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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

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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 Annual fee
Bankwest Zero Platinum Mastercard
0%
$0
17.99% p.a.
$0
Offers a $0 annual fee, 0% foreign transaction fees, complimentary international travel insurance and a balance transfer offer.
Bankwest Breeze Platinum Mastercard
0%
$0
0% for 15 months, reverts to 10.99% p.a.
$69
Get 0% interest on purchases for 15 months, complimentary travel insurance and no foreign transaction fees.
Coles Rewards Mastercard - Exclusive Offer
0%
$5
19.99% p.a.
$0 annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
Finder Exclusive. Ends 29 October 2020
Save with $100 off a Coles Supermarket shop and a $0 first-year annual fee. Plus, 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 18 months (1.5% fee applies).
NAB StraightUp Card
0%
N/A
$0
Save with 0% interest charges and 0% foreign transaction fees. Plus, $0 monthly fees when you don't use the card or carry a balance.
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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.
CUA Everyday Snap Account
Visa
$0
$4.50
2.95%
Refund of international ATM withdrawal fees and international card transaction fees (conditions apply). Refund of overdrawn fees.
$0 monthly account fee. Unlimited fee-free everyday transactions.
Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay available. Savings Top Up tool automatically transfers to linked savings account.
Citi Global Currency Account
Mastercard
$0
$0
Pay $0 international transaction fees and $0 overseas ATM fees when you use a foreign currency linked with your account in a country that uses that currency. Make sure your debit card is linked to the correct currency before using an ATM, otherwise a foreign exchange fee applies.
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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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