USA aspects to consider and how they may affect you and your family
An assignment to the USA will for many be a very exciting life experience and the hospitality and appreciation shown by the US people can be humbling. As with any big change, you will need to be prepared for some challenges along the way – USA culture will not always be as you may have gathered from popular media. The nature of the United States federal system of government can mean each state has a very different approach to customs, laws, taxes and individual rights. This page is intended to give you a feel for some of those differences and a flavour of US living before you make your decision to come to the US.
Moving to the USA requires research, forward planning and patience. Currently there are about 1000 service and United Kingdom Based Civilians (UKBC) personnel based in 100+ locations in 30 states across 5 time zones. Including family members, the BDSUS Support Group helps to look after in excess of 2000 UK people. The British Embassy in Washington D.C. and teams in Virginia Tidewater area, Edwards, Creech Air Force Base (AFB) and Eglin AFB can provide advice and guidance but the onus rests with you to research and prepare for the variety of tasks necessary to arrive and settle in the US. A lot of guidance can be found in this website, which can be accessed from the open internet as well as MODnet. It is highly recommended that you make good use of your predecessor or immediate colleagues knowledge – we have all been through the transition.
Good luck with your preparations and we look forward to welcoming you to the USA.
Living in the USA
Parents who are considering bringing school age children to the US should consider their options carefully prior to accepting the assignment. Parents should also carry out their own internet research to ensure they are content with the education provision in the assignment location. All military personnel should also contact the Overseas Education Supportability Team (OEST), which is part of the MOD’s Directorate Children and Young People (DCYP) and is a small dedicated team who are experienced in advising service parents on a wide range of issues regarding the education of service children in the UK and overseas. Unlike in the UK, there is no national curriculum in the US. Authority over state-funded education rests primarily with individual State Departments of Education; therefore curriculum can vary from State to State and even between school districts within a State. Education for 14 to 18 year olds in the US is particularly different to the UK curriculum for children of this age, and children in this age bracket could be seriously disadvantaged if they return to the UK midway through this stage of education. School standards also vary across the country; however this does not necessarily mean that US schools are inferior to UK schools.
The Healthcare section provides extensive information on the provision of medical and dental care in the US and should be read thoroughly, especially if a family member has a long term medical condition. Healthcare is primarily provided through US military medical facilities; with the remainder covered through the MOD funded private plan. MOD policy states that all medical treatment outside of a US military Medical and dental Treatment Facility (MTF) will be as per the NHS entitlement and as such some treatments in the US will not be covered.
There are likely to be a number of employment opportunities available to spouses in the US but you should be cautious about counting on the certain availability of work and there are a number of strict eligibility and visa requirements that need to be adhered to. Further details are given in the Spousal Employment section under Living in the USA.
If you hold US citizenship and your spouse and/or children do not, please be aware of the following. The USA does not recognise dual citizenship as the UK does. Therefore you will be required to travel and work using your US passport and not on your UK passport in conjunction with a NATO-2/A2 visa. This will mean that your spouse and children will not qualify for a NATO-2 visa as there needs to be a principle sponsor in order for spouses/dependents to receive one. This will result in them receiving a B2 Tourist Visa which will only be issued for a year but only allows the holder to spend six months in the USA. In this six month period the B2 visa holder will not be allowed to work or apply for a driving licence. It is possible to change the status by applying for a green card to provide permanent residence in the US, however the process is time consuming and expensive and costs for this (along with potential solicitor fees) will not be provided by the department. If you are a US citizen and wish to discuss your options regarding potential visas for your family, please contact DTMO on 020-721-84366 or Military Number 9621-84366 or email [email protected].
It is worth noting that if you have a child born whilst in the US – that child will have a US passport. This will have tax implications in the future as your child can be required to submit annual US tax returns. In a recent case, a child born in the US to UK parents and returned to the UK in 1974 with dual nationality has been approached by the US IRS for the completion of a US tax return. Currently there is an agreement between the UK/US that tax is only paid to the government where the earnings were accrued. The IRS is the focal point for resolution of possible tax implications. It is possible to renounce US citizenship to become a sole UK citizen. The link below explains the process from the US Embassy website – in essence numerous forms have to be completed and attend an appointment at the US Embassy where an oath of renunciation is signed and pay a fee of currently $2,350. A final US Tax Return has to be completed as Expatriation Tax may apply (link also included below). Renouncement can only be done outside the USA and after the 18th birthday. As renunciation is irreversible it should not be taken lightly.
Benefits such as paid time off (holiday and sick leave) are only available for full time employees. Part time can be as much as 35-37 hours a week (state dependant) and it may prove difficult to obtain meaningful employment. Companies may prefer to employ US citizens and minimum wages can be very low compared to the UK. Even full-time employees get poorer benefits than the UK and one week Paid Time Off (PTO) per year is not unusual. PTO covers both holiday (vacation) and sick leave. This issue may impact on a family’s ability to enjoy the US and travel.
Few families will be accommodated in UK communities. This can cause some to feel isolated in US civilian communities. There are however a number of Support Groups, for example Washington D.C. area has an organisation called British Embassy Support Association (BESA) and the Virginia Beach/Tidewater area has ‘Bay Brits’ both of which are active and very supportive. BESA contact details can be found on http://www.besa-dmv.com/and Bay Brits have a website called www.baybrits.us. Edwards AFB 17(R) Sqn Families committee is also active, their email is; [email protected]. Personnel accommodated on or near a US military base elsewhere in the US can contact the local spouse association via the base website.
Mosquitoes are an inherent problem across America. In some residential areas built upon swampland (eg Washington D.C., Florida) they are a major issue in the summer and often result in personnel not being able to sit outside without a ‘netted’ porch. Personnel should be aware that MOD cannot fund pest control measures for mosquitoes. If off the shelf measures do not work for any other pests, you may employ the service of a pest control company as per BEET Accommodation Policy.
The regularity of extreme weather conditions across large areas of the US requires personal research. There is no entitlement to a tornado shelter and US building codes do not require properties to provide one. Research both the area and property very carefully. Earthquakes, severe thunder storms, hurricanes and snow in differing degrees of severity are also prevalent in certain areas. Personnel should be aware that the MOD cannot fund snow clearance or provide snow blowers if you are posted to an area where snow is a regular occurrence. Personnel should be prepared to either meet these costs themselves or spend time clearing paths and driveways.
Many states permit the open carrying of firearms in the street and many personnel in the US have firearms at home for self protection. The US has more guns per capita than any other country (88.8 guns per 100 residents, 34% are gun owners and the trend is upwards). Be prepared to see individuals openly carrying weapons in some areas of the USA.
Service personnel serving in the US are not to purchase, possess or otherwise handle firearms (defined as “lethal barrelled weapons of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged” – which includes pistols, rifles or shotguns) outside the law of England and Wales. The use of firearms for military purposes remains in accordance with existing rules. Any individual who holds a valid certificate under the FA 1968, may, subject to the terms of their certificate, possess a firearm in the US but an application is to be made to the Defence Attaché via SO3 J1. If you do not hold such a certificate, then you cannot possess a firearm here. Possession, storage, and use of this weapon in the US must comply with the individual’s UK certificates and regulation. You must also comply with all local, federal, and state laws in respect of licensing, certificates, permits and use.
The work ethos in many US military establishments can be very different to that of the UK. They tend to work very long hours with little annual leave taken. The average American works 9% longer hours that a Briton. This said, US military accepts that as exchange personnel you are here to see and experience the US. The DA’s policy is that all UK personnel should take their full leave entitlement and this includes Post Operational Tour Leave if deployed on Operations.
Tipping is a ‘cultural phenomenon’ as it is very subjective and depends on a number of factors including services received and what state you live in. Some tipping is conducted in percentages and some in monetary terms. Tipping is not mandatory and is classed as customary in US culture. It is common to tip between 10% – 20% in restaurants. Some restaurants will enquire if an individual doesn’t tip or leaves around 10%. Groups of more than 6 will normally attract an automatic 18% gratuity charge. It is also common to tip roughly $1 per drink if sat at a bar.
Tipping is also prevalent when dealing with:
- Bellman/Porter: $1-2 per bag. More if the bags are very heavy
- Taxi Driver: 10-15% of fare, based on service
- Hairdresser/manicurist: 10% – 20%
- Bag packers in supermarkets: $1 per bag
- Parking Valets: $3-5
The above rates can also be classed as subjective but is a guide to tipping across the 50 states. Tipping can only be claimed up to 15% (BDSUS has specially dispensation to go above the 10% as stated in JSP 752) for subsistence in restaurants not for other services, more can be left at personal expense.
This can be expensive if not correctly researched. Many companies insist on a deposit at the beginning of the contract especially if you do not have a credit rating. Deposits of $300 to $500 are not uncommon for some phones or internet packages. Some internet provider companies have a monopoly in certain areas which limits choice you may be used to in the UK, although TV package prices can be comparable to some premium UK services. Not many areas have over the air coverage, so cable is the only means of getting TV and you have to pay for it. Consider also the possible costs that may be incurred when cancelling your current contract with your internet provider. Do not assume your UK phone will automatically work in the US with a US SIM card.
BFPB TV Player
If you are serving overseas and have access to a good internet connection, you can watch British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) TV on your mobile device and PC with the brand new BFBS TV Player.
Even More TV channels
New catch up features
Improved user experience
Greater choice than ever before
How to get the new BFBS TV Player.
Firstly you will need to ensure that they have a Defence Gateway departure. This will enable access to the BFBS TV Player, as well other useful information and apps. To register for an account or reset passwords, access the following link; https://sts.defencegateway.mod.uk/login.aspx
You should then download the App. You can download the latest version of the BFBS TV Player from the App Store or on Google Play and then login to the new BFBS TV Player using your Defence Gateway login and password.
- British Forces Broadcasting Service allows serving members of the British forces as well as UKBC and their dependents to British TV, sport and BFBS Radio live online
- Includes BBC (1, 2 & 4), ITV (1, 2, 3, 4 & Be), Sports (Sky BT & BFBS), Sky News, Sky Cinema and Forces TV and Childrens (Cbeebies, CBBC and CiTV)
- Family members can have their own login
There is provision for individuals to fly back at public expense to undertake resettlement. If you are thinking of leaving the MOD following your US assignment and intend to stay in the US, research carefully the work permit options and viability. A case in 2013 involved an SP paying over $10,000 in professional solicitors’ fees and the individual has still not been issued a ‘Green Card’. You will first need to apply, and be sponsored for, a work visa. Whilst living in the USA on a standard work visa it is not possible for any other family members to work except the principal visa holder. It can take many years to transition from a work visa to a green card.
There are very few companies in the US who are registered under the ELC programme.
Currently there is no provision for individuals to fly back at public expense to receive an award. There is an opportunity to have the British Ambassador present the award in the Residence in Washington D.C.
Currently there is no automatic provision for individuals to fly back to the UK at public expense in order to participate in sport or adventure training. Budget UINs can however authorise T&S for official military exercises and bids can be made to the UK Adv Trg Gp, Sports Lottery, Regimental/Corps funds or the British Embassy for financial assistance.
A British Forces Post Office (BFPO) operates in the USA although coverage varies according to location. Details on the service can be sound in the Postal Services section of Living in the USA.
If you are a participant of this scheme, carefully read the small print and its refund policy if you have built up a credit prior to arrival in the US as they may not be able to be used. Please conduct any relevant checks required and where possible cancel prior to arrival.
The MOD does not cover the cost of moving pets to or from the USA. The costs can range from £1000 to £2000 (one way) for a single large dog depending on the service requested. In addition personnel will be responsible for any additional pet fees in respect of their accommodation lease which can either be in the form of an additional security deposit, which can be as high as $1,000 per pet, (not always refundable at the end of the lease term) or a monthly additional pet rent (which can be as high as $60 per month). Most US properties do not have enclosed gardens and there is no entitlement for this. It is possible to rent fences but this would be at personal expense. Dogs cannot be walked off the lead in many states; fines for doing so are as high as $100 for each occurrence. It is normal for cats to live permanently inside but some landlords might place restrictions and additional fees. Returning your pet to the UK is a major admin burden and is a costly undertaking and should not be underestimated. UK companies cannot be used, the costs for flights, vets and fit to fly certificates plus customs documentation then delivery to the airport cargo bay and collection in the UK is very problematic.
Allowances and Grants
Finding accommodation will be your earliest priority and doing your research on areas, realtors, schooling is essential if you are to make the transition quickly. Depending on where you are assigned, you will either be accommodated by the British Embassy Estates Team (BEET) or be expected to find your own accommodation (with support from the Team and local chain of command and Estate Realtors). Housing is generally more spacious than you will be used to in the UK but be realistic about your expectations as rent ceilings, regions and availability can vary. Rent ceilings are based on the number of bedrooms, not rank, to ensure that all personnel have access to the same school catchment areas. You can top up rent with a personal contribution if you wish but do consider the long-term affordability of such decisions and be aware that contributions can increase on an annual basis (and you are unlikely to be able to break the lease).
Hopefully, the advice contained in this section has given you some good pointers on your desire to be assigned to the US and ideas on what to prioritize in your preparations. In essence, early preparation, engagement with your predecessor or future colleagues and a healthy sense of adventure should see you through.