Unanticipated expenses while traveling abroad in any country can lead to a cloud of financial gloom hanging over you regardless of weather. In the case of teaching in a country with a particularly high cost of living like the U.S., being financially aware and making a realistic budget before your trip is one of the best ways to avoid unnecessary stress during your exchange experience.
As a longtime J-1 Visa sponsor, we at Cultural Vistas are experts at helping people budget for U.S.-based exchange programs like Teach USA. Before you go to teach in the U.S., take a lesson from us first!
Read on to find out the best ways to approach budgeting as an international teacher in the U.S.
Know the Cost of Living before Paying to Live There
It may seem obvious, but it is easy to forget just how drastically different your financial situation can be based on your geographic location. Someone accustomed to the costs of living in their own country may not even know the extent of how much they don’t know about the costs of living elsewhere.
For those new to estimating U.S. living expenses, this living wage calculator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a great place to start.
Upon selecting a state and county, you will be presented with a graph that will help give you a sense of the average wages and expenses for families of various sizes in the given area. Not only that, you will also be presented with an estimate of your average annual expenses by category as well as typical salaries across various professions.
For those with some experience budgeting in the U.S. already, it may be helpful to also compare the costs of living in one U.S. city with the cost of living in another using this tool from Nerdwallet.
After inputting income and selecting two cities to compare—the comparison tool will present you with an analysis of the relative costs and how much money you would need to earn to maintain the same standard of living in both cities. Even those without any background knowledge on the costs of living in the U.S. may find this tool useful when considering multiple exchange program destinations.
Finally, those with specific food preferences or dietary restrictions may also like to take the added step of factoring in the relative costs of their diet. The United States Department of Agriculture provides some resources to help with estimating the costs of a nutritious diet. These resources are worth considering, as people traveling to the U.S. are frequently surprised by the relatively high cost of food compared to their other expenses.
Don’t Spend All Your Money on Pre-Departure Fees
Before you begin making money at your host school through Teach USA, and even before your arrival in the U.S., there will be a number of pre-departure expenses that you will need to make.
It’s important to know what these costs are so that you don’t spend all of your money on pre-departure fees only to find out that you don’t even have enough for a Big Mac upon your arrival!
The program fees for Teach USA participants are available on our website under the “Costs” tab. Note that some of these costs are optional.
Beyond Cultural Vistas’ fees for J-1 visa sponsorship, there is a non-immigrant visa application fee of $160 paid to the U.S. embassy or consulate where you apply for the visa.
You should also consider costs associated with securing a teaching position. If you utilize the service of a recruitment organization, you should review the fees associated with the service carefully and make sure you have a detailed understanding of what is included and when the fees are due. These services typically include assistance with securing a teaching position, applying for J-1 sponsorship, relocation assistance, or obtaining the proper license or certification for your position.
You can certainly find lots of teaching positions online for which you can apply directly, typically at no cost. However, you may still incur costs in order to qualify for the position and begin employment. Licensing and certification often requires fingerprinting, background checks, application fees, and a professional evaluation of your coursework. These fees can quickly add up and many are due prior to departure.
Preparing for Departure Does Not Prepare You for Arrival
Before you spend a single cent, peso, grosz, ruble, rupee, or rupiah on Teach USA—you should also make yourself aware of all the in-country expenses that you will have to pay.
Cost of living calculators can help you estimate general expenses in the U.S., but you yourself have to remember to consider additional expenses like the costs of bringing your spouse or children with you. You should also carefully review the commuting options in your community and understand the potential costs of transportation options like buses, subways, and owning a car—which requires additional expenses such as licensing fees, car insurance, and gas.
One expense which can vary greatly from person to person is the cost of health insurance.
If you plan on using your school’s insurance, there is a monthly amount that you will owe that should be factored into your budget. In certain cases, the host company may cover expenses related to health insurance but you shouldn’t expect this unless it has been explicitly stated to you—even then, you may want to consider budgeting a little extra money in case of unforeseen health insurance or medical expenses.
For those who utilize a recruitment agent, there may also be other service fees while you are in-country. These charges could include airport pick-up, certification, and licensing fees as well as housing fees if the agent also secured housing for you.
Make a Budget
Ultimately, budgeting involves planning and knowing how much money you have—both of which can be difficult to do through the lens of a foreign country. But now that you are at least aware of the cost of living in the U.S. as well as the various costs associated with the Teach USA program, it’s time to work on actually making a budget.
But there is good news for you on that front! Since you already know many of the associated costs of Teach USA, you have an advantage in completing this budgeting file—a mandatory part of the Teach USA application that all participants need to complete. Make sure to fill out both the PRE-DEPARTURE BUDGET and IN-COUNTRY BUDGET worksheets carefully be selecting their respective tabs at the bottom of the workbook.
By this point, you can probably start to see how your financial situation will actually look while in the U.S. Since you already know about costs of living and participating in Teach USA, completing the budgeting worksheet will make things even clearer for you.
Once you have completed the worksheet, you should know whether or not you have enough money to be comfortable during your Teach USA program. By spending the time to learn about budgeting during your exchange program, you will have completed one of the most difficult tasks required in preparing to travel to the U.S.—meaning that you will be ready to enjoy your Teach USA program to its fullest extent.