For information regarding money and finances first review the Overview then explore Additional ConsiderationsCurrency Restrictions, Fund Transfers & Money Exchanges, Banking, Accounts & ATMs, Credit Cards and Overlooked Expenses.  

Overview

It is important to plan your finances carefully:

  • Do not rely on earning a great deal of extra money after arrival in the US.
  • Employment in most non-immigrant visa categories is highly restricted by U.S. government regulations
  • You should come prepared to meet all of your expenses.
  • Financial assistance is usually not available to international students after arrival. With the exception of some undergraduate and Wharton MBA students, educational loans are generally not available.

It is important to consider that federal, state, city, and/or social security taxes will be deducted from most US-source salaries, scholarships, and stipends.

  • Tax deductions typically range from 14 to 30 percent of the total income, so your available income may be significantly less than expected.
  • The amount of tax deducted depends on your earnings, tax status and whether you a beneficiary of a tax treaty.
  • Everyone with US-source income are required to report their annual earnings to the Internal Revenue Service by April 15 of the following year.  
  • Anyone who has overpaid taxes during the year will receive a tax refund after filing the tax return.
  • For more information on how Penn payments to foreign nationals are taxed, please see the Office of the Comptroller.
  • Additional Considerations
  • Financial demands are typically highest at the beginning of the academic year because tuition, health insurance fees, and housing deposits are due at this time.

    • Tuition must be paid in full unless one makes advance arrangements with the Office of Student Financial Services.
    • Temporary accommodations, initial household expenses, cell phone, food, and books are other extra expenses to take into account.
    • It is advisable to come prepared to cover all extra costs which will range from $2,000 to $5,000.

    If you have been awarded a University fellowship or assistantship that includes tuition you will not receive your first living allowances until the end of the first month at Penn.

    • Tuition fees will be handled by Penn immediately.
    • You must have your own funds available to pay for food, housing, books, and supplies.
    • If the fellowship does not specify that it covers the University General Fee, whose amount varies by school, you will be responsible for paying the fee.
  • Currency Restrictions, Fund Transfers & Money Exchanges
  • Currency Restrictions and Funds Transfers to the United States 

    • Some governments restrict the amount of money that can be taken out of the country.
    • Others may restrict funds for students until an enrollment confirmation letter from the admitting US institution has been received.
    • Before leaving home, it is advisable to determine whether any documents are required from the University in order to authorize the transfer of funds.
    • In some cases ISSS can provide students the necessary documentation upon seeing proof of full-time student status.

    Money Exchange 

    • You should be aware of your home country's requirements for exchanging money and the value of the home country currency in the US.
    • Travelers must declare currency amounts over $10,000 at US customs upon arrival.
    • United States coins are different diameters and represent different proportions of one US dollar: penny (1/100th), nickel (1/20th), dime (1/10th), quarter (1/4), and dollar (1).
    • American paper money is green and all bills are the same size. The following are common bill denominations: $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100.
    • It is recommended that you obtain a small amount of American currency in coins and bills before arriving in the US to cover miscellaneous initial expenses such as cab fare and meals.
    • Most major airports have banks available for currency exchange and automated teller machines (ATM’s) for those who decide to obtain US currency after arrival.
  • United States Banking Services
  • US banking connections can be established before one leaves home. To transfer money to the US,  you can instruct your home bank to issue a foreign draft on a US bank in Philadelphia. 

    • This is preferable to presenting a draft on a bank in another US city such as New York.  
    • Clearance on drafts between banks in different parts of the US can result in a delay of up to three weeks in making funds available.
    • Because there are expenses which must be met immediately upon arrival, it is best to avoid such unnecessary delays.
    • A few US banks have branches in foreign countries. These could be used if the US bank is located within the vicinity of Philadelphia.
    • If not, all large US banks have what are called "correspondent" foreign banks with whom they have established financial connections.
    • In most countries it is possible to find a bank that has correspondent relations with a US bank in Philadelphia.
    • A transfer of money from one correspondent bank to another requires obtaining a draft from the home bank and presenting it, with personal identification, to the US bank. The US bank will then give credit in US dollars. 
    • Individuals may also request that their banks at home "wire" money to their US accounts.
  • Checking & Savings Accounts
  • We recommended all new students and scholars open an account at a local bank soon after arriving in Philadelphia. 

    • All banks have different charges and fees for services, such as ATM access, checking, and overdraft protection.
    • It is wise to investigate the terms and conditions of each bank and each account type before choosing. 
    • To open an account, one must present two forms of identification, such as a passport and a Penn Card. 
    • Some banks may require a Social Security number.
    • Having a checking account will assure safe and quick deposit of foreign checks and free the account holder from carrying large amounts of cash.
    • Banks provide monthly and/or online records of transactions from your account for easy tracking of your finances.
    • Checks are typically used to pay monthly bills like rent, telephone, and electricity
    • Checks can also be used for certain retail purchases if accompanied by identification.
    • Cashed checks are sometimes returned to you after they are cleared by the bank, and may serve as proof of payment.
    • Some banks will post scanned copies of the cashed checks in the online account statement.
    • It is a serious matter to write a check without having sufficient funds in the account. In addition to various fees the bank will charge, you may suffer serious financial consequences and may be subject to legal action.

    Savings or investment accounts are used to hold money that won’t be used immediately.

    • Such accounts bear interest which may be taxable.
    • Some savings or investment accounts have penalties for withdrawing funds before a fixed amount of time elapses but many will allow holders to withdraw or transfer funds to other accounts at any time without penalty.
  • Automatic Teller Machines (ATM)
  • Automatic Teller Machines (ATM)

    • Basic banking, such as deposits, transfers and withdrawals, is available 24 hours a day at computerized banking machines (ATM or MAC machines) at most banks.
    • These machines can be found throughout the city. 
    • It is recommended to only use ATM’s located in safe and secure places indoors and to avoid using them after dark.
    • Some banks charge a fee each for each ATM transaction.
  • Credit Cards
  • Credit cards are used often in the US but are sometimes difficult to obtain for international students and scholars who have not yet established good credit in this country. For this reason, some students and scholars choose to apply for credit cards in their home countries rather than in the US.

    • Major credit cards in the US are Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover
    • Businesses do not always accept all cards.
    • Credit cards issued by department stores or oil companies are usually easier to obtain and can be used to establish credit.

    One should use caution in using credit cards as a means of postponing payment for purchases.

    • Almost all credit cards charge interest, which may range from 12% to 22% per year.
    • If a credit card is lost or stolen, it is important to file a report with the police and notify the company that issued the card immediately.
  • Expenses Often Overlooked
    • Overnight lodging -  Hotel rates in big cities tend to be quite high.
    • Tips on taxis and restaurant meals - It is customary to add 15% to the bill.
    • Winter clothing - Warm clothing, including a heavy coat and boots, can cost more than $200.
    • Deduction from assistantships and other awards for federal and state taxes - Up to 30% will be deducted from some stipends by the federal and state governments.
    • Personal and household items - Cell phone service set-up fees and deposits will be high compared to the usual monthly costs of an already-established service. In furnished and unfurnished apartments, tenants have to provide linens, towels, kitchen utensils, etc.
    • State and local sales taxes on goods or services - Consumer taxes vary from state to state and range from 1% to 8% (in Philadelphia 7%).
    • Security deposit - When renting an apartment off-campus, three months' rent is often required before moving into the apartment. Payments must be made by check or money order, not credit card.