Tips for African Expats Living in the USA

Tips for African Expats Living in the USA

Table of Contents
  1. Legal & Administrative Considerations
  2. Accommodation 
  3. Tax Considerations
  4. Opening a Bank Account
  5. Healthcare Tips 
  6. Driver’s License Information
  7. Local Culture and Social Norms
  8. Staying Connected 

The United States has a large immigrant population. As of March 2024, expats totaled 51.6 million, making up 15.6% of the total US population1. African expats, including 2.1 million immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa in 2019, form a significant community2.

While the US offers a culturally diverse environment where people from various backgrounds can thrive in their studies and careers, adapting to a new culture and system can be challenging. Here are some tips to make the transition easier:

Legal & Administrative Considerations

Non-citizens living in the USA need a valid visa or immigration status, including student visas (F-1 or J-1), work visas (H-1B, L-1, etc.), or tourist visas (B-1/B-2). It’s important to report any changes in status, address, or employment to authorities, such as USCIS3 or the Social Security Administration4

For those aiming for permanent residency, options include employment-based applications, family-based applications, or entering the green card lottery (American Diversity Immigrant Visa program)5, which offers up to 55,000 permanent visas annually through a random selection process.

Other pathways include self-petition visas for individuals with outstanding achievements in arts, science, education, business, or athletics (by applying for a green card via an EB-1 form)6. Alternatively, nonimmigrant work visas allow individuals to live and work in the US for a specified amount of time. 


When looking for a place to live, consider temporary options like extended-stay hotels or Airbnb while you search for a permanent rental. Explore rental listings on platforms like Zillow,, or Craigslist7. Prepare necessary documents like your passport, visa, proof of employment or income, and possibly a guarantor if you lack a US credit history. 

Review lease agreements carefully to understand terms and conditions, including utility costs. Sharing accommodation with roommates can be a budget-friendly choice. Make sure your rental agreement complies with local housing laws to understand your rights as a tenant. Typically, leases are signed for six months or one year.

Tax Considerations

To manage your finances effectively in the US, you’ll need a Social Security Number (SSN) for tracking earnings, benefits, opening a bank account, securing employment, and filing taxes. Typically, SSNs are for US citizens, permanent residents, and temporary workers. 

Non-residents without an SSN can apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) to report US-sourced income like wages, rental earnings, or investments using Form 1040NR. Additionally, check if your home country has a tax treaty with the US to potentially reduce your tax obligations. Be mindful, tax regulations may vary between states.

Given the complexity of US income tax laws, consider hiring a tax planner who specializes in expat taxes. Generally, the US employs a progressive tax system where higher earners face higher federal tax rates, ranging from 10% to 37%. Additionally, taxpayers are required to pay Social Security and Medicare (FICA) taxes.

Opening a Bank Account

Opening a bank account is generally easy. As an expat, you'll need to provide extra documentation and immigration information, including your passport, visa, and proof of address (e.g. utility bill). You can start your bank application process either online or in person. Banks in the US range from retail and commercial banks to savings and loan institutions. Popular banks include Wells Fargo, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase.

To fund your account, you can transfer money from abroad using methods like bank wire transfers, online services such as PayPal, Wise, or Revolut, or a cashier's check. Also, keep an eye out for new options like Yolla’s upcoming money transfer service – stay tuned!

Healthcare Tips 

Make sure to obtain health insurance, as healthcare in the US is extremely expensive. As a non-citizen, you have several options for coverage. Medicaid provides free or low-cost health insurance to eligible low-income individuals and families. Many people get health insurance through their jobs with employer-sponsored plans. Alternatively, you can explore private insurance options on the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Driver’s License Information

Despite extensive public transportation in many cities, the USA remains a car-centered country.

Foreigners can typically use their driver's license for 3 to 6 months after entering the US. After this period, the license expires, you’ll need either an International Driving Permit (IDP) or a US driver's license to continue driving.

While an IDP should be obtained in your home country before traveling to the US, obtaining a US driver's license as a foreigner involves navigating various state-specific requirements:

  1. Provide identification documents such as your passport or ID, visa, and proof of residency in the state where you’re applying. 
  2. Have a Social Security Number or show that you’re ineligible for one.
  3. Many states require passing a written knowledge test on traffic laws and signs, followed by a practical driving test. 
  4. Some states may accept your foreign driver's license as proof of driving experience, while others may require additional documentation or a driving history report from your home country.

Before applying, check the specific requirements of the state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or equivalent authority to ensure you have all necessary documents and are prepared for any tests required.

Local Culture and Social Norms

Many aspects of America’s etiquette and diverse culture may feel familiar to expats, others might not. These key points will help ease the transition and avoid common social blunders:

  • Punctuality is valued - be on time for work and social events.
  • Use a firm handshake as a standard greeting
  • Maintain direct eye contact during conversations.
  • Respect the privacy and personal space of others. 
  • Consider bringing a small gift when invited to someone's home, though some companies discourage gift-giving. 

Staying Connected 

Staying connected is important wherever you are: 

  • Join local expat communities on Facebook groups or other platforms. 
  • Read the useful expat tips on our blog
  • Keep in touch with friends and family. Spend quality time online with loved ones that are far away. 
  • Use Yolla offers for high-quality calls at the lowest rates available, without hidden fees, to make staying connected effortless!


  1. Center for Immigration Studies:
  2. Migration Statistics:,%2C%20linguistic%2C%20and%20educational%20backgrounds.
  3. USCIS: 
  4. Social Security Administration:
  5. American Diversity Immigrant Visa program:
  6. EB-1 Form:
  7. Accommodation:
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