Employees in the USA typically work a 40-hour week. The normal hours are Monday to Friday from 9am to 5:30pm with 30 minutes allowed for lunch, however many organisations allow employees to work earlier or later than this provided they get their scheduled hours in. Overtime is permitted and may be paid or unpaid at the discretion of your employer.
Many foreign nationals who move to the USA to work are surprised to find that there is no provision in federal law for paid holiday (usually referred to as vacation). Larger companies may still offer good benefits packages to attract top quality staff, but this is not universal. Employers typically offer between 10 and 20 days vacation at their discretion. Be aware that other types of leave – including sick leave and maternity leave – may also be paid or unpaid at the employer’s discretion.
The USA has 11 officially recognised federal holidays. Ten of these occur annually and one, Inauguration Day, occurs every four years (in the year of a Presidential election). Apart from Inauguration Day, which is usually observed only in counties affected by the election, federal holidays are observed by the majority of public offices and private businesses may also close. Individual states sometimes observe additional holidays, so dates are best checked on the state government websites.
Federal holiday dates
New Year's Day: 1st January
Birthday of Martin Luther King: 18th January
Memorial Day: 30th May
Independence Day: 4th July
Labor Day: 5th September
Columbus Day: 10th October
Veterans’ Day: 11th November
Thanksgiving Day: 24th November
Christmas Day: 25th December
Visas and eligibility to work
The USA is a very desirable proposition for people seeking work abroad and attracts large numbers of migrants each year. High levels of illegal immigration in the past have led to the famously strict border control system in operation today, and there are a large number of different visa types available. Apart from those travelling under the Visa Waiver scheme, people of most nationalities require a visa to visit the country, and almost all foreign nationals will need a visa to work in the USA. To find out what visa is right for you, use the Visa Wizard tool on the US Department of State website.
Your visa application is most likely to be successful if you already have a job offer from a company in the USA. The majority of jobs available to foreign nationals are specialist or skilled positions as labour laws require local workers to be given preferential access to jobs if they are available. Remember that the US has some major restrictions on entry to the country so any criminal convictions, particularly relating to drug use, may lead to an application being rejected.
The tax system in the USA is complex as residents are taxed at both federal and state levels. To work in America you will need to apply for a Tax Identification Number, usually a Social Security Number. The rules for international taxpayers vary, but generally speaking employees can expect to pay federal income tax, state or city tax, social security tax and a Medicare levy. The rate you are taxed at will depend on your earnings, social situation and residency status, and the majority of people will need to file tax returns annually. For help with tax issues in the USA, contact your local IRS office.
When you work in the USA and pay social security taxes, you accrue social security credits. These can later be used to claim retirement benefits. The amount of credits you need to claim depends on your age, so if you only work in America for a short period before retiring you may not be eligible. However, government incentives and tax breaks enable many companies to offer staff access to pension plans, so speak to your employer about your options.
Depending on your residency, work and social status, you may be able to claim benefits in the USA as a foreign national. To find out what is available, use the federal Benefits Finder, or look up the local support options for the state you intend to live in.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act it is unlawful for employers to discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability, and disabled people also hold a number of other rights defined by the law. For more information, visit the Disability.gov website.