Should I work in the US or the UK? - which pays best?

Simon Wistow simon at
Tue Dec 13 21:01:20 GMT 2011

On Tue, Dec 13, 2011 at 10:25:58AM -0500, Uri Guttman said:
> and that is only the tip of the iceberg. there are visa issues, where to 
> live, where to send your optional kids to school, cultural differences, 
> moving expenses (one client of mine does help with that), etc.

So, I'll bite. This is based on my last 4 years working in SF. YMMV, 
IANAL etc etc.

For what it's worth. I still live out here, don't have any plans to come 
back to London any time soon, if ever. Make of that what you will.

Also, this is not exhaustive, not universal, completely subjective and 
probably inaccurate.

First off - the good.

The Location 

I lived in London for 13 years. I love London. But it can kind of grind 
you down - everything takes so much effort. When I moved there in the 
mid 90s (*sob* so old now) a good rule of thumb was that it took 40 
minutes to get anywhere. Last time I went back it seemed to be more like 
1h to 1h20.

SF seems more like a big city stuffed into a small city's footprint. 
It's much easier to get around (terrible public transport not 
withstanding). It's much easier to move between parts of the city and to 
randomly bump into people. Nearby we have world class mountain sports, 
wine country, surfing, diving, hiking, mountain biking, the desert. 

Personally that makes me very happy.


So, so many companies. Some are doing really interesting stuff. Some are 
me too social networks and copy cat sites. 

However it's mostly web stuff. There's very little finance. Some film 
and games (Pixar, ILM and PDI Dreamworks being notables) and then of 
course down in the valley there's the hoard of the big guys.

Salaries seem higher too. Even with various different things taken into 
account I'd say I'm about 20-30% better off out here.

Secondly then - the bad:


Whatever various poltical pundits will tell you (see below) it is not 
easy to get a visa. Event when you have one you're always vaguely 
unsettled. There's certain things you can't do (voting being a prime 
example) and there's a persistent dread in the back of your mind that 
you don't really have any kind of guarantees. Literally one bad tempered 
cop in Arizona or a border control officer with a hangover and your 
entire life could be wrenched away.

This also has a knock on effect for any kind of long term planning like 
relationships or buying a house. A friend of mine lost a boyfriend to 
visa issues recently and another friend was in the odd position of 
wanting to propose but waiting for his work Green Card so that his 
girlfriend wouldn't ever worry that he was just marrying her for a 

Not only that but recently I wanted to head over to Oakland to see what 
the Occupy Protests were like. But I was worried if I did that then I 
might get arrested and then I'd be screwed.

The Politics

This is somewhat related to point below but, to be frank, the politics 
out here scare the bejesus out of me. I realise that everything in the 
UK and the rest of Europe aren't exactly peaches and ice cream at the 
moment but watching the entire spectrum of poltical discourse and 
manouvering out here makes we want to hide under the duvet until the bad 
people go away. Neither of the political sides seems in anyway based in 
anything I would casually refer to as "Reality".

Part of this is because I can't vote. Disenfranchisement and the ensuing 
sense of lack of control (yes, yes - believing that whether I vote for 
the puppet on the left hand or the puppet on the right hand has any 
control is an illusion that I cling to for succor) is unnerving. I'm 
actually ok with not being able to vote unless I'm a citizen - I don't 
think it's an unreasonable requirement - but it's still unnerving.

Partly it's because of the median shift on the spectrum. I once sat down 
and compared bullet points between the US parties and the UK parties. 
The Democrats came out slightly right wing of the BNP. They had similar 
views on immigration though.

Uncanny Valley

I will never fit in here. I will never be an American. I don't have the 
right base level of shared cultural memories and semiotics. The music 
and toys and tv shows and memes and clothes and developmental 
touchstones and rituals that my friends bathed in growing up are 
profoundly different from mine. It would be slightly better, maybe, if 
they were more different and completely alien but they seem oddly 
familiar (perhaps from watching American movies and tv shows) but also 
somehow unnervingly unfamiliar. 

I could give a long list of thousands of tiny little things that are 
just slightly off (from my point of view) from food (bacon and bread 
being two fine examples) to the absurd and mundane (I needed a watch 
battery changed. In the UK I would obviously go to a combination heel 
bar, key cutter and battery changer which would, of course, be located 
in a tube or railway station. I didn't know where to go here. I'm not 
saying that makes sense of course, it just *is*).

Out here I will always be different. People will always ask about my 
accent (which many seem to think is Australian for some reason). There 
will always be references I don't understand or occasions I do wrong. 
I'll say things and people won't get what I mean (faff, whinge, butty 
being recent examples).

To be honest - I miss the British personality as well. That's a longer 
story though.  

Thirdly and lastly - the "it could go either way":


I know some people who can't live more than a mile from their huge and 
sprawling family. I'm ok with it - I spent a lot of time away from my 
biological family when I was younger. And to be honest I have a family 
over here - they're just not related to me. Of course I had that in 
London as well and I miss them too but it's ok because I have a support 
network here.

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