How Much U.S. Dollars to Take?

How much money (in US Dollars) should I take with me to the USA?

How Much Money Do I Need?

It is best to be a conservative.

You’ll need two separate demand drafts (also called certified checks or bank checks).

The first should be made out to the University, written for the first semester fees + $500.

The second should be made out to you, and should cover living expenses for six months.

Figuring out your living expenses for six months may require a bit of research on your part. Consider food costs, the price for laundering clothes, replenishing toiletries, the occasional fun outing with friends, and other expenses.

  • Texas, Florida – About $400 per month
  • New York, California – About $600 per month

Some bank managers will not issue bank draft (demand drafts) in your name. If this is the case, get your second draft made out to the University as well. You will be able to get a personal check from the university.

Do Not: Carry tuition fees for the full year.

Do: Take just the right amount for the first semester (especially if you are taking money out of an education loan).

Travelers’ Checks or Demand Draft?

The choice between these two options is entirely up to you, but it may be best to make that selection depending on commission fees. If you have travelers’ checks, you will be able to use them along the way, but it is doubtful that you’ll actually use them during travel.

If you need to use money during travel, $400 – $1000 is sufficient.

Do not: Carry more than $1000 during travel.

Do not: Carry USD in large denominations

Do: Carry USD in small denominations (5, 10, and 20 dollar bills)

What if my demand draft amount is greater than my tuition fees?

For example: you’ve written your demand draft for $8000, and the fees only total to $7500. No worries – this is not an uncommon occurrence.

Do not: Panic. Once your bank draft is cleared and credited to the university account, they will refund the money to you as a personal check.

Do: Contact the Bursar’s Office of your university to resolve any questions you have about finances.

Next –  Do I need a Travel Card?

20 Comments

  1. victor curtis on July 28, 2012 at 8:45 AM

    my school,lee university demands a down payment of $4880.and i intend carrying the money with me.i mean in cash.please hope i wouldn’t encounter problems at the immigration.if yes,what do i do?how do do i get along with the money.thanks

    • HSB on July 29, 2012 at 5:04 PM

      You will not have problem taking $4880 in cash with you.

      • Prabodh on July 30, 2012 at 4:58 AM

        I am not sure but I heard that there is a limit of $3000 on the amount of cash we can carry in hand. Please confirm if this is true?

        • munna on September 15, 2015 at 9:35 AM

          Normal Limit is 3000 dollars. But in the case of students, they can take more quantity also. Always keep the paperwork with you like I-20 and the Bank receipt which shows the transaction of 3000 Dollars as Foreign Currency issued to you. For safety reasons, 3000 Dollars is enough amount to carry with you. Nowadays American Express Travellers cheques are not there. But you can carry the remaining amount with a Demand Draft and deposit it in USA in a Bank. Bank will even give you cheque books so that you can use it for your transactions there.

  2. Nagarjuna on July 19, 2012 at 4:17 PM

    Hi HSB!
    My university (SUNYIT) tuition fee for 1st semester is $8340, and Here we need to get health insurance from the university which is of $1140.
    Am in guess to carry $2000 for the 1st 3 months living expenses.
    How can i manage these in better way.
    Help me in this.
    Thank You.

    • HSB on July 29, 2012 at 5:05 PM

      I would recommend $4000. Since, you will buy laptop which would come to $800.

      • KRed on July 30, 2012 at 12:09 PM

        Dell Inspiron Laptop @ Walmart: $398
        Same at Best [email protected]$450
        a good config laptop from Sony & Samsung will cost under $600…before checking best buy do check at walmart too

        • HSB on July 30, 2012 at 12:16 PM

          For students, I don’t recommend buying $400 laptop. I will be posting an article about laptops.

  3. Prabodh on July 18, 2012 at 2:14 PM

    Hi HSB,

    I did not get the point you mentioned about Travel Cards.

    “If you have TC’s you will be able to use on the way, but I really doubt you money for any purchase during your first trip to USA.
    You will be converting USD to local currency ”

    I have taken a ICICI travel card.

    • HSB on July 18, 2012 at 2:18 PM

      I have updated the sentences. If you already got ICIC travel card, then take it. But, for those who are planning to get one, I wouldn’t spend time running to the bank to get that travel card.

      • Prabodh on July 18, 2012 at 3:02 PM

        I am not sure which bank you are referring to but I got my ICICI bank travel card today after a single 20 minute visit to the bank.

      • Darshan on July 29, 2012 at 1:04 PM

        Even I own a ICICI travel card. i got it activated in 30 min..and the best part i liked it i can Load the card as in Dollars. so the currency conversion charges are pretty low compared to private conversions and can be used as ATM anywhere in USA or swiping..

        • HSB on July 29, 2012 at 1:34 PM

          My guess is that you may use the card probably 2 times or 3 times max.

          • Darshan on July 29, 2012 at 2:37 PM

            No nothing like that..My parents are sponsoring my education and they transfer fund for my expense every month as its cheaper compared to transfering to Bank of America… And travel card has a validity of 2 yrs. + bank even provides a extra card in case of losing you can still take out moneys.



          • HSB on July 29, 2012 at 3:26 PM

            Ok. So, you will withdraw the money from ATM and deposit into you local bank account?



          • Darshan on July 29, 2012 at 10:38 PM

            No, Y would i do that? when i am able to get dollars for my expense why will i take out and put to Local bank? As i can withdraw when i need and use it.!
            The Main Topic of this Article is to How much $$ to carry?
            I would say anything for fees as it will be neccessary to carry TC or DD Dont carry cash. While Travelling Carry 100-200$ handy Depending your wist to expenses while travelling. Or for the monthly expense who depend on sponsor go for travel card.



          • HSB on July 30, 2012 at 6:57 AM

            🙂 people don’t carry cash in hand to pay for expenses like in India.



          • HSB on July 30, 2012 at 7:34 AM


          • HSB on July 30, 2012 at 8:33 AM


        • munna on September 15, 2015 at 9:41 AM

          There is no need for ICICI Travel Card. Just use your Debit Card of USA Bank Account. Deposit money once in Your account and then use it. You can also transfer money thru Wire from Indian Bank account to American Bank account. There may be hidden fees every time you use your ICICI card at ATM to take cash. America is pretty much a cashless society. Foreign card (ICICI) may be charged a fees or bad conversion rates or even rejected at some businesses. You are in USA, use American Bank account and its Debit Card.

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