Student Living Costs in the USA - Budgeting for an International Degree in 2019

The United States offers some of the best Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in the world, but also potentially high living costs you need to be aware of. If you have your heart set on studying abroad in the U.S. you will need to have a good plan about how to cover these costs. Find key estimates about student living and accommodation costs, funding opportunities and money-saving tips you'll need to cover if you wish to get an American-quality higher education.

You might also want to read about university tuition costs in the United States.

Living costs in the United States

Living costs in the U.S. vary a lot because of the large territory the country covers. In general, living in urban areas (in or near a big city) is more expensive than living in smaller towns or suburban areas. To give you a clearer picture of the general living costs of studying in the USA, we have included some estimates for the major regions of the country, in 2017.

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The costs cover prices for a full year stay in the U.S. (academic year + vacation). As a general rule, locations in the Midwest region of the States have lower living costs, while those in the East and North-East are the highest. Living costs can vary significantly depending on four main factors:

  • Accommodation on-campus or renting apartments outside campus
  • Choosing meal plans, personal grocery shopping or eating out
  • Travelling by public transport or by car
  • Amounts spent on entertainment

Click on the cities to find out more about student life and living costs of studying there.

East Coast

West Coast


  • New Orleans (Louisiana): 1,100 – 2,000 USD/month
  • Seattle (Washington): 1,500 – 2,500 USD/month

North Central

  • Chicago (Illinois): 1,300 – 2,500 USD/month
  • Detroit (Michigan): 1,000 – 1,800 USD/month


For more exact yearly costs, contact the university you plan to study in and ask for an estimate.

Accommodation costs in the States

Accommodation costs are just as varied as general living costs in the United States. The average apartment can start from minimum 600 USD (one bedroom apartments in more rural areas) and go up to 3,000 USD (1 bedroom apartment in Boston).

Renting outside campus in America might be less expensive than living on campus – 450 USD/month for shared rooms.

costs of living in the States.jpg

Average room and board costs at universities amount to:

  • 9,800 USD/ academic year at public four-year colleges
  • 11,100 USD/academic year at private four-year colleges

Utility costs that come with accommodation

Utilities may or may not be included in the price, so you should check the contact before making a decision. Here are some of the most common values you will see for different utilities:

  • Electric: 50 - 100 USD/month, depending on the size of your apartment, and if your heating is electric, the overall price may go up to 150 USD/month.
  • Heating : 50 – 100 USD/month.
  • Internet averages 45-50 USD/month.
  • Most phone services average 50 USD/month.
  • Water, sewer, and trash are usually covered by the landlord, but if you have to pay it will cost 50-75 USD/three months.

Food costs in the USA

Groceries for one person amount to 400 – 600 USD/month depending on your dietary habits and if some meals are included with your accommodation at the university. Look for some of the cheapest supermarkets like Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, Trader Joe’s, to do your shopping.

If you live in residence halls, you could select the on-campus meal plans, for which you would have to pay around 250 USD/month.

Examples of prices in restaurants

In Bowling Green, restaurants have affordable prices, a pizza will cost around 7 USD and you can get a coffee for 4.50 USD.

In Chicago, you can grab a meal for around 12 USD, while a beer in a bar is 6 USD.

International and American restaurants in San Francisco serve meals that cost around 15 USD.

Transportation in America

A public transportation monthly pass is between 45 and 100 USD (some universities have discounts for students, but not all). For instance, in Cincinnati, a metro fare card for students is 53 USD/semester and in Nashville, a monthly public transportation pass is 44 USD.

The biggest transportation expense will probably be flying from and to your home country. Be careful to plan your airplane tickets into your total budget, as this can have a great impact on your plans.

Try to factor in vacation trips to tourist destinations and weekend getaways in the U.S., as depending on your living location and your destination, you can spend as much as 500 USD/trip.

Additional costs

  • Books and supplies: 400 – 1,000 USD/year
  • Health insurance: 700 - 1,100 USD

Try to also have a budget for other personal or unexpected expenses for the year of about 2000 USD.

Use a free tool, like Student Budget Calculator to keep track of your finances.

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Financial aid for international students coming to the U.S.

Most universities offer financial assistance to international students focusing primarily on merit and rarely on need. Scholarships are easier to get for graduate studies. Study fields that usually receive more generous funding include engineering, physical sciences and biological sciences.

All universities in the U.S. are required to include fees and a financial aid calculator on their websites. Find them on this government website. Look for scholarships, grants, assistantships, work-study plans or consider study loans. Apply for financial aid the same time you submit your university application for U.S.

You can also check out the Studyportals Scholarship to get some help on financing your studies abroad.

Check out scholarship opportunities in the United States

Set on studying in the U.S? Don't forget about the U.S. student visa 

And remember! In order to study in the U.S. you need a student visa, so you should check out American student visa requirements based on your nationality: 

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