The cost of living in the US as an expat

By DonShook

Living in a foreign country is both rewarding and challenging. Millions of migrants live and work in the US. They regularly send remittances to their home countries. Some of the challenges of living overseas can be offset with planning. One big concern for migrants is to manage costs. Here is a look at how the costs of living compare between the US and other countries.


According to the OECD, natives and expats in the US spend about 27% of their annual income on housing. From apartments and single-family homes to duplexes and mansions, the choice is wide. Rents in the US are higher compared to most European countries and Australia. The average monthly rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in the suburbs can be $1,050 depending on the state. Rents in the city centres are generally 30% higher. By comparison the average suburban Belgium 1-bedroom apartment costs $742 per month. The same in Australia would cost $978. The duration of most rental contracts is 12 months. Finding accommodation options in the US is relatively easy. Rent listings are readily available online, in classified ads, and with realtors. Using the services of real estate agents is a great idea for aspiring home buyers, but not for renters.

Food and groceries

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that Americans spend less than 10% of their disposable income on food, on average. That includes eating out. Food cost in the US is notably lower than in EU countries like Denmark and Germany, but higher than Canada. An average restaurant meal in the US costs $15. The Denmark equivalent is $19.76. A three-course meal for two people in a decent restaurant would cost $56 in the US. family business magazine The same in Sweden would cost the equivalent of $72 and in Germany $61. Restaurant meals in the US are taxed between 5-10% depending on state.

Most expats in the US prefer home-cooked food. This has many advantages. It costs less and offers a taste of home. You also get to improve your culinary skills. The USDA says that the average monthly grocery expenses for a family of 2 are $512. For a family of 4 they amount to $813.


Public school education in the US is free (tuition fees) for the kids of both citizens and expats. Parents pay only for books, uniforms, and other things. Public school educational standards vary with location. Many expats opt to send their kids to private schools. The US National Center for Education Statistics says that the national average of private elementary school tuition is $9,944 per year. Private high school tuition averages $14,821 annually. College education in the US is frequently characterized as being very expensive. The average annual cost of going to a public university is $16,140. A four-year private university degree costs an average of $36,993 per year.

Expats can explore several scholarships and financial aid options. For example the AAUW international fellowship for women reduces the financial burden of graduate and postgraduate studies in the range of $18,000-30,000. Wesleyan University in Illinois offers a scholarship for international students. It offsets $10,000-25,000 of the cost, depending on the level of study. This scholarship is renewable for up to four years. The Wagner scholarship at New York University is offered to both US citizens and international students. It covers partial to full-tuition costs from $25,000-47,000 depending on the program.

Getting around

The average American spends $770 on public transportation yearly. The average monthly pass for public transportation costs $77. A one-way local bus ticket costs $2.25 depending on city. Gasoline costs $2.6 per gallon. Taxi tariffs hover around $1.68 per mile. Highly urbanized regions like New York City and San Francisco have very good regional and local transit networks. Expats living in these cities often don’t feel the need to own a car.

Many expats prefer the suburbs. Lower rents allow them to save more and remit online in larger amounts. Suburbs like South Kensington and Chesterfield do not have great connectivity. Expats in these areas benefit from owning automobiles. The average cost of a new sedan in the US is $22,200. An expat with a driver’s license from their home country can drive in the US for 1 year. It is best to get a US driver’s license if you plan to stay in the country longer.


The WHO says that the US has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. The medical facilities are excellent. However the costs of care are high. Emergency services are accessible to both citizens and expats. Medical insurance is a must for expats. Moreover the cost of treatment without medical insurance can be much higher. There are several private insurance providers in the US. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the average cost of health insurance is $285 per person per month.

Other costs

US residents enjoy cheap electricity at $0.13 per kwh. Video streaming costs $10 per month. A complete cable TV service costs around $100 monthly. Fitness club membership is $37 per person per month. Movie ticket costs vary widely from $10-60. Local prepaid mobile tariffs average $0.14 per minute. Verizon offers wireless shared plan with unlimited calls, texts, and data for $65 per month.

About the author:

Hemant G is a contributing writer at Sparkwebs LLC, a Digital and Content Marketing Agency. When he’s not writing, he loves to travel, scuba dive, and watch documentaries.