The cost of living in China can vary substantially among neighborhoods, cities, and regions.
Beijing and Shanghai, for example, are much more expensive than secondary cities such as Chengdu or Kunming, which in turn are more expensive than smaller cities and countryside and your lifestyle (if you like drinking whiskey and cola in the elegant bars of Shanghai and buy extra virgin olive oil at the City Shop you will spend more than those who shop at Perry’s – a bar for students on Huai Hai Road where a bottle of Tsingtao beer will cost you 10 Yuan – and those who only eat Chinese food).
For example, you may struggle to find a small apartment in the center of Beijing or Shanghai for less than $800 per month.
Expect to pay at least 2,500-3,500 Yuan a month for a room in a shared apartment in Beijing or Shanghai (at least if you don’t want to live in the deep peripheries).
In other cities, the rent is much more economical but it depends on the individual case. You’ll also have to pay for electricity, water gas, and the internet.
According to our data, you shouldn’t spend more than 400-600 Yuan a month.
The expenses are for the entire apartment so if you live with others you should pay just a portion.
You’ll also need a cell phone. In general, 100 Yuan a month should be enough (also counting the internet) but it depends on your use.
A meal could cost you only 10-15 Yuan for a plate of jiaozi (ravioli) or of lamian (noodles). If however, you want to eat meat and fish regularly and visit elegant restaurants, prices rice quickly. It depends on your diet.
The subway and buses are still economical; let’s say 5 yuan a day (or 150 yuan a month). Taxis are becoming expensive, especially in Shanghai and Beijing, but are still much cheaper than those that you’ll find in Europe or the United States.
Let’s review: Rent (at least 3,000 Yuan) + utilities (at least 200 Yuan) + telephone bills (100 Yuan, with internet) + food (at least 2,100 Yuan for a high-quality diet, at least 1,100 Yuan for a diet that includes a lot of rice, pasta, and potatoes) + transportation (at least 150 Yuan) + going shopping (clothes) at least = 4,500-5,500 Yuan a month.
Let’s say, therefore that the starting point is 4,500 Yuan a month in Beijing or Shanghai. Clearly you should add expenses for entertainment (travel, dining out, alcohol, cigarettes, some tea), clothes, health insurance, visas, international flights, and unforeseen expenses.
Keep in mind that in China it is very common to perceive different benefits beyond just salary.
This can go from 5 Kg of rice for the Spring Festival up to total reimbursement for rent, transportation within the interior of the country (even taxis), health insurance, visas and an international flight a year.
- Depending on your lifestyle and where you settle down, it is possible to make a life for yourself in China for around $800 per month.
- City centers like Shanghai or Beijing will tend to be more expensive than elsewhere.
- While housing will be free of charge if you teach Engish, you’ll also need to make room for food, utilities, and transportation costs – some of which can be higher than in the United States.
- Basic healthcare services are provided for free, but you may want to upgrade to privately-insured options.
Below is a table that provides a rough overview of the cost of living for the major urban centers in China as well as a couple of second-tier cities. In smaller cities, prices are even lower.
|Taxi Fare (Minimum Fare, First 3 Km)||13.00 CNY|
|Taxi Fare (Fare per Km)||2.30 CNY|
|Taxi Fare (Night Fare per Km)||2.76 CNY|
|Subway Ticket (Minimum Fare)||3.00 CNY|
|Bus Ticket (Minimum Fare)||2.00 CNY|
|Train to the Airport||25.00 CNY|
|Bus to Airport (Minimum Fare)||15.00 CNY|
|Bike (Purchase)||324.55 CNY|
|Electric Motorbike (Purchase)||2,229.92 CNY|
Utilities (Monthly Cost)
|Internet Home Connection (China Mobile, 20 Mb/s)||75.00 CNY|
|Smartphone Plan (China Mobile, 500 Mb)||58.00 CNY|
|Smartphone Price per Minute (China Mobile, 500 Mb Plan)||0.19 CNY|
|Electricity, Water, Gas, Heating (1 Person)||213.20 CNY|
|VPN Service (For a Yearly Subscription)||52.03 CNY|
Accommodation (Monthly Rent)
|Studio, City Center||6,700.00 CNY|
|Room in Shared Apartment, City Center||3,141.30 CNY|
|3 Rooms Apartment, City Center||12,513.04 CNY|
|Studio, Far from City Center||3,321.43 CNY|
|Room in Shared Apartment, Far from City Center||2,182.35 CNY|
|3 Rooms Apartment, Far from City Center||6,734.53 CNY|
Sport and Leisure
|Massage in a Luxury SPA||459.65 CNY|
|Massage in a Small SPA||164.92 CNY|
|Gym Monthly Fee||383.75 CNY|
|Cinema (International Release)||85.75 CNY|
Eating and Drinking Out
|Meal Inexpensive Restaurant||33.41 CNY|
|Meal Expensive Chinese Restaurant||162.60 CNY|
|Meal Expat Restaurant||174.26 CNY|
|Meal at McDonald||36.07 CNY|
|Domestic Beer in a “Student” Bar||12.74 CNY|
|Imported Beer in a Night Club / High-End Venue||44.78 CNY|
|Cocktail in a Night Club / High-End Venue||70.14 CNY|
|Cup of Coffee||27.41 CNY|
|Regular Milk (1 Liter)||15.89 CNY|
|White Rice (500 g)||7.66 CNY|
|Eggs (6)||11.68 CNY|
|Chicken Breasts (500 g)||13.86 CNY|
|Apples (500 g)||8.95 CNY|
|Oranges (500 g)||9.60 CNY|
|Tomatoes (500 g)||7.99 CNY|
|Potatoes (500 g)||4.86 CNY|
|Lettuce (1 Head)||3.81 CNY|
|Water (Bottle of 1.5 Liter)||4.38 CNY|
|Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range)||85.47 CNY|
|Domestic Beer (Bottle of 0.66 Liter)||5.70 CNY|
|Imported Beer (Bottle of 0.33 Liter)||13.71 CNY|
|Jeans (Levi’s or similar)||401.39 CNY|
|Summer Dress (H&M or similar)||195.32 CNY|
|Sport Shoes (Nike or similar)||608.00 CNY|
|Leather Shoes||669.56 CNY|
|Haircut (Chinese Shop)||50.93 CNY|
|Haircut (International Shop)||215.19 CNY|
|Nanny / Cleaning Lady (Hourly Fee)||41.15 CNY|
Monthly expenses (according to your profile)
In the table below we’ve listed expenses for three profiles that, even if they’re imaginary, reflect an accurate enough representation of three different lifestyles.
The first profile, which we have called “the Prude”, is the one that tries to save money in all possible ways: he has a room rented in a shared apartment far from the city center, uses only public transport, rarely frequents clubs, and instead of eating in restaurants cooks at home.
The second profile, which we’ve called the “Average ex-pat”, is one who concedes a few “luxuries” without going to extremes. The average ex-pat has a shared apartment in the center of the city, hits the clubs 2-3 times a week, every once in a while (especially at night) takes a taxi and often eats out, even if he often settles for a cheap Chinese restaurant.
The third profile, the so-called “Party animal”, is someone who doesn’t care about expenses: he lives in a studio in the center of the city, without roommates to break his balls, gets around exclusively by taxi, goes out often, eats almost only in “ex-pat” restaurants, indulges in two massages a week, etc.
|THE PRUDE||THE AVERAGE EXPAT||THE PARTY ANIMAL|
|Beijing||5,970 CNY||10,937 CNY||22,668 CNY|
|Guangzhou||5,621 CNY||10,814 CNY||24,570 CNY|
|Shanghai||6,431 CNY||12,312 CNY||27,450 CNY|
|Shenzhen||5,952 CNY||11,381 CNY||25,241 CNY|
Keep in mind that these are the expenses for top populated cities in China, where life is expensive. In 2nd and 3rd tier cities everything is cheaper.
Is it expensive to live in China?
The cost of living in Shanghai is 5% lower than that of Rome, 6% higher than Madrid, 45% lower than London, 41% lower than New York, 26% lower than Los Angeles, 45% more expensive than Bangkok and 77% more expensive than Hanoi.
Note that the data considers only the costs, not salaries.
Therefore, for example, if you live in New York and earn three times what you could earn in Shanghai, despite the higher prices your quality of life in New York would be higher.
The reasoning also works conversely: it’s useless to decide to live in Hanoi, in Vietnam, just because it’s cheaper if they only pay you a third of what they would pay you in Shanghai.
Salaries in China for English teachers
Those who work in teaching English in China in 2020 can get between 6,500 RMB and 16,000 RMB. That’s roughly $920 and $2,300 per month (depends on qualification, city, education level, and experience).
Check our guide on salaries for an English teacher in China in 2020 for more information.
Although there are so many factors to consider when calculating the cost of living in China, the salary you can anticipate making in China affords you the choice to choose multiple lifestyles.
As foreigners are generally paid higher than the average middle-class worker across China, you can choose to live like royalty if saving money is not a priority for you.
However, even living frugally will generally still allow you to splurge and treat yourself here and there.