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Working in the United States of America

Your guide to expat life in the United States of America

Want to work in the United States of America?

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 one of the world’s most powerful countries.

The USA economy is robust and varied, and it remains the largest economy in the world. Its free-market system thrives because of a willingness to accept new ideas and nurture budding entrepreneurs. Working life is often characterised by long hours and hard graft. And while there are plenty of opportunities for expats to succeed, the corporate environment can be ruthless.

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.

Business in the USA

Much of the USA’s working culture is based on the notion that time is money, and you’ll find associates get annoyed with procrastinators. Hard work is respected and expected. The business world rewards go-getters and merely tolerates people who lack drive.

Status and age are obsolete, while merit, experience and 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 also get less annual leave than in Europe.

Women have the same rights as men in the States and occupy many top-level positions. 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. This can be infuriating if you’re from a consensus-oriented culture.

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.

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.

Practical details

The business language in the US is English, and business hours are 09:00 to 17:00, Monday to Friday, although it’s common to put in extra hours.

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.

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

Expat salaries in the USA

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 get generous packages that include housing and education allowances and medical insurance.

Top tips for working in the USA

See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in the United States of America.

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.

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

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it 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're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

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