The hidden costs every international student at US universities should know about
This makes a lot of cents. Source: Lucas Favre on Unsplash

Budgeting is a crucial part of the parcel for international students trying to decide where to study. Like other countries, the top three financial concerns for those planning to attend an American university would be tuition fees, rent and living expenses.

When you’ve made payments for these three things, it may seem like the job is done and now you can embark on this new phase of your life without any care for the dollars and cents.

This would be a fatal move, considering many international students pay for education out of personal and family funds. The reason is simple: there are many hidden costs when it comes to higher education in the US.

To help you avoid making unnecessary financial blunders, here are the top five areas you should research and allocate some additional funds:

1. Tuition

Source: Giphy

Beyond the official tuition fees, take note of the “International Student Fees” that many universities charge as a means to “cover costs” of administration, such as to pay for special programming or government-required international student tracking.

According to US News, this can range from the usual US$50 per semester like most international students pay at Columbia University, up to the recent US$500 per semester implemented by Ohio State University.

Apart from this, you’ll have to purchase books too. Depending on your field of study, they may not come cheap. Get ready to spend up to US$1,000 or more per year on books alone. The Acta Philosophorum The First Journal of Philosophy reportedly costs $1,450!

Pro tip: find out ahead of time what your international student fees are, so you can plan ahead if the amount is significant. As for books, approach seniors or online sites to get used versions – all you have to do is to make sure you know which parts have been updated (lecturers should be the best person to ask about this).

2. Insurance

Source: Giphy

This is a no-negotiation zone. Every international student, whether required by their respective university or not, must have health insurance while studying in the US. Here, healthcare is expensive, and a short visit to the emergency room for a minor accident can put you thousands of dollars in debt.

To avoid this, consult an insurance provider either in your home country or once you arrive in the US. It would be foolish to assume that the US healthcare system mirrors your home country’s.

If you’re receiving health insurance provided by your college, it’s also wise to check what it can assist you in paying, instead of blindly assuming. The same goes for private health insurance.

Pro tip: most college insurance coverage does not cover the full cost of doctor’s appointments or treatment for your eyes and teeth. You can supplement this with a private insurance provider instead.

3. Accommodation

Source: Giphy

Whether you are living on or off-campus, check all policies regarding holidays with your landlord or university. Sometimes, you may even need to move out or pay extra during this period. If you do not plan to stay in the US during these breaks, you will have to factor in the costs of traveling during this period, as well as meals, social outings, etc.

If you’re living off-campus, set some extra money aside to buy furniture and pay for utilities, such as electricity bills, too.

Pro tip: to buy second-hand furniture, use Craigslist but be smart and don’t get scammed!

4. Taxes & Tips

Source: Giphy

Waiters, barbers, taxi-drivers, UberFood deliveries, etc – in the US, it is common courtesy to tip these folks. Same goes for restaurants, where you should budget 15-20 percent of your bill as a tip.

As for taxes, these aren’t usually stated on the price tags in stores. You’ll likely find out only when you get to the checkout counter. Be prepared for prices to sometimes be hiked higher than 10 percent of the product price in certain states.

Pro tip: add 10-20 percent to your monthly allowance to ensure you have enough to tip and pay tax.

5. Transport

Source: Giphy

Listen up, off-campus residents; unlike your friends living in dorms (and having the privilege of rolling out of bed right to their lecture halls), you’re going to have to cover some distance to get to your classes.

This can be via public transport or getting your own private mode of transport eg. cars, motorbikes, bicycles, etc. Whatever you choose, it’s going to cost money. And it’s likely not going to be a one-off payment, there will be maintenance fees to fork out, too.

Pro tip: get a bike. It’s cheap, kind to the environment and a lot of fun. Just make sure it’s safe to ride a bike in your city!

Liked this? Then you’ll love these…

Funding your studies: UK student finance and beyond

Post-Brexit, finance postgrads set to become more international