolling landscapes that are connected by the highways that crisscross America. While some cities have excellent public transport, America has a car-first culture. You may be required to get a car to navigate the area you live in or to access the countryside. 

USA Immigration and Visa Process 

US visas and immigration can seem confusing at first. But once you know which visa you need, the application process can be as simple as following the right steps. The US Department of State has a questionnaire to help you identify which visa to apply for. Here's a breakdown of common visa and US immigration pathways.

US student visas

When applying for a student visa, you will likely need to provide documents that confirm your acceptance at a recognised educational institution. You may also need to offer proof that you have enough money to support yourself during your studies. US student visas include: 

  • F-1 Visa - for full-time students enrolled in academic courses. 
  • J-1 Visa - for exchange visitors participating in programs promoting cultural exchange. 
  • M-1 Visa - for students enrolled in vocational or non-academic programs.

Working as a student

After completing their first academic year, students on F-1 visas can accept on-campus employment. You can apply to work off-campus if your job relates to your field of study. Exceptions are made for students from low-income households who need to earn while they study. 

Students on an F-1 visa can also legally work in the US for up to one year after graduation through the Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme. STEM majors may be able to work for up to two years after graduating.

US work visas

Many US work visas require you to first secure a job with an American company before applying. Your employer will then sponsor your application. With this in mind, here are common work visa options:  

  • H-1B Visa - these visas are for speciality occupations that require a higher degree or its equivalent. 
  • L-1 Visas - for intra-company transfers moving to a US office. 
  • O-1 Visa - reserved for individuals at the very top of their fields who have earned national or international recognition for their ability or achievements.  
  • H-2A and H-2B Visas - these visas are for temporary or seasonal work. The H-2A is for agricultural workers, and the H-2B is for non-agricultural workers. 

USA visa requirements

Each visa pathway has its own set of requirements. For most study and work visa routes, proving your proficiency in English is crucial to being accepted.

That's where the IELTS test comes in. The test is widely recognised by American employers and institutions as proof of your English ability. This means that, whatever visa pathway you choose, IELTS can help pave the way to a successful application.

Healthcare in the USA 

The USA healthcare system is complex and can be expensive. Unlike many countries that have a universal healthcare system funded by taxpayers, the US operates largely on a private system. Hospitals and clinics are generally privately owned, with some state-run institutions offering care to veterans or low-income individuals.  

The importance of healthcare insurance 

If you’re in the US on a work, student, or temporary visa, you are generally unable to access public healthcare programs like Medicaid.  

Given the high cost of healthcare in the US, having medical insurance is crucial to receiving care without having to pay massive bills. Most Americans receive health insurance through their employers, though there are many private insurance options available designed for international workers and students.

Social Life and Communities in the USA 

The U.S. is often described as a 'melting pot' due to its diverse subcultures and communities. This diversity means you're likely to encounter a wide range of people with whom you can form connections. To find like-minded individuals, you can participate in various events and public activities regularly held in American towns and cities. These can range from local festivals to interest-specific events, offering opportunities to meet people and explore your interests.

Additionally, community centres, as well as religious and cultural institutions like churches, mosques, and temples, often function as gathering places for local communities. 

Networking in America 

The US is known for its entrepreneurial spirit. This is reflected in the countless workshops, conferences, meetups, and seminars that take place for every industry. So, no matter the business you’re in, you’ll be able to find networking events.

For more casual networking, cities often host events like farmer’s markets, block parties, or art walks, providing informal settings to connect. Universities and colleges also host events and workshops to help students network with professionals, alumni, and peers. 

English as the key to social connection 

English is the dominant language in America, so having English proficiency is key to making the most of social and professional opportunities. The better your English, the more effectively you’ll be able to engage with others. 

The Role of IELTS for Life in the USA 

In most cases, you can’t move to the US without first proving your English proficiency to American schools, employers, and visa authorities. That means taking an English proficiency test like IELTS.  

IELTS is most popular and globally recognised English proficiency test in the world. IELTS offers a comprehensive assessment of all four language skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. The speaking test takes place in-person at a testing centre, with an examiner. This approach ensures a well-rounded evaluation of your language abilities. 

Here’s why millions of people choose IELTS every year:

  • IELTS is globally recognised - IELTS is recognised by over 12,000 organisations around the world and the vast majority of American institutions that require proof of English ability.  
  • IELTS is fair, accurate, and comprehensive - IELTS teaches the four core English skills; Speaking, Writing, Reading, and Listening. IELTS tests focus on accuracy and fairness and examiners are qualified and experienced English language specialists. 
  • IELTS is everywhere - IELTS has over 4,000 test locations in 140 countries across the globe.

If the USA is your chosen destination, consider IELTS as your trusted companion on your journey. After all, IELTS is more than just a test — it's a gateway to achieving your American dream. 

Take your IELTS test with the British Council 

With 90 years of English education expertise, the British Council is a global IELTS authority you can trust. Booking your IELTS test with us not only taps into our experience but also grants access to unparalleled IELTS Ready preparation support. 

Book your test now and access IELTS Ready today.

Learn more about studying or working in the USA 

There’s a lot to know when it comes to moving to the US. To help, we’ve created guides to help you either study or work in America.  

Get your free copy by clicking on the link below.  

Download the Brief Guide to Studying or Working in the USA