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 he/she might have to spend every month on living expenses. In the USA, the average monthly cost of living for international students is around 1,000 USD excluding the tuition fee of the course. However, the cost of living can differ from student to student depending upon the kind of lifestyle they adopt even though the tuition fee is the same for all students.

The cost of living in the USA, in general, is quite high due to the fact that students from across the globe dream of studying at American universities. The demand for US universities is quite high as they offer diverse course disciplines, advanced pedagogy methods and renowned employment opportunities post the completion of programmes.

Another 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. 

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 House Accommodation, Meals, Groceries and Eating Out Expense, Entertainment and Travelling Cost.

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

US States with the Lowest Cost of Living

With a cost of living index of 84.5, Mississippi is the cheapest state to live in in the United States. In addition, its housing index is the lowest in the country, which is 67.1 and the average rent for a 2 BHK is $746. The living wage in the state is $46,084 for one child and two adults with an average home cost of only $128,000. 

The US state with the second-lowest cost of living index is Arkansas, which has an index of 86.9. The living wage in the state is only $44,571 and cost of transportation is, housing and healthcare are comparatively lower in Arkansas than in other popular student cities in the country.

Lower costs, among other things, make Oklahoma the state with the third-lowest cost of living in the US with a cost of living index of 87. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is around $879 per month and the living wage is $46,613.

With a cost of living index of 87.1 and housing index of 70.6, Missouri comes fourth in the list of states in the US with the lowest cost of living. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Missouri is $827 and the living wage ranges somewhere between $40,000 and $46,000.

New Mexico has a cost of living index of 87.5 making it the state with the fifth-lowest cost of living in the US. The average rent for a 2 BHK in New Mexico is $847 and the median home cost would be $193,200. With an average living wage of $48,050, New Mexico is considered one of the most affordable states in the US. 

US States with the Highest Cost of Living

Hawaii is the state with the highest cost of living with a cost of living index of 192.9, which means that the cost of living in the state is 92% higher than the average in the country. The housing index in the state is 318.6, where the average home value is sound $660,000 and a 2 BHK costs somewhat around $1,895 per month. Apart from housing charges, other essential things such as groceries also cost more in Hawaii than in other states in the US.

Second in the list of states with the highest cost of living comes the district of Columbia with a cost of living index of 158.4. The housing index in the state is 267 and 2BHK would cost a $2,776 per month. The average living wage in DC is around $67,000, which is the highest in the US, 

With a cost of living index of 151.7, California is the third most expensive state for international students in the US. It has the highest transportation index of 138.9 and the housing index is 227.3. A 2 BHK apartment in California is rented out at $2,495 or higher.

The fourth costliest state in the US is New York with a cost of living index of 139.1 and a housing index of 204.4. In New York state, a 2 BHK apartment costs around $1,528, whereas, in New York City (NYC), a 2 BHK may cost $3,675 on average. The living wage in the state is $59,128. Transportation costs along with groceries and utilities also cost above the US average. 

Oregon comes next with a cost of living index of 134.2. The housing index in the state is 181.8 with the highest gas prices in the country and a transportation index of 138.9. A 2 BHK in Oregon costs around $1,123, which is below the US average and the living wage in the state is $51,900.

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 17,930
Public University 41,950
Private University 52,500

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 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. 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


1,000 - 2,000 


1,000 - 2,000 

North Central


Cost in USD


1,300 - 2,500


1,000 - 1,800



Cost in USD

New Orleans 

1,100 - 2,500


1,500 - 2,500

West Coast


Cost in USD

Los Angeles

1,500 - 2,500

San Francisco

 2,200 - 4,000 

San Diego

 1,400 - 2,400

East Coast


Cost in USD


 1,500 - 3,000


 1,500 - 3,000


1,200 - 2,200


 800 - 1.300

Washington D.C.

1,700 - 3,000

 New York City (NYC)

1,700 - 3,000

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 (Monthly)

Hostel on Campus 

2450 - Public University 

2775 - Private University 

Dorms off Campus 

450 (room shared by 4 students)

Outskirts of Campus 

600 (1BHK) in Rural Areas

3,000 (1 BHK) in Boston

Cost of Food in the USA

Cost of food in the USA for study abroad 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 250 USD, 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 150 USD to 400 USD 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. 

Transportation Cost in the USA

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

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.

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 400 to 1000 USD 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 out the burden of expenses.


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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