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The US declared independence from Britain in 1776 – at the time, comprising just 13 states. It is now made up of 50 states: 48 adjoining (or “contiguous”), plus Alaska to the north-west and Hawaii off the coast in the mid-Pacific.
The US is massive. It’s the world’s third biggest country by land mass, the third biggest by population and the biggest by GDP. It has the world’s second largest military, outnumbered only by China.
Its size, and the relative independence enjoyed by each of its states, means that the country is very diverse: in geography, in climate, in ethnicity, in culture and even in law. That’s why we decided to write separate guides for different states.
People from across the world want to live in the US – for a host of different reasons. Many aspiring expats want to study at American universities, try their luck in the job market or join family who already live in the US. Many more wish to retire to one of the sunnier states.
The Country: The United States of America (The United States of America)
Adjective: American (American)
The Nationality: American (American)
The People: Americans (Americans)
Languages: (2015) English 79%, Spanish 13%, other Indo-European 3.7%, Asian and Pacific island 3.4%, other 1%. The US has no national language, but English is the official language of 32 out of the 50 states.
Time Zone: Various
Currency: United States Dollar
Currency Code: USD
ISO International Country Code: USA
Internet Domain: .us (but .net, .org and .com are far more common)
Telephone Dialling Code: +1
Capital City: Washington, D.C.: population 672,228 (2015)
Terrain: Incredibly varied.
Climate: Again, this varies massively. See the Köppen map below (click to expand in new tab) to get a general idea of the regional climates.
Fresh Water: The US withdraws 1,600m3 of fresh water per capita (Australia: 5,104; Canada: 1,386; Mexico: 731; United Kingdom: 197). Some 99.4% of the population have access to ‘improved’ (good quality) drinking water.
Religion: Protestant 46.5%, Roman Catholic 20.8%, Jewish 1.9%, Mormon 1.6%, other Christian 0.9%, Muslim 0.9%, Jehovah’s Witness 0.8%, Buddhist 0.7%, Hindu 0.7%, other 1.8%, unaffiliated 22.8%, don’t know/refused 0.6% (2014 est.)
Ethnicity: White 72.4%, black 12.6%, Asian 4.8%, Amerindian and Alaska native 0.9%, native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.2%, other 6.2%, two or more races 2.9% (2010 est.) (note: Hispanic is not included due to the US Census’ Bureau’s definition of the term, which can include people of white or black ethnicity).
Hispanic wasn’t included on this list because someone from a Latin country could fall under any race/ethnicity – around 15% of the US is Hispanic.
The medical system
Healthcare in the United States is very advanced, but can be expensive. Getting good health insurance is extremely important.
World Health Organization ranking of health systems (last published in 2000): 31 of 191 countries
The Peace Index
The US is ranked 114 out of 163 countries included in the 2018 edition of the Vision of Humanity “Peace Index”. This is just ahead of El Salvador and just behind Rwanda. Iceland comes first. Syria comes last.
The US scored so poorly because of high incarceration rates, large stockpiles of nuclear and heavy weaponry, and lots of weapons exports.
The methodology may be open to some debate but this is a good snapshot of criminality, conflict, political attitudes and military expenditure.
The Global Terrorism Index
The US is ranked 32 out of the 163 countries in the 2017 edition of the “Global Terrorism Index”. A high number/low rank is good (Iraq is number 1), so the US is hovering in the wrong end of the list.
This is another interesting snapshot, from the same people.
The legal system
Law in the United States evolved from Anglo-Saxon (“common”) law but is now very distinct.
The legal system in America works on several levels. Federal law, which originates with the constitution, applies to the entire country. Each state also has its own constitution, government and laws. See a brief explanation of the court process here.
The United States is ranked 19 out of 113 countries included in the 2017-18 edition of the World Justice Project’s “Rule of Law Index”. This is behind the UK (11) and Canada (9) but way ahead of its southern neighbour Mexico (92). Denmark is top. Cambodia and Venezuela are bottom.
The US also scores fairly well on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. The United States is ranked 16 out of 180 countries included in the 2017 edition of the index. This is similar to Ireland and Belgium.
The US has the world’s largest economy, in nominal terms.
Nearly 80% of the country’s workforce is in the service sector, but is the world’s second-largest manufacturer, with major outputs including petroleum, vehicles, aerospace and communications.
The New York Stock exchange is by far the largest in the world.
Agriculturally, the United States has around 3,730,000 km2 worth of farmland. Corn is far and away the most-farmed product – 354 million tonnes of it were harvested in 2013 – followed by beef (a mere 11.7 million tonnes).
Unemployment: 4.1% (June 2018)
Currency: United States Dollar
Very car-based. Internal flights are readily available. Public transport over long distances is relatively sparse, though some city public transport systems are good.
America believes very strongly in the ‘American Dream’ – work hard enough and long enough and you can achieve anything. Whether or not this is truly the case, it influences American business culture. Business people are likely to have a very strong work ethic and are generally willing to put in long hours to get the job done; sometimes to the detriment of their health.
Although you may notice a somewhat informal atomosphere within American offices (workers are like to address their bosses by their first names, for example), there is a distinct hierarchy within most places of business in the US.
Meetings begin on time. Punctuality is highly valued.
Business communication strives to be direct and to the point, though it is usually polite. You are not likely to find any of the euphemisms or that you might come across in, say, the UK. This can be a bit jarring to a foreigner unused to a direct negative response in a business environment. You will also be expected to ‘speak up’ and voice any ideas or misgivings you might have.
As already mentioned, the United States scores fairly well on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (16 of 180 countries).