Who would really say no to studying abroad in the USA for a semester or two? This article gives you a clear “study abroad USA cost breakdown” prior to and after leaving home. Sure, studying abroad usually isn’t for free, but neither is staying at home. So why not come up with the extra cash and have the time of your life? Check out the costs below!
First things first: “Studying abroad” is not paying thousands and thousands (€ / $) to strange third party online agencies whose only goal is to make a profit. It is spending one (or two) semesters at one of your home university’s partner universities in another country. Therefore, you should not pay any tuition fees abroad at all, especially not in the USA. See what study abroad really means and find more information on how to choose the right country and program.
Most US universities require some sort of English proficiency test. The two most common and widely accepted tests are TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language) and IELTS (International English Language Testing System). They rank both around $240 but have different grading systems. Check-in with your international office at home or the US university which tests they accept and which scores they require. In addition to the test fee, you might want to get some training software or books, usually around $50. For that, check the official test websites first or go for the best rated one on amazon. I can only speak for the TOEFL, but the software was definitely worth it since the test structure is always precisely the same.
Suppose you have to travel to a larger city to take the test in one of the test centers. In that case, you will also have to pay for transportation and accommodation. I recommend booking a place close to the test facility, arriving one day in advance, and actually checking out the center the previous day. Sometimes the tests take place in huge institutes or universities. Running into traffic, not finding the building, or the right room on the test day can be a nightmare. Check out this post for more insights on the TOEFL and how everything goes down.
I used the official software and scored 104/120 with only one week of training, which is why I highly recommend it!
After going through all the application steps and being accepted by the US university, the next step is to get a student visa – typically the J1. Since you can find all the steps on the official government websites and should also receive enough guidance from some international coordinator, I will not go through everything here. Just let me tell you that the process is easy and straightforward and takes less time than most people might tell you. Keep in mind that you have to wait for the US university to physically send you the required paperwork to your home address. At this point, you can lean back and pop the champagne.
It’s a no-brainer: Flight and transportation costs vary greatly depending on your current location and planned destination. If you are from Vancouver and heading for Seattle, these costs are insignificant. However, if you live in Perth and want to go to New York, you have to cover more than 18000 km, which can end up being kinda pricy. A rough estimate of $850 should get you to the US and back from pretty much anywhere in the world if you do enough research.
Some tips for finding better airfares:
When studying in the US, you will be most likely covered by health insurance from the university. However, usually, you are also required to purchase an additional international traveler’s insurance. But finding the right insurance should be the last thing on your To-Do list. Booking one is easy and can be done online until a day before your departure.
Just make sure that your insurance covers the US and Canada. Some don’t and, as a result of that, are significantly cheaper. If your plan includes the two countries, you should end up somewhere between $300 and $400 for 5 months (one semester). Some companies want you to select the country you are going for (USA). In contrast, others just give you a choice between “including USA & Canada” or “not including USA & Canada”. The policy should also cover the 30 day “Grace Period” after your program ends. This is the maximum time you can stay in the US for leisure and travel purposes after finishing the semester (on a J1 visa).
Once you are there, the costs vary significantly with your lifestyle, just as at home. The major cost drivers are accommodation and the general cost of living, especially food and eating out.
One option is off-campus housing. There are endless opportunities from single apartments, flatshares, privately operated student dorms, living with a family or elderly, and so on. All these options come with different price tags. An average of $600 should get you a decent room in a flatshare or student dorm. The location within the city can differ, but you shouldn’t end up too far from campus. People know that students need a place to stay and usually offer affordable options. Read more about off-campus housing here.
This is probably the best and most authentic way of spending a semester in the US: living in one of the dorms or apartments right on campus. The average on-campus accommodation is more expensive than a comparable room outside campus: $800 and up per month should get you covered. Read more about on-campus housing here.
The cost of living depends highly on your living standard. During my last 6-months stay in Seattle, I was able to track down my spendings using the Bank of America mobile app. On average, I spend somewhere around $300 on groceries per month, maintaining a reasonably healthy diet, and shopping at nice stores. In addition to that, I spend another $300 to $400 for coffee at work, restaurant visits, shopping, and entertainment. As a student, you can cut down on many of these costs (Free Things to do for Students). Especially at the beginning, you will spend more on food as you might want to stock up on basics like rice, noodles, sauces, spices, pots, and pans. A total of $700 should give you a reasonable estimate of how much you need per month. This should allow you to have a great time without barely any restrictions. Just keep in mind that this doesn’t include a lot of traveling, which makes studying abroad actually expensive.
Getting a SIM card is only optional. Usually, you have wifi at home, all around the campus, on public transport, and at most restaurants and coffee shops. So you can connect with your friends and family all the time anyway. You can also make phone calls online with pretty much every messenger these days, like WhatsApp or FB Messenger. If you want to travel somewhere and need directions, you can download parts of the maps on google maps and use them offline. In my opinion, you don’t need an American Sim Card and can save approx. $50 per month. Suppose you are required to have one by the university, insurance, or for visa purposes. In that case, you won’t have a choice, unfortunately.
The costs of living of $700 per month result from two separate stays in the USA. One as a student, the other one as an intern at a large company. Some people might think that the amount is too high and survive easily on a smaller budget. However, I would recommend having an average of at least $700 per month available to also have a little buffer. This might help purchase some furniture, expensive books for class, medical drugs, or any other unexpected circumstances.
How much is it to study abroad in the USA? To wrap it up, a study abroad semester in the USA costs around $8500 in total. This includes everything, like flights, accommodation, food, and leisure activities.