How much does it cost to live in China? China is a massive country, so it’s practically impossible to definitively answer this question for every city or situation. However knowing specifics of the cost of living in China can be really beneficial if you are torn on your decision to move to China or cannot choose between several cities to live.
In this guide, we cover all you need to know to anticipate the cost of living in China along with other factors that can run up your expenses in the country.
Cost of Living in China Comparison
Below is a table that provides a rough overview on the cost of living for the major urban centers in China as well as a couple second-tier cities.
|Rent – standard 1 bedroom, city center (monthly)||4,750 RMB||6,500 RMB||4,450 RMB||2,500 RMB||1,500 RMB|
|Basic Utilities (monthly)||250 RMB||210 RMB||325 RMB||175 RMB||150 RMB|
|Base Taxi Fare||13 RMB||14 RMB||7 RMB||8 RMB||10 RMB|
|Minimum Subway Fare||2 RMB||2 RMB||2 RMB||2 RMB||n/a|
|Standard Meal||25 RMB||35 RMB||25 RMB||20 RMB||15 RMB|
|Mid-range Restaurant Meal (for two)||145 RMB||165 RMB||150 RMB||120 RMB||100 RMB|
|12 Eggs||16 RMB||21 RMB||13 RMB||17 RMB||6 RMB|
|Tomatoes (1 lb)||4 RMB||15 RMB||12 RMB||17 RMB||4 RMB|
|Apples (1 kg)||13 RMB||21 RMB||13 RMB||12 RMB||8 RMB|
|Pair of Nike Shoes||650 RMB||800 RMB||650 RMB||650 RMB||650 RMB|
|2 Tickets to the Movies||140 RMB||120 RMB||110 RMB||85 RMB||60 RMB|
Continue reading below to also learn more about additional factors to consider to further understand the cost of living in China.
Location Considerations | Cost of Living
Apartments of all sizes and costs in Beijing, China
Like anywhere in the world, the cost of living in China will vary greatly from city to city. It may come as little surprise that you can anticipate paying a significant chunk of your salary to live in first-tier cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou.
Although expensive, living in these cities affords you the opportunity to enjoy more than just the Chinese culture. You’re also afforded a more luxurious lifestyle than in other cities, which includes:
- Quality nightlife
- Vibrant music scene
- Regular sporting events
- Access to excellent international foods and Western restaurants
- Advanced infrastructure with extensive public transportation
- Many other amenities.
In contrast these first-tier cities, China’s second-tier cities feature a lower cost of living.
To put things in perspective, sharing a room in a decent area in Beijing or Shanghai can run you at least 2,500 RMB / month whereas you can have your own place in Urumqi, Xinjiang for as low as 1,500 RMB / month.
Yet more affordable cities do come at a cost in that they have less vibrant atmospheres and may not feature many comforts you find in first-tier cities like a Starbucks on every major avenue or a subway system. Jobs in second-tier cities also come with lower salaries as well, which is something to also consider before choosing where to live in China.
Lifestyle Considerations | Cost of Living
Apart from differences in cities, your lifestyle is another large factor to consider when determining the cost of living in China. If you are someone that lives for nightlife and looking forward to hitting up bars and nightclubs in China, be prepared to run up an expensive tab with each night out.
Your choice in lifestyle is probably the biggest factor in determining the cost of living in China
No matter the city, bars in China can be pricey and drinks are similar to Western prices where you can expect paying around 50 RMB (US$7.50) per drink.
Your eating habits can also weigh heavily into your overall cost of living in China. As the typical meal at restaurants in China is comparably cheaper than in Western countries, it is overly tempting to eat out for the majority of your meals.
This is exactly what happened to me when I first moved to China in 2013. For months I frequented typical hole-in-the-wall joints with a meal at a sit-down place here and there until I discovered that I was spending 25% of my monthly income on meals! Just watch yourself: eating out appears incredibly affordable, it can add-up if done in excess.
If you have a specific budget in mind for where you plan to live in China, do your best to cook at home several times a week if not every day to cut down on costs.
If you happen to be teaching English or are a student on a school campus, try eating in the campus dining halls as the cost for food charged in cafeterias is significantly cheaper and cleaner than what you will find at most restaurants.
Housing Allowances | China’s Cost of Living
If relocating to China for work, apart from your salary, be sure to also factor in your company benefits when calculating your cost of living. Many jobs offer housing allowances, which can pay a significant portion, if not all, of your monthly rent in China. As an expat renting an apartment in China, this is often your largest expense.
Taking a teaching job where you live on a school campus may even allow you to eliminate housing and utility costs entirely if it is covered by the school’s budget.
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.