Getting Set Up
Moving to a new city can be very costly. Some houses and apartments may have basic furniture, but you may need to purchase many items (e.g. bedding, clothing, kitchenware, cleaning supplies) in order to make your new home livable. In a city the size of Philadelphia, it is possible to save
a lot of money by buying second-hand items or looking to see if people are giving certain items away for free.
Second-hand (“Thrift”) stores
Thrift stores are common across the USA, and they are a great place to find a huge variety of second-hand items at very low cost. There are many thrift stores in Philadelphia, but the following are some of the better-known ones:
Buffalo Exchange for clothing
Circle Thrift for clothing and kitchenware
ReStore for furniture and kitchenware
Philly AIDS Thrift for everything!
Finding Free/Low-cost Second-hand Items Online
Craigslist is a platform with websites for most major US cities, and it allows people to advertise a variety of goods and services. You can search the for sale or free stuff section for specific items, and use the menu on the left to filter by price and distance from your home. You should be careful when using Craigslist, as listings may be fraudulent - never pay in advance for something you see on Craigslist, and never share your bank details with sellers! You can find more advice on spotting Craigslist scams here.
It is very common for people to buy and sell things on Facebook Marketplace. Similarly to Craigslist, some listings will not be real and some sellers will not be trustworthy. Again, never pay in advance for something you see on Facebook Marketplace, and never share your bank details with sellers.
“Buy Nothing” Facebook Groups
The Buy Nothing Project represents the world’s largest gift economy. Many people in the Greater Philadelphia area use neighborhood Buy Nothing Facebook groups to give away items for free that they no longer need or use. If you are a Facebook user, consider joining the Buy Nothing group for your neighborhood or surrounding neighborhoods.
Find your neighborhood Buy Nothing group on this interactive map.
Mobile Phones & Providers
Firstly, if you are planning to use your home smartphone in the USA, check if it is unlocked. Some network providers lock customers’ phones so they will not work with other networks. If you are not sure, try inserting a SIM card from another network – if it doesn’t work this means it is locked. If your phone is locked, you may be able to contact your mobile network provider and request that they unlock the phone. Some companies might charge a fee for this, and some may not permit it.
If you are not able to unlock your phone, you will need to buy an unlocked phone before getting a US SIM card. There are many options in the USA for purchasing a new or used unlocked phone without a contract (also called a “plan”). If you purchase an unlocked phone, you can purchase a SIM-only contract from a network provider. You can also get a phone through a contract, which may involve a lower (or no) up-front cost for the phone itself, but higher monthly payments over a longer period.
If you want to save yourself a hassle when you arrive in the USA, you can also use a service like CampusSIMS, which offers a variety of contract-free plans and can provide customers with a SIM card and a US phone number (if needed) before arrival in the USA. CampusSIMs partners with Mint Mobile, which offers contract-free plans starting at $15 per month.
Other network providers with good coverage in and around Philadelphia include Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.
You may find yourself needing to set up your own internet connection after moving into a new house or apartment.
There are two main Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Philadelphia: Verizon and Xfinity/Comcast.
If you would like to support a local company, the ISP Philly Wisper is based in Philadelphia and is a strong advocate for net neutrality
and data privacy.
Before committing to an ISP, it is good to consider your typical usage patterns to help determine which internet speed you will need.
Lower internet speeds cost less per month, but you may need faster internet if you have regular online classes or use lots of different
smart devices at the same time.
A Taste of Home
Philadelphia is home to communities of people from around the world, and so it is often possible to find
the ingredients and produce you might crave from home even if it is not on the shelves of your local
Here are some well-known examples of grocery stores with international ingredients:
There are many stores across the city representing specific cuisines, and a quick Google search will help you find stores selling what you need.
At the Supermarket
If you like to browse the shelves and cover all your shopping needs in one go, these local supermarket chains are common
destinations for Philadelphians:
Grocery deliveries are an increasingly popular option for people who find it hard to make time to go to a supermarket or who do not live close to one. The following services allow you to order deliveries to your door, sometimes same-day:
Books can add thousands of dollars to your expenses during your time as a student, but there are a number of ways to avoid spending too much:
If you prefer to have new books, see if the textbooks you need are available at Barnes and Noble or your campus bookstore.
Check the syllabi for your courses. If it is not 100% clear which books are mandatory, ask your instructor which books you need to own.
Try to connect with students in your program who have already taken the courses you will need to take. You might find someone willing to sell you a textbook, or even give it away.
See if the book is available at your campus library. You can usually check library catalogs online, and if a textbook is available, borrow it early (as other students might have the same idea!).
If you do end up needing to buy books new (or even used), if you keep them in good condition you can resell them online for close to
their original value.
Tipping is customary for more goods and services in the USA than in most other countries.
While this is commonly associated with restaurant servers and bartenders, it is often expected for many other personalized services such as taxis, rideshares, hairdressers, nail technicians, food delivery, valet and more. Guidance on suggested tipping amounts can be found here.
Fast food restaurants and major coffee chains are an exception to the usual rules for tipping, but if you see a tip jar on the counter then you can tip at your discretion, the staff will appreciate a contribution for good service.