Managing your money

Managing your finances is one of the most important and challenging aspects of a successful and enjoyable academic experience. Dealing with a new currency and cost of living are the beginning of the challenge. Before you leave home, pay attention to the exchange rate between your country's currency and the U.S. dollar. Learn to think in dollars.

Take a close look at your I-20 or DS-2019 and prepare a budget for yourself based on the estimated expenses on the form. Use the list below to help you think about all the possible expenses you may have.

  • Tuition
  • Fees
  • Rent
  • Meals (often called "board")
  • Health insurance
  • Books
  • Transportation
  • Communications
  • Clothes
  • Personal expenses
  • Taxes
  • Family expenses
  • Recreation
  • Travel

The estimates that appear on your I-20 or DS-2019 are usually accurate, and you will be expected to have funds to cover the full amount shown. It is not possible to arrange for more financial aid once you have arrived at your institution. If you will receive a scholarship or fellowship, determined ahead of time what portion is taxable and include the necessary taxes in your budget.

Be careful in handling American currency. With the exception of the new $100 bill, all American paper money looks alike, so keep your eyes open when paying or receiving cash. Our coins can be tricky, too. The five-cent piece is known as a nickel, the ten-cent piece as a dime, and the twenty-five-cent piece as a quarter. A dime is smaller in size than a nickel, even though it is worth more.

Start budgeting from the time you arrive. Bills often take a month or two to arrive, but arrive they will! Don't fool yourself into spending the money you'll need to pay them.

Bank Accounts

Make it a priority upon your arrival to open a checking and/or savings account with a bank. Banks with many branches around Minnesota include:
US Bank (
Wells Fargo Bank (

The University of St. Thomas banks with US Bank, and there is an ATM available for 24-hour banking on campus. When you open an account, the bank will likely ask you for your passport, I-20, and Social Security Number (SSN). If you do not have a SSN, you can tell the bank that international students are not allowed to have SSNs unless they are employed. Show the bank your passport and I-20. If the bank refuses to open an account for you, ISS can write a letter for you to give to the bank.

Using an ATM

Automated Teller Machines (ATM) allow you to make cash withdrawals, deposits and transfers between accounts. You can also view your account balance. This is free at your own bank and its branches, but you may be charged a bank fee for using an ATM associated with another bank.

"Reprinted [or adapted] with permission from NAFSA's International Student Handbook (AT&T, 1996). Copyright 1996 NAFSA: Association of International Educators."

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