What I Didn’t Expect After Moving to the United States

Five immigrants recount aspects of the U.S. that they found surprising when they first arrived.

American singer and songwriter, Taylor Swift, celebrating the 4th of July. Photo: Taylor Swift/People

You’ve decided that you want to branch out and move to the “Land of Dreams and Opportunity”. But wait, you’ve never even stepped foot in the United States (or maybe even North America in general). So what’s the first thing you do you do to prepare? Google. 

Maybe you start by looking up “What to expect when moving to America” or “Differences between the U.S. and (your country).” And of course, it will tell you the basics like Americans use the Imperial system, American medical expenses are significantly more costly, Americans tend to be very polarized, and so on. But let’s be honest, Google can only tell you so much. Here are what five immigrants had to say about what they found surprising when they first moved to the U.S.

  1. “When I first came to the U.S., I noticed that people love wearing the American flag. It was such a normal thing to have the U.S. flag printed on almost anything you can think of - all sorts of clothing, household decorations, and now even on the face masks that people wear because of the coronavirus. Obviously, many Americans wear the flag because they feel pride in their country, but I feel like it’s very counterintuitive when you print it on literally everything. Think about it; if you have the flag on your shoes, they will eventually get dirty. If it’s printed on napkins, it’ll look nice and decorative at first, but later people will use it to clean their mess and then throw it away. And don’t even get me started on the floor mats that people use to wipe their feet on.” -- David, 68
  2. “I immigrated to America from Burma, and in Burma, traffic rules are nonexistent. Wearing a seatbelt isn’t that big of a deal, and cars are always competing against one another, trying to squeeze their way through the traffic. But after I came to the U.S., I realized traffic rules and regulations are very important, and you could face huge fines if you don’t comply with the law. Many of my Burmese friends who came to America failed their driver’s licensing exam many times because they couldn’t comprehend the structured rules here. There was even one time when I rode on the back of a scooter with my legs on one side like the way everyone does in Burma. But I didn’t know any better, so I got stopped by the police.” -- Kyilay, 58
  3. “Even though there’s a stereotype saying Americans are all rude and selfish, I thought they could be really friendly. I wasn’t used to greeting random people I saw on the streets, but I noticed many people in the U.S. always smile, nod, or even greet people that they pass by whether they know them or not. Even at the grocery store, employees always asked how I was doing when I walked by them, and if I found everything okay.” -- Miguel, 32
  4. Tax and tip are not included on the price tag. I remember being shocked after my bill always ended up being more expensive than the price that was written on the tags. Also, tipping is a necessity in America. In other countries, tipping is not needed, and sometimes, it’s even considered rude. But in the U.S., it’s rude not to tip at least 15-20%. And that doesn’t just apply to restaurants. Whether you eat out, get your hair done, or get your car valeted, you should pay a tip.” -- Aimee, 25
  5. Everything in America is huge. There are enormous wholesale stores like Costco and Sam’s Club, and even regular stores, like Walmart, were relatively big compared to other countries. All of the elevators I rode in could fit at least 10 people, and all the portions of food I got at restaurants were very generous. Don’t get me wrong; not all American cities are like this. New York City, for example, was not like this. But for the most part, expect to see bigger than usual sizes in the U.S.” -- Etienne, 22

Schedule Your Attorney Consultation

FREE for a limited time. Click below to schedule your call