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How much spending money do I need for the USA?

Budget your holiday to a "T" with this guide on how much you can expect to pay once you land in the USA.

Updated

Compared to Australia, activities, food and drinks are generally cheaper in the United States. However, how much cheaper depends on where you're visiting.

That's because despite being one country, each US state (and at times cities within each state) operates its own set of rules and sales tax rates, which affects the end cost of everything from souvenirs to meals. For example, in Montana, the sales tax is 0%, but in Louisiana, it's 10%.

This is why determining how much to budget depends on where you're visiting. For example, you'll find cities such as New York City, Washington and Los Angeles on the higher end of the scale while Nashville and Detroit (Michigan) are more budget-friendly.

How much spending money do I need for the USA?

For spending money, we recommend bringing the following, based on your travel budget:

  • Low-cost: US$50-75 (AUD$69-103) a day per person, per day if you're eating cheap meals, not renting a car and doing some cheap to moderately priced sightseeing.
  • Mid-range: US$100-150 (AUD$138-207) per person, per day will cover moderately priced meals and sightseeing.
  • Luxe: US$250+ (AUD$345+) per person, per day will get you meals at nicer restaurants, all of the tourist attractions you want to see and some money for shopping.

The exchange rate is approximate and was obtained from xe.com on 16 November 2018.

What is the best way to take money to the US?

Cash and card are both widely accepted throughout the US, with the exception of cash-only payments for street food vendors or small bars/restaurants.

ATMs are widely available so it's easy to get cash from your debit or travel money card.

How much are taxis in the USA?

Taxis, like other goods and services, vary in price across the country. For example, in New York City, taxi rates start at US$2.50 (AUD$3.45) and are US$2.50 (AUD$3.45) per mile with your typical medium fare being $20.50 (AUD$28.41).

In Los Angeles, taxi rates start at US$2.85 (AUD$3.95) and are US$2.70 (AUD$3.74) per mile and your typical medium fare is US$22.30 (AUD$30.90).

In cheaper cities like Detroit, the start price is US$2.50 (AUD$3.45) but the per mile cost falls to US$1.65 (AUD$2.29) per mile to deliver a typical medium fare of US$11.80 (AUD$16.38).

These rates were acquired using TaxiFareFinder.

How much does a hire car cost in the USA?

Zipping around from A-B around the USA? Again, costs vary depending on where you're hiring your vehicle from.

For example, a week-long rental in New York starts at US$260 (AUD$360.34) for an economy vehicle booked a month in advance. In Los Angeles, a similar week-long hire from downtown starts from US$125 (AUD$173.23), and in a more inexpensive city like Orlando, it starts from US$114 (AUD$158.60).

Prices were found using our car rental search engine. Prices may also vary depending on demand and the type of vehicle hired.

For more information regarding car hire, including deals, popular road trips and driving FAQs, check out our USA car hire guide.

How much is food and drink in the United States?

Like everything else, food and drink can differ quite a bit depending on which area of the country you're in.

CNBC calls out states such as Maryland, Alaska and New York as having some of the most expensive food while states such as Alabama, Oklahoma and Michigan are some of the cheaper states.

Overall, you can expect to pay around US$5 (AUD$6.89) or more for fast food to US$50+ (AUD$69+) for fine dining.

The cost of beer is pretty standard across the country and ranges from US$5 ($6.89) in local pubs to US$10 (AUD$13.78) at restaurants. A glass of wine typically costs between US$7-$15 (AUD$9.65-$20) per glass.

Tips and taxes are not included in these prices. For tips, 15-20% is expected.

How much is sightseeing in the USA?

Popular attractions in the US include visiting the Empire State Building (AUD$50), seeing a show on Broadway (AUD$110+), visiting the Grand Canyon (AUD$137+) and visiting Walt Disney World (AUD$150+). Many of these can be pre-booked online through sites like Viator, which can save you money via early-bird discounts and also help you manage your on-ground budget.

For those on a strict budget, the US doesn't scrimp on free attractions. This includes visiting MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art) in New York on Friday night, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, San Francisco's Cable Car Museum and Chicago's Millennium Park.

If you're visiting numerous attractions, you may even consider purchasing a Smart Destinations multi-attractions pass.

Skip the Line at the Empire State Building
Skip the Line at the Empire State Building

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How much for an American SIM card?

While you can purchase SIM cards at the airport upon arrival, you'll often find a larger range of options available if you hold out and purchase one at a dedicated mobile phone carrier in the city.

Generally, prices are US$35 (AUD$48) for 1G or US$45 (AUD$62) for 4G.

For tourists staying 3 weeks or less, plans exist that are US$30 (AUD$41) for 2G.

You can also pre-purchase SIMs online so you can hit the ground running when you arrive.


Quick facts about money in the USA

  • Currency: United States dollar (USD)
  • Exchange rate: AUD$1 is equal to US$0.72
  • Cost of food: US$7-100 (AUD$9.65-138)
  • Cost of a local beer: US$5-10 (AUD$6.89-13.78)
  • Travel money cards: Browse top travel money cards for USA

Compare travel money options for the USA

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Available Currencies ATM Withdrawal Fee Initial Load Fee Reload fee
Travelex Money Card
AUD, USD, CAD, EUR, GBP, HKD, JPY, NZD, SGD, THB

Overseas: $0

Domestic: 2.95% of the amount withdrawn

1.1% of initial load value or $15, whichever is greater
1.1% of transaction value or $15, whichever is greater
Lock in exchange rates for up to 10 currencies, pay no overseas ATM fees and get exclusive merchant offers.
Cash Passport Platinum Mastercard
AUD, USD, CAD, EUR, GBP, HKD, JPY, NZD, SGD, THB, AED
USD $2.50, EUR €2.50, GBP £2.00, NZD $3.50, THB ฿80.00, CAD $3.50, HKD $18.00, JPY ¥260.00, SGD $3.50, AUD $3.50, AED 10.00
$0
$5
Up to 11 currencies on 1 card locked in exchange rates and no load fees.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Foreign Currency Conversion Fee Overseas ATM withdrawal fee Purchase rate (p.a.) Annual fee
Bankwest Zero Platinum Mastercard

0%
$0
17.99% p.a.
$0 p.a.
Offers a $0 annual fee, 0% foreign transaction fees, complimentary international travel insurance and a balance transfer offer.
Coles Rewards Mastercard

0%
$5
19.99% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Earn 2 flybuys points / $1 spent and save with a 0% balance transfer offer. Plus, 0% international transaction fees on purchases.
ING Orange One

2.5%
$2.50
11.99% p.a.
$0 p.a.
Keep costs low with $0 annual fee and 100% foreign transaction fee rebates. Available when you hold or open an Orange Everyday account.
ING Orange One Platinum

2.5%
$2.50
16.99% p.a.
$149 p.a.
Enjoy up to $30 cashback per month and 100% foreign transaction fee rebates. Available when you hold or open an Orange Everyday account.
Westpac Lite Card

0%
9.9% p.a.
$108 p.a.
Keep credit card costs low with a maximum credit limit of $4,000, a 9.9% p.a. purchase interest rate and no foreign transaction fees.
Latitude 28° Global Platinum Mastercard

0%
$0
21.99% p.a.
$0 p.a.
Save with 0% foreign transaction fees on purchases. Plus, complimentary flight delay passes and a global wifi access.
Bankwest Breeze Platinum Mastercard

0%
$0
12.99% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Get 0% interest on balance transfers for 6 months (with a 2% fee), complimentary travel insurance and no foreign transaction fees.
HSBC Low Rate Credit Card

0%
12.99% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Receive up to 20 months interest-free on balance transfers with a 2% BT fee. Also enjoy exclusive offers with the home&Away Privilege Program.
Commonwealth Bank Low Fee Gold Credit Card

0%
0% for 15 months, reverts to 19.74% p.a.
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($89 p.a. thereafter)
Save with 0% p.a. for 15 months on purchases and an ongoing annual fee waiver when you meet the spend requirement. Plus, included insurances.
Skye Mastercard

0%
$0
23.99% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Get 110 days interest-free, 0% foreign transaction fees and flexible instalment plan options.
Bankwest Qantas Platinum Mastercard

0%
$0
20.49% p.a.
$160 p.a.
Enjoy 0% foreign transaction fees, complimentary travel insurances and earn 0.75 Qantas Points per $1 spent on eligible purchases.
Bankwest More Platinum Mastercard

0%
$0
19.99% p.a.
$160 p.a.
Earn 2 More Rewards Points per $1 spent, 75,000 bonus points when you meet the spend requirement and save with 0% foreign transaction fees.
Commonwealth Bank Ultimate Awards Card

0%
20.24% p.a.
$420 p.a.
Earn up to 3 Awards points / $1 spent, save with 0% international transaction fees and gain access to over 1,000 airport lounges.
Bankwest More World Mastercard

0%
$0
19.99% p.a.
$270 p.a.
Earn 115,000 bonus points when you meet the spend requirement, receive complimentary travel insurance and 10 LoungeKey passes per year.
Bankwest Qantas World Mastercard

0%
$0
20.49% p.a.
$270 p.a.
Earn uncapped Qantas Points per $1 spent on eligible purchases, pay 0% foreign transaction fees and receive complimentary travel insurance.
Macquarie Black Card

0%
20.7% p.a.
$149 p.a.
Earn 20,000 bonus Macquarie Reward points and receive a 0% p.a. balance transfer offer for 14 months.
Macquarie Platinum Card

0%
20.7% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Earn 20,000 bonus points and receive a 0% p.a. balance transfer offer for 14 months.
Macquarie Black Card with Qantas Rewards

0%
20.7% p.a.
$149 p.a.
Earn 20,000 bonus Qantas Points and receive a 0% p.a. interest rate on balance transfers for 14 months.
Macquarie Platinum Card with Qantas Rewards

3%
20.7% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Collect 20,000 bonus Qantas Points and enjoy a 0% p.a. balance transfer offer for 14 months.
Macquarie RateSaver Card

0%
15.95% p.a.
$69 p.a.
Receive up to 55 days interest-free on purchases, a 0% p.a. for 14 month balance transfer offer and exclusive offers from Visa Entertainment.
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Data indicated here is updated regularly
$
Name Product Card access ATM Withdrawal Fee Monthly Account Fee Internatonal ATM Fee Foreign transaction fee
HSBC Everyday Global Account
Visa
$0
$0
0%
Special offer: $100 cash bonus for new HSBC customers.
Earn 2% cashback on tap and pay purchases (T&C's apply).
Enjoy no minimum ongoing balance or transaction requirements and the flexibility to hold up to 10 currencies. Apple Pay and Google Pay available.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Minimum Order Amount Maximum Order Amount Delivery/Pickup Method Commission Fee
Travelex Foreign Currency
$500
$5,000
In Store, At Airport
$0
Travelex makes it easy to exchange and get the best rate on over 40 currencies so you can be prepared for your next holiday.
Foreign Xchange Travel Money
$0
$9,999
In Store, Home Delivery
$0
Order multiple currencies in one transaction and have it delivered directly to your door anywhere in Australia. No delivery fee for orders over $1,000. A $10 flat fee applies to orders less than $1,000.
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Compare up to 4 providers

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