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Money and living expenses

Make the most of your money

Your day-to-day living expenses will vary depending on what state or city you live in. The average annual cost of study, including tuition fees and living expenses is around USD$35,000 per year. However, this can rise dramatically with some private institutions charging USD$35,000 or more for tuition fees alone, so it is important to do your research.

Other additional costs you will need to consider in your budget include your study visa and application fees, university administration fees, student application fees, compulsory fees for services, processing fees as well as insurance to use the on-campus medical facilities for general check-ups, basic testing and prescriptions for common illnesses.

Most campuses can offer a meal plan for students which allows you to dine at the on-campus facilities. These plans are offered at different levels to accommodate inpidual budgets.

Your banking and payments options

The unit of currency in the United States of America is the U.S. dollar, which can also be referred to as USD.

When it comes to managing your money, there are a number of choices. You can set up a bank account with any of the banks available and it’s a good idea to check if your school or university has any special relationships with a local bank as you may be able to access some benefits such as free banking, interest-free overdraft and travel discounts.

When selecting the right banking option for you, it’s important to compare the costs and services and make sure that you are entitled to all the perks as an international student.

There are two main types of accounts. A checking account is intended for frequent deposits and withdrawals and is best suited to managing day-to-day living expenses. A savings account is not intended for daily use, meaning the money deposited into the account is meant to be saved so that it can earn interest over time.

To open a bank account you may require the following documentation:

  • Current and valid passport
  • Proof of address, telephone number and utility bills
  • I-94 card
  • I-20, DS-2019 or I-797 approval notice. The I-20 and DS-2019 are immigration documents associated with your visa status and are issued by the school or university where you have been admitted. The I-797 is a notice of action which is approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service
  • Enrolment verification letter from the school
  • Any secondary form of identification such as a student card, birth certificate, state driver’s licence, or a letter from the International Students and Scholars Office

Getting your phone and Internet organised

You’ll probably want to get your phone and Internet service sorted pretty quickly after arriving in the U.S.

When it comes to setting up your phone, you have three main options:

  • Landline: usually only relevant if you live off-campus. You might be able to get a better deal by bundling your landline with Internet access, however your costs will vary depending on the speed and usage you require
  • Mobile – pay-as-you-go (PAYG): gives you control over how much you spend and you can stop using it whenever you want. A prepaid account is easy to set up and SIM cards are widely available from local stores and supermarkets, as well as from mobile phone providers
  • Mobile – contract: depending on how long you will be in the U.S., how much you use your mobile and for what purpose, a contract with a mobile phone provider may be a cheaper solution. Mobile plans in the U.S. typically include some Internet data.

Making international calls

International calls can be a lot more expensive than calls within the U.S. You might want to buy an international calling card which offers reduced rates or use an online option like Skype or FaceTime instead. If you prefer to buy an international calling card, you can find these at most convenience stores.

  • To call an U.S. number from overseas, you need to enter the country code (1) followed by the area code and then the telephone number
  • To call another country from the U.S., dial 011, followed by the relevant country code and the area code (if required) and then the telephone number 

Accessing the Internet

There are a number of options for Internet services providers in the U.S., but it’s a good idea to shop around to find the plan that offers the best price and download limits to suit your needs and budget.

Most educational institutions provide free Wi-Fi which you can access with your student logon and password. If you can’t access the Internet through your own laptop or computer, you can usually find one to use in the student library, at an off-campus public library or at an Internet café.

You can also access wireless Internet in some public places or on public transport, however some providers may ask you to pay to access this service. It’s always a good idea to check the security of the network you are connecting to.

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When you arrive in the United States, it’s a good idea to get yourself sorted with insurance. Be sure to shop around to find the best policy to suit your needs.

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