Cost of Living & Budgeting
Living in the U.S. can be expensive and it’s important to make necessary financial preparations before your arrival. As you research your host city, you should also come up with a monthly plan of your anticipated expenses. Here you’ll find some useful resources for creating a budget for your time in the U.S., as well as some advice for saving money throughout your program.
Cost of Living
|New York, NY||Los Angeles, CA||Montgomery, AL||Chicago, IL|
|Typical Rent (one room in a shared apartment)||$900 to $1,500 per month||$700 to $1,300 per month||$300 to $600 per month||$300 to $600 per month|
|Transportation||$127 30-day unlimited metro card; $2.75 one-way metro fare||$4.02 per gallon of gas||$2.44 per gallon of gas||$105 30-day unlimited CTA pass; $2.50 one-way ‘L’ train fare|
|Food||$4.18 loaf of bread; $2.48 dozen eggs; $2.79 gallon of milk||$4.99 loaf of bread; $2.24 dozen eggs; $2.19 gallon of milk||$3.81 loaf of bread; $1.47 dozen eggs; $2.27 gallon of milk||$3.33 loaf of bread; $1.31 dozen eggs; $2.09 gallon of milk|
|Movie Ticket||$16.32 per ticket||$15.95 per ticket||$8.94 per ticket||$14.86 per ticket|
Check out the cost of living in your U.S. host city here.
You can also compare the cost of living between your home city and your host city in the U.S. on these sites:
Other monthly expenses to remember:
How much money should I bring?
Other factors you should keep in mind when determining how much money you’ll need in the U.S.:
Paid vs. unpaid internship: If your program is unpaid, be sure to bring enough money to cover all of your expenses for the duration of your program. Even if you are doing a paid program, you should still research the cost of living of your city in advance to ensure you can cover all your expenses.
Taxes: If your program is paid, don’t forget to account for the taxes that will be deducted from each paycheck.
- Your ‘take-home pay’ will be less than the stipend listed on your training plan because of income tax withholdings (J-1 Interns are subject to local, state, and federal income tax, but exempt from Medicare and Social Security taxes).
- For example, if your internship stipend is $2,000 per month, you will actually receive slightly less than $2000 on your paycheck. The amount withheld from your paycheck depends on a variety of factors, including your host city and state, so be aware of these factors if you have a paid internship.
- You will also likely to be entitled to a tax refund, so make sure to file your tax return each year following any year you earned income in the U.S. You can always ask your host employer if you have questions about your earnings and tax deductions.
Employee Benefits: If your employer offers free housing or a food or transportation allowance, this benefit will help reduce your monthly costs.
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. You’ll also need to budget for any traveling you intend to do while in the U.S.
We suggest you budget between $2,000 and $4,000 depending on where you will be living to cover your initial costs, including:
- a hotel or hostel while you conduct a housing search
- security deposits and first month’s rent for your housing (often first month, last month and security deposit in New York City)
- 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.
Use our Budgeting Worksheet to make sure that you will have sufficient funds for your experience in the United States. We’ve created a sample budget for a six-month program in New York City for your reference (note that amounts are only examples).
Stay on target: Once you have an idea of how much you will be spending each month, it’s important to stick to that number! When you’re in a new and exciting place, it’s tempting to overspend and splurge. Think about your needs versus your wants: paying your rent on time is a need, but buying a souvenir for your friend is a want!
Emergency fund: It’s always a good idea to have an emergency fund - that is, a 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.
Student discounts: You can get a student discount card or just look for student rates that are available for travel and entertainment. Be sure to bring your student ID card with you.
Pay with cash: It’s easier to see what you are actually spending when you pay in cash. It’s much more difficult to complete a big purchase when you are physically handing over the money as opposed to swiping a credit or debit card.
Avoid ATM or bank fees: Plan ahead for your expenses. 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 arriving in the U.S. 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. Read our guide on How to Open a U.S. Bank Account.
Use a (free) budgeting website or app: Mint.com, toshl.com, Budgetpulse.com and Budgetsimple.com are just a few 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!
Remember to budget for your travels, too: You will want to use the weekends or the 30-day grace period at the end of your program to do some traveling. Look at your budget and think about how much you can afford to save up each month. If you make sure to save a little every week, you’ll be surprised how quickly your savings can grow.
Need more advice? Our former participants shared how they saved money during their program:
“Attend all staff events and briefings, as often they supply lunches and snacks. Cook meals where possible and walk or cycle instead of using a taxi. Utilize the metro service and other public transport. Visit the museums as they are mostly free of charge.” —Kate W. from New Zealand, interned in Washington, DC
“I would suggest them to go to buy all the food at the supermarket. Always is cheaper than the small markets or downtown.” —Claudio M. from Chile, interned in Jersey City, NJ
Completing an internship abroad can help drive the success of your career, and you don’t want to miss out on this opportunity due to a lack of funding.
When considering an internship program in the U.S., evaluating your living expenses and making appropriate financial preparations is essential. If you’ve already taken a look at our Cost of Living & Budgeting Guide, you should have a sense of the money you’ll need to do an internship in the U.S. With pre-departure costs (program fees, flight ticket) as well as incurred costs while in the U.S. (living expenses, food), it may seem overwhelming.
In addition, just as your education at home is an investment in your future, so too is an international internship. When considering the costs you will incur by participating in an internship in the U.S., think about the outcome of your experience. Will the internship help you in your studies upon your return to school? How will potential future employers evaluate this experience? Will you have made valuable connections and learned lifelong skills? Interning in the U.S. is an opportunity that will help launch or improve your career upon returning to your home country, so it’s a worthwhile investment.
Doing financial research beforehand and saving money will be well worth your effort. Some participants may be fully or partially funded through scholarships, but many participants must be creative in order to find the necessary funds. You have numerous options when it comes to financing your program in the U.S., and we have compiled some resources to assist you in earning or gathering funding for your internship.
- If your internship is paid, you will have income to help offset your expenses. If your host employer is unable to offer a stipend/salary, try negotiating a housing allowance or a transportation/meal allowance to help offset your program costs.
- If you’ve saved enough of your own money, you can support yourself on the program.
- Create a separate savings account at your bank dedicated to going abroad. You can then set up a direct deposit schedule where a set amount of money is automatically transferred into the account. A separate account helps you keep track of your funds, and you’re less likely to spend the money if it’s not part of your regular checking account!
- Consider using financial management systems such as PayPal.com or Mint.com to track your progress and eventually reach your savings goal.
- You may already have some financial support from family or friends. Write emails or send postcards home, and share photos when you return to your home country to share your experience with those supportive friends and family. They may be more likely to support you financially if you express that you’ll update them on your adventures.
- If you do have people in your life willing to support you, you can show your appreciation by writing a thank-you note or bringing them a little something back from your trip.
Host a Fundraising Event
- Invite friends and family to an event where they can learn about your proposed internship experience abroad and what you hope to gain from the experience. Not only is it a way for you to earn money to support your trip, it also gets your loved ones involved in your travel abroad plans.
- Be prepared to explain why you are fundraising. Convince people that your experience abroad will be valuable!
- Another fun idea is to make your event themed around the U.S. and/or your career field by serving food and having decorations related to your abroad program.
- You could also host this type of event as your own birthday celebration. In lieu of gifts, you could ask friends and family to donate to your international experience.
- Other ideas for a fundraising event include a bake sale, car wash, concert, or auction.
- Keep your event simple or risk spending more than you’ll get in return. Check out these tips for hosting a successful fundraising event.
- Make sure to thank all attendees and keep them informed of your experiences abroad through emails or a blog.
Create a Blog or Website
- Create a website or blog for your trip to get the word out and ask for financial support.
- Once you are on your program, you can use your blog to share your travel experiences with those who may have supported you or are continuing to support you while in the USA.
- You can post anything from photos to videos or format it like a travel diary. Make sure to share it via email or post to your social media outlets.
- Your blog is not only a great way to keep in touch with friends and relatives, but also for you to document your travels and look back on your experience in the future!
- Tips for using the Internet to share your adventure
Yard/Garage Sale or Online Sale
- If you own items you no longer use or have never used, you could sell them online (via eBay.com, craigslist.org and others), or host a garage sale where the funds would support your program abroad.
- Ask friends and family if they have items to donate.
- Tips for hosting a successful garage sale
- Guide to selling items online
- Does your school have a scholarship or financial aid office? Talk to your advisor about any scholarships or grants that may be available for you. Many universities have started programs to help fund students who want to pursue unpaid internships.
- If you are currently on a scholarship, you may be able to transfer your current package for use in the U.S., especially if you are receiving academic credit for your internship.
- Consider alumni associations. Perhaps a school you previously attended has scholarships for its graduates. You could also ask about putting an announcement in your former high school or university’s newsletter with an explanation of your plans to gain support.
- Your country’s government may have available funds and scholarships for which you can apply. Do some research into opportunities for funding. This could be on a local, regional, or state/province level.
Private or Community Organizations
- There may be private organizations in your home country that provide support for internships in the U.S. Some examples include local businesses, chambers of commerce, foundations, and religious groups. Are you a member of any associations or clubs? Contact them and see if they might have funds available to contribute to your program.
- If you are a member of a religious congregation or community organization, you could ask permission to make a presentation about your proposed program in the U.S. Explain what you will be doing and describe your goals. Members may be willing to donate.
- If you give a presentation, make sure to mention you’ll have photos and stories about your experiences that you can share with others in the community when you return. Highlight the fact that you are taking responsibility for funding the trip (like working extra hours, for instance) and not only soliciting donations.
- Crowdfunding websites allow friends, family, and the world know about a project or plan you are working on and gives them the opportunity to support you by donating money.
- Create an account and describe your proposed internship, why you want to go, and your goals; you can then share the page with friends and family.
- Some examples of crowd funding sites include:
- Make sure to post your crowdfunding page via social media. Share it on Facebook or tweet a link to it. You could even make a Facebook Group and invite your friends to join. They can learn about your trip and donate. Once you are on your program, you can share updates and photos to the group.
We hope you will consider these resources to help offset your costs. While international internships can be costly, the reward is long lasting.