So You Want to Marry an American…

“Will you take this Brit to be your lawfully wedded husband?” (BridalFantasy)

As a Brit who did just that, here are a few practical bits of advice. The language differences won’t be a problem – you have someone to help you of course – but if nothing else, you must remember that many rules will vary from state-to-state, and for same sex couples especially, you’ll need to keep up-to-date.

1. Visa and Green Cards
Save up to hire a lawyer, because the process is a long and complicated one – and can be very stressful. On a day-to-day basis, make sure you keep records of your romance and take plenty of pictures and videos of you on vacation, visiting each other’s families, at Disneyland, etc. Yes it’s unromantic, but it proves you’re a transatlantic love affair.

2. Taxes
Gone are the days of PAYE and VAT – now Brits have to learn about W2, W4, I9 and the many other delights of the U.S. tax system. Salaried or not you’ll be doing your own taxes every year – and probably submitting as a couple, not just singles. Lots of new rules to learn! Again, keep good records as the IRS are people you never want to meet.

3. Medical Insurance/Social Security
As you probably know, there’s no NHS in America. Jobs are usually measured by the benefits (medical, dental) rather than the salary, and if you’re a freelancer you’ll find getting insurance very tough and very expensive – if you can get it at all. The “bennies” are the thing, because as a newbie you’ll be starting late on your Social Security payments and that means you’ll be working until you’re 70 – so you better keep fit and eat healthily! Another idea is to pay a visit to the optician, dentist and even doctor whenever you go back to Blighty.

4. Credit Cards
Regardless of your credit history in the U.K., you’re starting at zero here in the U.S., and that means you may need to use Gift Cards, the new independent no-bank credit cards that are just appearing, or will need to start with a secured (limited) credit card at your new bank. 

5. Politics/Religion
Always to be avoided as a rule, but the U.S. is a big country – and many parts of it are home to those with strong beliefs. You may find yourself round a family dinner or in a bar biting your tongue and wishing you were back in the U.K., where politeness (or is that repression?) means that the desire not to cause offense often wins out.

6. Travel and road trips
The U.S. is nearly 3,800,000 square miles, and its 50 states encompass every kind of geographical region and feature – which is why many Americans justifiably say they can swim, ski, surf, dive or mountain climb, so why go anywhere else? I’ve never gotten over the way Americans are happy to drive for hours – even days – at the drop of a hat, and you can imagine how long train journeys can be. One of our early “dates” was a 13 hour drive across Arizona to a cabin in Santa Fe, New Mexico – almost exactly the same distance to travel the whole of the UK from Land’s End to John O’Groats (over 800 miles)! Forget driving on the right – Americans happily drive all night.

7. Public Holidays
There will be a few new ones to get used to, and the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday in November) are massive ones. For the former you’ll have to get used to comments about a million Redcoat soldiers being beaten by farmers with pitchforks, but Thanksgiving? Big, big deal. A family affair that’s often as high pressure as Christmas – and often you’ll be expected to attend both, even though they’re barely a month apart. Still, Americans know about good food!

8. Tea
Brits love tea as much as Americans love coffee, so it’s unlikely you’ll ever come across a diner or restaurant that will bring you tea as you know it. Often it might be hottish water with a slice of lemon and a Liptons tea bag on a string. Ask for “hot tea and milk” at least, but if you drink on a par with Tony Benn, then it’s best to carry a few spare bags.  

9. Tipping
Even though you might not ask for anything but hot water for your tea bag to stew in, you must remember that tipping is pretty much obligatory. It’s the #1 complaint about Brits, so if you’re looking to be a regular at a restaurant or bar the rule of thumb is $1 per beer, and tipping should be closer to 20% than 15%; lower only if it’s a disaster. It will definitely be something you and your spouse will argue about!

10. A/C vs. Open Windows
Coming from different climates, it seems that Brit and their American partners will often disagree over the air conditioning (whether to have it on, at what temperature, and doesn’t it cause snoring and colds?) and if leaving doors and windows open is “healthy” (the British way).

Are you a Brit with an American husband or wife?

James Bartlett

James Bartlett

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
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  • Gillian Ladley

    I am a Brit with an American husband, now living the USA as of this year :)

    We didn’t use a lawyer for my immigration to the USA, because while the process is long and frustrating, it’s not overly complicated. I think a lawyer is only really useful if you’ve got an unusual case (criminal record, previous divorces).

    More importantly I’d suggest making sure you consider carefully which country to live in since the UK just changed its immigration rules and you might not be able to move back.

    I’d really love more information on how to figure out pensions and 401ks here in the USA – total newbie here.

  • expatmum

    Also wife of an American living in the USA. I was never married while I was living in the UK so I never know whether things are particularly American or just new to me. It still annoys me to this day that if my husband sets up a utility (gas, electric for example) I’m not allowed to deal with it. If I call up with a problem, they often tell me that I have to get my husband to call instead. Even my bank used to do that even though it was a joint bank account. I made a bit of a stink about it so they know not to do that now.
    Talking about the Social Security number – you won’t get one till you have a job, and if you’re not on a working visa, that’s not going to happen. Not having a social security number can make things like getting a driving license and opening a bank account very difficult indeed.

    • gn

      According to the Social Security Administration, you can get a Social Security number as soon as you are legally authorized to work; you don’t need to wait until you actually have a job. If you are outside the US and entering on a spouse or fiance(e) visa, you can apply for the Social Security number along with your visa.

      • expatmum

        OK, I stand corrected. That’s what I meant! Thanks for catching that.

  • Alan

    We never used a lawyer either, local institute helped us out for a very very low fee, there is a minefield of paperwork though, did this 13 years ago this christmas and have never looked back.

  • Pippa Bianco

    Married (in the USA) an American in 1992…..resident alien status achieved with no lawyer. Pondering citizenship in ’13… lawyers needed there either.
    After 20 yrs I still have my Tetley tea-bags sent to me!

    • Gillian Ladley

      They sell Tetley ‘British Blend’ in stores near me, so maybe you should look out for it 😀

      • Pippa Bianco

        Yes they do…but, however, it doesn’t taste the same!!!!

  • gn

    We were advised to do everything possible to share assets and liabilities together: joint bank account, joint credit cards, bills in both of our names where possible. It’s advisable to set this up as soon as possible, so that you will have a large amount of evidence to present when you have your green card marriage interview.

    When we were going through the process, we relied to a large extent on the newsgroup, which was an excellent resource (at least back then). We had a telephone consultation with a lawyer before the green card interview: it probably wasn’t necessary, but helped to set our minds at rest. You should definitely consult with a lawyer if you have ever been arrested (no matter what the reason).

  • gn

    Another idea is to pay a visit to the optician, dentist and even doctor whenever you go back to Blighty.

    But if you no longer live permanently in the UK, you are probably no longer entitled to free NHS treatment. I’m not sure how rigorously this is enforced in practice.

  • Peter P Marks

    The tea thing is funny; I gave up and drink coffee. Funny thing is my American wife will only drink PG tips!

  • $33587975

    Why bother with an immigration lawyer? Just come across the Mexican border and it will be no questions asked

  • Randy

    Thanksgiving is the 4 th Thursday in November- not the 3rd.

    • Guest


  • Amber

    I’m dating a guy from Scotland right now; 1 year this November 5th! lol it should be an easy day to remember: Guy Fawkes Day right? I’ve always been an avid tea drinker myself, though I AM particular: Hot herbal tea, unsweetened COLD black tea… He and I have slightly different tastes when it comes to tea but not coffee!! Creamed and sugared up till it’s more of a latte!

    We tend to have some trouble when it comes to politics and religion, but no serious disagreements arise…

    As for air conditioning… I prefer it on the cool side, and so does he.. :) Coming from the country, I’m well used to open windows… it’s really quite lovely.. if you’re still in the country…

  • Jacqueline O. Moleski

    British-style tea is commonly available at any coffee shop. You can also buy high-quality teas, including imports, at most supermarkets (esp. Meijer) and if that fails try a small local place that specialises in selling “speciality” teas and coffee. Or try World Market (but they are expensive). Maybe it’s living in Michigan, which is cold and very close to Ontario, Canada, but drinking tea is just as common as drinking coffee here. Actually, I drink both – coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon. I normally don’t make my tea with a teapot (tho’ I own several) simply because it’s a waste to make 6-12 cups of tea when I only want one 16 oz mug of tea (yes, I put my tea in a coffee mug), but tho’ I do use tea bags or occasionally loose tea, everyone knows the correct way to do that is to BOIL the water in a tea kettle, then pour it over the teabag in the mug, then after a minute or two, remove the tea bag. I will say though, tea-the-meal is something I don’t see here and I’d like to. The one time I went to a high tea while on vacation, I loved it!