Working in the US
There are plenty of opportunities for work experience and internships in the US, but non-citizens will find it tough to secure graduate jobs.
There is a particular demand for graduates in the growing electronics and software industries, as well as in healthcare and finance
This article was last updated before the Covid-19 pandemic. It therefore does not reflect the restrictions to travel and changes to guidance brought about by the pandemic. If you'd like to find out more, the foreign travel advice on GOV.UK includes information specific to every country.
Getting a job in the US
The US is home to a huge range of opportunities for fresh graduates. Its economy is gradually recovering from the global recession; a number of industries are expected to expand in the near future, and unemployment is decreasing. However, it remains difficult for non-US citizens to find work there, as the job market remains competitive and the conditions for obtaining a visa can be strict and complicated. You may find it easier to get a job with a UK-based employer that has an office in the US and transfer over.
Where could you work in the US?
The US is a prominent location for many different industries, such as technology, finance and the media. There are also some opportunities to teach English as a second language.
Major industries include:
- motor vehicles
The US is one of the world's leading locations for the media industry. There are thousands of newspapers, news channels and radio stations across the US, and US film, TV and music are consumed globally.
There are numerous small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as well as large companies and multinationals. Silicon Valley in California is home to hundreds of technology start-ups, for example.
Some examples of the biggest companies in the US are:
- Apple (technology)
- Google (technology)
- JPMorgan Chase (finance)
- Walmart (retail)
- Citigroup (finance)
Skills in demand
There is a particular demand for graduates in the growing electronics and software industries, as well as in healthcare and finance.
English is the official language of the US. If your first language is not English, you may need to sit an English language proficiency test.
Are UK qualifications recognised?
Employers will usually recognise UK qualifications, especially as some US nationals travel to the UK to study, then return home for work. However, when applying for jobs you should confirm that a UK degree will be accepted.
Teaching English as a foreign language in the US
There is an increasing demand for teachers of English as a second language (ESL) and English as a foreign language (EFL) teachers in regions that have a large immigrant population, such as New York, California, Arizona and Texas. You might be able to find work teaching in adult education settings if you have undertaken a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualification in addition to your degree. You cannot teach in public (state-funded) schools in the US without a US teaching license.
What's it like to work in the US?
Working hours: Typically similar to European nations: eight hours per day, Monday to Friday, equivalent to 40 hours per week. However, unpaid overtime often adds to this total in practice. You may end up working occasional 12 hour days, especially in the legal or medical professions.
Holidays: Two weeks' annual leave is typical, and this increases with long service, although some employees receive as little as nine paid holiday days a year, well below the UK average. Paid leave may also be given for national holidays such as Independence Day (the fourth of July), Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. However, not all private business honour public holidays.
Income tax: If you become a resident alien with a green card you will usually be subject to the same tax rates as US citizens, meaning you'll have to declare all your income in a tax return. Check your UK tax and national insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to make sure you will not lose any UK pension rights.
Where to find jobs
To enter the US other than as a tourist, you'll need the right visa. This means you will need to apply for jobs before entering the country. You'll typically be expected to already have the right to work in the US before applying for jobs. There may be exceptions to this if you have highly specialised skills and knowledge, in which case you can try applying to US companies beforehand and request that they sponsor your visa.
Sources of US job vacancies include USAJOBS, which lists federal government job vacancies from across the US.
Popular US recruitment agencies include:
- Adecco USA
- American Staffing Association (professional body for the recruitment industry and has a list of agencies across the US)
- Kelly Services
- Randstad USA
It is common for US residents to find jobs through networking with friends, colleagues and other industry contacts. It's also common practice to make speculative applications in search of opportunities that have not been advertised.
International job vacancies can also be found on TARGETjobs' international vacancies page.
Newspapers with vacancies
A number of newspapers advertise job vacancies. These include:
CV, application and interview tips
Application and interview methods are fairly similar to those used in the UK. You can apply for jobs by submitting a résumé, which is just like a CV in the UK. This should be one to two pages long and accompanied by a covering letter. In the US a CV is a more detailed document used for roles in academia, and usually consists of at least three pages. Some vacancies may require you to fill in the employer's standardised application form. Interviews sometimes include some form of psychometric testing, and there may be multiple rounds of interviews depending on the employer and role.
Work experience, internships and exchanges
Several organisations offer internships and work experience programmes in the US. They will typically offer help with visas, accommodation for the first few nights and an orientation programme.
The J-1 visa allows you to do temporary work in the US, including an internship programme of up to 12 months and, in some industries, a trainee programme that can last up to 18 months. You can either find your own internship and then apply for the J-1 visa, or find a placement through an internship provider who may provide sponsorship for a visa.
The following organisations offer internships or short-term work placements in the US:
Seasonal work between June and September is available at theme parks, hotels, beach clubs and ranches. Working at a summer camp is a very popular option, and involves spending the summer with other US and international workers, teaching children anything from arts and crafts to sports.
Examples of these opportunities include:
- Camp America (consists of a nine-week placement at a US summer camp)
- BUNAC (offers a range of working holidays including a summer camp counselling programme)
- Camp Counselors USA (arranges summer camp jobs and work and travel experiences)
There are lots of volunteering opportunities across the US, and the US government website lists a range of sources of information to explore. The Fulbright Commission also has information about what opportunities are available and any visa issues to consider.
The business visitor visa (known as the B-1 visa) is suitable for those entering the country to do unpaid work for a charity or religious organisation. However, it requires specific conditions to be met, so check before accepting a volunteering role.
Do you need a visa to work in the US?
The Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) allows most British passport holders to enter the US for up to 90 days without a visa for a limited time, such as for a holiday, certain types of business visit and transit to another country. If you're arriving by air or sea, you need to be authorised by the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) before you travel.
If you are not a UK national, contact the American embassy in the country where you are currently residing about how to obtain visas and work permits. If you are living in the UK, go to the Embassy of the United States in the UK.
Entering the US for employment or permanent residence is more difficult because of the country's strict immigration policies. A range of visas are available for certain categories of work, so it's important to choose the right one.
Anyone wishing to live and work permanently in the USA is required to obtain lawful permanent residence (known as a green card). To get a green card you need to be sponsored by a family member who is a lawful permanent resident, or by an employer. However, it is unlikely that an employer will sponsor you, unless you work for a multinational company and transfer to a US branch of that company.
Living in the US
Cost of living: varies between different states but can be high in some major cities such as New York and Los Angeles.
Currency: US dollar ($)
Healthcare: The US does not have a national health service and there is no reciprocal healthcare agreement between the US and UK, so treatment can be very expensive. Make sure you have full medical insurance before you travel, as well as adequate money to cover the costs of any medical treatment and repatriation.
Some hospitals may ask you to pay a deposit or 'good faith' payment when you are admitted. You should direct these requests to your travel insurance provider and only pay the hospital if the insurance company advises you to do so.
It's safer to make sure that all your vaccinations, such as tetanus, are up to date before you travel.
Laws and customs to be aware of:
Employment law is much less restrictive than in Europe, meaning that organisations have greater flexibility to hire and fire employees.
Laws vary from one state to the next. Whenever you are physically present in a state, you are subject to that state's laws. You should carry a passport at all times showing that you have the right to enter or remain.
If you are planning to drive while you are in the US, check the driving rules for the state(s) you'll be visiting, as each state has its own laws such as speed limits. A full UK driving licence is sufficient in most states but some also require an International Driving Permit. These are not issued in the US to foreign visitors, so you'll need to obtain one before you travel.
It is illegal throughout the US for anyone under 21 years old to purchase or consume alcohol. Possessing or supplying a controlled substance can carry a long prison sentence or fine, although the specific laws differ between states.
Major religion(s): Christianity, especially a variety of Protestant churches and Roman Catholicism.
Type of government: constitutional federal republic