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Financial Preparation

When thinking about money and finances, you will need to plan for both the short and long-term phases of your time in the U.S. This page will focus on short-term planning such as understanding how people typically handle money in the U.S., and what you need to know when bringing money into the country and planning for initial expenses. For more information on banking in the U.S. and setting up a long-term spending plan, visit our money matters page.

U.S. currency Heading link

U.S. currency is based on the decimal system with $1 U.S. dollar equaling 100 cents. Paper money, also known as “bills” or “bucks,” comes most commonly in denominations of $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. There are larger bills available but you will not see those often and some stores may not accept bills over $100. Coins are used for amounts less than $1 and the table below shows the most common coins in circulation.
Coin Name Value Value as $
Penny 1 cent $.01
Nickel 5 cents $.05
Dime 10 cents $.10
Quarter 25 cents $.25
Half Dollar 50 cents $.50
Dollar 100 cents $1.00

Spending money in the U.S. Heading link

The use of physical currency, or “cash,” in the form of bills and coins is becoming less common in the U.S. but it is still accepted in almost all situations. Most people in the U.S. spend money by using a physical debit or credit card or via a contactless payment method on their smart phone. During your first days and weeks in the U.S., it is a good idea to carry a small amount of cash ($20-$50) to cover daily spending until you understand which types of digital payment methods are available in your area. Be sure to contact your current bank to notify them of your upcoming travels if you plan to use debit or credit cards from your home country. The bank will place a travel notice on your account and inform you of exchange rates and fees for using the cards or withdrawing cash abroad.

Plan for initial expenses Heading link

After you arrive, you will likely set up an account with a U.S. bank, unless your current bank operates branches in Illinois. This process can take a few days so it is a good idea to have cash on-hand to cover initial expenses. How much money you will need for initial expenses depends on your personal situation, but here are some items to consider:

  • Transportation from the airport to your temporary accommodation.
  • Temporary accommodation before moving into your long-term housing.
  • Daily transportation via public transit or taxi until your student U-Pass begins (if eligible).
  • Food purchased at a grocery store or restaurant.
  • Additional cash for emergencies or unexpected expenses.

Again, the amount of cash you will need for initial expenses depends on your personal plans and lifestyle. That said, $1000 U.S. dollars would be the minimum recommended amount and you may likely need more before you are able to access funds through your U.S. bank account. Whether you carry this amount of cash with you to the U.S. or plan to withdraw it from your current bank account after arrival is up to you.

Bringing money into the U.S. Heading link

Once you determine the amount of money you will need for your journey and initial expenses, check with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to see if you need to report it to them when entering the U.S. Remember that “money” includes bills, coins, travelers’ checks and other monetary instruments.

Wiring money to the U.S. Heading link

Once you have set up your U.S. bank account you may want to wire larger sums of money from accounts in your home country to pay for big expenses, such as housing. For this reason, it is a good idea to compare international wire transfer fees when choosing your U.S. bank. UIC students have the option to pay their tuition and fees directly to the University Bursar via Flywire.

Plan for the unexpected Heading link

You likely had to show evidence of adequate funding in order to qualify for your I-20 or DS-2019 and visa. Take some time to revisit those documents and consider what you would do in the event of unexpected financial change. Oftentimes, expenses in the U.S. end up being higher than what you had hoped, and on-campus jobs can be competitive, especially for first year students. Or, a source of funding once considered secure suddenly becomes unavailable. It is a good idea to have a contingency plan to accommodate a last-minute flight home, higher than expected rent, or a semester without on-campus employment. Hopefully things will go exactly according to your financial plan but it can’t hurt to be prepared just in case they don’t.