Student & host family expenses: who pays for what?

Having an extra teenager in your home will likely increase your household expenses, such as gas, water and grocery bills. Here is some guidance on how to best set financial boundaries from the beginning to ensure that both you and your student are on the same page.

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Host family expenses

Host families are responsible for providing their exchange student with their meals, transportation and a clean and safe living environment. At first, it may feel awkward trying to balance treating your student as a member of the family, while also expecting them to pay for their own personal expenses. It can be tempting to be overly generous with your student at the beginning and offer to pay for things that are their responsibility. However, this can set the wrong precedent in your student’s mind. Helping your student understand their monthly expenses and what they're responsible for will set you both up for a healthy relationship.


EF tells students that personal toiletries are their responsibility. However, there may be household toiletries that you’re buying for everyone in the family, such as toilet paper and toothpaste. Discuss those items with your student and clarify which toiletries you will provide for the family and which personal toiletries the student would be expected to pay for. Host families are expected to cover:


  • Three meals a day plus snacks
  • Utilities
  • Reasonable transportation
  • Household toiletries

Student expenses

Students are expected to cover their personal expenses while on program. They will likely bring a credit card, debit card or pre-paid card from back home. Students may experience some challenges using their foreign cards in local retailers, so it's best that they also carry cash. 


When planning family activities that come with a cost, talk with your student about the expenses and ensure that they have enough in their budget to participate. We do not expect you to pay for them, so if they do not have the funds to participate, discuss lower cost options. Students are expected to cover:


  • Personal toiletries and cosmetics
  • Phone plan
  • Clothes
  • Entertainment — time with friends such as concerts, school dances, museums, entry fees, movies, coffee dates, miniature golf, etc.
  • Holiday gifts
  • Additional food costs beyond what’s provided
  • School and sports fees
  • Travel
  • Insurance coverage
Who pays for the school lunches?

Host families are expected to cover three meals a day for their student. If you are providing lunch supplies for them in the house but your student would rather eat at school, that would be their expense. One IEC says, “I tell my host families that if their student doesn't want to pay for school lunches, then the family needs to make sure there is enough food available for the student to pack their own lunch. I also advise them to have snacks available for the student to bring to school as well.”

Who should pay for the student when we eat at a restaurant together?

Host families provide three meals a day to an exchange student, so if you decide to eat out for a meal and you expect your student to go along, plan to pay for them. Set guidelines for your family around meals that are eaten outside the home. One host mom says, “When we go out, I look over the menu and tell my sons and student how much they’re allowed to spend at that restaurant. I usually pick an average of the prices listed and everyone is expected to stay under that. This helps keep our meals affordable."

Do students know how to manage their own money?

Students usually have little experience managing and budgeting money; your guidance will be needed and appreciated. Your student may not realize all the expenses associated with social activities and entertainment or the reoccurring expenses like a monthly cell phone plan.

How much should students budget per month?

Students are encouraged to budget $250-300 per month during the exchange. Prior to their arrival and throughout the exchange, it is helpful to provide a list of monthly expenses, like their cell phone plan and toiletries, as well as any one- time fees they should be aware of such as family vacations, prom expenses, additional school fees or tickets to local events.

Can my student open a local bank account?

Your student may try to open a local checking account so their parents can deposit money for their spending money. Not all banks allow a minor from abroad to obtain an account. For everyone's protection, we do not recommend co-signing on a bank account for your student. Instead, encourage your student to use their debit or credit card from back home.

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Does your family have any hobbies or interests that you'd like to share with an exchange student? Are you looking to learn more about a particular region of the world? Consider some of these topics and start browsing student profiles today.

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© EF Education First 2011-2021. EF High School Exchange Year is operated by EF Educational Foundation for Foreign Study, a non-profit corporation designated by the U.S. Department of State to operate a J-1 student exchange program. Note: Featured photo/videos do not include prospective students, and are representative of program participants.