Thursday, December 1, 2022

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6 Things Europeans Should Know About Living and Working in the US

It may seem like an easy transition. You already understand the working environment in the UK. Surely, you reason, the US isn’t worlds away from that.

The truth is that while many aspects of a working life in the UK are similar to those you’d experience in the USA, there are some significant differences. Prepare yourself for culture change, if not quite culture shock, by understanding the differences you’ll face. 

1. Health Insurance is a Thing

Whether you agree with it or not, healthcare in the US is a business rather than a government service. Even if you qualify for citizenship, health insurance coverage in the United States could be enormously important to both your physical and financial health.

Without it, nobody but you is going to be responsible for medical bills, and with healthcare costs being among the highest in the world, the uninsured may end up with huge financial liabilities. 

As a European, this will be among the most dramatic adjustments you have to make, and though you might believe that access to quality healthcare is a basic human right, it’s best to remain silent on that score once in the US. Nobody likes foreigners telling locals how their country should be run even if they secretly agree. 

2. Employee Rights are Minimal

In the EU, lawmakers have gone to a lot of effort to protect the financial and job security of employees. Once a business hires you, you’d have to do something pretty bad before you can be dismissed, and retrenchments involve notice and severance pay.

That’s not so in most US states. Employers mostly work on an “at will” basis, meaning they can fire you for absolutely no reason and without notice unless your contract specifies otherwise. 

If you have a job offer to work in the US, negotiate your contract to ensure that you aren’t left without a feather to fly with if things don’t work out. The border between being gainfully employed and comfortably situated and unemployed and homeless is extremely small in the USA.

Aside from this, don’t expect to be eligible for a lot of paid leave. Most companies offer ten days of paid leave per year – a far cry from the generous amount of paid leave granted in the EU. 

3. Holidays are Huge

Since we work so hard for so little time off, holidays in the US are huge. What’s more, we’re extremely sentimental about them. While the massive buzz around Christmas will already come as a surprise to most Europeans, don’t forget to celebrate uniquely American holidays in a big way.

Thanksgiving? Be ready to send wishes to everyone you know, break out your best recipes, and get into the vibe. 4th of July? It’s a massive patriotic outpouring, so get ready to wave flags, attend parades, and generally celebrate. Sure, it’s not your independence day, but standing on the sidelines is going to make you look like a party pooper. 

4. Don’t Expect to be “Off” Even When You’re “Off”

In the EU, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be in trouble for not answering the phone to your boss outside of business hours unless you’ve been designated as “on standby.”

In the US, there’s nothing to stop your boss from making demands at any time of the day or night even when you are officially not at work.

You are entitled to overtime pay, but refusing to do overtime could be an issue. And while we’re at it, do expect your working weeks to include more hours than you’re used to!

5. Hierarchy is Hugely Important

Odd though this may seem, workplace hierarchy is more important in the US than it is in the EU.

While your CEO may be quite happy to meet and greet, your direct instructions and project-related questions flow through your direct manager, and going over his or her head may be seen as a personal insult. “Flat” organisational structures just aren’t popular in the US. 

In fact, many thinkser see them as unworkable. In the EU, it’s all about equity, and “flat” is seen as the way to go. Don’t even try to implement that philosophy in the US unless your employers actively encourage it. 

6. Make it Here and You Can Make it Anywhere

While everything about working in the USA we’ve mentioned so far might sound rather gloomy, there is a definite upside. Just about everybody in the world accepts that if you can make it in the USA, you can make it anywhere.

You will need to be career-focussed, and you will have to give up some of the employment benefits you’ve previously considered as “rights,” but if you’re willing to make the sacrifice, you can do extremely well for yourself.

And, should you return to your country of origin, you’ll have bragging rights that make you an extremely desirable employee for European companies – especially if they do business with the US.

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