It could be argued that walking into USIT hung-over and booking a J-1 on a whim is less than ideal. Yet, that’s how I went about doing things. Admittedly, what seemed spontaneous and exciting at the time, turned out to be just a tad irrational and stupid.
There is so much planning that goes into a J-1 trip, financially and otherwise, all of which should be considered before you book it and not as an afterthought.
I was lucky. I walked in when USIT were in the middle of one of their promotional deals. For anyone who doesn’t know, USIT is a travel company that specialises in work and volunteer programmes. They’re based on the corner of Aston Quay. Some believe that it would be easier to book everything by yourself, but if you’re as naive as I was about the States, it’s best to have someone book everything for you.
These promotional deals, which USIT hold about three times during the J-1 period, mean that you don’t have to pay for the cost of a visa to America. If you’re certain that you’re going to take part in the J-1 programme, I would wait until one of these weeks to come around. In the end, it shaved €280 off the cost of the J-1.
After taking out the cost of the visa, there is still a lot you do have to pay for. In adding up flights, a US SIM card, insurance and different fees to different companies, the whole programme cost just under €1,000.
It’s up to you how you want to pay this fee. Once you have the payment in by full by a certain date that changes every year, you are free to pay off as much as you want whenever you want.
To be honest, even though the J-1 programme opens around November or December, I would suggest starting to save far in advance of that date.
On top of paying for the programme itself, you have to take into consideration rent and the cost of living while over in America. Everyone’s budgets will be different, but you should try and estimate how much accommodation will cost, so that you’re not blindsided when you touch down in the U.S.
A helpful tip when you are choosing where to live: always factor in the cost of transport per month to and from work on top of your rent and utilities per month.
It’s standard practice in the States that landlords will look for a security deposit, which may mean the cost of your first and last month’s rent. So make sure you have enough money going over to cover this possibility.
USIT suggest that you will need at least $800 with you when you arrive, but I would say that you should aim to have nearer $1,000. If you’re like me and you have somewhere to stay for the first couple of days as you get settled, then this mightn’t be necessary. However, remember that if you’re doing the hostel thing, it could cost you around $200 for a week – and that’s in a cheap hostel.
Obviously, the plan is to start earning once you get there, but it can’t hurt to prepare in case of a disaster. The last thing you want is to be bunking it on one of New York or Boston’s finest park benches.
Finally, bring enough money to actually enjoy the “American dream” or everything else you paid for will have been pointless.