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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Excessive Costs Continue to Concern Expats in the USA

Despite a warm welcome and strong career prospects, expats are still not convinced by the “American Dream”, as expensive healthcare and high costs of living prevail.
  • Expats struggle to understand and afford healthcare.
  • 63% feel at home in the local culture.
  • Career prospects are rated positively by 67%.
  • Expat parents fear for their children’s safety.
  • 27% feel their household income is not enough.

The American Dream Comes at a Price

Ranked 44th for personal happiness, the USA does not appear to be living up to the notion of the “American Dream”. Healthcare continues to be a prime concern for expats, as only 19% rate the affordability of healthcare positively, 40 percentage points less than the global average. Prior to moving to the USA, 36% of expats considered the healthcare standards to be a potential disadvantage.

A Swedish expat complains about their “difficulty understanding the healthcare system and the lack of available public transportation, which makes you very dependent on cars”. In fact, 44% of expats who have lived in the USA for less than two years say it is not easy to understand the healthcare system at all (vs. 13% globally). Similarly, more than two-fifths of expats (41%) rate the local transportation infrastructure badly — almost double the global average of 22%.

As for political stability, expats have not seen much change there, as the USA ranks 51st for political stability, down two places since 2017. Only 45% are satisfied with the country’s political stability, compared to 63% rating this positively across the world.

Digital Life Made Easy

The USA ranks among the top 10 for digital life: expats appear to be extremely satisfied with the online services and digital infrastructure available. More than seven in ten (74%) say that paying without cash is very easy in the USA, compared to only 48% worldwide. Expats are also satisfied with the unrestricted access to online services, as three-quarters say this is excellent, compared to only 58% who feel the same way globally. An Irish expat says he is happy that he has “liberty, freedom” and can “say what I like on the internet”.

Locals Make Expats Want to Stay

Expats feel welcome in the USA, with 63% saying they feel at home in the local culture. When describing their friends, close to a quarter of expats (24%) state they are mostly friends with locals. A German expat finds US Americans to be “very positive, optimistic, and hands on”, going on to say they believe “everything is possible if you make an effort”. With such a warm welcome, 43% of expats say they could see themselves staying in the USA forever.

Knowledge of the local language may also help, as three in ten expats do not agree at all that it is easy to live in the USA without English language skills, compared to only 16% globally. Luckily, two-fifths agree completely that English is easy to learn. The Expat Insider survey was conducted in English, though, so results here may be biased.

Expats See Opportunity in the Labor Market

Prior to moving to the USA, 59% of expats considered the economy and labor market to be a potential benefit of relocating there. Two-thirds of expats are satisfied with their career prospects, twelve percentage points more than the global average (55%). A German expat highlights that there are “ample opportunities for personal and career growth”.

There are ample opportunities for personal and career growth.

Similarly, 68% of expats say they are satisfied with their job overall. However, 27% of expats are unsatisfied with their work-life balance. The average full-time working week is one hour longer in the USA than across the world (45.0 vs. 44.0 hours per week, respectively).

Expat Parents Forced to Dig Deep into Their Pockets

The USA narrowly escapes the bottom 10 in the Family Life Index, ranking 40th place out of 50 countries. Expat parents are noticeably more dissatisfied with family life in general than the global average (15% vs. 9%, respectively). Despite being fairly happy with the quality of education — 65% of expat parents in the USA rate this positively — parents are extremely dissatisfied with the costs. Six in ten disagree that education is easy to afford, while only 37% of expat parents feel this way globally.

Having children is a challenge cost-wise, as the most important expenses (education and healthcare) are exorbitant compared to other locations.

A similar trend exists in terms of childcare: four in ten say childcare options are numerous and easily available, compared to a global average of 47%. Moreover, a staggering 72% of expat parents do not agree they are easy to afford. A Canadian expat states that “having children is a challenge cost-wise, as the most important expenses (education and healthcare) are exorbitant compared to other locations”. When it comes to their children’s safety, only 17% of respondents think this is very good in the USA, 27 percentage points less than the global average (44%).

High Salaries Met with Higher Costs

Close to half the expats in the USA (45%) state they have a yearly household income of 100,000 USD or more, compared to only 24% who say the same globally. In fact, almost a third of working expats (32%) say their income is a lot higher in the USA than it would be in their home country. However, only 73% feel their disposable income is enough or more than enough to cover everything they need for daily life, less than the global average (78%). A Zimbabwean expat complains “the cost of living is high and there is a need for a second income”. Close to four in ten expats (38%) rate the cost of living poorly.

Further Reading