Cost of Living & Budgeting Guide for Career Training USA Participants


6 minutes

Before coming to the U.S. it's important to make necessary financial preparations. Living in the U.S. can be expensive, so in addition to researching your host city, you should come up with a monthly plan of your anticipated expenses. We've also included some advice for saving money, such as deal websites and budgeting tips!

How to Create a Budget

Career Training participants pursue programs all across the United States. Your expected costs will depend on a variety of factors:

  • Length of your program: The more time you spend in the U.S., the more money you will need. After the first couple months, assess your spending and set a new budget for the remainder of your program. Once you're settled, you should have a better sense regarding the amount of money you'll need on a monthly basis.
  • Location of your program: In urban areas such as New York City, San Francisco and Boston, rent, food, and entertainment will have higher costs—everything is more expensive in larger cities.
  • Whether your internship or training program is paid or unpaid: Even if you are doing a paid program, you should still research the expected cost of living of your city in advance to ensure you will be able to cover all of your expenses.
  • Whether your employer will offer any benefits: If your employer is offering free housing or a food or transportation allowance, this will help to reduce your monthly costs.
  • Your own personal spending habits and limits: When traveling, most people spend money in the same way they would at home. If you spend a lot of money in your home country, you will probably spend a lot of money while you're in the U.S. Also, if you intend to do any traveling in the U.S., you will need to budget for that as well.

We suggest participants budget at least $2000 to cover their initial costs, including: a hotel or hostel while you conduct a housing search; security deposits and first month's rent for your housing; transportation from the airport to your temporary or permanent housing; food and extra monetary funds to cover any unexpected emergency situation while in the U.S. If you will not be paying for housing, $750 should be sufficient for your arrival.

To give you some guidance on allocating your money during your time in the U.S., please review the estimated standard expenses for a single-person during a typical program in the United States. These estimates will help you to plan your trip accordingly:

  • Initial Expenses (Average transportation cost from the airport to your host city and one week stay in a hostel or budget hotel):  $300-$500
  • Housing$300-$1200 per month. Housing in urban areas can be very expensive, but safe, lower-cost options are always available. Plan to stay temporarily in a hotel or hostel so you can conduct your housing search in person. Most landlords will require a security deposit equal to one month's rent and the first month's rent when you sign a lease.
  • Utilities (gas/electric, phone, internet): $100-$200 per month 
  • Food: $200-400 per month or more depending on if you cook or plan to eat out often.
  • Transportation: $50-$500 per month, depending on whether you are using mass transit or driving a car. Please note that you will also need car insurance if purchasing a car, which will add to your monthly costs.
  • Personal Care Products: $35 per month
  • Miscellaneous/Entertainment: $80-$150 per month

Cost of Living Resources

Please visit the National Standard: Food, Clothing and Other Items section on the Internal Revenue Service's website to learn more about the average cost of living in the United States.  You can also compare the cost of living between your home city and your host city in the U.S.: http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/comparison.jsp

Budgeting Tips 

  • Stay on target: Once you have an idea of how much you will be spending each month, it's important to stick to that plan! When you're in a new and exciting place, it's tempting to overspend and splurge. Think about "needs" versus "wants." You need to pay your rent and bills (on time!) but you want to buy a souvenir for your friend—pay your bills!
  • Rainy day fund: It's a good idea to have an "emergency" fund or savings account where money is set aside in case you really need it. Most U.S. checking accounts have an attached savings account where you can put a portion of your money or earnings. If your host company offers direct deposit (meaning your paycheck is automatically deposited into your account each pay period) you may be able to have a portion of your paycheck put directly into savings, so you forget it's there until you really need it.
  • Couponing and deals: Using coupons and deal websites is a great way to save money. Just be careful--some things might seem like great deals, but if it's not something you would normally spend money on, you're not really saving money. Definitely check out our blog article on "Deal-ing" for a list of the best "deal" websites.
  • Save your receipts: Not only do you never know when you may need a receipt (returns, etc.) but it's a good idea to save receipts to simply keep track of your spending. After making a purchase, add the total amount to your record of monthly spending and keep your receipts in a safe, accessible place.
  • Pay with cash, when possible: It's easier to see what you are actually spending when you pay in cash. It's much more to difficult to go through with a purchase when you are physically handing over the money as opposed to just swiping a piece of plastic. With credit and debit cards, the weight of your spending isn't as easily felt as giving up the cash.
  • Avoid ATM fees: Make sure you plan ahead for expenses, and have enough cash for purchases. Many ATMs will charge you a fee (in addition to your own bank's fee) for using them, particularly if you have an international bank account. Make sure you know ahead of time what these fees will be by checking with your bank before coming on the program. It will probably be more cost efficient to set up a U.S. bank account and use only that bank's ATMs when you need cash.
  • Use a (free) budgeting website or app: Mint.com and toshl.com are just two of several great sites you can use to manage and track your spending. It's nice to know exactly where your money goes each month so you can plan accordingly!

Final Thought

We encourage you to make the necessary financial preparations before your internship/training program so you enjoy yourself while in the U.S.! Please note that the J-1 Intern/Trainee regulations prohibit you from holding a second job to supplement your income. You may only earn money at the place of employment indicated on the Training/Internship Placement Plan (Form DS-7002). Lastly, if for any reason you are not receiving the salary or stipend indicated on this form, please contact InterExchange immediately.

InterExchange Career Training USA is a top J-1 Visa sponsor for university students and young professionals who have already secured internships or training programs with companies in the U.S. If you still need to find an internship or training program in the U.S., check out our resources and start the J-1 Visa sponsorship process early.

Ani Kington Ani Kington

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.

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