Living Costs in North America: Do It like the Americans (or Canadians)

Living Costs in North America: Do It like the Americans (or Canadians)

A studio in San Francisco, a jug of Budweiser in Boston, or a ticket to a hockey match in Vancouver? Whether you want to live the American dream in the world’s largest economy or taste the famous half-American, half-European blend of Canadian craziness, living as a postgraduate business student in North America is a mixture of studying, working, interning, and making sure the bucks keep flowing in like the Niagara Falls.

In this blog post, we break down the nuts and bolts of life as a student in the US and Canada into three parts: accommodation, food and transportation.

But before we begin, remember these two things: Unlike Europe, where full-time postgraduate education (both MBA and Master’s) usually takes one-year, American education tends to take two. That, in itself, already means that you will have to plan for twice the expenses you would normally incur as a European student.

Second, higher education in the States is particularly expensive. Ivy League schools charge between 40,000 and 50,000 USD for their Master’s programmes, while the most wanted American schools for MBA degrees work with 6-digit tuition fees.

Canada is a different story, though. MBA education in Her Majesty’s northernmost domain is in the price range of 10 to 40,000 CAD*.

1 CAD = 0.8 USD

If you still wonder where you would like to do your MBA check out: American vs European MBAs


Much like Western Europe, accommodation in North America is your wallet’s biggest drainer. Depending on the university, international students in the US and Canada can choose from four different options for accommodation – on-campus dormitories, off-campus apartments or dormitories, private shared flats and houses, or homestays. The latter option is probably off-limits, though, since it largely applies to teenagers living with American or Canadian families. So, in case you’re not an actual genius in the process of getting a postgraduate degree at the age of 18, you’re stuck with dormitories and shared houses.

Come to think of it, it’s almost like Europe. Or is it?

Off-campus accommodation in the States is harder to secure compared to the Old Continent, and most students decide to go for the easier and cheaper on-campus experience. Not only that, space in the States is in such excess that most schools will have no problem accommodating their entire student body within the university’s dormitories.

But, let’s say you don’t want to live 9 miles from Boston at Bentley’s Waltham, Massachusets campus, and instead, you decide to rent a room in that “oh-so-American” Victorian-Edwardian house in Boston’s Brighton neighbourhood. You will need to cough up around 850 USD per month. And if you want to live on a street which ends at the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco, while studying at Hult’s campus there, you will have to pay even more – 1000 USD per month – and that’s actually a pretty good deal. Though, in reality, there’s little that can beat living a mile from the ocean. You’d be almost like Charlie Harper and his Malibu beach house from Two and a Half Men.


For those who prefer the colder climate of Sauder School of Business’s campus in Vancouver, Canada, prices there are much cooler indeed. Starting from as little as 400 CAD, you can get a roof over your head pretty comfortably with the same amount of money you’d pay for a room in San Francisco. 800 CAD per month will cover you quite nicely.

Cost: 600+ USD* / 400+ CAD*

Range: 500-2000 USD* / 400-1200 CAD*

*Price per month in big cities


Transport for students in America works quite differently than it does in Europe and there are two reasons for that. As we’ve already mentioned, most students end up living at the on-campus dormitories, which means you can pretty much go to class in your pajamas. Secondly, distances are huge, and you’re better off getting a car if you’re going to stay for long.

What’s more – university campuses are often outside the big cities, which means you either stay and live there, or you drive every day for classes from your shared house downtown to your classroom at the campus.

Your choice.

But let’s break it down. At least you’ll know how much it’d be to check out some of the landmarks. A single ticket for all kinds of public transport in San Francisco is 2 dollars. It’s 2-2.25 USD for the bus and metro in Chicago where Chicago Booth is located.

In Vancouver, it’s 2.29 USD for any bus or SkyTrain ride. We advise you to try it out. It’s pretty cool (like everything in Canada).

And, for dessert, everybody’s favourite gasoline and diesel prices, brought to you by… actually, let’s not go there.

That would be 2.8 USD per gallon in the US, and 1.1 CAD per litre in Canada if you decide to get a car after all.

Cost: 140+ USD / 70+ CAD

Range: 100-200 USD / 50-100 CAD

Food & Basic Toiletries

The land of McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, Taco Bell and… Tim Hortons (a Canadian thing). Another one of the world’s favourite topics is food in America. Well for starters, it’s not only cheap, it’s extremely cheap. A pallet of 12 supersized eggs in the States is 2.48 USD, a kilo of potatoes is 2.58 USD and a litre of milk is 1 dollar. You could easily sing “I have 20 dollars in my pocket” on your way to the supermarket and be just fine for a whole working week. Add another 20 for extra stuff like toiletries and the occasional Heineken, and it’s around 50 USD per week. Of course that’s the bare minimum, which does not include eating out.

Sadly, Canada is an exception here. Food is slightly more expensive there. For comparison, milk is 2 CAD and 12 eggs are 3.3 CAD, but you could always make it up for in oil prices, right?

Cost: 250+ USD / 300+ CAD

Range: 250-350 USD / 300-400 CAD

 Living costs in North America Infographic

Bonus: Recreation

We’ve all seen the movies – Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto. We all want to party there, but the places we see are usually quite expensive, and sometimes even off-limits for “normal” people. Barring the exclusive Manhattan private parties, going out in America is actually cheaper than in Western Europe’s big cities. A ticket to the movies in both the US and Canada is an average of 8 dollars. That’s pretty cheap compared to the 20 Swiss francs or British pounds in Zurich and London. Same goes for low- and mid- end restaurants.

A pint of American pale lager at the pub? 5 dollars.

Sunday brunch at the diner across the street from your shared house in Boston? Only 10 dollars!

A monthly pass for the gym in Montreal? Not more than 50 CAD.

Going to Vegas to spend all your money on gambling, while getting tipsy on margaritas? It doesn’t even matter. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Cost: Priceless

Range: 100-Infinity USD/CAD


North America is quite the unique experience. Even the US and Canada can be quite different. In the States themselves, prices can vary widely depending on how you decide to arrange your stay – would it be on campus or in a shared house, will you get a car or use public transport? Is your campus close to New York or New Orleans? Depending on your choice of school for your MBA or Master’s, you should be prepared to spend between 900 and 1200 USD or 800 to 1000 CAD per month.

Like always, if you’re strapped for money, compensate for it with time.

Time to look for cheaper options.

I double promise you, you will find them.

Check also  Living Costs in Western Europe: Study the Good Life


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