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 section will provide you with an idea of what it will cost to live in the vicinity of MIT and helpful information about setting up your life in the Boston/Cambridge area.
Please register with the International Scholars Office (ISchO) through the IScho Portal (requires authorization) as soon as possible after you arrive so we can assist you with your initial concerns and schedule you for an orientation session.
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 or rideshare from Logan International Airport to MIT; the ride will take about 20-30 minutes and cost about $35-$40 for a taxi and $20-$35 for a rideshare. 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. 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. 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 - MBTA section on this page for more information.
We strongly recommend that you carry only small amounts of money with you. We suggest that you open a bank account in a U.S. bank; choose a bank that is conveniently located, with the features you need and reasonable fees. The MIT Payroll Office will deposit your MIT paycheck directly into your bank account.
Banking: 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 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.
Please Note: The International Scholars Office does not recommend or endorse any specific bank. There are many banks in the Boston/Cambridge area, including the MIT Federal Credit Union, which is available for MIT employees (and Postdoctoral Associates).
Credit Cards: Credit cards such as Visa and Mastercard 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.
Bank of America and the MIT Federal Credit Union have ATMs (Automated Teller Machines) located near Lobby 10 (10-186). The MIT Federal Credit Union has a branch location in the Stratton Student Center (W20). The Credit Union offers savings and loan services (including car loans). Its services include a checking account (Share Draft Account) with an ATM card for withdrawals. Those with an account may apply for a Visa credit card. The annual fees and interest rates may be lower than at a regular bank. It is important to compare such features when making choices.
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 $20 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 Human Resources Center for WorkLife and WellBeing
77 Massachusetts Avenue, NE49-5000
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
Tel. 617-253-1592, email@example.com
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 Human Resources Center for WorkLife and WellBeing can provide information about public and private area schools.
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.
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.
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 advise 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 $2,000 to $2,500 per month or more depending on the condition and location of the unit. The cost of a two-bedroom apartment varies anywhere from $2,500 to $3,000 per month or more. Single family homes range from $3,000 to $4,000 per month or more. The estimated monthly cost to share an apartment with a roommate ranges from $1,500 to $1,800 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 cable TV/internet/phone, electricity, and heat (electric, oil, or natural gas).
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. During the winter months, thermostats could be set to approximately 65º F during the day and 60º F at night or or lower when you are not at home.
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" (including 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, see the MBTA website.
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. Some additional tax 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.
Page updated May 2023