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Whether you’re packing for your first trip or planning to make the big move, living in America is going to be a challenge – as well as lots of fun. I still haven’t gotten over the fact that America is big – really, really, big – and while some laws apply everywhere, some vary from state to state.
Site: London Embassy
Even with “the special relationship” between the U.S. and U.K., overstaying your welcome could have serious consequences. If you are looking to stay any longer than the 90-day tourism/non-immigrant visa, make sure your paperwork is in order. Also, even if you decide to apply for full citizenship – which gives you the right to vote, get a U.S. passport, and be picked for jury duty – you’ll still need to renew your UK passport. Make sure you apply well in advance of expiration.
Site: Age of Consent
Depending on where you are, there could be different ages for when it’s legal to have sex, smoke or drive. The age for drinking is 21 – quite a shock when you started going into pubs at 16 – but it varies by State for buying alcohol in shops. It’s 18 for buying cigarettes (except in Alabama, Alaska and Utah, where it’s 19), and as for driving, that’s mainly 16 – but can be 14½ to 17…
See also: Minimum ages for unsupervised driving
DMV – Department of Motor Vehicles
Site: DMV List
If you’re here on anything other than a temporary visa, it’s a good idea to apply for a State Identification Card. Bars have a legal requirement to ask for ID no matter how old you are, and you’ll need it for hiring a car, in the bank and at other times too. The DMV is the only place that issues them, so remember to bring a book for the long wait.
Getting around is something you need to know from day one, and most major cities have bus, train and even underground systems (though that doesn’t mean it will be easy to understand; you’ve seen the confused tourists on the tube in London, right?). Further afield, Amtrak is the train service that criss-crosses the country (look under the “Deals” tab) and Greyhound buses do the same thing, but slower.
Take To The Skies
The easiest way to get across the U.S.A. is by air, and you’re spoiled for choice at all levels. The biggest airline is Southwest (covers 42 states) and the hippest low-cost is JetBlue. It’s a good idea to sign up for any and all Air Miles schemes, and plenty of deals can be found online.
See also: CheapFlights
Behind The Wheel
Hire cars aside, you can’t drive a car without a valid license here. UK licenses and “International Driving Licenses” might not cut the mustard, and speeding tickets, driving without insurance or drunken driving can be a very costly mistake. If you’re planning to stay, take the driving test. America worships its four wheels, so you’ll have no problem finding new or used ones wherever you are; the biggest national dealer is CarMax.
Somewhere To Lay My Hat
Quite simply, Craigslist is a website that covers countess cities and States and is also an amazingly easy-to-use resource where you can buy a car, a sofa, a job, or potentially find a new friend/partner/pet.
Until you find a British/Irish pub in your area, the longing to watch the lads playing is going to be hard to satisfy. UK “soccer” can often be found in pubs and bars, but rugby and cricket? Almost never. “Sports” is an obsession here (even in small towns, colleges and universities), so try and learn a little about baseball, “football” and basketball so you can hold your own at the barbeque. Sports Illustrated’s website does the same – but features swimsuit girls.
Television and Radio
TV Guide is the magazine/website catch-all for all channels and regions, and the domestic equivalents to BBC here is NPR (radio) and PBS (television).
The Inevitable Taxes
The idea of Social Security and “the nanny state” is a very hot topic in America, and new residents will have to apply for a Social Security number, which arrives on a small card. Guard it with your life, because you can’t do anything without those magic digits (get a job, open a bank account and so on). Forget the dole, though, and it’s best to assume that unless you’re made redundant (some benefits for a while) you’re on your own until you reach retirement. Of course you’ll pay Social Security in your taxes, a yearly trial that has to be undertaken and assessed by the IRS – people who you simply cannot mess with.
Finding Fellow Brits
Meeting up with your fellow expats should be easy in the big cities – just Google “Brits in (city name)” and you should be up and running – but there’s also MeetUp.com, Britsin.LA and bigapplebrits.com for the East and West Coast big cities.
What websites have you found invaluable now you’ve come over the pond?
James Bartlett writes about travel, film and the weird and wonderful side of living in L.A. He has been published in over 90 magazines and newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, Los Angeles Magazine, Angeleno, Hemispheres, Delta Sky, Westways, Variety and Bizarre. He is also a contributor to BBC radio and RTE in Ireland, and is the author of Gourmet Ghosts - Los Angeles, a "history and mystery" guide to bars and restaurants in L.A. - details can be found at www.gourmetghosts.com.