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I am considering to do a Ph.D. from the USA and I wonder, if the stipend would be sufficient to support my parents.

  1. I estimate that I need to send about 400 USD a month to my parents. Will I be able to afford it?
  2. Am I correct in assuming that the typical USA stipend would be about 20K a year?
  3. Will I be violating any terms of employment of the university, if I take up part-time employment during my Ph.D.? What is the typical nature of part-time jobs one may find? Is it worth it?
  4. Is one eligible to seek part-time employment under F1-visa (I am assuming that is the typical student visa)? If not, what are the other options? Are the other visas significantly harder to obtain?
  5. Are graduate school stipends taxable in the USA?
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    You should tell us what field you're hoping to pursue PhD studies in. There is some variation between different fields. Math tends to be around the 18K figure line with many offers being closer to 16K. Sending 400 home on that salary is going to put you in a really tight position. Trust me when I say from experience that worrying about running out of money at the end of the month while pursuing PhD studies is the absolute last thing you want. It will absolutely destroy you. – Cameron Williams Oct 13 '15 at 19:01
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    If you're in a tech related field and don't have summer obligations, it may be possible to get an internship over the summer. Depending upon the job, it could pay a fairly large amount of money. For example, it's not unreasonable for CS PhDs to double their monthly salary in the summer. – Ric Oct 13 '15 at 20:14
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    @Ric In my experience, biology and chemistry PhD students can also have their salaries double over the summer – sss Oct 14 '15 at 8:38
  • @Ric, Then they would have less time to dedicate to their Phd research. Not ideal. – Pacerier Oct 14 '15 at 9:43
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    @Pacerier, that is an issue. However, many PhD programs want their students to work over the summer. It exposes them to "the problems in the field", allows them to make industry contacts, and helps to give a cushy respite from the stress of academia. – Ric Oct 14 '15 at 14:29
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  1. I estimate that I need to send about 400 USD a month to my parents. Will I be able to afford it?

I live on a graduate TAship that pays slightly more than 20K per year. I can put away about 200 USD every month. I live in a fairly expensive city, eat out once or twice a week, but don't have a car. Exactly how much you will be able to send home will depend on your lifestyle and where in the US you live. New York? You'll probably have very little left over. Middle of nowhere, out on the coutry? 400 USD is reasonable.

  1. Am I correct in assuming that the typical USA stipend would be about 20K a year?

Depends on your subject area and school. Some have more funding for grad students, others have less. Your advisor may also be able to supplement your salary from his grants if he's well-funded. (Bur yes, somewhere between 18 and 25K are the most common figures).

  1. Will I be violating any terms of employment of the university, if I take up part-time employment during my Ph.D.? What is the typical nature of part-time jobs one may find? Is it worth it?

Typically, you will have a TA-ship which will count as your part time job. Most schools require you to get special permission to have additional jobs, and these permits are very hard to obtain. In addition, a PhD is hard. You won't have time for much more work outside.

  1. Is one eligible to seek part-time employment under F1-visa (I am assuming that is the typical student visa)? If not, what are the other options? Are the other visas significantly harder to obtain?

You can only work for up to 20 hours a week during term-time on an F1-visa. These 20 hours have to be on campus, and typically your department will report your TA hours as your work hours. This effectively prevents you from working extra during the semesters. During holidays you can work for at most 40 hours a week, on or off campus. As a student, you need to be there as either an F1-student, or with permanent residence. Permanent residence is orders of magnitude harder to obtain (pretty much impossible).

  1. Are graduate school stipends taxable in the USA?

Depends on the state, and if all of it is payed out as a scholarship, or if some is payed out as a salary.

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    Thanks for the valuable information. Could you please add, more information on the taxation of stipends? And, I was thinking about tutoring high-students for a fee - will it be illegal (visa, terms of employment etc.)? I would love to do something like that as I like teaching, but I don't want trouble. – Inspired_Blue Oct 13 '15 at 17:10
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    @Inspired_Blue I'm not a tax lawyer, and don't understand the US tax code at all. All I know is that "it depends". Teaching would have to be through a university tutoring service to be completely legal, and you'd need permission from your director of graduate studies. – Johanna Oct 13 '15 at 17:21
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    @Inspired_Blue: You should assume that it will be both impossible, and even the idea received negatively in particular if on a stipend or employed by your university. Working other than as an RA/TA, or similar, on campus is a violation of your non-immigration status, and reason not just for being expelled from the States, but you might be barred from re-entry for years. At least that applies for an F1. – gnometorule Oct 13 '15 at 17:57
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    "No car, living in New York" is probably more feasible than "No car, living in middle of nowhere". – MSalters Oct 14 '15 at 7:01
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    @inspired_blue: I mean (a) it is illegal (and you are well-advised to take visa issues seriously) - the only exceptions being theoretical; (b) some will feel that if you are on a stipend, you should devote yourself to your phd only (even if you could find employment legally). Your intent is laudable, but you should have proper expectations. – gnometorule Oct 14 '15 at 21:31
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Just to add my personal anecdote to illustrate that this can easily be done.

I was a graduate student at Ann Arbor, Michigan. My stipend (or rather pay) came to less than $2,000 a month after taxes (during the 8 months of the school year). The pay package fortunately covered any tuition expenses and also health insurance - I think though that this is pretty standard anywhere in the US.

I was nonetheless able to save well over $1,000 per month, even without making any effort to do so.

My monthly expenses were usually just $500 for rent (plus all utilities, including internet) and another $200+ for food. I always had my own private room. Food was mostly just groceries, with occasional eating out. Anything else I treated as a luxury. For example for transport, I simply had a bike (≈ $130 off Amazon) and for my cellphone I just had a prepaid one (you can pay $100 for a cellphone that has something like 1000 minutes, 1000 texts loaded - this can easily last you a year if you're careful). The cost of living in Ann Arbor is probably slightly higher than the US average, though certainly lower than NYC or SF.

So I'd say yes, saving $400 per month is easily doable, if you're prepared to live a lifestyle that is considerably more frugal than what the typical American is accustomed to. And it sounds like you are indeed prepared to do so.

Note that legally speaking, if you're a dirty foreigner (like I was), you're legally allowed to work only 20 hours a week during the school year. So if you're already a TA or RA, it's likely that you cannot legally work any more hours. However you can still find freelance and lucrative work, e.g. tutoring undergraduate students. This is technically illegal but it's unlikely you'll ever get caught (many foreign grad students work off-the-books but I've never heard of anyone getting caught).

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You'll probably also have to pay for health insurance and so. Not cheap. Unless the school has cheap housing for students (at LSU I had air conditioning, gas and electricity included in what was the going rate for basic rent elsewhere), you will have to factor in lots of extra, "hidden" costs. Add that you will have to buy (rather expensive) texts for most classes.

Unless you are lucky, you will have just enough to be a respectable pauper. Don't get fooled by exchange rates, what looks like a princely income in local money is next to nothing in the USA. Life in developed countries is much more expensive.

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