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The Cost of Living in the US

Will you be moving to the US soon and want to know more about the cost of living so you can accurately budget your expenses? Our guide will give you advice on what you can expect to pay for housing, transportation, child care, and more, depending on which city or region of the country you are moving to.
The cost of living in some major American cities is quite high.

US Cities and Regions: A Comparison

The United States can be split into four regions – Northeast, South, Midwest, and West – in order to compare the cost of living. The Northeast has the highest per capita income, followed by the West, South, and Midwest. The poorest areas in the country, however, are the rural areas of the West and South. The most expensive region to reside in is the West, especially California. This region is followed closely by the Northeast, then the South and Midwest. If the metropolitan areas of Washington, Baltimore, and Miami are excluded, then the South has the lowest cost of living in the United States.

The top five cities in terms of cost of living are San Jose, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. None of the cities in the Midwest rank among those with the highest cost of living. The five cities with the lowest ranking are St. Louis, Kansas City, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. No Northeastern cities made it into the list of cities with the lowest cost of living.

Relocating to a major US city can mean having to pay more than 50% of the national average for housing, groceries, transportation, etc. Salaries are often higher in big cities, but rarely enough to compensate for the increased cost of living, which is generally the result of high property prices.

Unexpected Expenses

When you move to the US, you might encounter some unexpected expenses. One of these is that unless you live in the center of a major city, you will most likely need a car to get around. Gas prices are lower in the United States than in Europe, for example, but cars are usually bigger and less fuel efficient. Public transportation systems are growing throughout the country, but in all except major cities, this might only consist of a few buses that run rather infrequently.

If you will be bringing your young family to the US with you and both you and your spouse will be working, you will also have to plan in the high cost of child care, which continues to increase each year. The average annual price of child care ranges from USD 4,863 in Mississippi to USD 16,430 in Massachusetts. Families with two children under school age can expect to pay more for child care than for rent.

Also, don’t forget costs upon arrival such as furniture and any fees required to set up your phone, internet, and utilities. On the bright side, food and clothing are generally cheaper in the US than in many other developed countries, so this is an area where you may save some money.

Making a Budget

The following are a list of items to take into account when you are making a budget for your time abroad:

  • Internet / landline
  • Cell phone
  • Rent / mortgage
  • Utilities
  • Transportation (car, public transportation ticket)
  • Groceries
  • Insurance plans (health insurance, house insurance, car insurance, etc.)
  • Child care, school tuition
  • Emergency expenses (e.g. to cover an unexpected trip back to your home country)
  • Miscellaneous: clothing, restaurant meals, sightseeing trips, etc.


Price of Accommodation

The amount you’ll have to spend for housing varies widely across the US. Single family homes run anywhere from under USD 100,000 to well over USD 500,000, depending on the area and size of the house. In the wake of the housing crisis and the subsequent foreclosures, there are good deals to be had in some cities, so keep your eyes open.

The average price for renting a one-bedroom apartment in the city center is USD 950 per month. This decreases to USD 700 per month if you live outside of the city center. These prices vary widely when you look at individual cities, however. For example, a one-bedroom apartment in the city center costs USD 3,000 per month in New York, USD 2,000 per month in Washington, D.C., and USD 1,500 per month in Los Angeles. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the other hand, it only costs an average of USD 650 per month.

Average Monthly Costs

Utilities (electricity, heating, water, garbage collection) are usually not already included in your monthly rent, and range between USD 75 - USD 175 per month for a 1000-square-foot apartment. Internet usually costs between USD 40 - USD 45 per month. A meal for two in a nice restaurant will set you back USD 40 - USD 75, depending on which city you live in. A monthly transportation pass costs an average of USD 65 across the entire US, but costs USD 190 in Washington, D.C. and USD 100 in Chicago.


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