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The USA: Job Search and Social Security

Because of the country’s sheer possibilities, working in the USA may be an attractive option for you. Besides the dream of making it from rags to riches, there are many reasons for choosing the USA as your expat destination. The InterNations Guide tells you all you need to know, from working conditions to job-hunting.
Finding work in the US can be difficult without a valid visa.

Breaking into the US Job Market

Getting a job in the US can be extremely difficult for people who don’t already have a visa and work permit, as the costs involved for prospective employers in submitting visa applications for international workers are considerable. Further, it is illegal to come to the US on a tourist visa in order to look for work.

People abroad who are looking for a job in the USA should check the online job market of the biggest US newspapers: the New York Times, the Los Angeles TimesUSA Today, Financial Times (executive jobs), and the Washington Post. Online job portals and job search tools are plentiful and present a valuable resource to expats and US citizens alike.

Taking the Initiative: Unsolicited Applications

Keep in mind, however, that many jobs in the USA are not openly advertised. As such, unsolicited applications play much bigger roles in the US job market than in, for example, many European countries. When it comes to writing unsolicited applications for jobs in a foreign country, it is naturally important to know where to look and what to look for.

As a first step, it might be worth checking the Occupational Outlook Handbook provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This should give you a good overview of different occupations and the US labor market in general. Your country’s US chamber of commerce should be able to provide a list of companies from your country with branches in the US. Alternatively, check Guidestar for details on non-profit organizations.

For further tips on how to structure your CV, write your cover letter, and prepare for your interview, please read our article: Applying for Jobs in the US.

How to Get Your Social Security Number

Everyone working in the USA needs a social security card, which shows their individual social security number. Immigrants can request one when they apply for their visa. The Social Security Administration recommends that nonimmigrants wait ten days after their arrival in the US before filing their online application.

You can find more details on getting a Social Security Number for Noncitizens on the US Social Security Agency’s website. Social security in the US consists of retirement, survivors, and disability benefits. It is financed through the Social Security Trust Fund. In case of employment, the employer and the employee are both responsible for one half of the social security tax and each pay a tax rate of 6.2%. Self-employed persons are responsible for the entire amount of the social security tax (12.4%).

Pensions: Don’t Forget to Make a Retirement Plan

The retirement age in the United States  is67, starting with people born in 1960. Eligibility for public pension depends on the duration of social security contributions and the amount of money contributed.

Usually, however, retirement benefits are not sufficient to keep up your previous standard of living. Therefore, most people either make individual retirement arrangements (some of which are eligible for support from the government) or pay into a company pension fund provided by their employer.

These funds are regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Don’t Pay Twice! Social Security Agreements

The US maintains international social security agreements with 25 countries, with the last agreement entered into with Slovakia in 2014. The Social Security Administration has a full list of US social security agreements.

These agreements usually regulate the handling of pension contributions between the countries in question, and can differ from country to country.

Such an agreement might, for example, state that expats can be exempted from US pension contributions if they continue paying national insurance in their home country. See the above link for a detailed explanation of each agreement.

Our article on US Social Security has more important information on keeping track of your social security contributions in the US, bilateral social security agreements, and private pension plans.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 


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