How do international students financially survive in the USA?

by Jennifer Calonia | In Guides and Tools | 4 April 2023 | Updated on: April 13th, 2023

Leaving your home country to study in the U.S. is a massive commitment. On top of adjusting to a new culture and surroundings as an international student, you must also ensure that you can financially support yourself while pursuing your degree.

The 2022 College Board’s Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid report found that full-time, out-of-state undergraduate students would need to budget US$45,240 for the 2022-23 academic year. This figure is for a four-year public college or university. International students attending a private, four-year nonprofit institution are found to have higher expenses at US$57,570. If you’re studying toward a graduate or professional degree, expect this cost to increase.

These budgets can feel surprising now, but as an international student, financially surviving in the USA is possible with advanced planning.

How Much Living Expenses Cost in the U.S.

Paying for tuition and fees is just one financial factor to anticipate. While you’re studying in the U.S., you’ll need to pay for necessary, everyday items, too. The following costs for the 2022-23 year were gathered from various sources to illustrate the average monthly living expenses in the U.S. you might experience:

  • Housing: 
    • On-campus room and board: US$1,025 
    • Off-campus housing: US$1,339
  • Food: US$444
  • Healthcare: US$52
  • Books and supplies: US$103
  • Transportation: US$72
  • Recreation: US$83
  • Other: US$234

Approximate total monthly expenses: US$2,170

Sources: College Board, California Student Aid Commission, Education Data 

The costs that you’ll personally experience might differ from what’s shown above. Factors like your school’s cost of attendance, the area you live, and how closely you budget your money affect your total living expenses. 

How International Students Can Financially Survive in the USA

Below are some ways to become financially independent in the States while you’re working toward your degree program.

Applying for scholarships

Scholarships are considered gift financial aid. This means you aren’t expected to repay them. You should apply for scholarships, and there’s no limit to how much scholarship awards you can receive. They are typically offered by: 

  • Your home country
  • Your school
  • Degree program’s department
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Private companies
  • Local community groups
  • Professional associations

However, scholarships can be competitive. You must meet each program’s eligibility requirements, and many scholarships have additional requirements, like writing a personal essay. 

To get started in your search for scholarship opportunities, use the International Student Scholarship Search, or see if you qualify for an MPOWER scholarship. The U.S. Department of State also offers a helpful list of international student scholarships from different schools. 

Getting gift grants

Grants for international students are also available. Grants are also classified as gift aid that you don’t have to pay back as long as you meet the program requirements. 

There are also paid assistantships and fellowship awards that help you earn money while living in the U.S. while performing work opportunities that are relevant to your studies. Additionally, fellowship awards available to graduate-level international students. 

Your home country might offer such programs, as do some schools, and private and public organizations. Learn about more grant programs by searching through the Institute of International Education’s Funding for U.S. Study database.

Finding part-time work

Another option outside of gift aid, is working part-time to earn income. Students with an F-1 visa are allowed to work on-campus for up to 20 hours per week while school is in session. In addition to meeting visa requirements, you must be actively registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.

In some scenarios, F-1 international students might be permitted to work an off-campus job. However, you must have completed a full year of study toward your program, and have a qualifying economic hardship that meets certain requirements.. If approved, you’ll need to fill out additional paperwork .

Borrowing education loans for international students

Another way to cover your expenses while studying in the U.S. is through student loans. Education loans are an installment loan that you’ll need to pay back over time, plus interest charges. 

Some student loans for international students are designed to cover varying amounts of academic costs. For example, MPOWER student loans range from US$2,001 to US$100,000 for those who qualify.

Sharing costs with a roommate (or two)

Finding a roommate to share living expenses with is a common strategy for domestic and international students alike. You can split all shared expenses equally with each roommate to reduce your total monthly expenses. 

For example, split costs on rent, shared groceries, and household utilities and services such as electricity, Wi-Fi, gas, and water bills.

Not only does having a roommate help you financially, they can help you build a supportive, long-term community.

Budgeting everyday expenses

There are some fixed expenses, like tuition and fees, that you can’t control. However, the rest of your daily expenses can be adjusted to meet your budget with a little extra effort. 

For example, instead of purchasing new textbooks, consider purchasing used books online or at your school’s bookstore. You can also do the same with other pre-owned items, like clothing, furnishing, and technology.

If you don’t have a school meal plan, instead of buying lunch on or off campus, pack a self-made lunch. Even bringing a snack from home to settle your appetite between classes can help you avoid overspending on food.

The Bottom Line

Learning how to financially survive in the USA as an international student can feel overwhelming. However, there are different strategies to make the cost of living in the U.S. manageable while you meet your goal toward graduation.

Author: View all post by Jennifer Calonia

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