Deciding where to live when immigrating to the United States

Welcome to the United States, the land of opportunity. There is a famous saying in the United States – “Location, Location, Location.” Coined by real estate mogul Harold Samuel in the 1940s, this phrase speaks to the most essential aspect of choosing a property – location. Location is also significant when it comes to opportunities and deciding where to live in the United States. 

Where you live in the United States plays a vital role in future job opportunities, your children’s education, and the resources available to new citizens. Your location also influences the processing time of your immigration visa, as USCIS field office processing times can vary significantly by location.  

California, Texas, and Florida account for almost half of the nation’s immigrants. There are many benefits to living in an area with a dense immigrant population. For example, it’s comforting to be among those who understand what it’s like to get a start fresh in a new country. Ethnic hubs can also ensure that your children live in a community that continues to expose them to the language and culture of your home country. But, on the other hand, you may be losing out on the benefits and opportunities that come with integrating into American culture. 

What you need to know before choosing where to live in the United States

While it’s easy to choose a location based on the weather or the proximity to family, your new community should also contain the social infrastructure to support your quality of life. Consider the following seven factors as you look for your new home in the United States:

  1. Cost of living

How far your money goes is very dependant on where you live. The cost of housing, food, taxes, transportation, utilities, and healthcare can vary significantly across the country. Generally, the cost of living is higher in more populated areas because of the demand for resources. On the other hand, while it may cost less to live in a more rural or less populated area, you may lose out on the perks of city living, including access to a wide variety of transportation services, culture, and culinary options. 

According to the World Population Review, our home state of Oklahoma offers the second-lowest cost of living. Mississippi ranks number one as the most affordable place to live in the United States, and Hawaii is the most expensive. To comfortably rent in New York City, your average annual salary should be around $148,000. Renting in San Antonio, Texas? You’ll only need to make about $72,000 per year. 

  1. Transportation

Your options for getting around your new hometown can affect how you get to work, go grocery shopping, and experience the sights of your new country. Some cities, like Oklahoma City, offer public transportation options that may not require you to own a vehicle. In other locations, having a car may be the best mode of transportation and offer the best convenience. 

  1. Housing

Where you live is a major component of the cost of living. Whether you intend to rent, buy, or lease, start looking at different towns to see the availability of housing and how they compare. If you plan to buy a house, research real estate websites like Zillow and Trulia to understand the housing price trends. If you plan to rent, make sure to research rent prices and lease requirements. 

  1. Taxes

In the United States, there are three main types of taxes that residents and citizens have to pay – taxes on what you earn, what you buy, and what you own. Taxes based on income, sales tax, school tax, and property taxes are closely related to where you live. When the cost of living is higher in some regions of the United States, people typically earn a higher salary and pay more taxes than in areas with a lower cost of living. 

A few states do not charge sales tax, and other states waive income taxes on most or all sources of income. To get a general idea of the average amount of tax collections per state, visit the Tax Foundation’s website

  1. Healthcare

The availability of high-quality medical facilities can contribute to one’s decision where to live, especially for families with young children, the elderly, or members who suffer from chronic health conditions. A major metropolitan area may have a broader range of options for healthcare, but small towns and cities with major research universities and hospitals can be an affordable alternative. Interested in learning which states offer the most affordable healthcare? Check out this report by US News

  1. School district

If you have school-aged children, the local education system should be an important factor when choosing a new home. You’ll want to ensure that the school district is equipped to handle the unique needs of a child that is new to the United States. In addition, programs to help integrate your child into a new school and culture, as well as language assistance, can help your child thrive in their new community. 

  1. Employment opportunities

Employment opportunities can drive many relocation decisions as income levels vary significantly depending on job availability. Workers tend to earn more in places with high costs of living or fierce talent competition. When choosing where to live, start by analyzing quality employment opportunities within your industry, then determine where the highest concentration of these jobs are located. If you’re looking for a career opportunity that will sponsor your H-1B visa, read our article, “How to land a job that will sponsor your H-1B visa.

  1. Immigration support 

Being part of a community that embraces immigrant-friendly policies can be a tremendous asset to a happy and successful life in America. For example, Grand Forks, North Dakota, created an Immigrant Integration Initiative in 2009. Organized and supported by local elected officials, business leaders, and community organizations, this program aims to assist immigrants with naturalization, civic engagement, employment, and educational opportunities. 

Other cities are creating safe environments for immigrants with sanctuary city policies, ordinances prohibiting city employees from sharing resident immigration statuses, and allowing undocumented residents to receive IDs or driver’s licenses

9 cities creating inclusive communities for immigrants

Immigration has been shown to impact local economies positively. For example, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities states, “(Immigrants) work at high rates and make up more than a third of the workforce in some industries. In addition, immigrant workers help support the aging native-born population, and children born to immigrant families are upwardly mobile, promising future benefits not only to their families but to the U.S. economy overall.”

Many cities and states have recognized the benefits of welcoming immigration and have strived to create a supportive and inclusive community. The best cities for newcomers to America create active, inclusive policies and practices that allow residents, including immigrants, to thrive and contribute. Here are a few examples of such initiatives.

Los Angeles, California – The city became the first to no longer allow arrests or other actions based on immigration status in 1979 by ceasing to cooperate with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a predecessor to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Baltimore, Maryland – The Baltimore Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs (MIMA) was created in 2013 to promote immigrants’ economic growth and community well-being. The city has also established rules prohibiting police and other government officials from asking residents about their immigration status.

Erie, Pennsylvania – A Certifed Welcoming Place, Erie strives to create an inclusive community through initiatives like a yearly film festival celebrating diversity-based works, a multicultural community development fund, workforce development programs, diversity awareness programs for HR professionals, and participation in “The People’s Supper,

Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Milwaukee is one of the few cities in the United States with a municipal ID program for undocumented immigrants. This program provides residents with another form of proof of residency and access to city services regardless of immigration status. The city also prohibits city government officials from cooperating with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in some instances. 

San Francisco, California – San Francisco has a long history of welcoming new residents to the United States. The city’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs helps immigrants with legal, financial, and citizenship applications. Like Milwaukee, it also offers a municipal ID program with additional benefits, including discounts at local businesses. 

Dallas, Texas – Another Certified Welcoming Place, Dallas established the Office of Welcoming Communities and Welcoming Affairs, a division dedicated to helping immigrants integrate successfully into Dallas’ social and economic fabric. 

Chicago, Illinois – Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance means the city will not ask about your immigration status, disclose that information to authorities, or deny you City services based on your immigration status.

Chula Vista, California – The city’s population is 30% foreign-born, a factor that contributed to Chula Vista’s incentive to be the first in California recognized as a Certifed Welcoming Place. The city actively engages with nonprofit and community organizations, government and education agencies, and other entities to advance immigrant inclusion. The City’s Housing, Library, and Communications divisions provide information on community services and events such as ESL and citizenship/naturalization classes, Know Your Rights classes, public benefits, economic development, entrepreneurship resources, and other information.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Oklahoma City is home to Stump and Associates and provides a wide variety of resources to help immigrants thrive in their new community. Oklahoma City also boasts of being one of the most affordable cities in the United States and offers a low unemployment rate. 

American cities have a long history of integrating immigrants into their social, economic, and cultural landscapes. The cities lists above are just a few examples of how the United States is welcoming immigrants. While some cities provide greater opportunities to meet the specific needs of immigrants, the nation as a whole continues to make strides towards building a more inclusive and supportive environment, enabling you to live a more happy and fulfilled life in your new country. 

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