Cost of Living in USA for International Students

Student Living Cost in the USA

One of the most important concerns for a student seeking education abroad is about how much they might have to spend every month on living expenses. In the US, the average monthly cost of living for international students is around USD 1,000 to 3,000  excluding the tuition fee of the course. However, the cost of living can differ from student to student depending upon their lifestyle, location, type of accommodation and so on.

A major factor in determining the average cost of living in the US is the location of the university. If the university is in the middle of a well-established city like New York or Columbia, then the cost of living for students would be higher. On the contrary, for students studying at universities located in suburban areas like Ohio or Indiana, the cost of living is considerably low. The tuition fee of the courses is usually uniform in all the American universities but they are particularly high in comparison with other countries. Overall, international tuition fees may range anywhere between USD 8,000 to 55,000 a year.

In general, the cost of living for an international student in the US would be higher in its Northeast or Eastern part than in the Midwestern part. One year living expense in America can, all in all, be calculated depending upon factors such as hostel rent or off-campus accommodation, meals, healthcare, groceries and eating out expense, entertainment and travelling cost.

Also Read: Indian Students Contributed $7.6 Billion to US Economy in 2019-20

Student Education Cost in the USA

The educational cost of pursuing a degree in the USA depends upon the discipline the student plans to study. If the course of the student belongs to the STEM category, then the overall cost of the programme will be higher than other programmes. The other factor that causes variations in the tuition fee is the type of university. There are two kinds of universities in the US - Public and Private.

Public Universities are well-funded by the state government, thus the tuition fee for the courses offered under these universities are comparatively less. On the other hand, private Universities are not funded by the state government; they depend on the students’ tuition fees and other private organisations for funds.

Here is an estimated annual tuition fee of different kinds of universities for international students for undergraduate study programmes:  

University Cost in USD (Annual)
Community College $6,000-$20,000
Public University $26,290
Private Non-Profit College $35,830

The cost of a Masters degree can vary according to the duration of the programme - it can be either one year or two years long. The average annual cost of a Master's level course in the USA is as follows: 

University Cost in USD (Annual)
Public University $25,000
Private University $41,000

The fee for professional courses is usually higher as they lead to better employment opportunities in the USA. For example, the average cost of an MBA in the US is USD 70,000 per year.

Students need to check and plan their expenses before applying to the US universities. There are also various study loans available in the market at low-interest rates for study abroad students.

Monthly Cost of Living in Different Parts of the US

Here is an estimated cost of living for a month in different parts of the US with well-established universities and community colleges: 



Cost in USD (Monthly) - Excluding Rent

Dallas (Texas)


Houston (Texas)


North Central


Cost in USD (Monthly) - Excluding Rent







Cost in USD (Monthly) - Excluding Rent

New Orleans 




West Coast


Cost in USD (Monthly) - Excluding Rent

Los Angeles


San Francisco


San Diego


East Coast


Cost in USD (Monthly) - Excluding Rent









Washington D.C.


 New York City (NYC)


Accommodation Cost in the USA

Accommodation cost depends mostly on the preferences of students as to where they want to stay. International students have three accommodation options:

  • To live on campus 
  • To live off-campus 
  • To live outside the campus area 

Average costs for accommodation for international students are as follows: 

Type of Accommodation 

Cost in USD

On-Campus Residence

Public four-year colleges - $9,800 per year

Private four-year colleges - $11,100 per year

Dorms Off-Campus 

$450 (room shared by 4) per month

One Bedroom Apartment in a Rural Area

$500 per month
One Bedroom Apartment in a Built-up City $3,500 per month

Cost of Food in the USA

Cost of food in the USA for international students can vary due to the lifestyle and eating habits of an individual. A student living on-campus can take the option of meals while filling the accommodation forms. The cost of food for a hostel student would be approximately USD 250, which includes three times meal at the hostel mess. 

Students living off-campus, either in dorms or in the outskirts of campus, have to take care of their food expenses and groceries on their own. The cost of groceries could range from USD 100 to 200 depending upon the state. Some leading affordable grocery shopping stores are  Walmart, Target, Costco and Trader Joe’s. They also provide monthly offers and discounts to students. 

Food Average Cost
Basic Lunch $15
Combo Meal $8
Boneless Chicken Breast (500 g) $4.23
Whole Fat Milk (1l) $0.88
Eggs (1 dozen) $2.92
Tomatoes (1 kg) $4.16
Local Cheese (500 g) $6
Apples (1 kg) $3.46
Bread (for 2 people) $2.22

Transportation Cost in the USA

Students can use passes for taking public transport like buses and metros. A monthly public transportation pass can cost USD 40 - 100 depending upon the state. For example, in Nashville, the student travel pass for public transportation is for 44; in Cincinnati, the public transportation pass can cost USD 53. 

International students can also book their tickets beforehand for travelling back home or for coming back to the US. Planning trips and booking tickets in advance can save students a lot of money.

Given how well-connected US states are, travelling within the country is extremely easy and efficient. International students may make use of a variety of public transportation options including buses, bicycles, taxies and trains and subways.

Type of Transportation Average Cost (USD)
1 Litre Gas $0.935
Monthly Public Transport Ticket $73
Taxi $2.50 per mile
Volkswagen golf 1.4 tsi 150 cv (or equivalent), with no extras, new $23,605

Other Expenses

Apart from the above-listed expenses, an international student usually spends money on books and stationery. On average, a study abroad student may spend USD 400 to 1,000 in buying stationery, books and other supplies.    

Medical insurances are compulsory for international students before they start their education at the US university. Nowadays, various insurances are available for students at reasonable rates. Insurances not only help students at the time of health emergency but saves them a lot of money.

Electricity bills, mobile phones bills and internet bills are some other expenses that international students have to deal with. These can be covered easily by taking up part-time jobs at some fast-food chain or a grocery store. Mostly, all international students prefer taking up some part-time jobs along with studies to ease the burden of expenses.

Item Average Cost
Jeans (1 pair) $47
Sport Shoes (1 pair) $88
Antibiotics (12 doses) $16
Tampons (1 box) $7
Shampoo (400 ml) $4.97
Cold medicine (for 6 days) $7
Toothpaste (1) $1.82
Toilet Paper (4 rolls) $1.82
1 min. of prepaid mobile tariff $0.22
Gym membership (1 month) $49
Movie Tickets (2) $205
Wi-Fi (128 GB) $427

US States with the Lowest Cost of Living

Here are the top 10 most affordable states iin the US, according to the U.S. News & World Report, 2021:

State Median Household Income Ground Beef Milk Eggs
Mississippi $45,792 $3.77 $1.89 $1.14
Kansas $62,087 $4.11 $1.82 $1.22
Oklahoma $54,449 $3.99 $2.02 $1.18
Alabama $51,734 $4.30 $2.07 $1.35
Arkansas $48,952 $3.93 $1.75 $1.21
Georgia $61,980 $4.52 $2.02 $1.40
Tennesse $56,071 $4.24 $1.95 $1.22
Missouri $57,409 $3.97 $2.16 $1.22
Michigan $59,584 $4.43 $1.57  $1.12
Indiana $57,603 $4.26 $1.57 $1.13

US States with the Highest Cost of Living

Given below are the top 10 US states with the highest cost of living, according to CNBC:

State Average Home Price Half Gallon of Milk Monthly Energy Bill
Hawaii $1,386,483 $4.31 $470.38
New York $2,227,806 $3.11 $157.70
California $1,362,163 $2.83 $267.84
Oregon $623,494 $2.12 $143.85
Massachusetts $744,522 $2.27 $233.86
Alaska $581,906 $2.64 $273.38
Maryland $854,529 $2.49 $193.98
Connecticut $615,372 $2.65 $261.22
Rhode Island $430,197 $2.52 $240.57
New Jersey $615,738 $2.43 $186.37


Q. Is USA safe for Indian students?

A. The US, being a diverse country, offers immense safety and security for international students including from India. Also given that India is the second largest source of international students in the US, Indian students feel extremely safe and at home. However, if an international student faces anything of concern, they can contact the international student body or a special body that ensures their safety on the university campus. In addition, all universities in the US make sure that all international students are safe on campus with 24-hour security.

Q. Which US state is the best for Indian students to live?

A. The top 10 places in the US that have been rated best for Indian students include Pittsburgh, San Diego, Boston, Baltimore, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago and Houston. With leading universities and great job opportunities, Pittsburgh is considered the best place for Indian students to live and study in. San Diego hosts over 60,000 international students every year, making it student-friendly and also affordable. While Boston hosts some of the top US universities like MIT, Harvard and Boston University, the affordable universities in Baltimore make it a popular student choice. The ninth-largest US city, Dallas hosts the most number of Indian students and Miami is well-known for hosting the US’ top employment opportunities in tourism, creative design, banking, IT, business and finance. However, if someone is interested in automobiles, Atlanta is the ideal place to study in. Philadelphia, Chicago and Houston are widely-popular among Indian students or not just their academic reputation but also the multicultural vibe they offer along with a wide array of employment opportunities.

Q. How is the life of an Indian student in the US?

A. The US has been a popular study destination for Indian students for a really long time and that can be attributed to factors such as great faculty, remarkable exposure, better job opportunities, infrastructure, ambience, scope of networking and more. Despite that, how an individual spends their time in the US depends entirely on them and it is certain that one should see more non-Americans than Americans, making it easier for them to feel less anxious about studying in a foreign land. Apart from that, an international student should plan their accommodation before arriving in the US and although cost of living would depend on the location, an Indian student is likely to find the US way more expensive than other study destinations. Academically, US universities focus more on practical and hands-on training rather than theoretical knowledge, which will force an international student to work harder. But overall, students eventually start enjoying the process.

Q. Which are the cheapest universities in the US for Indian students?

A. According to the U.S. News, US universities including the Western Michigan University, Arkansas State University, Auburn University at Montgomery (AL), Valdosta State University (GA), University of North Alabama, Purdue University—Northwest (IN), University of Minnesota Morris, Southeast Missouri State University, Murray State University (KY) are some of the most affordable universities in the US for Indian and other international students.

Q. Which is the cheapest among the US, UK and Canada for higher studies?

A. Among the US, UK and Canada, the cheapest is Canada depending on the course and university, where tuition can go as low as $7,500 and up to $26,000, bringing the average to $12,000. In the UK, the average tuition fee for an international student is about $20,000 and in the US,  tuition fee averages $28,000 per year, which can go up to $60,000 a year. In terms of cost of living and scholarships as well, Canada seems to be the most affordable option for international students. However, the US continues to be the top country with the highest number of top universities, with  170 USA universities ranked among the world’s best.

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