Cost of living in the USA: Your guide

21.09.17
5 minute read
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Cost of living in the USA: Your 2017 guide

If you’re dreaming of a new life in America, you’re not alone. Something in the region of a million people become new, legal residents in the USA every year. With such a massive range of places to choose to live and work, you’ll find thriving expat communities in every corner of the country.

If you’re retiring, temporarily relocating or moving to the USA for good, it’s helpful to have a picture of what life there will cost as an expat. Here’s a quick guide.


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Now, back to what you came here to read.


How expensive is the USA in comparison to the UK, the EU and Australia?

The official currency in the USA is the US Dollar (USD or $ on currency exchanges).

You can find out the exact value of your money in USD, using an online currency converter - but here’s a rough guide:

  • £1000 = $1,292
  • A$1000 = $762
  • €1000 = $1,135
Comparing basic cost of living1 bedroom flat in city centre (monthly rent)Lunch for 2 (3 courses, mid range restaurant)Transportation (monthly pass)
New York City, USA$3,003$75$119
San Francisco, USA$3,271$75$73.50
London, UK$2,178$71$170
Sydney, Australia$1,988$61$122

One major factor that adds expense for expats in the USA, is the cost of converting cash to dollars from your home currency. Even if your bank says it offers fee-free money exchange, you can be sure that its cut is rolled up in the inflated exchange rate it uses. To get the best deal, you should use an exchange service like TransferWise, which applies the same mid-market rate you’ll find on Google. With a quick service, and low flat fees to transfer your cash, this can be a much better deal than relying on your home bank.

What are the general living expenses for the USA? How much can you get by on?

Life in the USA is pretty pricey. The most expensive cities include San Francisco, New York, Boston and Los Angeles. However, there are still some well known places where life comes with reasonable price tag - Oklahoma City or Cincinnati for example, have much lower average costs than other large cities. Naturally, get out of the cities entirely, and you’ll find the cost of living is much lower.

Living expenses in the USA (excluding rent)New York average costSan Francisco average cost
Single person, per month$1,100$1,114
Single person, per year$13,200$13,368
University student, per month$794$852
Four person family, per month$4,045$4,118
Four person family, per year$48,540$49,416

What are the average salaries for the USA?

The salaries shown for reference here are for New York. Here, you’ll find some of the best paid data scientists and web developers in the world. Tech and finance roles, naturally are in demand - but New York salaries are also top notch for roles like Executive Assistant or Interior Designer.

Salary averages for the USAAverage annual salary
Cashier$25,790
Copywriter$60,405
Financial analyst$83,559
Graphic designer$52,253
Mobile developer$79,717
Product manager$97,060
Receptionist$34,635
Software engineer$93,139
Teacher$50,516
Web developer$75,172

How expensive is housing and accommodation in the USA?

The amount you pay in rent is a big driver of your overall cost of living. Both San Francisco and New York have some of the most expensive rents in the world. If you’re on a budget, consider life in a smaller city or town.

Renting in the USAAverage monthly cost (New York)Average monthly cost (San Francisco)
One bedroom apartment (city centre)$3,003$3,273
One bedroom apartment (outside of city centre)$1,896$2,542
Three bedroom family home (city centre)$5,832$6,478
Three bedroom family home (outside of city centre)$3,318$4,501
Internet$60$54
Utilities (gas, electric and water for a 85m2 apartment)$128$117

What about healthcare and dental costs in the USA?

No matter where you in America you choose to live, having comprehensive health insurance is essential. For those with the insurance, or savings to pay privately, the healthcare system in the USA is world class. However, if you can’t pay the bills, you will struggle to get adequate care (or face large costs afterwards if you need emergency treatment, for example).

Healthcare serviceAverage cost to you
Family doctor check-up$155
Cold medicine for 6 days$9
Antibiotic prescription$23

How much is travel and transportation in the USA?

Driving is fairly cheap in the USA, and outside of the very centres of cities, it’s normal to have a private vehicle. However, in large cities can be tricky, the public transportation system is usually extensive and easy to navigate.

Transportation and vehicle prices for the USAAverage cost
Gasoline (1 litre / 0.25 gallon)$0.69
Monthly bus/transport pass$119
Bus ticket, single use$2.75
Taxi tariff, 8km/5mile journey$15
Toyota Corolla, new$19,673
VW Golf, new$23,000

How much does education cost?

Education in the USA can be expensive, depending on the institution you choose to attend. There are both public and private universities, for example, with very different pricing structures. However, many private educational establishments offer bursaries and financial support to ensure that students from lower income families can still have the opportunity now to attend.

SchoolAverage cost
Preschool / kindergarten (monthly fee)$1,875
Private school for lower grades (annual)$25,286
University tuition (Public, four year university)Annual average for state residents $9,650, for out of state expect averages up to $24,930
University tuition (Private, four year University)Annual average of $33,480

America - throughout history - has always attracted immigrants inspired by the opportunities available there. It’s no surprise, then, that plenty of expats still make the leap, and move to the USA for life. Whatever you’re looking for, the US is a fantastic expat destination, for a permanent move, or just to spend a year or two exploring somewhere new.

Good luck with your new life in the USA!


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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