Managing your money
Simply living in a different culture can be tremendously rewarding, and happily, many of the best exchange experiences cost little or nothing. Nevertheless, money is necessary for rent, food, transportation, entertainment, and other expenses.
It’s important not to underestimate the true cost of living. Also, many training programs take place in major American cities like New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, where the cost of living can be much higher than in rural areas. Expatistan.com is a useful tool that can help you compare the current cost of living in different U.S. cities to the cost of living in cities in your home country
Your host organization can offer guidance on the cost of living and advice on managing money. It can also make banking easier by offering direct deposit of paychecks.
Guidelines to help you plan your finances
A good rule is to spend no more than one-third of your monthly pay on rent. Also keep in mind that most leases will require the first month’s rent and a security deposit in advance.
Some rentals include heat/air conditioning, water, and electricity; others do not. Be sure to ask. If not included in your rent, there also will be bills for services like cable TV, internet, and phone.
While it might be more convenient to eat out, it’s far less expensive and generally healthier to prepare home-cooked meals. This also creates opportunities to share meals – and your culture – with others.
It’s a good idea to plan ahead for daytrips and vacations. Make travel a budgeted item, and set some money aside each week for exploration.
It’s easy to spend a lot of money on entertainment in major cities, so choose wisely. Ask your colleagues or supervisor for tips on fun, yet inexpensive, things to do locally.
Open a bank account
A bank account makes living in the United States easier and is a good way to protect your money. There are different types of accounts. We recommend that you choose a checking account at a bank that has no minimum balance requirement or ATM fees. It’s also smart to choose a bank with a branch or ATM near your residence or host organization.
To open an account, you’ll need these documents:
- Your passport and J-1 Visa
- Your DS-2019 form
- Proof of your Social Security application (or Social Security number, if you’ve received it)
- A letter from your host organization, confirming your position (not always required)