The USA is a top study destination for international students all over the world. With globally renowned universities, a culture of opportunity and fantastic advantages for post-study employment it’s at the top of many people’s lists when it comes to choosing a country in which to study.

Perhaps one of the biggest mental adjustments to be made when choosing the USA as a study destination is understanding the cost of living – this can make all the difference to enjoying a successful period of study that is also fun and affordable.

Getting to grips with the cost of living in the USA is slightly complex as this will vary depending on where in the country you’re planning to study. Urban, rural and suburban areas will all generate different costs and the geographical region of the country you’ll be based in also has an influence. In this article we’re going to uncover the average spend for a number of different, basic costs.

However, bear in mind that these are averages and so they will be much lower than the likely costs in some of the more expensive areas of the country (for example, New England) and higher than the average costs in others (such as Midwest states of Illinois, Ohio and Indiana).

Accommodation, utilities, and communications estimate: $1000 – $1500 per month.


This is one cost that is difficult to quantify, as there is an enormous amount of variation across the country with respect to housing and living accommodation. Apartment prices could be anything from $500 (which might rent you a one bedroom flat in a rural area), to $1,500 (which could secure a three bedroom flat in the same area). If you’re hunting for accommodation in a city then you can expect much higher prices for much smaller floor space, and remember; some universities may be able to offer you accommodation on campus, which could work out as being cheaper.


You’ll rarely find that utility costs – such as electricity – are included in your monthly rent, meaning that these often have to be covered as a separate expense. However, some of the utilies may be included in the rental price, so make sure this is something you check before signing the rental agreement. You can either check with the organisation through which you’re arranging the accommodation or look in the contract – either way make sure you understand how this cost is being covered so it doesn’t take you by surprise. On average, the cost of utilities might look something like this:

Gas – not all apartments have gas in America but if yours does then it will either be only supplied for cooking purposes or perhaps also for heating. Obviously, the cost will depend on how much you cook but if that’s all you’re using it for expect a cost of $10 to $15 a month, rising to $50-$100/month for heating too.

Electricity – factors to bear in mind here are how energy efficient the apartment is and whether you’re using electricity for heating. Expect $50 to $100 per month as a basic cost, rising to up to $150 per month to include heating.

Water, trash, sewer – this is one utility that is often covered by the landlord but if it falls to you then expect to pay around $50-$75 every quarter (three months).


When living overseas, you’ll want to stay in touch with friends and family back home, so it’s important to factor communications in to your living expenses.

Internet – the average cost is likely to be $45-$50 per month but if you opt for packages with unlimited access or TV channels added on it could be higher.

Mobile phone – expect to pay roughly $50 a month and up to $100 a month if you choose a plan with data.

Everyday expenses

On top of your basic costs you also need to factor in the expenses of every day life.

Food – grocery bills in the USA can come in at anywhere between $20 and $40, but obviously this depends on what you eat. Fresh produce is often more expensive, especially if you’re eating a lot of meat and vegetables that aren’t in season. Some common grocery costs include:

Eggs: $2.00 for 12

Rice: $1 per pound

Bread: $2.50 per loaf

Milk: $3.50 per gallon

Transport – if you’re driving a vehicle then petrol/gas will cost you around $3.50 per gallon – and remember to include the cost of insurance too! If you have access to a public transport network then you’ll pay around $50-$60 for a monthly pass – look out for student discounts to cut costs.

Clothing – again, it depends where you shop but there are plenty of low cost options in America (TJ Maxx, Forever 21, Target, Wal-Mart) where you can buy jeans for around $40.

For more information on likely costs living in America take a look at Numbeo or the United States Census Bureau.

Image via Shutterstock.

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