Where to Live in America: 10 Things for Brits to Consider

New England can be beautiful, but are you ready to brave the winter? (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Possibly the biggest single decision an expat has to make is where to live. Even once you have picked your country – and that is often chosen for you by family, work or other circumstances outside your control – the real work begins, especially with a country as large and diverse as the U.S.

There is no one hot list of U.S. places to live, because expats’ priorities can vary so widely, from job to schools to retirement to weather. Do you want a place to settle down in, to meet people, or to show your U.K. friends around?

One way to start choosing is to think of places you like to go to – or have visited – for a vacation and why. Look at other areas offering similar attractions. But beware: living somewhere is not exactly like being on vacation. You can’t go on the same roller-coaster every week.

Here are ten tips for finding your ideal U.S. home:

1. Big is beautiful. Most U.S. cities have all the services an expat needs: doctors, hospitals, schools, restaurants, cinemas, night life, public transport or a freeway network, British consulate, international airport — and you won’t have strangers commenting on your accent every day.

2. If you want to get away from it all. The U.S. has some of the world’s greatest outdoors, such as the beautiful Rockies and Appalachian mountain ranges. New England is gorgeous, too, and conveniently close to Boston and New York if you need an occasional dose of civilization. Property is cheaper in remote areas, but prepare to be self-sufficient in food, power and sewage disposal. Beware areas prone to forest fires and mudslides.

3. Time zones. The three-hour difference between the U.S. East and West Coasts does not sound like much, but it can be crucial depending whether your work means you have to be in constant touch with Britain, continental Europe, Australia or Asia. Alaska is an hour behind Pacific Daylight Time and, while you may love Hawaii’s beaches, they are six hours behind New York and 11 behind London. Distance can also be a problem if you hate flying or suffer badly from jet lag.

4. Climate. You may love your ideal place in summer or winter, but what is the weather like the rest of the year? Do you fancy putting chains on the car throughout the winter? Arizona, Texas and New Mexico get so hot in summer that you might not want to venture out for months on end. The much of the East Coast suffers from hurricanes and winter storms that can dump several feet of snow on your doorstep. Best weather is probably in southern California, a steady 60-80 degrees most of the year.

5. Some U.S. states are more taxing than others. The tax system is multi-tiered: as well as the federal government, taxes can be levied by states, counties and cities. Federal income tax varies from 15% to 35%, and states add varying amounts from Hawaii’s 11% to zero in Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. There is no blanket federal sales tax, but states take from California’s 7.25% to zero in Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon. Annual property tax ranges from Louisiana’s 0.2% of a home’s value to North Dakota’s 1.4%.

6. Work place. If you arrive in the U.S. with a job your location may be decided for you, but if you are made redundant and want to stay in the U.S. you normally have only six months to find another employer. Lowest unemployment is in North and South Dakota and Nebraska, highest in Nevada, California and Rhode Island. But highest forecast employment growth is in Texas, Nevada and Arizona.

7. Entrepreneurialism. While jobs are scarce, America welcomes people with the initiative to be self-employed or business starters. A survey of 6,000 proprietors by thumbtack.com found that Idaho, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah were the most business-friendly states and California the worst.

8. Entertainment. While many Americans do move state to chase the dollar, there is more to life than nursing your bank account. Most towns have at least one movie house and local TV channels, but if you want regular coverage of U.K. sports, you may have difficulties in the more outlying areas. Internet is not as obtainable as you might imagine, certainly in the western half of the U.S. With rare exceptions, constant top quality theater is confined to Boston, New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. However, London and New York productions frequently tour other venues.

9. Raising a family. America can be one of the best and the worst places to bring up children. Schools and local neighborhoods are prime considerations, as well as crime rates, roomy back gardens, parks and scope for days out. Inner cities tend to be unlikely prospects, as do rural areas — luring many parents to the endless suburbs. Forbes magazine recently identified Grand Rapids, Michigan, as most child-friendly for its low cost of living, excellent schools, easy commuting and affordable housing. Boise, Idaho, and Provo, Utah, came next for good schools and low crime. But none of that is much use if you as parents are committed to Dallas or New York. You may have to go for the most child-friendly district in or around your target city.

10. Retirement. Apart from schools, many of the same factors apply to the choice of where to retire. Along with nice weather, you might also want – or want to avoid – other retired people and nearby assisted living. While you are mobile the popular retirement states are Florida and Arizona for their low tax and high sunshine. But if you do not mind rain, Portland in Oregon has a lively community without the tourist pressure of San Francisco. By the sea, Santa Monica in California has a large British expat community, and a few miles up the coast are the gentler towns of Carpinteria and Santa Barbara – still within easy reach of the bustle of Los Angeles. But the East Coast is easier for U.K.-based relatives to visit.

What is your favorite U.S. location and why?


William Kay

Bill Kay was a London business journalist until he emigrated to Pasadena, ten miles north of Los Angeles, from where he writes a financial advice column for the London Sunday Times. He was City Editor of The Times and the Mail on Sunday and has written a dozen books, including a Pasadena murder-mystery novel, as well as dipping into screenwriting and stand-up comedy. He attended Westminster City School and The Queen's College, Oxford, and still manages to follow Chelsea Football Club. He has two adult sons, Andrew and Ben - and two grandchildren, Jackson and Indiana - all in London.
View all posts by William Kay.
  • jeni

    Dallas, TX. It’s in the middle of the US, so only a 3 hour flight to either coast, the weather is mild (even in the summer compared to other states) and there are lots of activities for families and for singles. Museums, plays, musicals, night clubs, ballet, symphony.

    • gn

      I haven’t spent much time in Dallas, but I have in other parts of Texas and I wouldn’t describe the climate there as “mild”, at least by British standards. The Wikipedia article on Dallas’s climate begins: “The city of Dallas has a humid, hot climate and is often prone to storms (severe or not) (Köppen climate classification Cfa), though it is located in a region that also tends to receive warm, dry winds from the north and west in the summer, bringing temperatures about 102 °F (39 °C) at times and heat-humidity indexes soaring to as high as 117 °F (47 °C).”

  • Zida

    New York City, to me it has perfect weather and you would never get tired in touring and trying new things in the city. even if you miss bike riding you can go to Central Park.

  • Whofan sinceforever

    Be prepared to be self-sufficent for food and power in rural/outlying areas? Oddly enough, even in the most isolated areas, NOBODY is living like Ma and Pa Ingalls nowadays. Everyone except the uber-green folks and the Amish pays to have electricity brought right to their homes, and everybody goes to the store for food. What utter CLAPTRAP.

    • LG

      I could be wrong, but I think he was referring to weather related outages. I can remember blizzards in MN that kept us snowbound for days and issues with frozen pipes. In a rural area it can be harder to get to a store in those circumstances.

      • Jacqueline O. Moleski

        This too. Even if you DO have your own water from an well (with ELECTRIC pump) and propane gas heat (with electric starter & forced air fans) if the power goes out – it’s no running water and no heat. It pays to be prepared, and a back-up gas-powered generator is a good idea. I’ve shocked folks from Canada explaining that, much less people from the UK. Rural US is RURAL – it’s not the city, it’s not New York or LA. OTOH, rural living is common in the US and it doesn’t mean “backward” or “redneck”.

    • Jacqueline O. Moleski

      Um – I’m guessing he means things like having a well with an electric pump instead of city water; propane gas or heating oil instead of natural gas or steam; and a septic tank for sewage instead of city sewage management. Not to mention having satellite for internet & cable rather than broadband/DSL and cable.

  • gn

    Here are a few other considerations:

    * The coast. In the UK you are never more than 100 miles from the nearest ocean or sea. In the heartland of the US you could be 1000 miles away. Make sure you are prepared for this before moving somewhere like Nebraska.

    * Landscape. In most parts of the UK some landscape features such as hills or mountains are visible. However, go to the vast central plain of the US (between the Rocky mountains in the west and the Appalachians/Ozarks in the east) and much of the landscape is just flat, flat, flat, as far as the eye can see. On the other hand, go to Vermont and you will see a landscape that is more “English” (rolling hills, streams) than England itself.

    * Cllimate. As this map shows, the eastern half of the US tends to be rather humid, getting very sticky in the south eastern quadrant (hence the universal air conditioning). The rainy north west (e.g. Seattle) probably has the closest climate to that of the UK; California’s Mediterranean climate is wonderful and Hawaii is a tropical paradise.

    * Politics. The so-called “blue states” (roughly the Pacific coast, the Atlantic coast from DC north and most of the Great Lakes) have politics that are closer to what would be considered mainstream in the UK.

    • Jacqueline O. Moleski

      Good points but you’ve goofed on the geography — the Great Lakes are BIG and the states around them have humid, wet weather — and lots of rivers and small “inland” lakes. The difference is, it’s much, much colder in Michigan, MN, Ill, Wis, even Ohio than pretty much anyplace in the UK except maybe parts of Northern Scotland. It’s normal to have snow from November to Feb., and occasionally from Oct. to March. On the other hand, states that get a lot of snow usually know how to handle it, and even after a blizzard everything will be cleaned-up in a day or two. In some cases, the Northern states do a better job at dealing with blizzards than the East Coast because it’s more common. What someone from the UK might be surprised by are the thunderstorms (and tornadoes) — these are common, and can be dangerous. I’d suggest that if re-locating to the Midwest one learn *something* of what to do, how to recognize the signs, and basic emergency preparedness.

      • gn

        I was thinking of the Midwest as being in the eastern half of the US (as it is geographically). The map I linked to makes this clearer.

  • expatmum

    Sort of along the lines of politics, I would also add “religion”. Some areas in the USA are extremely religious and if you’re not so ardent, it can be very intimidating, annoying and sometimes unbelievable.

  • John Adams

    Yep, we’ve made no progress since 1776, so don’t look for indoor plumbing, electricity (despite poor old Franklin’s and Edsion’s efforts) or markets. Bring your coonskin cap and rifle if you plan to move outside NYC–squirrel is excellent eating.
    Who wrote this? Any chance you plan to visit small town America soon? Please do so before offering anymore advice. It’s a different country, and it’s a different culture. We can’t promise you’ll like it here, but we can provide you with electricity and indoor bathrooms–honest.

    • Jacqueline O. Moleski

      Oh please, get a life. I actually found most of the stuff on this list useful for re-locating ANYWHERE and I live here. See my previous two posts about rural US living.

  • Tracy

    The reason Idaho, Utah, Texas and Oklahoma are business-friendly is because those states are run by conservatives who don’t tie you down with red tape and taxes. They’re more willing to just let you “run with it”. New York, California, Washington state (or D.C., for that matter), Michigan, … forget it: liberal states run by liberal lawmakers who LOVE red tape. We ♥ our friends across the pond!

    • Jacqueline O. Moleski

      Yeah — and this Conservative states dump pollution everywhere, force children to believe conservative Christian beliefs, block teaching evolution in schools, and make sure women have no rights whatsoever. Give me the true North proud and free any day!

      • Aimee

        It dose no such thing being a women living in Texas my self I’d like to inform you that your statement is fild with stereotypes that can’t be applied to the whole of a state. I’m not saying that there arn’t people like that out there just that the people I know and love arn’t them.
        This message is not meant to be precived as aggressive.

      • Amanda

        This is absolutely untrue, I don’t know where you are getting this. No one is forced to believe anything, they just have the option to test ideas, whereas in the blues states one idea is rammed down your throats and you are punished for even asking questions. Evolution is taught in schools, women of course have rights (abortion is legal everywhere, thats the law of the land, and women can get birth control everywhere as well, and cheaply). If anything, the blue states are far less free, with the shutting down of any ideas that may diverge from their liberal point of view, not allowing for true free speech. Oh, and some of the red states are much cleaner than many of the blues states (I think if you’re looking for pollution, CA and NY are the way to go, and they bleed blue.)

  • Daemon

    Michiagn! If you want to avoid natural disasters. No hurricanes, no earthquakes, few rare torandoes, no flooding. A 3-4 month winter cycle but that’s not that bad 3-4 feet of snow is a norm which here isn’t that bad. If your smart you can get a job. Don’t go to Detroit though ever. I love Michiagn though we are the perfect state besides our economy but if you’re smart you can get a well paying job.