Living and working in the USA – money


There are many things you need to know about living and working in America. SNI will post a practical, and hopefully, helpful, guide of things you need to know as you embark on your exciting journey to the USA!

The more you know before you leave your home country, the happier you will be and the easier it will be to adjust to your new surroundings. Each week we post a different section from our SNI Booklet. In this post, we are talking about your money.

Traveling Money

You are advised to bring at least $4,000 (US dollars) with you at the time you travel. You will need money to live on until you receive your first paycheck. Your first salary depends upon your first workday within the employer’s payroll system. Most employers pay on a biweekly basis. We suggest traveling with refundable travelers checks or use your ATM cash card once you get to America.

You will need some cash as you travel, preferably denominations of $1, $5, $10, and $20 bills. These are useful for baggage carts at the airport, tipping, taxis, fast food restaurants etc. Again-use your ATM upon arrival.

Travelers Checks

Travelers Checks are the recommended way to carry money. They are safe, protect you against loss or theft and they can be used as freely as cash when purchased in small denominations. If you do not want to purchase traveler’s checks use the ATM upon arrival!

Your national currency is difficult and expensive to change to US money. Airports and banks are the most likely places to exchange and exchange rates vary daily. There is always a fee for changing currency.

Bank Drafts

Allow at least 10 working days to clear.

Currency denominations

COINS: $.01 (penny), $.05 (nickel), $0.10 (dime), $0.25 (quarter), $.50 (half dollar).

CURRENCY: $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, $1000. All ‘bills’ look alike. They are the same green color and size. The most commonly used are the $1, $5, $10, $20 and $50 bills. Check your change carefully!


It is customary in the US to tip in bars, restaurants, taxis, hair salons, etc. Generally, you are expected to tip 15 to 20 percent of your bill, depending on quality of the service you receive. No tip is required in cafeterias where you serve yourself. A minimum of $1-2 is acceptable per bag for porter, baggage handlers at airports and railroad stations. Waiters, waitresses, servers get minimum wage and make their living from their tips. If you feel the service warrants it, tip well. You will be thanked and get good service the next time!

Checking Accounts

Bring enough money with you to pay for your essentials before you get your first pay check and can open a checking account. You must have a social security number to open a checking account. Your hospital employer or agency will guide you in this process.

Credit Cards

Please take at least one credit card with you and an ATM card if you have one. It is essential for hotel services, car rentals, etc. Remember – when you use your credit cards in the US, bills will be sent to your home country address, payable in the currency of your country. You cannot transfer your account to be paid in the US. When you arrive, you must write to your credit card company and give them your new address.

Interest rates vary depending on accessibility of money. It is OK to negotiate a lower interest rate on your credit cards. The more credit available, the lower the interest rate you can negotiate.

HINTS: a) Open a store account (Sears, Penney’s etc.) as soon as you can as these are simple to open. b) Do not buy a car with cash. Get a loan even if it is for only six months. c) When/if you have a credit card, charge, and then make monthly payments even if only for a short while. This all helps establish credit and remember that the USA RUNS ON CREDIT! It is essential to have it.


Deposits are often required, either in cash up-front, or as part of your payment for various goods and services necessary for your daily living, such as telephone, electricity, accommodation

Deposits may also take the form of “down payments” when making major purchases such as a car or furniture. Major purchases usually require credit verification. Research the area where you work to locate a car dealership or furniture store that will extend credit based on your employment contract. Check at your place of employment for help.

Daily services such as electricity, telephone, gas, water etc. may or may not require a start-up deposit. Check locally.


Taxation has three levels: Federal, State and Municipal. Federal taxes are the same everywhere, while State taxes vary from State to State. This reflects significantly on the cost of living between various locations in the USA.

Federal and State income tax (if applicable) is deducted automatically from your pay check; the amount deducted varies depending upon your filing status. Your tax filing status is determined during the processing period with your new employer. You will be assisted with completing the necessary forms during the first days of your start date. Check with your recruiter, human resources or the personnel director at your place of employment. Your tax status and gross income will determine the amount of tax which is to be withheld. In addition to State and Federal tax, nominal amounts are deducted from gross earnings for State disability insurance, unemployment insurance and social security.

Almost everything you buy in the USA will be “plus sales tax”. This ranges from 4% to 8%. Expect this tax to be added to the marked price in shops and restaurants. Remember, this is sales tax and not a service charge.

You must file a statement of Federal and State earnings, showing income tax withheld, by April 15th annually. Your employer will provide you with a W-2 form by January 31st each year, which indicates the amount of earnings and taxes paid for the year. Consult a person who files taxes for a living.