USA Living Standards: An International Student’s Comprehensive Guide - PFEC

USA Living Standards:

An International Student’s Comprehensive Guide

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USA Living Standards: An International Student’s Comprehensive Guide 9 Months ago

In the upcoming years, international students remain allured by the United States for its renowned education system and multifaceted cultural opportunities.

This article delves into the quality of life that international students can anticipate in the USA, offering valuable insights into diverse facets that shape their everyday experiences.

From accommodation choices to daily expenses, this comprehensive guide aims to present a clear understanding of the lifestyle that international students can enjoy while pursuing their education in the United States.

1. Tuition Fees at US Universities

As students around the world seek to carve their paths to success through higher education, the United States stands as an epicentre of academic excellence, housing renowned institutions that offer a diverse array of programs.

Just as the United Kingdom boasts its legacy of education, the US too presents a dynamic landscape that invites scholars from all corners of the globe.

In this comprehensive exploration, we delve into the realm of tuition fees at US universities, shedding light on the intricacies that define the cost of pursuing education in this land of opportunities.

Embarking on an Educational Odyssey in the USA

The United States holds a special place in the hearts of those yearning for world-class education. With a rich tapestry of institutions ranging from Ivy League universities to cutting-edge research centres, students are welcomed into an environment that fosters intellectual curiosity and personal growth.

However, the privilege of education comes hand in hand with financial considerations, making it imperative to understand the nuances of tuition fees.

Understanding the Tuition Landscape

When it comes to evaluating the cost of education in the United States, several factors come into play. As with any investment, it's essential to weigh the benefits against the costs.

For an undergraduate program in the US, the average annual tuition for domestic students residing on campus can range from $10,000 to $40,000, depending on the university and the chosen field of study.

Navigating Program-Specific Costs

The diversity of academic pursuits in the United States is mirrored in the spectrum of tuition fees that different disciplines command.

Navigating Program-Specific Costs

In the grand tapestry of education, the United States offers an array of institutions that beckon ambitious minds seeking holistic growth. While tuition fees are a vital consideration, they do not overshadow the array of opportunities that await within the campuses of American universities.

The investment in education extends beyond the financial aspect, encompassing personal and intellectual growth that becomes a lifelong asset.

Mapping a Journey to Success

As prospective students navigate the intricate path of higher education in the United States, it's crucial to factor in not just the tuition fees but also the array of scholarships, grants, and financial aid options that institutions offer.

Understanding the cost landscape equips students with the knowledge to make well-informed decisions that align with their aspirations, values, and financial considerations.

2. Cost of Living in the USA

Housing Options

There are several types of housing options available for international students in the USA, each with its associated costs and features.

I. On-Campus Housing

On-campus housing, commonly referred to as university dormitories or residence halls, is a popular choice for many international students in the USA. These accommodations are typically located within the university campus or nearby, providing easy access to classes and campus facilities.

  • Proximity to classes and university resources.
  • Opportunities to connect with fellow students and foster a sense of community.
  • Often inclusive of utilities and internet access.

II. Private Off-Campus Housing

Private off-campus housing includes apartments, flats, or houses rented from private landlords. This option offers more independence and the opportunity to live away from the campus environment.

  • Increased privacy and autonomy.
  • Flexibility to choose the location and size of the housing.
  • Opportunity to experience local neighbourhoods and communities.

III. Homestays

Homestays involve living with a local host family, providing international students with a chance to immerse themselves in American daily life and culture.

  • Immersive cultural experience and exposure to American family life.
  • Supportive and welcoming family environment.
  • Possible inclusion of meals, which can help reduce food expenses.

IV. Short-Term Accommodation

Short-term accommodation options include hostels, guesthouses, or serviced apartments. These are especially suitable for students who are arriving in the USA and require temporary housing until a more permanent solution is secured.

  • Ideal for students needing temporary housing during their initial days.
  • Cost-effective for short stays.
  • Offers time to explore different long-term housing choices.

V. Shared Housing and Roommates

Many international students in the USA opt for shared housing or roommates to split the costs and create a sense of community within their living arrangements.

  • Shared financial responsibility, making it a more budget-friendly option.
  • Opportunity to build relationships and friendships with roommates.
  • Enhanced social experience through communal living.

In summary, international students in the USA have a range of housing options, each with its own advantages and costs, allowing them to tailor their accommodation to their preferences and budget.

Food and Groceries

3. Food and Groceries

When considering the cost of living in the USA, managing your budget for food and groceries is a significant aspect for international students. The United States provides a diverse array of dining choices, ranging from cooking meals at home to dining out at various establishments. Let's delve into the specifics of food expenses and effective budget management strategies.

I. Cooking at Home

Opting to prepare your meals at home can prove to be a cost-efficient approach, allowing you to have control over your expenses and dietary preferences. Here's a breakdown of what you can anticipate:

  • Groceries: The expense of groceries varies based on factors like your shopping location and dietary needs. Supermarkets such as Walmart, Kroger, and Safeway offer a wide range of products at different price points. On average, you might spend around $40 to $70 per week on groceries.
  • Meal Planning: Strategizing your meals for the week can help you make the most of your groceries and minimize food wastage. Seek out economical recipes and consider cooking larger portions to save both time and money.

II. Dining Out

Although cooking at home is cost-effective, indulging in dining out occasionally can be a delightful experience. Here's an overview of what to expect when eating out:

  • Cafes and Fast Food: Affordable choices like cafes and fast-food joints provide quick and budget-friendly dining options. A meal at a fast-food restaurant might typically cost around $6 to $12.
  • Restaurants: Opting for mid-range restaurants or local eateries can be slightly pricier, with meals ranging from around $20 to $40 per person, excluding beverages.

In the United States, managing your food budget effectively can involve a combination of home cooking and well-planned dining out experiences, allowing international students to strike a balance between satisfying their taste buds and being mindful of their expenses.


4. Transportation

Navigating within the United States is a crucial consideration for international students. The country offers a diverse transportation network, encompassing public transit options and various travel modes. Familiarizing yourself with transportation costs and making informed decisions can assist in effective budget management.

I. Public Transportation

The United States boasts an extensive public transportation system that includes buses, trains, subways, and light rail systems, depending on the city. Here's what you need to know:

Metro Cards (New York): If you're in New York City, the MetroCard is a convenient method for accessing public transportation, including the subway and buses. It often offers discounted fares compared to individual ticket purchases.

II. Taxis and Ride-Sharing

Taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are prevalent in urban areas across the U.S. While convenient, they tend to be more expensive than public transportation.

III. Bicycling

Bicycling is a popular and eco-friendly mode of transportation in many U.S. cities. Urban areas often have dedicated bike lanes and bike-sharing programs.

IV. Car Rentals

Renting a car is a popular option, especially if you're planning trips outside the city or require greater mobility.

Entertainment and Leisure

5. Entertainment and Leisure

When pursuing your education in the United States, finding a balance between academic commitments and leisure activities is essential. The USA offers a diverse range of cultural experiences and entertainment options for international students.

Here's a comprehensive guide to managing leisure expenses and making the most of your free time.

I. Cultural and Historical Sites

The United States is rich in history and culture, featuring a plethora of museums, galleries, and historical sites to explore. Many of these attractions offer discounted or free entry for students.

II. Theatres and Performing Arts

Major cities across the USA boast vibrant performing arts scenes, with theatres hosting an array of productions, from Broadway shows to local performances.

III. Music and Nightlife

The USA is renowned for its diverse music and nightlife scenes. Live music venues and nightclubs can be found throughout the country, hosting concerts, gigs, and DJ nights.

IV. Parks and Outdoor Activities

The United States offers stunning national parks and recreational areas, providing opportunities for leisurely walks, picnics, and outdoor activities.

V. Student Clubs and Societies

Most universities in the United States offer a diverse range of student clubs and organizations catering to various interests, including sports, hobbies, cultural pursuits, and academics.

VI. Mobile Connectivity in the USA:

The mobile market in the USA is dominated by major network operators such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. Additionally, numerous Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) like Boost Mobile and Cricket Wireless provide services using the networks of the primary operators.

Coverage: The USA boasts widespread mobile coverage, with strong 4G and 5G services available in most urban areas. Rural regions may have slightly reduced connectivity but generally maintain reasonable 3G or 4G coverage.

Internet Connectivity in the USA: The broadband landscape in the USA is as varied as its mobile services. Prominent providers include Comcast Xfinity, AT&T, and Spectrum.

Types of Broadband: The USA offers various broadband connections, including DSL, cable, and fibre optic, with fibre optic providing high-speed internet available in urban areas.

Many providers bundle internet packages with TV and phone services, offering discounted rates for combined services.

Installation: Setting up a new connection might involve an initial installation fee, which could be waived during promotional periods or for longer contract agreements.

Understanding the entertainment and leisure options available in the United States and their associated costs will help international students make the most of their recreational experiences while effectively managing their budgets.

Part-Time Work Opportunities

6. Part-Time Work Opportunities

Finding a balance between your studies and part-time work can be a valuable way to manage expenses and gain practical work experience while pursuing education in the United States.

Here's an inclusive guide to understanding the part-time work opportunities available for international students.

I. On-Campus Employment

Many universities in the USA offer on-campus job opportunities specifically tailored for international students. These roles are designed to accommodate your academic schedule.

Types of On-Campus Jobs:

  • Library Assistants
  • Campus Tour Guides
  • Student Ambassadors
  • Administrative Assistants

Work Hours: On-campus jobs typically allow up to 20 hours of work per week during the academic term and full-time hours during breaks..


  • Convenient location on campus.
  • Flexible work hours that complement your class schedule.
  • Opportunity to interact with faculty, staff, and fellow students.
Average earning by age in the USA

II. Off-Campus Employment

International students studying in the USA can explore off-campus job opportunities, usually after the first academic year, in accordance with visa regulations.

Types of Off-Campus Jobs:

  • Retail Assistants
  • Waitstaff
  • Servers in Restaurants
  • Customer Service Representatives
  • Internships and Co-op Programs

Work Hours: Similar to on-campus jobs, off-campus employment usually permits up to 20 hours of work per week during the academic term and full-time hours during breaks.


  • Exposure to a broader range of work experiences.
  • Insight into various industries and job roles.
  • Opportunity to expand your professional network.

III. Work Regulations

Understanding the regulations around part-time work is essential for international students in the USA:

Work Hours: While studying, you're generally allowed to work up to 20 hours per week during the academic term and full-time during official breaks.

Minimum Wage: The USA has federal and state minimum wage laws that employers must adhere to. Make sure to research the current minimum wage rates in your location.

Social Security Number (SSN): To work legally in the USA, you'll need a Social Security Number (SSN). You can apply for one upon arrival and once you have a job offer.

Median usual weekly earning in the USA

IV. Balancing Work and Studies:

Maintaining equilibrium between your work commitments and academic responsibilities is crucial:

  • Time Management: Organize your work schedule around your class timetable and study sessions to ensure you allocate sufficient time for both.
  • Prioritize Studies: Remember that your primary focus in the USA is your education. Make sure that your work commitments don't negatively impact your academic performance.
  • Communication: If you find it challenging to manage both work and studies, communicate with your employer. Discussing potential adjustments to your work schedule can help you strike a harmonious balance.

Understanding the diverse part-time work opportunities available in the United States and adhering to relevant regulations will help international students make the most of their educational journey while gaining practical skills and financial stability.

7. Post-Study Work Opportunities

The Optional Practical Training (OPT) program allows international students in the United States to stay and work for up to 12 months after completing their degree. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) degree holders can extend their OPT period for an additional 24 months, promoting growth in these high-demand fields. Here's how to navigate the eligibility criteria and application process for post-study work opportunities in the USA:

Eligibility Criteria for Post-Study Work Opportunities in the USA:

8. Affordable Cities in the USA for International Students

When it comes to international students planning their education in the USA, understanding the exchange rate and its influence on expenses is a crucial financial consideration, particularly when converting to US Dollars. Accurately gauging daily costs entails grasping the value of your home currency in USD.

Numerous exchange services and financial institutions may apply a markup to the exchange rate as a means to enhance their profit margins through currency conversion. Given this, prospective students are advised to deeply investigate both the most economical and relatively higher-cost cities across the USA. This approach ensures they gain a comprehensive understanding of potential living expenditures during their academic journey in the country.

Here are the five most expensive cities to reside in the USA:

  • New York City
  • San Francisco
  • Los Angeles
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Boston

However, if the high cost of living is enticing you to consider a new location, here are the five most affordable cities in the USA:

  • El Paso, Texas
  • Memphis, Tennessee
  • Wichita, Kansas
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • Tucson, Arizona

Average Salaries in USA

This statistic, reported by various sources including the Economic Policy Institute, highlights that such earnings are approximately 231 times the average salary of a typical American worker.

For a more detailed analysis of the earnings of ordinary workers, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) regularly publishes the Current Population Survey and Occupational Employment Statistics reports.

These reports offer valuable insights into wage distributions and trends across the nation, providing a more nuanced perspective on income disparities and earning patterns.

Top 10 Highest-Paying Professions in the USA as of 2022

10. Health Care and Insurance

Securing access to quality health care is a crucial consideration for international students studying in the USA. The country offers a diverse health care system, and comprehending health care options and insurance requirements can help you maintain your well-being and financial stability during your studies abroad.

I. Health Insurance Requirements

Unlike some countries with a publicly funded health care system, the United States does not have a universal health care system. Health insurance is typically required for international students, and many universities mandate that students have health coverage to enrol.

Access to Health Insurance: Most universities offer health insurance plans specifically designed for international students. These plans usually cover a range of medical services and treatments, both on and off campus.

  • Access to medical care and treatments.
  • Coverage for various health-related expenses.

II. Private Health Insurance

In addition to university-provided plans, some international students opt for additional private health insurance coverage to supplement their existing plans or ensure broader coverage.


  • Extended coverage for services beyond basic health care.
  • Access to specialized treatments and providers.

III. Prescription Costs

Prescription medications are not always fully covered by health insurance plans. Depending on your plan, you might need to pay a portion of the cost for each prescribed medication.

IV. Seeking Medical Care

To access medical care, it's advisable to locate a nearby health care provider or medical clinic. Many universities have health centres on campus, which can be a convenient option for minor health concerns.


  • Access to routine check-ups and medical consultations.
  • Availability of specialized care if necessary.

V. Emergency Medical Treatment

In case of emergencies, you can seek medical treatment at hospital emergency departments. Emergency treatment is available regardless of whether you have health insurance, but it's important to have coverage to manage potential costs.

Cultural and Social Life

11. Cultural and Social Life

Pursuing education in the USA not only offers academic excellence but also provides a vibrant cultural and social experience. Engaging in cultural activities, participating in social events, and immersing yourself in the local community can contribute to a fulfilling student life.

Here's a comprehensive guide to managing your cultural and social expenses while enjoying your time in the USA.

I. Diversity and Inclusion

The USA is renowned for its diverse and inclusive society, offering a blend of cultures and perspectives. Embracing this multicultural environment can enrich your personal growth and expand your horizons.

II. Campus Organizations and Clubs

American universities offer an array of student organizations and clubs that cater to a wide range of interests. Joining these groups is an excellent way to connect with peers who share similar passions.

III. Local Events and Festivals

The USA hosts countless local events, festivals, and celebrations year-round. Participating in these cultural gatherings can offer insights into local traditions and customs.

IV. Museums and Galleries

The USA boasts world-class museums and cultural sites that delve into art, history, and heritage. Many institutions offer discounted or free entry for students.

V. Socializing and Dining Out

Connecting with friends and peers often involves dining out or gathering at cafes. Exploring local cuisines and trying different restaurants can be a delightful social experience.

VI. Arts and Performances

The USA offers a thriving arts and entertainment scene, including theatre productions, concerts, and performances. Attending these events can offer a glimpse into the country's creative culture.

Embracing the cultural and social opportunities in the USA can enhance your overall student experience. Be sure to explore the diverse range of activities and events available to make the most of your time abroad.

Academic Environment

12. Academic Environment

As an international student pursuing education in the United States, you'll immerse yourself in a dynamic academic environment that fosters intellectual growth, independent thinking, and research excellence. This section offers a comprehensive exploration of the teaching methods and research opportunities that contribute to the enriching academic experience offered by US universities.

I. Teaching Styles: Emphasis on Critical Thinking and Active Learning

US universities are renowned for emphasizing critical thinking and active learning among students. The teaching styles employed in these institutions reflect a commitment to cultivating well-rounded and intellectually curious individuals.

II. Lectures

Lectures play a pivotal role in the US higher education system. Professors deliver key concepts, theories, and ideas related to the course material. However, lectures are not solely about passive listening. Students are encouraged to actively engage with the content, ask questions, and participate in discussions.

III. Discussions and Seminars

Small group discussions and seminars provide platforms for in-depth exploration and analysis. Students are expected to participate actively, share their viewpoints, and engage in meaningful debates. These sessions foster critical thinking and encourage collaborative learning.

IV. Workshops and Laboratories

Workshops and laboratory sessions offer hands-on learning experiences. Students engage in practical applications of theoretical concepts, conduct experiments, and develop problem-solving skills. These sessions are particularly common in science, engineering, and technical disciplines.

V. Research Opportunities: Pathways to Academic and Professional Advancement

US universities are globally recognized for their groundbreaking research contributions across various fields. International students have the unique opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research projects, contributing to their academic and professional growth.

VI. Collaborative Research Initiatives

Many US universities prioritize research collaboration between students and faculty members. This allows international students to actively engage in ongoing research projects, collaborate with experts in their field, and contribute to the advancement of knowledge.

VII. Undergraduate Research Programs

Even at the undergraduate level, US universities encourage students to engage in research. Early exposure to research empowers students to explore their interests, develop critical research skills, and gain insights into research methodologies.

VIII. Research Facilities and Resources

US universities offer well-equipped research facilities and extensive resources that create a conducive environment for students to explore diverse research areas. Access to state-of-the-art labs, libraries, and online databases enables comprehensive research.

IX. Professional Development

Engaging in research activities not only enriches academic experiences but also enhances employability. Participation in research projects equips international students with problem-solving abilities, analytical thinking, and a profound understanding of their chosen fields – qualities highly sought after by employers.

13. Weather and Climate

The climate across the United States varies significantly due to its vast geographical expanse. Be prepared for diverse weather conditions and invest in appropriate clothing to stay comfortable throughout the year.

I. Seasonal Overview

  • Spring (March to May): Spring in the US brings a mix of warmer temperatures and occasional rain showers. Flowers bloom, and the weather can vary from mild to chilly, depending on the region.
  • Summer (June to August): Summers are typically warm to hot, with varying humidity levels. Expect longer days and plenty of sunshine but be prepared for thunderstorms in some areas.
  • Autumn (September to November): Known for vibrant foliage, autumn sees a gradual drop in temperatures. The weather becomes crisper, and some regions experience rain, while others enjoy drier conditions.
  • Winter (December to February): Winters vary widely across the country. Northern regions and higher elevations often experience snow and cold temperatures, while southern states have milder winters.

II. Regional Variations

  • Northeast: Winters can be cold with snowfall, while summers are warm and humid. Fall foliage in this region is particularly famous.
  • Southeast: Summers are hot and humid, with frequent thunderstorms. Winters are milder, although some areas may experience occasional snow.
  • Midwest: Experiences all four seasons distinctly. Winters can be harsh with snow and cold temperatures, while summers are warm.
  • West Coast: The west coast enjoys milder winters and warm summers. Coastal areas have more temperate climates, while inland areas can be hotter in summer and cooler in winter.
  • Southwest: Known for its dry desert climate, the region has hot summers and mild winters.

III. Clothing Essentials

  • Variety: Due to the diverse climates, it's important to have a range of clothing, from light attire for warm weather to heavy coats for colder regions.
  • Rain Gear: Depending on the region, waterproof jackets, umbrellas, and rain boots may be necessary.
  • Winter Clothing: In colder areas, invest in warm winter coats, gloves, scarves, and hats.
  • Layering: With temperature variations, layering is key to staying comfortable throughout the day.

IV. Coping with Weather-Related Challenges

Some regions in the US experience extreme weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires. It's crucial to stay informed and be prepared for such occurrences by following local authorities' guidance and having necessary supplies on hand. Additionally, individuals in regions with minimal sunlight during certain months should be aware of potential effects on mood and mental health, like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and take appropriate measures for self-care and support.

Visa Regulations

14. Visa Regulations

Comprehending visa regulations is paramount for international students planning to study in the United States. The U.S. government outlines various visa categories for students, scholars, and exchange visitors, each with specific requirements and permissions for entry and stay. The most common student visa is the F-1 visa, which allows individuals to pursue academic studies at accredited institutions. Alongside the F-1 visa, the J-1 visa is utilized for exchange programs, while the M-1 visa is tailored for vocational and non-academic programs. Understanding the visa application process, required documentation, financial obligations, and potential work permissions is essential for a smooth transition into U.S. academia. Additionally, staying informed about any updates or changes in visa regulations and maintaining legal status during your stay is crucial to ensure a successful and enriching educational experience in the USA.

For more compelling reasons read our blog: "A comprehensive Guide to Student Visa for USA: Types, Requirements, and Application Process".

15. Safety and Security

The United States is generally considered safe for international students, but like any country, it's important to remain vigilant and practice common-sense safety measures. While the USA offers a wide range of safe environments, crime rates can vary significantly from one city or neighbourhood to another.

It's recommended to research the safety profile of your intended destination and be aware of local safety guidelines. Staying informed about emergency contacts, understanding local emergency procedures, and taking precautions such as securing your belongings and avoiding risky areas during late hours are key to ensuring your safety.

To know more, read our Blog: Safety and Security for International Students in the USA

Banking and Finance for International Students in the USA

16. Banking and Finance for International Students in the USA

I. The Importance of Having a US Bank Account

When studying in the USA, effective financial management is essential. Opening a bank account in the US provides convenient access to your funds and simplifies financial tasks such as paying tuition, rent, and daily expenses.

II. Benefits of Opening a Student Bank Account

  • Low or No Fees: Many student accounts in the US come with minimal or no monthly fees, making them cost-effective options for managing your finances.
  • Debit and ATM Access: Student accounts often come with a debit card, allowing you to make purchases and withdraw cash from ATMs.
  • Online and Mobile Banking: US banks offer advanced online and mobile banking services, enabling you to monitor your account, transfer funds, and pay bills digitally.
  • Special Offers: Several banks offer student-specific discounts, cashback rewards, and partnerships with retailers

III. How to Open a Student Bank Account in the US

  • Required Documents: Generally, you'll need your passport, I-20 or DS-2019 form, and proof of US address (such as a lease agreement or utility bill).
  • Choosing the Right Bank: Research different banks to find the one that suits your needs. Consider factors like branch locations, online services, and account features.
  • Application Process: Once you choose a bank, visit a branch or apply online. Provide the required documents, and the bank will verify your information before opening your account.

IV. Digital Banking Options

In the US, digital banking is also on the rise. Online banks like Ally Bank, Chime, and Varo offer seamless digital experiences, high-interest savings accounts, and fee-free transactions.

V. Tips for Financial Management

  • Create a Budget: Plan your monthly expenses to ensure you're not overspending.
  • Build Credit Wisely: If eligible, consider applying for a secured credit card to start building your credit history.
  • Monitor Your Account: Regularly review your account statements and set up alerts for transactions and balances.
  • Explore Student Discounts: Many retailers and services offer student discounts in the US; take advantage of these opportunities.
  • Understand Financial Aid: If you receive scholarships or financial aid, understand how the disbursement process works to manage your funds effectively.

By understanding US banking options and implementing smart financial practices, you can navigate your student life in the USA with financial confidence.

Money-Saving Tips for International Students in the USA

By adhering to prudent financial habits and smart spending strategies, international students can make the most of their time in the USA without compromising their financial stability.


In conclusion, being an international student in the USA provides a unique blend of educational enrichment, cultural diversity, and personal development. With strong academic institutions, ample opportunities for employment, and a lively social environment, the United States remains a sought-after destination for those striving for both academic excellence and an exceptional quality of life.

Embrace the journey, seize every opportunity, and let your time in the USA shape your academic and personal growth in unforgettable ways.