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Living Cost in USA

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Living Cost in USA

Introduction to Living Costs in the USA

A. Importance of Understanding Living Expenses

The United States is widely known as the “Land of Opportunities”. This vast country has a diverse population and accommodates thousands of international students. It is the epicenter of some of the top colleges and universities and always remains at the top of the wishlist of several international students. Make your dream true for US College Admissions with

But moving to the US remains a distant dream for most of you because of the extremely high expenses. More than anything, the living cost in the USA is astronomically high. The US people spend approximately 66,928 USD per year on their total household expenses. Out of which, only the housing expenditure costs something around 22,624 USD.

So, as an international student, you should understand how important it is to factor in living expenses while budgeting your stay. There is so much more to this than just tuition costs, and you should be financially prepared to stay there for the course duration.

B. Factors Affecting Living Costs

There are several factors that affect your living costs. Some of the major and unavoidable costs that you must know about are –

  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Food
  • Utilities
  • Healthcare
  • Entertainment
  • Personal Care

We will discuss all these factors in detail in this blog to give you an in-depth idea about living expenses in the US.

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Categories of Living Expenses in the USA

A. Accommodation

Renting an Apartment or House

Buying a house or an apartment while studying isn’t an option. So, renting an apartment or a house is the most logical option. So, start looking for a house or an apartment months before moving to the US. The housing cost in the US, though high, varies a lot. The price can differ depending on the location, type of housing, and size. It can help you to study in USA. 

Generally speaking, the cost of an apartment is much higher in metropolitan cities like New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles. It will be impossible to find any decent property in the heart of America below 1.3 grand a month. On the contrary, you can get a two-bedroom apartment for as low as 821 USD a month in most rural areas like Kansas, Wichita, Ohio, etc. North Dakota, for instance, has the lowest average rent in the whole of the US.

On-Campus Housing

Since finding a home within budget can be quite difficult, many students choose to live on campus. Most reputed institutions have hostels and dormitories within their campus. These are quite affordable when compared to house rents off-campus. On average, the cost of a private hostel room can cost you approx. 800-900 USD, including food.

You can lower the cost by another 100-200 USD if you opt for the self-cater option. There are also room-sharing options. You can easily manage to live within 400-600 USD per month by sharing a room with 3 or 4 classmates. If you are lucky, you may even rent a homestay close to the campus for as low as 300-500 USD.

B. Food and Groceries

Food is another aspect that you cannot avoid while planning your finances. The American way of eating is not the healthiest. Most Americans consume an enormous amount of burgers, ice cream, French fries, and donuts. Having them daily not only puts a dent in your pocket but can make you sick too.

So, buying your own groceries and cooking at home is the healthiest and most economical choice. Usually, the cost of groceries doesn’t differ much across the US. Most supermarkets like Walmart, Safeway, or Kroger provide the best deals on groceries. So, try to shop for your monthly groceries from these departmental stores then going to any specialty store. On average, your monthly food and grocery expenses should be covered by 250-350 USD.

Farmer's Markets are another American specialty that you can consider for buying groceries. Especially if these markets are nearby, they are the best places to source the freshest, locally-sourced produce. Since there is no middleman in a farmer’s market, the prices of the goods tend to be much lower than in any grocery store.

C. Transportation

Public Transportation

You certainly will have to move a lot to get accustomed to the new neighborhood once you reach America. If you are planning to be on the go, avoiding private transportation is the key to minimizing your transportation expenses.

The US public transportation system is quite expansive, and knowing your way around them can save you hundreds of dollars each month. For example, the bus routes in the US are widely spread. You can practically cover the whole USA by bus. Moreover, subways are another affordable option to get around various cities. Usually, a single ride pass for a bus or subway will cost you around 2.75 USD only. But, if you are a frequent traveler, get yourself a monthly pass for just 127 USD.

There are many discount options for students in the USA. You can get one and save your money while availing of buses, subways, and many other services.

Car Expenses

Car expenses are obviously much higher than public transport. For example, a ride from the airport to a nearby city via Uber or Lyft can cost you 30-50 USD minimum. Car rentals are not economical either. Any standard car rental in NYC can cost you approximately 70 USD per day.

However, you can keep it under control through smart planning. If any of your friends have a car, you can pool the ride with him and share the fuel expenses. By sharing the car expenses among three or four friends, you can keep your budget in check.

C. Utilities

You cannot overlook the utility expenses wherever you live in the USA. These costs form a significant part of your total living cost. Let’s look at each one of them in detail.


This is the most common utility expense you need to handle. The electricity rates vary according to the different states (minimum 0.09 to maximum 0.35 USD per kilowatt). But on average, the electricity rate across the US is 0.13 USD. However, many states impose state taxes on electricity, which can bump up the prices to 10%.

Water and Sewerage

The local municipality is responsible for the water supply in the local area. You will be billed based on how much water you consume. The lowest cost of water is in Wisconsin, where the rate is only 0.50 USD per 100 gallons. Vermont and North Carolina also have quite affordable water bills. Conversely, states like California and Oregon charge much higher for their water supply. West Virginia, however, takes the cake with a 7 USD per 1000 gallons. But on average, the cost of water across the USA is 2.50 USD per 1000 gallons.

The local municipality is also in charge of the sewer services, and you get billed as per your usage. The sewerage prices bills start from only 10 USD a month and can rise up to 30 USD per month. However, the national average of sewerage bills clocks approx. 17 USD per month.

Internet and Phone

The internet and phone costs in the US vary depending on the type of service you are availing and the service provider. Generally, the cost ranges from approximately 30 USD to 200 USD for internet. For phone bills, it can range between 50-200 USD. There are a few associated costs, too, like equipment rental fees, installation fees, and taxes.

D. Healthcare and Insurance

Healthcare in the US is different from the prevalent systems in other countries. There is no universal or national healthcare system in place. So, you have to compare and choose a plan from the various private insurance providers. There are over 1000 health insurance companies in the US alone. On average, a health insurance plan can cost you anything between 500 to 1000 USD.

However, you must remember that according to the Federal rules, F1 visa holders are not mandated to get health insurance. But most universities have insurance requirements in their eligibility criteria. So, students are mostly forced to buy one while enrolling themselves in college. Although it always makes sense to protect yourself from the extremely costly healthcare system in America.

E. Education Expenses

The average cost of a Bachelor’s college education is 30,000 USD. While this figure may look quite high, you can opt for public colleges and top universities for lower course fees. For example, the national average for public college fees is only 10,000 USD for a bachelor's degree. In private institutions, the same costs can rise up to 35,000 USD per year.

Master's degree courses are even costlier, and a two-year course in any public institution can cost you an average of 12,000 USD per year. This cost can rise up to 35,000 USD/year if you opt for a master's course in any private university.

F. Personal Expenses

There are a lot of personal expenses that you must consider while planning your finance. Occasional eating out with your friends is quite common, and keep some funds aside for those outings. Eating out in the US is expensive, especially for students not native to America.

To give you a perspective, a visit to any casual diner like Applebee’s can cost you about 15 dollars per person. Fast food chains like McDonald's or KFC are cheaper but can still cost you about 7-10 dollars per person.

G. Entertainment and Recreation

Movie theatres in the US are also quite pricey. Any standard movie theatre ticket costs around 15 USD. For sporting events like NBA, or Super Bowl, the ticket prices are much higher and can go up to 100 USD depending on the event.

Netflix subscriptions start from 6.99 per month in the ad. There are many other OTT sites that are immensely popular among the students. But you need to prioritize and understand which services you need while planning your budget.

H. Clothing and Personal Care

There are several drugstores in every block that you can visit to purchase any personal care items. These stores have everything from basic shampoos and lotions to expensive items like perfumes and skin care products. Usually, the prices of these items range from 10 to 50 USD.

Similarly, you can get a variety of clothing all around the USA. There are many local stores that sell low-end T-shirts and jeans. You can find a pair of jeans for as cheap as 15-20 USD. If you are more into high-end brands, the USA is a shopper's paradise. There are a number of flagship stores across NYC where you can buy all kinds of designer apparel, bags, and accessories.

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Factors Influencing Living Costs

A. Location within the USA

The place you are staying in plays a very big role in influencing the living costs. The cost of living in the various US states differs largely, and you must research well before deciding where to settle. For instance, the living cost in San Francisco is extremely high. Compared to many other states, the living cost in San Francisco is approximately 80% higher than the national average.

On the contrary, the living cost in Harlingen, Texas, is quite low compared to the rest of the country. In fact, since 2010, the living cost in Texas has increased by only 0.9%. There are a few other coastal cities that are high up the list, most notable among them being Honolulu. However, if you dream of staying near a water body without breaking the bank, the best place would be Memphis, Tennessee. With the famous Mississippi River flowing through the heart of the city, this place is also a hub for several industrial activities.

Check out this list to get a detailed idea about how the various cities will cost you –

Furthest Above the National Average


Furthest Below the National Average


San Francisco




New York






















Pryor Creek






Orange Country


Martinsville-Henry Country


Los Angeles




B. Lifestyle Choices and Habits

Your lifestyle choices invariably determine your living cost. For example, if you prefer privacy and comfort, you will most likely live in an apartment rather than in a dormitory. If you prefer to eat out more, then your food expenses will keep rising. The more entertainment services you subscribe to, or the more you travel, will also impact your budget. So, try not to go overboard while making any lifestyle choice or habit.

C. Accommodation Type

Renting a flat in a posh neighborhood will attract higher rents. Many of you prefer to stay near the campus to minimize travel time. While you may reach college faster, you may also need to pay more rent that way.

However, if you share the flat or the hostel rooms with one or more peers, you will need to spend a significantly lesser amount. Refer to the above chart to find out the state-wise cost of living. That way, you can easily understand which places suit your budget best and plan accordingly.

D. Student Status

Your status as a student can also impact your living cost. Although you won’t be getting any additional discounts if you stay outside the campus, as a student, you are entitled to certain benefits within the campus.

Most universities and colleges offer their hostel rooms at subsidized prices to the students. Any of you living on a budget can easily find affordable housing options within the campus.

Moreover, almost all of them offer catering services along with the room for a nominal price. So, if cooking isn’t your forte, you can always consider this option.

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Frequently Asked Questions

The average living cost in the USA is approximately 10,000 USD to 18,000 USD annually. This averages to approximately 1000 to 1500 USD per month per person. However, depending on the area, or the type of place you are staying, the cost of living can increase or decrease. 

Typically, the average accommodation cost for students in the USA ranges between 150 to 200 USD per month. However, depending on the type of accommodation, and the area, this cost can rise as high as 300-400 USD per month too. You can also rent bigger flats that can cost about 700-900 USD per month and share them with three or four students. That way, you can get better living spaces without stretching your budget.

Yes, there are affordable housing options for students in the USA. For instance, you can get economical flats and hostels all across certain states like Tennessee and Texas. However, even in the costlier states like NYC, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, you may get affordable housing options with a little search. You can explore the campus hostels, where the average cost remains between 400-450 USD per month. In Texas, you may even get studio apartments for as low as 700-950 USD. You can share these places with other students to make it even cheaper. 

According to the recently available government data, the average spending of a student on food is approximately 5,200 USD per year or about 438 USD per month. This cost is only for the meals you cook at home, and it can increase if you prefer to eat out more. Similarly, the monthly grocery expenses of a student can range between 150-300 USD. Depending on age, this cost can also fluctuate a bit. 

On average, a student spends about 9,000 USD per year on travel expenses. So, you should budget around that amount while planning your finances. However, you need to understand how you prefer traveling. If you mostly take private cabs, it can get a lot costlier than that. 

The USA is one of the costliest countries in the world when it comes to healthcare. According to recent data, the total healthcare cost in the USA amounted to approximately 4.3 trillion USD. This averages to about 12,900 per person. So, getting insurance is mandatory in the US. Even if you are a student, you should look at affordable insurance plans to avoid any financial emergency later. You can find premiums from 400 to 100 USD per year and choose one according to your budget. 

As a student, you can look to spend about 1200-1400 USD on books and supplies in your college. Students spend about 340 USD on course materials, which averages to 38 USD per class. 

There are several personal expenses that you should consider while budgeting. Here is a list that can act as a checklist for you –

  • Books and Supplies
  • Technology like laptops, smartphones, or tablet
  • Health Insurance
  • Internet Connection
  • Personal Care like hygiene products, grooming expenses, and toiletries
  • Clothes and Laundry
  • Entertainment and Recreation
  • Transportation
  • Emergency Fund

Yes, you can work part-time to cover your expenses while studying in the USA. However, as an F1 visa holder, you need to be aware of a rule while working. You cannot work for more than 20 hours a week if the school is in session. During vacations, you can work like a full-timer for as many hours as you want. 

You can use numerous budgeting tools to sort your living costs. Some of the best budgeting apps currently available are –

  • Mint
  • PocketGuard
  • Personal Capital
  • Simple
  • GoodBudget
  • Wally
  • Mvelopes
  • YNAB

Tips to find accommodation in the US for Indian students:

  • Check your university website and contact the International Student Office for assistance
  • Search for accommodation on platforms like Uniplaces, UniAcco, Nestpick, AmberStudent, Homelike, and Spotahome.
  • Seek advice and suggestions from seniors or classmates with knowledge about apartment hunting.
  • Use social media platforms and websites to find house listings for international students
  • Consult student advisors at your university for suggestions
  • Check university housing boards and apartment listings in local newspapers and consult a real estate agent for leads

The cheapest living states in the US for international students are as follows:

  • Indiana
  • Alabama
  • Missouri
  • Wyoming
  • Kansas

While the cheapest American cities for international students are:

  • Baltimore
  • Atlanta
  • San Diego
  • Philadelphia
  • Chicago
  • Houston

Of course! Several affordable student accommodation options for international students include on-campus housing, homestays, co-living spaces, renting a room, student hostels, and off-campus housing. You must note that the cost of these options varies by location, amenities, and specific arrangements. Compare the prices and amenities to find the best accommodation within your budget.

If your visa permits, you can pursue on-campus or off-campus part-time work to meet your expenses. As an international student, you are permitted to work 20 hours a week during the semester and full-time during the semester break. The hourly wage ranges between $9 and $17 per hour. It is important to understand that F1 visa students can only work across three types of off-campus employment: Curricular Practical Training (CPT), Optional Practical Training (OPT), and STEM Optional Practical Training Extension (STEM OPT).

The estimated cost of living in the US for international students is around $10,000 to $18,000, which is around $1000 to $15,000 each month. The average expenses include the following:

  • Accommodation - $150 to $200
  • Electricity - $20 to $40
  • International calling cards - $15 to $30
  • Groceries - $150 to $180
  • Home internet - $15 to $30
  • Cell phone - $50 to $80
  • Entertainment - $80 to $100
  • Restaurant meals - $75 to $100
  • Weekend activities - $50 to $100
  • Shopping - $100

Please note the average monthly expenses vary by individual, location, and cost of living.

Absolutely! Several pocket-friendly options are available for self-entertainment, such as:

  • Board games, puzzles, or decks of cards
  • Video games and free gaming sites
  • Recreational sports communities
  • Volunteering at local organizations
  • Go to a local farmers' market
  • Go thrift shopping
  • Go for a walk, hike, or ride with a friend
  • Try star gazing
  • Plan for budget-friendly camping
  • Learn a new skill
  • Engage yourself in community activities

On average, a phone can cost you around $50 to $80, while internet plans can cost you around $15 to $30 per month. However, the plan costs are subject to vary based on the plan, speed range, and service provider.

Yes, you can! When you get a roommate or flatmate, you can share the rent and other expenses for the basic amenities. Plus, if you share a good with the roommate or flatmate, you can split grocery expenses, house internet charges, and the like. This will help you save money and reduce your monthly expenses.

The average gym membership in America can cost between $52 and $65 per month. That's quite expensive. Fortunately, gyms or fitness centers offer discounted prices for international students. For example, Planet Fitness, Anytime Fitness, Gold’s Gym, Workout Anytime, YouFit, and Snap Fitness are some popular names that offer student discounts.

On-campus meal plans are a convenient solution when you don't have the time and energy to cook. However, cooking is the best way to save money and make meals affordable. While you may find affordable eateries off-campus, on-campus meals can cost you around $450 per month on average! Therefore, the most affordable meal plan is to cook, which averages $257 monthly.

Yes. Here’s a list of websites where you can find pre-owned furniture at an affordable price:

  • Kaiyo
  • 1stDibs
  • Amazon
  • Chairish
  • AptDeco
  • Krrb
  • Urban Fusion Décor
  • OneUp
  • Craigslist
  • Kijiji
  • Facebook Marketplace

State-run public libraries are affordable and the best option for students who want to study in a peaceful environment. Like university libraries, public libraries are well-stocked with books and academic resources to help students achieve their learning goals.

Students who stay near the university have to bear more expenses due to high rent than those who stay far away. On-campus accommodation is any day a better option, but there's limited availability for senior students. Hence, if your finances are tight, renting accommodation at a distance off campus can save you some money. On the contrary, if your budget is in check, opt for on-campus accommodation to save time, money, and energy from traveling.  

The Federal minimum wage for nonexempt employees in the US is $7.25 per hour. Generally, students’ hourly wage range between $9 and $17 per hour.

The most affordable places to live in the US are:

  • San Diego
  • Baltimore
  • Atlanta
  • Philadelphia
  • Houston
  • Chicago
  • Miami
  • Dallas
  • Boston
  • Pittsburgh

Yes, you can find sharing accommodation options by networking and connecting with classmates and college mates on campus and on social media. Many even use the university housing portal to find roommates to share accommodation. Plus, you can use resources like Sulekha (to find Indian roommates), Facebook groups, and Craiglist to find roommates.

Here’s how you should write an accommodation request letter:

Date of Letter

Your name

Your address

University Name

University address

Dear (e.g., Supervisor, Manager, Human Resources, Personnel):

Content to consider in the body of the letter:

  • Identify yourself as a student looking for accommodation
  • Identify your accommodation ideas
  • Request your employer's accommodation ideas
  • Refer to the attached documentation if given any
  • Ask that your university respond to your request in a reasonable amount of time

Sincerely, Your signature

Your printed name

Cc: to appropriate individuals

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