Learn about living in the US and find out how to get the help you need to settle. Living in a new country surrounded by new people and new cultures can be both exciting and stressful. In your new life in America you will be faced with many changes and differences. Here are several categories that you should research and prepare yourself before immigrating to the US.
Get to Know the US
America may be very different from your home country, which means there is going to be a lot to learn and explore before you arrive in the US as a newcomer.
The United States of America is the world’s third largest country in size and nearly the third largest in terms of population. Located in North America, the country is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. Along the northern border is Canada and the southern border is Mexico. There are 50 states and the District of Columbia.The country is divided into six regions, these are the regions and the states that belong to them:
New England– European settlers came to New England in search of religious freedom.
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island
Mid-Atlantic – These industrial areas attracted millions of European immigrants and gave rise to some of the East Coast’s largest cities: New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.
- New Jersey
- New York
- Washington D.C.
South – All of which struggled after the Civil War, which lasted from 1860-1865.
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Midwest – Home to the country’s agricultural base and is called the “nation’s breadbasket.”
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
Southwest – home to some of the world’s great natural marvels, including the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns, beautiful stark landscape of prairie and desert.
- New Mexico
West – Home of rolling plains and the cowboy, is a symbol of the pioneering spirit of the United States. The West is diverse, ranging from endless wilderness to barren desert, coral reefs to Arctic tundra, Hollywood to Yellowstone.
The Constitution of the United States divides the federal government into three branches to make sure no individual or group will have too much power:
- Legislative – Makes laws (Congress—House of Representatives and Senate)
- Executive – Carries out laws (President, Vice President, Cabinet, most federal agencies)
- Judicial – Evaluates laws (Supreme Court and other courts)
The legislative branch drafts proposed laws, confirms or rejects Presidential nominations for heads of federal agencies, federal judges, and the Supreme Court, and has the authority to declare war. This branch includes Congress (the Senate and House of Representatives) and special agencies and offices that provide support services to Congress. American citizens have the right to vote for Senators and Representatives through free, confidential ballots.
Senate-There are two elected Senators per state, totaling 100 Senators. A Senate term is six years and there is no limit to the number of terms an individual can serve.
House of Representatives-There are 435 elected Representatives, which are divided among the 50 states in proportion to their total population. There are additional non-voting delegates who represent the District of Columbia and the territories. A Representative serves a two-year term, and there is no limit to the number of terms an individual can serve.
The executive branch carries out and enforces laws. It includes the President, Vice President, the Cabinet, executive departments, independent agencies, and other boards, commissions, and committees. American citizens have the right to vote for the President and Vice President through free, confidential ballots.
Key roles of the executive branch include:
President – The President leads the country. He or she is the head of state, leader of the federal government, and Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces. The President serves a four-year term and can be elected no more than two times.
Vice President – The Vice President supports the President. If the President is unable to serve, the Vice President becomes President. The Vice President can be elected and serve an unlimited number of four-year terms as Vice President, even under a different President.
The Cabinet – Cabinet members serve as advisors to the President. They include the Vice President, heads of executive departments, and other high-ranking government officials. Cabinet members are nominated by the President and must be approved by a simple majority of the Senate–51 votes if all 100 Senators vote.
The judicial branch interprets the meaning of laws, applies laws to individual cases, and decides if laws violate the Constitution. It’s comprised of the Supreme Court and other federal courts.
Supreme Court – The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. The Justices of the Supreme Court are nominated by the President and must be approved by the Senate. Nine members make up the Supreme Court – a Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. There must be a minimum or quorum of six Justices to decide a case. If there is an even number of Justices and a case results in a tie, the lower court’s decision stands. There is no fixed term for Justices. They serve until their death, retirement, or removal in exceptional circumstances.
Federal Courts and Judicial Agencies – The Constitution gives Congress the authority to establish other federal courts to handle cases that involve federal laws including tax and bankruptcy, lawsuits involving U.S. and state governments or the Constitution, and more. Other federal judicial agencies and programs support the courts and research judicial policy.
Housing in America
After you get to the United States, you’ll need to find a temporary place to stay until you can rent or buy a home. One option is to stay at a hotel or hostel. Housing options vary across the U.S. All cities and even most small towns have apartments available for rent. Larger cities have more options, including apartment sublets, rooms for rent, homestays, and university-style dormitories
Types of housing in Canada include:
houses, such as:
- detached houses with property around them
- semi-detached and townhouses where each house shares a wall with another
- condominiums (condos)
rental apartments, including:
- apartments with 1-3 bedrooms
- “bachelor” units made up of a single room as a living area and bedroom
- rental rooms, which are usually large homes divided into private rooms you can rent
Renting can be confusing for people who have never done so in the US before. View the steps below to learn more about the rental process. Be sure to carefully read the rest of the housing resources on this page for more detailed information.
1. Research – Be cautious if you see an ad that seems too good to be true or that requires you to wire money. Remember, your housing should be within reasonable distance to your employment site and in an area with regular, safe, and affordable transportation options.
2. Lease – Once you have decided where you want to live, you may be asked to sign a lease. A lease is a record that you have rented a house or an apartment. Without it, you may not be protected.
3. Deposit – Your landlord may request a portion of your rent in addition to a refundable security deposit, which may be due upon arrival. A deposit is typically requested by the landlord to cover any damages that you could do to the property. At the end of your lease if there are no damages, the landlord will return the deposit money to you.
4. Move In – Upon move-in you should take note of any pre-existing damages and send an email or letter to your landlord with the information. Keep a copy for yourself.
5. Paying Rent – Make sure you know when your rent is due to avoid late fees. No matter which way you pay whether it is via cash, credit card, or check, you should always get a receipt upon payment.
6. Move Out – Arrange a walkthrough with your landlord. A walkthrough allows both you and your landlord to view the condition of the housing together. We recommend taking pictures and/or videos again upon move-out. If you move-out before the agreed upon date in your lease, be aware that you may forfeit your security deposit.
7. Return of Deposit – If your housing was left in good condition, you should receive your deposit back. If outlined in your lease, a portion of your deposit may be nonrefundable.
In the United States of America, driver’s licenses are issued by each individual state, territory, and the federal district rather than by the federal government because of the concept of federalism. Drivers are normally required to obtain a license from their state of residence and all states recognize each other’s licenses for temporary visitors subject to normal age requirements.
Although every state has different requirements for obtaining a US drivers license typically the requirement includes:
- Being at least 16 years of age
- Having proof of identity
- Passing a written drivers test
- Passing a driving test
In Canada, parents have to make sure their children get an education. Provincial and territorial governments set up and run their own school systems. They’re much the same across Canada, but there are some differences among provinces and territories. Canada does not have a federal department or national system of education.
Elementary and Secondary Education
By law, children in America must go to school. Depending on the province or territory, children may start at the age of 5 or 6 and continue until they are between 16 and 18.
Schools in the US:
- start with kindergarten and continue to grades 1 to 12
- usually begin at the end of August and finish around the end of June
- run from Monday to Friday during the school year (except during holidays)
- give high school diplomas to students who successfully complete secondary school (high school)
If you and your family arrive in America during the school year, contact your local school board to find a place for your children.
- It’s up to parents to choose the type of schooling for their children, such as:
- free public schools
- paid private schools
- at-home education
In America, there are different types of post-secondary schools:
- State college or university
- Private college or university
- Community college
- Institutes of Technology
State College or University
A state school is supported and run by a state or local government. Each of the 50 U.S. states operates at least one state university and possibly several state colleges. Many of these public universities schools have the name of the state, or the actual word “State” in their names: for example, Washington State University and the University of Michigan.
Private College or University
These schools are privately run as opposed to being run by a branch of the government. Tuition will usually be higher than state schools. Often, private U.S. universities and colleges are smaller in size than state schools.
Religiously affiliated universities and colleges are private schools. Nearly all these schools welcome students of all religions and beliefs. Yet, there are a percentage of schools that prefer to admit students who hold similar religious beliefs as those in which the school was founded.
Community colleges are two-year colleges that award an associate’s degrees (transferable), as well as certifications. There are many types of associate degrees, but the most important distinguishing factor is whether or not the degree is transferable. Usually, there will be two primary degree tracks: one for academic transfer and the other prepares students to enter the workforce straightaway. University transfer degrees are generally associate of arts or associate of science. Not likely to be transferable are the associate of applied science degrees and certificates of completion.
Community college graduates most commonly transfer to four-year colleges or universities to complete their degree. Because they can transfer the credits they earned while attending community college, they can complete their bachelor’s degree program in two or more additional years. Many also offer ESL or intensive English language programs, which will prepare students for university-level courses.
Institutes of Technology
An institute of technology is a school that provides at least four years of study in science and technology. Some have graduate programs, while others offer short-term courses.
School Life in America
Teachers: Teachers usually have a university education.
Mixed classes: In most schools, boys and girls learn together in the same classroom. Some private schools are for boys or girls only.
School curriculum: Every province and territory has official coursework that students will be taught in each grade.
Religion: Some provinces have separate religious public schools and students of any religion can attend. Most communities also have private religious schools.
Textbooks and school supplies: Schools lend textbooks to their students. You will have to buy school supplies like pencils and paper for your children.
Special needs: Students can get help if they have special needs including:
Report cards: Children get a report card several times during the school year that tells you about their progress.
Missing school: Children must go to school every day. If they are absent from school because they are sick or for personal reasons, you must tell the school.
Getting to school: Children can travel to and from school:
- with their parents
- on their own
- by school bus
Ask the school for information on school buses and public transportation.
Dress code: Children must follow the school dress code. Some schools require children to wear a uniform.
Extracurricular activities: These are activities that take place before school, after school or during lunch. They include sports, arts, hobby clubs, etc. Each school offers different extracurricular activities to students. These activities can help your child:
- make friends
- get used to the American school system
- have interests in areas outside school
Healthcare in America
Health care in the United States is provided by many distinct organizations. Health care facilities are largely owned and operated by private sector businesses. In the United States, health insurance is any program that helps pay for medical expenses, whether through privately purchased insurance, social insurance or a social welfare program funded by the government. Synonyms for this usage include “health coverage”, “health care coverage” and “health benefits”.
The United States official currency is the American dollar ($). There are 100 cents (¢) in a dollar. Coins have different sizes, shapes and colours. They have nicknames that Americans use in everyday life.
Exchanging Foreign Money into American Money
Before you come to the US, it’s a good idea to change some money from your home country into American dollars. You can also exchange money after you arrive. Most airports have foreign exchange offices. You can also use a foreign debit or credit card to get cash from automated banking machines (ABMs), also known as automated tellers.
Banks in America
Banking in the United States is regulated by both the federal and state governments. The five largest banks in the United States at December 31, 2011, were
- JPMorgan Chase
- Bank of America
- Wells Fargo
- Goldman Sachs
Improving your English
English is America’s official language. Having strong English skills will help with:
- getting a job
- going to school
- accessing services
- helping your children with school work
- meeting and talking to people
- getting your US citizenship