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Cost of Living & Helpful Facts about Life in the US

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  • Brian Norris

    When first moving to Washington, D.C., I didn't know many people outside of the office. InterNations has changed that with some exciting events.

As the US is such a vast country, it is hard to determine the country’s overall cost of living. Residing in a metropolis can be pricy, but even then, it depends on which big city you choose as your new home. Living in the widespread suburbia can be cheaper, but if you consider buying a house there, your expenses will increase.

If you do choose to live in the suburbs, you will need to figure out how to get a driver’s license. Driving is a big part of the culture in the US and getting around without a car can be a problem if you choose not to live in a city center. However, if do not know how to drive, moving to a big city might save you as most of them have well-developed and affordable public transportation systems.

This section also covers the practicalities you need to remember in case of emergencies, basic communications information, and what public holidays you should expect to be celebrated in your new home country.

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Practical Information

What are the Emergency Numbers in the US?

  • 911 – fire, police, and ambulance services
  • 1-800-222-1222 – Poison Control Center

What Public Holidays are Celebrated in the US?

Usually, on federal holidays, schools, banks, and most businesses are closed. The ten federal holidays observed in all 50 states are:

  • New Year’s Day (1 January)
  • Martin Luther King Day (third Monday of January)
  • Presidents’ Day/Washington’s Birthday (third Monday of February)
  • Memorial Day (last Monday of May)
  • Independence Day (4 July)
  • Labor Day (first Monday of September)
  • Columbus Day (Second Monday of October, not celebrated in all states)
  • Veterans Day (11 November)
  • Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday of November)
  • Christmas Day (25 December)

Individual states are also allowed to establish their own holidays that are not observed by the federal government.

Main Embassies in the US

The US has over 170 embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions located around the country.

  • All the embassies are located in Washington DC.
  • There are over 100 diplomatic missions in New York City.
  • The largest number of diplomatic missions on the West Coast of the US is in Los Angeles.
  • Chicago holds the largest number of diplomatic missions in the Midwest.

Other major cities that are home to diplomatic missions:

  • Houston
  • San Francisco
  • Miami
  • Atlanta
  • Boston

Main Airports of the US

Domestic air travel in the US is reliable with an extensive airport network. There are around 500 commercial service airports across the country, operating numerous flights every day. Nearly 90% of all commercial service flights are domestic (i.e., used for travel in the US).

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport ATL
Los Angeles International Airport LAX
O’Hare International Airport ORD
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport TX
Denver International Airport DEN
John F. Kennedy International Airport JFK
San Francisco International Airport SFO
McCarran International Airport LAS
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport SEA
Charlotte Douglas International Airport CLT

Cost of Living

When it comes to the average cost of living, the US skews higher in comparison to the rest of the world. However, that is highly influenced by the big metropolises of the country like New York City and San Francisco. The rural areas of the US are significantly cheaper.

Living Expenses in the US

As per usual, the biggest living expense in the US is usually housing costs. You should expect to spend at least 30% of your wages, not including utility bills.

Groceries in general, especially fresh produce and healthy foods, cost more in the US than in most other Western countries. The price of eating out also depends on your choice of menu as a healthier diet usually comes with a higher price tag.

Cost of Living in the US vs Australia

Average rent prices 1,800 USD/month1,500 USD/month
Private school costs 12,800 USD/year14,000 USD/year
Private health insurance costs 600 USD/month165 USD/month

Cost of Living in the US vs Canada

Average rent prices 1,800 USD/month1,300 USD/month
Private school costs 12,800 USD/year10,000 USD/year
Private health insurance costs 600 USD/month47 USD/month

Cost of Living in the US vs the UK

Average rent prices 1,800 USD/month1,375 USD/month
Private school costs 12,800 USD/year21,500 USD/year
Private health insurance costs 600 USD/month125 USD/month

Is It Expensive to Live in the US?

As the US is such a big country with a variety of living options available, it is very tough to answer this question in any other way than it depends.

New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are often on the top 10 of the most expensive cities in the world. That is why, if you choose to live in these metropolises, you should expect high bills as well as expensive groceries.

The most expensive states in the US are:

  • Hawaii
  • New York
  • California

The most affordable states are:

  • Mississippi
  • Arkansas
  • Oklahoma

Cost of Living in The Most Expensive Cities in The US

CityCost for One Person (USD)
New York City, NY 5,400
San Francisco, CA 5,300
Washington DC 5,000
Boston, MA 4,900
Los Angeles, CA 4,000

Cost of Living in The Least Expensive Cities in The US

CityCost for One Person (USD)
Fort Wayne, IN1,700
Wichita, KS1,700
Springfield, MO 1,750
Huntsville, AL2,000
Green Bay, WI2,100

US Grocery Prices

ItemPrice (USD)
Loaf of Bread3.5
Milk, 1l 1
Eggs, 12 3.65
Chicken breast, 1kg 12
Apples, 1kg 5.3
Tomatoes, 1kg 5
Potatoes, 1kg 3
Beer, 330ml 3.5
Wine, 750ml 15

Restaurant Costs in the US

When visiting restaurants in the US, remember that tipping is not typically included in the bill, but it is highly expected from all customers. That is because, according to federal law, servers are not required to be paid minimum wages and their salaries are significantly lower than average. However, tips make up for at least a part of the deficit and clients are expected to pay 15–30% of their bill as a tip.

MealPrice (USD)
Fast food meal11
Meal at an inexpensive restaurant20
Meal at mid-range restaurant75

Average Rent Prices

As covered in the housing section of the guide, accommodation prices in the US are generally reasonable compared to average wages. However, they depend on where you choose to live as prices in big cities tend to be significantly higher than average. The median rent of a single bedroom apartment in the US is around 900­–1,000 USD. Median rent price for all types of property is generally around 1,700 USD.

Utility Costs

Utilities add a significant amount of money on top of rent. You can expect to pay around 500 USD for all utilities, including TV, phone, and internet. For more information on utilities, read the guide’s section on housing in the US.

Cost of Education

Public schools in the US are mostly free. However, the costs of private schooling in the US are high. Below is a list of the most expensive and least expensive areas for private school tuition, according to Private School Review.

The Most Expensive States for Average Private School Tuition

Annual High School Tuition (USD)Annual Elementary School Tuition (USD)
District of Colombia34,00029,000

The Cheapest States for Average Private School Tuition

Annual High School Tuition (USD)Annual Elementary School Tuition (USD)
South Dakota6,2504,125

Higher education in the country is notorious for being incredibly expensive with huge student loans weighing on many graduates for years after they leave universities.

Read more on school costs in the US in the education section of our guide.

Healthcare Costs

As universal public healthcare is not available in the US, private healthcare is a necessity for most people living there. That is why healthcare costs in the US tend to run high. It is not uncommon for people to go bankrupt because of their hospital bills.

The following table shows the monthly average of how much you might pay for health insurance in the US.

Monthly Premiums (USD)

TierSingle male, healthy, in his 30sCouple in their 30s, healthy, expecting a childFamily of 4 (minor children), healthy
Bronze250–400 550–800 1,000–1,500
Silver400–550 650–1,000 1,300–2,000
Gold500–600 900–1,200 1,800–2,400


For more information on healthcare pricing, visit the healthcare section of our guide.

Travel and Transportation Costs

Good news for anyone who wishes to drive a car in the US—fuel prices in the country are very low compared to most other western countries. In fact, fuel there is cheaper than it is in Australia, Canada, and China, and at least half the price of most European countries.

Intercity travels by bus are not the most popular method; however, it is the cheapest way to travel, in most cases. As trains are typically the more convenient and reliable method of transportation, they are also higher in price.

In general, flights in the US can be pricey. Budget airlines include Frontier, Spirit, and JetBlue Airlines.

Culture and Social Etiquette

The easiest way of describing US culture is acknowledging that it is a melting pot of many different traditions. The country’s customs, holidays, food, and music are a fusion of many immigrant heritages that were adapted to new surroundings. While the country offers a variety of different experiences, there are a few things you can expect no matter where in America you find yourself.

Social Etiquette in the US

Individualism is an important part of American culture. Uniqueness is of high value and people strive for and appreciate their independence. This often results in competitiveness that is very prominent in day-to-day life.

Americans also tend to be direct when speaking to others. Do not expect them to beat around the bush when giving criticism or hold back on their opinions even when speaking to people they do not know very well. This might be a result of the goal-driven attitude that encourages people to be quick about achieving results as well as the overall emphasis of freedom of expression in American culture.

The goal-driven attitude is also notable when it comes to the perception of time. Punctuality when it comes to work is important and deadlines are respected and prioritized over relationships. The common expression “time is money” is especially adhered to in big cities.

Social Etiquette in the US: Dos

  • Do give tips to waiters, taxi drivers, hairdressers, and other professionals working in service industries.
  • Do bring a small gift (a bottle of wine, chocolate, etc.) when visiting someone’s house.
  • Do maintain eye contact when conversing, show enthusiasm, but give enough personal space.

Social Etiquette in the US: Don’ts

  • When talking to Americans who you do not know very well yet, avoid polarizing topics such as gun control, abortion, politics, religion, etc.
  • Do not arrive at a social gathering on time. Being late by 15 or 30 minutes is acceptable and, in most cases, expected.

Culture in the US

Culturally, the US has a big influence on the rest of the world. Books, movies, music, and other types of art created in the US dictate trends that are followed in many other countries. Most notable are the widespread popularity of Jazz, Rock, Hip-Hop, and RnB. These have all originated in the US as well as may classic Hollywood films, which are considered to be the heart of the movie industry worldwide.

While many often disregard the cuisine of the US, labeling Americans as the “fast food nation,” the US has a big food culture. Each region of the country is famous for its own specialties that, in many cases, are creative adaptations of dishes brought to the country by a variety of immigrants. Texan barbeque, macaroni and cheese, chicken and waffles, gumbo, New York- and Chicago-style pizzas, pumpkin, apple, and key lime pies are only a few of the country’s must-try staples.

Sports also play an important role in American culture. The most popular ones are American football, baseball, NASCAR, and basketball.

Cultural Differences Between US Regions

Many different scholars divide the US map into different sections based on factors such as economics, geography, time zones, and culture. The most widely used division was created by the US Census Bureau and sections off the country into five main regions.

The Northeast

  • Is the most economically developed and densely populated region in the US.
  • Is subdivided into New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont) and Mid-Atlantic (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania).
  • The Northeast is mostly an urban area with plenty of career and artistic opportunities.
  • The stereotypical resident is considered to be worldly, smart, and mature, but also impatient.
  • The region’s main cities include New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston.

The Midwest

  • The region is famous for farming land and beautiful nature.
  • Is subdivided into East North Central (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin) and West North Central (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North and South Dakotas).
  • The region has all four seasons with harsh winters.
  • The stereotypical resident is considered to be friendly, helpful, and kind.
  • The region’s main cities include Chicago and Detroit.

The South

  • Is a very unique part of the US, rich in history, art, and cuisine.
  • Is subdivided into South Atlantic (Delaware, District of Colombia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North and South Carolinas, Virginia, and West Virginia), East South Centre (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee), and West South Centre (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas).
  • The South is a religious and mostly socially conservative region.
  • The stereotypical resident is considered to be hospitable, traditional, and strong-willed.
  • Its main cities include Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas.

The West

  • Is subdivided into Mountain (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) and Pacific (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington) regions.
  • The region is varied geographically, with forested mountains, deserts, rainforests, and plenty of beautiful beaches.
  • Culturally, the West is also very diverse. Alaska is a quiet, vast land with lush nature and very few people; California is saturated with business and artistic opportunities; Nevada appeals with the extravagance of its casino cities; and Hawaii’s nature helps the state stay on top as a touristic destination.
  • The stereotypical resident is considered to be artistic, in-tune with nature, and laidback.
  • Its main cities include San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix, and Los Angeles.

US Values

The notion of independence plays an important role in both the political climate and everyday lives of Americans. People are free to choose what they want to do, where they want to live, who and what they believe, and are encouraged to make those choices individually.

Patriotism is another prominent part of American values. Over 80% of Americans believe that the US is the best country to live in and they demonstrate their pride in various ways. People display the US flag during federal holidays, hold their hand to their chest when singing the national anthem, and children recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school each day before class.

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Driving in the US

Driving is a very important skill when living in the US. Almost every household owns at least one vehicle and nearly 90% of Americans commute to work by car. With insufficient public transport in the widespread of suburbia, a car in the US is a vital asset.

Is it Possible to Drive with a Foreign License?

Yes, driving in the US with a foreign (European, Australian, etc.) license is possible as long as you follow the few main rules.

First, your license must be in English. If that is not the case, you must obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) from the country you reside in before moving to the US. Also, keep in mind that IDP serves as a translation of your current driver’s license so you must have both of them on you while driving.

The other important rule is that a foreign license, with or without the additional IDP, is only valid if you are in the US temporarily. If you establish residency in the country, you must get a US driver’s license in order to drive.

How to Get a US Driving License?

Unless you are visiting the country for under one year, or your country is one of the few that has a reciprocity agreement with the US, you will need to go through the entire application process in order to get a US driving license. It usually includes taking written and practical exams as well as having your vision tested.

Find a step by step guide on how to obtain a US driver’s license on our page dedicated to driving licenses in the US.

The Main Rules of Driving in the US

Driving rules differ from one state to another. That is why you need to make sure to check the rules of the state you are moving to before driving. Also, be especially aware of this if you are driving through more than one state.

  • Traffic in the US is on the right-hand side of the road while steering wheels are on the left side of the car.
  • Pedestrians have priority.
  • White lines separate lanes going in the same direction and yellow ones separate lanes going in opposite directions.
  • You must allow emergency vehicles to pass if they have their flashing lights and/or sirens on.
  • Wearing seat belts for front seat passengers is required in all states except New Hampshire. Some states also require seatbelts for passengers in the back seat.
  • You must use low beams (dipped headlights) after dark (half an hour after sunset until half an hour before sunrise).

What is the Driving Age in the US?

As with many other rules, driving age in the US varies from one state to another.

A minor in the US can obtain a learner’s permit at ages 14-16. The permit allows them to drive to and from school or work (with or without adult supervision depending on the state). At ages 16-17 one can get a restricted license that might prohibit the driver from driving at certain times of the day or limit the number of passengers in the vehicle. A full driving license is available for people aged 16-18.

Driving a Rental Car in the US

In general, you must be 25 years old or older to rent a car in the US. However, some rental companies might make exceptions and allow drivers to rent a car at the age of 21. Still, those companies usually charge young drivers an additional fee for that.

You are required to purchase insurance when renting out a car unless your policy already covers any vehicle you drive.

Public Transportation in the US

The popularity of public transportation in the US cannot compare with the widespread of the country’s driving culture. However, if you live in one of the major cities such as New York, metro, buses, and taxis might become a part of your everyday life.

How is Public Transportation in the US?


Metro systems operate in many big cities in the US such as Washington DC, Boston, and New York, the latter being the city with the most used metro system in the country. Taking a metro to work might take you longer than a car, about 40-50 minutes on average. However, the subway system tends to be reliable and operate on time.

City Buses

Buses in the US do not have a good reputation and are generally not a popular form of transit. They are known for being slow and scheduled very sparingly. However, the quality of bus service usually depends on the city you are in.

Buses are usually the cheapest form of public transportation and in bigger cities might offer 24-hour services.


Taxis are usually the fastest, most direct and expensive method of public transportation, but with the arrival of car sharing services like Uber and Lyft, the usage of taxis is significantly declining. You can hail a taxi by raising your arm if you find yourself on a busy street or calling a local taxi company.

In addition to regular fees, at the end of the ride, you will also be expected to pay for tolls as well as tip the driver (usually 15%).

Intercity Buses

Intercity buses are fairly cheap and cover the most popular tourist destinations. These days, the newer coaches have Wi-Fi access as well as power outlets available. Still, interstate buses (often referred to as Greyhounds, after the main bus service provider) share the same poor reputation that city buses are known for.


The most popular national rail operator in the US is Amtrak. Usually seen as more reliable than buses, trains are convenient for both short- and long-distance journeys. Typically, you can choose between coach, business, and first class when purchasing your ticket. In most cases, Wi-Fi and plug sockets are only available for passengers that choose the first-class traveling option.

Cost of Public Transport in the US

TransportAverage Price (USD
Metro ticket 2.5
Bus ticket 2.5
Public transit monthly pass 100–130
Taxi initial charge 3.5
Taxi one-mile ride 6.5
Taxi ten-mile ride 30
Taxi price per mile 2.8


The most common method of payment for public transport in the US is the electronic tap cards that you can usually load up at most bus stops. There you can also purchase a single-use ticket. Paying with an app on your phone is available for most metro rides. You use cash to pay for your bus rides; however, that might cost you more than using other methods of payment.

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  • Brian Norris

    When first moving to Washington, D.C., I didn't know many people outside of the office. InterNations has changed that with some exciting events.

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    In such an international city such as Washington, D.C. InterNations holds great events for everyone to network and enjoy themselves.

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