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Cost of Living Information for Scholars Coming to MIT

International Scholars > Cost of Living

People crossing Mass. Ave.

Hello! We look forward to welcoming you to MIT.

The information below is intended to assist you as you plan your visit to MIT. Living costs in the Cambridge/Boston area are among the highest in the United States, so it is important to carefully consider your living expenses prior to your arrival. Individual tastes and needs vary widely, making it difficult to predict exact expenses. We hope that this information will provide you with an idea of what it will cost to live in the vicinity of MIT.

Please visit the International Scholars Office (ISchO) in Building E18, Room 209 as soon as possible after you arrive so we can assist you with your initial concerns and schedule you for an orientation session. Please Note: J-1 Exchange Visitors are REQUIRED to register with the ISchO within 30 days after the start date on the Form DS-2019.


Initial Expenses: You should plan to arrive with enough money to meet the substantial initial expenses of your first weeks in the United States. Until you finalize your living arrangements, you should expect to spend from $30 to $50 per day for meals at moderately priced restaurants and from $100 to $300 or more per night for hotel, motel, or guest house accommodations. Advance lodging reservations are strongly recommended.

Transportation to Boston and MIT: Boston is accessible by all modes of transportation. Logan International Airport and South Station (major train and bus depot) are both easily accessible by public transportation. You may take a taxi from Logan International Airport to MIT; the ride will take about 20-30 minutes and cost about $35-$40. MIT Campus Map

You may also take public transportation, although this may be difficult with luggage. The subway is commonly called the T and runs from 5:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. To reach MIT, you may take the Silver Line bus from the airport to South Station. You will need $2.65 in exact change or purchase a ticket from the machine before boarding. At South Station, change to the Red Line and take it inbound (toward Alewife) four stops to Kendall Square, which is the “back entrance” to the MIT campus. Or, you may take the free Airport shuttle bus to the Airport Station T stop, where you can buy a ticket for $2.65. Take the Blue Line inbound to Government Center. Then change to the Green Line heading inbound and go one stop to Park Street. At Park Street, change to the Red Line and take it outbound (toward Alewife) two stops to Kendall Square. See the Public Transportation section for more information.

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Finding suitable housing will most likely be one of your first concerns. Newcomers without confirmed housing may want to arrive two to four weeks before their appointment begins to locate suitable accommodations. Families generally need more time since some landlords may be reluctant to rent to families with children. Individuals must make their own rental arrangements. On-campus housing is usually only available for MIT students but you may use the services of the Off-Campus Housing Service after you arrive. It also has information about hotels and motels, bed and breakfast inns, rental furniture, and real estate agents.

MIT Off-Campus Housing Service
Housing Office
201 Vassar Street, W59-200
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
Tel. 617-253-2811,

The MIT Postdoctoral Association also has compiled the Postdoc Housing Resources Document, which contains resources and tips to help postocs find housing.

One of the simplest ways to find housing in the Boston area is to visit a realtor. Realty offices maintain extensive lists of apartments and houses and, for a fee usually equal to one month's rent, will help you locate a house or apartment that matches your needs.

A note about online roommate matching services: You may wish to make your housing arrangements prior to arrival by using online apartment listings or roommate matching services. This allows you to contact potential roommates via phone, email, or Skype. Unfortunately, after making financial commitments to these housing situations, some new MIT scholars have arrived at properties to find surprises such as incompatible roommates, unknown pets, unsafe neighborhoods, and poor conditions of the living space. If you use online lists or roommate matching services to make initial contact with potential roommates or landlords, we advice you to WAIT until you are able to meet all potential roommates and see the apartment or house before making a financial commitment or signing a lease.

Housing costs vary widely depending on the neighborhood, the condition of the dwelling, and amenities included. Do not rent a house or an apartment before you have seen it. Rent usually does not include costs for heat, electricity, hot water, gas for cooking, telephone charges, parking fees, or furniture. Most apartments are unfurnished, some do not have refrigerators, and few are air-conditioned. Always ask the landlord or realtor to clarify what is included in the monthly rent.

Leases: A lease is a legal contract between landlord (property owner) and tenant (person renting). Do not sign any lease until you have read it thoroughly and understand all of its provisions. Almost all property owners require the tenant to sign a lease for one year, committing the tenant to 12 months' rent unless a subtenant acceptable to the owner can be found. Leases usually start on the first of the month. The Off-Campus Housing Service will review your lease with you, if you wish.

Rental Costs: Most owners require one month's rent in advance. You should be prepared to pay up to three or four months' rent before occupying an apartment (first and last months in advance, a refundable security deposit, and possibly a realtor's fee). Please arrive with sufficient funds (preferably in travelers' checks, not cash) for these initial expenses. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment generally ranges from $1,000 to $1,800 per month or more depending on the condition and location of the unit. The cost of a two-bedroom apartment varies anywhere from $1,300 to $2,500 per month or more. Single family homes range from $2,000 to $4,000 per month or more. Furnished rooms, with or without cooking privileges, cost from $700 to $900 per month or more. The estimated monthly cost to share an apartment with a roommate ranges from $700 to $1000 per month or more per person. Utilities, such as heat, hot water, gas, and electricity, may range from $120 to $450 per month.

Utilities: The major utilities are telephone, electricity, and heat (electric, oil, or gas).

Telephone: The average cost for local telephone service ranges from $30 to $50 per month. Long distance calls are billed separately. The cost to install a new telephone ranges from $37 to $90.

Electricity: The voltage used in the United States for small appliances is 110-V (60 cycles). If you bring appliances which use 220-V to 240-V, you must use an adapter. Adapters are available for purchase; however, they are expensive. Monthly electricity costs vary from $30 to $100 per month depending on building size and usage.

Heat: If heat is not included in your rent you should expect to pay from $90 to $350 per month, depending on the size of your apartment or house. To keep fuel costs to a minimum, thermostats could be set to about 65º F during the day and 55º to 60º F at night or when you are not at home during winter months.

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Most U.S. banks offer many different types of personal account services for checking and savings. You may want to open an account in a U.S. bank before you arrive. Ask the bank in your country for information about corresponding banks in the Boston area. If you wait to open an account until you arrive, it could take two to four weeks before you have access to money deposited into an account by a foreign check. It may be quicker to bring travelers' checks or to arrange a wire transfer to your new account.

A local bank, The Cambridge Trust Company, has introduced a program that allows new international scholars who will be coming to MIT on J-1 visas to open a bank account before arriving in the United States. More information.

Please Note: The International Scholars Office does not recommend or endorse any specific bank. There are many banks in the Boston/Cambridge area, includnig the MIT Federal Credit Union, which is available for MIT employees (such as Postdoctoral Associates).

Credit Cards: Credit cards such as Visa, Mastercard, and American Express are widely accepted in most stores, including major supermarkets. Most car rental companies require a major credit card to rent a car. If you currently have a credit card at home and would like to apply for one in the United States, you should bring a letter of reference from your home bank regarding your credit history.

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Clothing and Furniture

Clothing: New England winters are very cold and you will need warm outer clothing and boots. Unless you own these items, it is usually easier and more economical to purchase them after you arrive. Winter coats vary in price from $70 to $300, depending on quality and materials. Winter boots cost from $50 to $150 or more. Good quality used clothing is available at lower prices. Lightweight clothing is needed for the Boston area's hot, humid summers.

Furniture and Household Items: A variety of used furniture is available in Cambridge. MIT's newspaper, Tech Talk, lists items for sale, as do various local papers. The MIT Furniture Exchange in Cambridge is also a good place to buy used furniture. For more information, call 617-253-4293 go to the website.

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Public Transportation

Boston and its surrounding communities are connected by a public transportation system of trains and buses called the MBTA. The four subway lines are the Blue, Green, Red, and Orange, and there is also an extensive bus system. The T (trains and buses) operates between 5:30 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. The MBTA also operates an extensive commuter rail (train) system to surrounding suburbs; price vary according to distance traveled. Monthly MBTA passes can be purchased at many subway stations, as well as the Parking and Transportation Office at MIT, during the last four working days of each month. For train and bus fares, schedules and directions, go to the MBTA website.

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Child Care and Schools

Families must bring medical records for their children to prove they have been immunized. Massachusetts requires proof of immunization for children before they can enroll in school or participate in child care programs.

Like most other services in the Boston area, child care will probably cost more than you are used to paying. It is difficult to report an average fee because programs vary. You can expect to spend from $1300 to $2200, or more, per month for a child care program and about $12 to $15 per hour, or more, for occasional care or child care in your home. The MIT Work-Life Center offers guidance about locating and evaluating care, and listings of a wide variety of programs. Staff members can help parents make child care arrangements most suitable to their needs. For more information, contact:

MIT Work-Life Center
77 Massachusetts Avenue, NE49-5000
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
Tel. 617-253-1592,

MIT-sponsored child care centers are available on campus for infants and children up to 5 years and offer full-time and part-time programs. Because there is a waiting list that can be up to one year or longer, it is important to make contact before arrival. For more information, contact Technology Childcare Centers.

Schooling for Children: To enroll their children in schools, families need to bring three things: (1) medical records for their children to prove they have been immunized; (2) proof of address in Massachusetts (a lease, electricity bill, or telephone bill); and (3) the birth certificate or passport of the child.

School-age children are eligible to attend public schools at no cost in the town where you live. The school year runs from September through June, although children may enter school any time during the school year. Public school generally starts with kindergarten for children who are 5 years old, and goes through about age 18. New residents should call the school department in the city or town in which they live for information on registration. The MIT Work-Life Center can provide information about public and private area schools.

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Health Insurance

You are required to have a health insurance policy protecting you and your family in the event of illness or injury. If you are coming to the United States as a J-1 exchange visitor, you must be willing to sign a statement that you have health insurance for yourself and your family for the duration of your stay. Maintaining adequate health insurance is a condition of J-1 visa status. J-1 exchange visitors must have adequate health insurance within 30 days of the J-1 program start date. The coverage must meet the J-1 Exchange Visitor guidelines, as stated in the Statement of Compliance. More information. If your insurance policy is with a company in your country, please bring policy documentation describing the extent of the coverage. If you are sponsored by a private foundation or a government agency, ask your sponsor about health insurance coverage.

For information about insurance plans covering your trip to the United States, you may want to contact companies that specialize in health insurance for international students and scholars. If your stay in the United States is for six months or less, please refer to the handout "Health Insurance Options for J-1 Exchange Visitors, their Dependents, and Other Visitors."

MIT offers health insurance plans that are available to some scholars and their families. If you are appointed for at least three months, for at least 50% time, and will receive a salary from MIT, you may be eligible for the MIT health insurance plans. More information. The monthly payroll deductions are also indicated on this web page.

More information about MIT Health Plans is available at the MIT Health Plan Office, E23-308, Tel. 617-253-4371, and on the MIT Medical website. For more information about the other health insurance plans, contact the MIT Benefits Office,  NE49-5000, Tel. 617-253-6151.

Affiliate Health Program: If you have an appointment of at least 50% time at MIT for three months or longer and are not paid by MIT, you are eligible to enroll in the MIT Affiliate Health Plan. The Affiliate Health Plan has two parts: the Affiliate Medical Plan, which covers most doctor visits at the MIT Medical Department, and the Affiliate Extended Insurance Plan, which covers hospitalization and medical care off-campus. You must enroll in both. Many affiliates are required to enroll in the Affiliate Health Plan unless they have other adequate coverage. For more information, contact the Affiliate Health Plan Office, E23-308, Tel. 617-253-4371, An Affiliate Health Plan Overview and a Summary Plan Description can be downloaded from the MIT Medical website.

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Information for Spouses and Partners

There are many programs for spouses and partners at MIT which provide support, sponsor activities and outings, and offer English classes. For more information, visit the website of the MIT Spouses & Partners Connect organization.

Spouse Employment: Individuals in J-2 visa status may be given permission to work by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Those who wish to apply should consult the ISchO's information. Spouses and family members in B-2, F-2, H-4, O-3, or TD visa status are NOT permitted to work in the United States.

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You should be aware that taxes may be deducted from salaries, stipends, and fellowships. Your available income after taxes may be lower than anticipated. The amount withheld from your paycheck is dependent upon your tax status which, in turn, is determined by your visa classification and the amount of time you have been in the United States. Income taxes usually amount to about 14% of total income, but may be as high as 30%. H-1B and J-2 visa holders (with work permission) are also subject to a non-refundable social security tax of approximately 7.65% of total income.

Please keep in mind that many tax treaties exist between the United States and other countries which may exempt you from paying income tax in the United States. Information about treaties and income tax requirements can be obtained from the U.S. Consulate in your country and the MIT Payroll Office.

The tax year runs from January 1 to December 31. Most international scholars and spouses, whether or not they receive income from U.S. sources, are required to complete appropriate tax forms by a particular deadline. Please keep records of your income and spending to substantiate later claims on your tax returns, and keep copies of your income tax forms. Further information is available on the ISchO's tax page. Because of legal restrictions on our capacity to advise you about tax liabilities, the ISchO staff is not able to answer questions regarding your individual tax situation.

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Last Updated: October 2019

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