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How Much Does it Cost to Immigrate to the US

Making an international move can be thrilling. A new culture, new workplace, new surroundings — what an adventure! It’s easy to get swept up in the dream of your new life, but of course, there are practical elements to ensure your arrival is as smooth as possible. One of the most useful elements of planning for your move is to ensure you have properly budgeted for your first few weeks. After all, you likely won’t receive a paycheck for at least two weeks after your arrival, more if you don’t begin your job right away. Ensuring you have the necessary funds set aside will give you one less thing to worry about. 

There are many elements to consider when building your moving budget, and expenses can add up quickly. Here are the main expenses you should be sure to include: 


Accommodation in the USA

Depending on the city you move to, rental markets can be fiercely competitive. Make sure to budget for a hotel or other accommodation while you search. In most cities, you will need at least a week to secure an apartment, but in more competitive markets like New York or San Francisco, this might take much longer. Be sure to ask your new company how long they would recommend you allow for your search. Of course, you could also hire a professional who can help identify the neighborhoods that might best fit your needs and budget as well as set up viewings. If you decide to go this route, make sure you budget for this additional cost. 

When you do find an apartment, you will most likely be asked for the first and last month’s rent as well as a security deposit, likely equal to a month's rent. In total, you should be prepared to pay the equivalent of three months' rent upfront. The cost of housing will vary wildly depending on what city you will be relocating to, so make sure to check local listing sites to determine an average price for the type of housing you are looking for. 


Transportation in the USA

Outside of major cities like San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, public transportation is woefully lacking in the US. Unless you are headed for a major urban area, you will need a car to get around. Most likely, you will end up leasing or buying a car eventually, but you will still need transportation until you do so. The most cost-effective solution will likely be renting a car straight from your arrival airport; rates are often less expensive than when you rent from a location in the city center. You can easily check these rates using sites like Expedia or Kayak  — be sure to compare multiple sites and companies for the best rates! Also, make sure to include additional costs such as GPS or insurance in your calculations. You can book the rental well in advance, making this one less element to sort out upon arrival.  

Another option would be to use ride-share applications such as Uber or Lyft. If you go this route, you only pay for the trips you take; there is no daily fee. You also won’t have to worry about parking, which can come with complicated rules governing when, where, and how long you can leave your car in a location. However, the costs can add up quickly, so if you know you will be traveling often or long distances during your first few weeks, it would be more budget-friendly to rent a car. 


Cell Phones in the USA

Having a cell phone with mobile data will make your transition much easier; after all, you will need a way to set up all those apartment viewings and a map app to find your way around! In the US, many people decide to sign mobile contracts with major providers such as AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint. These contracts can come with great benefits such as a new smartphone for little or no cost. However, contracts in the US tend to be much more expensive than in many parts of the world, costing on average, around USD $115 per month. It’s important to compare the offers to see which best suits your needs. 

If you don’t want to jump into a contract on your first day, consider buying a prepaid sim card that you can insert into your existing phone. You can usually find stands with people selling these cards right in the arrivals area of the airport. Look for major providers like AT&T or TMobile for the best coverage. Just be sure to read the fine print, so you don’t end up running out of service - many will only cover you for up to 14 days, while others offer you the ability to sign up for an auto-pay option that can extend your service indefinitely. 


Food & Entertainment in the USA

Since you’ll likely find yourself in a hotel for at least a week, you probably won’t have access to a kitchen and will eat in restaurants quite a bit. Be sure to research the average cost of a restaurant meal in your new city and budget accordingly. Likewise, if you plan to meet new coworkers for drinks, visit attractions, or do any shopping, make sure you give yourself an entertainment budget. 


Sample Budget - San Diego, CA  

To summarize, let’s take a look at a sample budget for one of the most popular destinations in the US: San Diego, California. 

  • Hotel 7 nights @ $175/night: $1225
  • Rental contract, 1BD apartment First and last month’s rent + deposit: $5400
  • Rental car 7 days @  $40/day $280
  • Cell Phone, pre-paid 30 days $80
  • Food & Entertainment 7 days including 2 meals per day $420

Total $7405

Of course, your budget will depend on the cost of living in your new city. Whatever the numbers are, planning ahead will reduce your stress and help avoid any unwelcome surprises, giving you more freedom to enjoy your new city!