Living Costs for Students in the USA

California or New York, Minnesota or Michigan – if you want to spend a semester abroad in the USA or complete your studies in the USA, you can choose from a variety of study locations. A comparison of the cost of living in the USA can be helpful when making a decision. In fact, the cost of food, lodging and other basic necessities in the US varies from state to state.

Statistically speaking, according to a study by the World Bank, US-Americans live more favourably than in Germany (-12%, measured by price level). The actual cost of living in the USA, however, depends on the place of study, type of housing, neighborhood and individual lifestyle. It is advisable to plan at least US$ 1200 – US$ 1500 per month for the cost of living.

Living in the USA – Costs of rent and housing

A room in a student residence, a private shared apartment or a room with a host family? Students can choose between different types of housing if they want to study in the USA.

Living in a student residence at the US Campus
Many U. S. universities offer the option of renting a room in a dormitory. The following applies: The closer the residence is to the campus, the higher the rent. The cost of a room in the Dorm seems high at first glance. However, students should bear in mind when calculating the cost of living in the USA that students in the dormitory usually do not have to pay any additional costs for electricity, gas or internet access.

In addition, many universities offer so-called Meal Plans. This allows students to eat on campus as often as they like. The costs are often included in the semester fee. This means that living in a shared flat is not necessarily cheaper and can even lead to higher living costs in the USA.

Some universities require freshmen in the undergraduate sector to stay on campus and use the meals on campus. Graduate students, on the other hand, are often free to choose where they live and eat.

Living in a shared flat

Many students see a shared apartment as a comfortable and inexpensive alternative to a room in a student residence hall. In fact, the cost of living in a shared flat can vary, as rents depend on local conditions.

For example, students pay around US$ 700 – US$ 900 per month for a shared room in San Francisco. On the other hand, US$ 900 – US$ 1500 monthly rent for a room in New York Downtown is not uncommon. However, the same applies to New York as to all other major cities: anyone who is willing to live outside of New York can save a lot of money on the cost of living in the USA.

In the case of a shared room, students should also bear in mind that in addition to the rent, additional costs for electricity and gas as well as Internet access costs may apply. In addition, there are daily costs for board and lodging, which are often included in the total price of a student residence and a host family.

Tenants usually register electricity and gas themselves with the local electricity and gas supplier. The meter readings are usually read once a month, paid at intervals of two months or quarterly.

Homestay: Living with a host family

Students who spend a semester abroad in the USA and want to get to know the Real American Way of Life are in good hands with a host family. Homestay programmes are often offered in combination with Meal Plans, so that living costs can also be saved with this type of housing:

  • Homestay including two meals
  • Homestay with breakfast or dinner
  • Homestay without food. Students can prepare their own meals in the kitchen.

The costs of homestay programmes also vary depending on the place of residence and location. In Seattle, for example, students pay about US$800 per month for Homestay with Meals, about US$900 per month in San Diego and about US$1500 per month in New York. Whoever lives with a host family is not usually required to pay additional fees for electricity and gas or the use of the Internet. It can therefore be worthwhile to compare the different types of housing and compare the cost of living.

Average monthly rental costs Average electricity and gas costs per month Average monthly Internet costs (flat rate)
Dormitory (1 room on campus) US$ 900 – 1100 Generally included Generally included
Shared room (3 room apartment) US$ 450 – 600 Share of total amount of US$ 100-175 share of total amount of US$ 30-50
Homestay US$ 550 – 1000 Usually included Usually included

Transport costs in the USA

Possible transport costs must also be taken into account when calculating the cost of living in the USA. In the large metropolises, students generally travel from A to B by public transport without any problems. A monthly ticket costs an average of $US 50 – 70 per month, and some of them offer additional discounts for students.

Due to the fact that in many suburbs and smaller cities in the USA the traffic network is not well developed, the car is the most popular means of transport. Many international students buy a used car from other students in order to resell it before the end of their studies. Fuel costs are lower in the USA with an average of US$ 0.70 – 0.90 per litre than in Germany.

Taxis are also a common means of transport in the USA, especially in major cities. The Yellow Cabs from New York are known worldwide. Usually there is a fixed basic amount of about US$ 2.50 for a taxi ride. There is an additional US$ 1.50 – 2 per mile. There is a surcharge for luggage. A tip of 10% to 15% is also customary.

For students wishing to travel longer distances in the USA, domestic flights are available due to time constraints. But buying a plane ticket can also be worthwhile financially. Airlines such as Delta Air Lines or JetBlue Airways regularly offer good deals.

Cost of food in the USA

There are also major differences between states in the cost of food in the United States. For example, 12 eggs cost about US$2 in Miami, whereas San Diego costs about one more dollar.

In general, fruit and vegetables are generally more expensive in the USA than in Germany. However, money can also be saved by buying from an Asian fruit and vegetable retailer, for example. Of the total cost of living in the US, approximately US$50 per week should be estimated for the purchase of food.

The following shopping cart contains common groceries and their average price in the USA.

Product Average price
1l water US$ 1,20
1 litre milk US$ 1
6 eggs US$ 1,30
1 white bread (500 g) US$ 2,50
1kg Bananas US$ 1,70
1 pack of muesli / cornflakes US$ 3,60
1 American beer (0,5L) US$ 4
1 Big Mac US$ 3.50
1L Coke US$ 1,30

Costs for companies in the USA

If you are studying in the USA for a semester or a longer period of time, you want to experience as much as possible and explore the „land of unlimited possibilities“. It is therefore advisable to set aside money from the planned cost of living for restaurant visits, concerts or cinema tickets.

Type of enterprise Average price
1 pizza at the restaurant US$ 13
1 cinema ticket US$ 10,50
1 concert ticket US$ 47
1 ticket for an NBA game US$ 54

Communication costs in the USA

Telecommunications costs are generally lower in the USA than in Germany. There are a number of mobile phone providers with different price models.

The place of residence in the USA plays an important role in the choice of mobile tariff. Network coverage varies greatly from region to region and varies by provider. Therefore, it is advisable to check the network coverage beforehand in order to determine the best possible tariff for your own location and to avoid radio gaps in the best possible way. In addition, it makes sense to clarify which provider has friends and acquaintances. Calls to other networks are usually more expensive than calls within your own network.

Important to know: Students from Germany can only use their own mobile phone in the USA under certain circumstances: On the one hand, it is necessary to have a roaming agreement between the network operator in Germany and the USA. On the other hand, it must be a triband or quadband mobile phone or a GSM-1900 device.

USA SIM card as a cost-effective alternative

People who use their own cell phones in the USA sometimes have to expect high costs. For this reason, many students resort to prepaid SIM cards especially for the USA, for example from AT&T or Cingular. You will receive a local telephone number and can load credit on your mobile phone.

A SIM card in the USA often costs around US$ 20, and depending on your needs, you can add different packages that include, for example, a certain data volume or the free sending of SMS messages at home and abroad. It is also important to note that prepaid cards can only be used on a regional basis. Special international calling cards are available for international calls.

In case the domestic mobile phone does not work in the USA, there are cheap prepaid mobile phones. Mobile phones starting at US$15 are available from providers such as T-Mobile, Virgin Mobile and AT&T. Customers receive a package with 400 free minutes for around US$ 40.

Voice over IP (VoIP) is even cheaper. Many students use programs like Skype to call home for free.

Costs in the USA in case of illness

Although this is not to be expected, it cannot be ruled out that students will fall ill during their studies abroad in the USA. The services offered by US universities usually include a health center. There are no student fees for basic medical treatment at some universities. Nevertheless, when estimating the cost of living in the USA, it is important to calculate a sufficient cash buffer for medical costs.

There are prescription-free medicines in pharmacies (pharmacy) – often part of a drugstore – or in supermarkets. Generally, non-prescription drugs such as painkillers are cheaper in the US than in Germany. Nevertheless, the cost of medicines varies considerably in the USA. Many pharmacies and supermarkets offer cheaper generic products. For example, Wal-Mart or Target offer generics for US$ 4 (30-day packs) or US$ 10 (90-day packs). For prescription drugs a prescription from the doctor is required.

Many universities in the USA require international students to take out health insurance in the USA through the university. In some cases it is possible to be exempted from compulsory insurance. The prerequisite is that the student’s own insurance cover covers all insurance benefits required by the US university.

The conclusion of a private health insurance abroad is advisable in any case, since the purchase of prescription drugs and doctor’s visits in the USA can be expensive.