Your guide to expat life in United States

Working in the USA

The American economy is robust and varied. Working life is often characterised by long hours and hard graft. And while there are plenty of opportunities for expats to succeed – the USA came first out of 46 countries in our 2017 Expat Explorer Survey for career progression – the corporate environment can be ruthless.

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Doing business

Many expats are lured to the States by the American Dream — the belief that with a little hard work every individual can succeed and prosper. Whether a myth or reality, it remains the driving force behind the world’s most powerful country.

Despite the impact of the global economic downturn, the USA remains the largest economy in the world. Ranked 8th out of 190 countries in The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2017, it has a free market system that’s thrived because of a willingness to accept new ideas and nurture budding entrepreneurs.

Job opportunities are incredibly varied and demand for skilled workers is growing in medical professions and the burgeoning IT sector in particular. Production and manufacturing contracts are increasingly outsourced to smaller economies overseas while Americans focus more on the service industry. Demand for low-wage service jobs has been filled by a wave of Mexican immigration. Qualified expats usually sidestep the political tumult caused by this to fill more skilled positions.

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Business culture

The USA is large, so it’s difficult to generalise about its business practices. Much of its working culture is based on the notion that ‘time is money’ and you’ll find that associates get annoyed with anyone who wastes time or beats around the bush.

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Work ethic

Hard work is respected and expected. The business world rewards go-getters and merely tolerates people who lack independence. Status and age are obsolete, while merit, experience and past achievements are vehicles for advancement. Be prepared for a rigorous schedule of more than 40 hours a week, sometimes with unpaid overtime and weekends devoted to work-related travel. Workers are given less annual leave than in Europe.

Management style

Management in the USA is somewhat egalitarian, but big decisions and responsibility ultimately lie with the boss. Even after many discussions, senior managers may disregard the opinions of staff in middle and lower positions, which can be infuriating if you’re from a consensus-oriented culture.

Pace of business

Business is conducted quickly and small talk is kept to a minimum - the focus is on reaching an agreement as soon as possible rather than building a relationship. Meetings are taken seriously and arriving late is disrespectful. Americans are direct in how they communicate — so you’ll gain respect if you express your opinions clearly.

Social occasions

It’s common for Americans to conduct business in informal settings, such as over lunch or drinks. Take any opportunity to socialise with colleagues and clients outside the office.

Fast facts

Business hours

From 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, although it’s common to put in extra hours.

Appropriate greetings

A handshake is the usual greeting in business circles. While it’s best to start by addressing people formally, most Americans prefer to use first names.

Dress

Business dress varies according to the type of company and its geographic location. Formal suits are worn in corporate environments. Casual Fridays is a policy for many employers.

Gifts

It’s not appropriate to give gifts at business meetings - and some companies don’t allow their employees to accept gifts. You can give chocolates, flowers or wine if you’re invited to a colleague’s home for a social occasion.

Gender equality

Women have the same rights as men in the States and occupy many top-level positions.

Expat salaries

Salaries vary hugely depending on location, job description and experience. Salaries are higher in major cities than in rural USA. Expats on long-term contracts with large corporations often receive generous packages that include housing and education allowances and medical insurance.

Understanding the culture, sports and public holidays as well as important facts they treasure about their history will prepare you better to engage in public conversations and make friends easily.

Expat Explorer Survey respondent

View more hints and tips for United States

Making life easier for expats

  • Starting a new life abroad has its complexities.
  • Your finances shouldn’t be one of them.
  • We believe that choosing to live abroad has the power to enrich your life. It can be a journey that leads to new experiences and opportunities. But it can also be complicated. That’s why we’re here to help manage your finances and make planning for the future simple.

Achieve your ambitions at HSBC

HSBC is one of the world’s leading international banks, with a network covering over 70 countries and territories. Our global reach and values-led high performing culture fosters continuous professional development, flexible working and opportunities for you to grow within an inclusive and diverse environment.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in August 2016. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you are aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.