Finances: Part One

*Disclaimer: Finance-related matters usually have many ways to settle and are often contingent on your personal financial situation. It is most prudent to discuss your financial options with your family or sponsor, as these can vary widely and can affect which option (or mix of options) you ultimately choose. We do not intend for this to be an exhaustive or authoritative guide to handling all financial issues you may face, but merely to address some common concerns you may have.

Matters to Consider

Bringing Money From Singapore

Here a few common options to bring money over from Singapore. Each have multiple pros and cons.

  • having cash with you
  • issuing a USD cheque that can clear in the US
  • transferring from Singapore, or using a card from Singapore


Daily expenditures add up, especially if you’re not on a meal plan. For instance, food is expensive in Cornell - breakfast, lunch and dinner on Cornell costs $9, $13 and $16 respectively. Hence the importance of having a financial plan.


At the same time, you don’t have to have a perfect plan immediately when you come over - it is okay to come over, familiarise yourself, tide over a few months before setting up a more permanent solution.

Pay for Cornell Bursar Directly (vs. Using FlyWire)

There are two options:

  • FlyWire (which will charge you a fee every time you use it)
  • Electronic check (which requires a US bank account - most Singapore USD bank accounts and USD credit/debit cards do not work. Your parents can transfer the money to your American bank account, and you can pay from there to avoid FlyWire fees)


Small things like laundry, printing and visiting the medical centre are also costs that are more conveniently paid for by card. You may also want to use your Cornell Card, which will collate your on-campus expenses onto your bursar at the cost of $12.

How to Open a US Bank Account

In the previous section, we mentioned opening a USD bank account in the US multiple times as solutions to a few potential financial issues. Yet opening a bank account often requires you to be physically present and so may need to be planned ahead. As such, here are some reminders.

What do you need?

  • Valid passport, I-20, student ID & proof of residence (e.g. utilities bill/printed Cornell student center)
  • Some banks require a minimum deposit - refer to the earlier section on how to bring money over

Where can you go?

  • CFCU Community Credit Union (Cornell Bookstore)
  • Tompkins Trust Company (Cornell Bookstore)
  • M&T Bank (Commons)
  • NYC (if that’s where you fly into, take note that some branches do not operate on the weekends)
  • Others: Syracuse (1h away), Philadelphia, Boston...

What is Tipping and How to Tip

Tipping is a mandatory practice in the United States in all restaurants that provide sit-down service. Similar in principle to the service charge that you get charged for in restaurants in Singapore, it is not expected that you tip in fast food restaurants, self-service eateries, or drink stalls. It is also very commonly practiced when you receive personalized services such as hairdressing, taxi rides, or housekeeping and bellstand services in hotels.


How Much to Tip?

In Ithaca, it is advisable to tip at least 15% of the total cost of the good or service you receive, excluding tax. You are free to adjust this amount depending on the quality of service you receive, although it is very common for a party of 6 or more people to be charged a standard tip of 18% - 20% at a restaurant.

Where to Tip

  • Sit-down Restaurants
  • Hairdressers
  • Taxi Rides
  • Bellstand (Valet) Services

Where Not to Tip

  • Fast-food Restaurants
  • Self-serve Restaurants
  • Beverage Cafes (e.g. Starbucks)