Is traveling to China cheap or expensive? Perhaps you’re wondering how much to budget for travel to China? Here I’ll give you both a frugal and more comfortable snapshot on how much you need to save in your travel budget for China to explore the country.
Before deciding to travel to China – or anywhere for that matter – having clear budget expectations for spending can be really helpful. The problem most people run into is simple:
Most people don’t know how much it costs to travel to China.
Keep in mind, your travel expenses depend on a number of different factors including the season of travel, destination within China and other parts that are in your control (and out of mine!). The best thing I can do for you is walk you through the major expenses you’ll incur and best estimates for how much it will cost.
In order to help you as best I can, for each expense, I also share a frugal (i.e. cheapest) and more comfortable (i.e. more expensive) option to help you plan for your trip to China.
This article is just one of many helpful chapters in the Travel China Cheaper China Travel Handbook. It not only covers questions about budget for your trip, but also answers everything about transportation, money, visas and so much more.
Grab a copy for yourself and continue reading my estimates for a good China travel budget here.
Realistic Travel Budget for China | Overview
Let’s start with looking at two separate travel budgets that cover a two week stay in Beijing. The one on the left assumes you are trying to travel China as cheaply as possible whereas the one on the right assumes you want to travel China more comfortably and are not particularly limited by budget.
Here’s a quick description of each category and the differences between these two budgets:
- Airfare: In this case, airfare covers the international round trip flights to China from your home country as well as one extra round trip domestic flight (or comparable train). These flights can be found for much cheaper, but often they are less comfortable and they require multiple layovers. The higher estimate covers more direct flights on better airlines.
- Transportation: Both budgets allow for taking a taxi to your hotel to and from the airport. The comfortable budget allows you to take one short length round-trip taxi ride everyday whereas those traveling on a budget are limited to the subway with the exception of one or two trips in a taxi.
- Accommodation: For housing, budget travelers are restricted to staying in shared hostel dorms each night of the trip whereas a more comfortable budget affords you a Chinese 4- or 5-star hotel.
- Dining: When eating out, my estimate allows for budget travelers to only eat at small “hole-in-the-wall” restaurants whereas a comfortable budget allows for a meal at a mid-range restaurant every day on the trip. The high estimate also covers random stops at Starbucks or even splurging at McDonalds if you need a break from Chinese cuisine.
- Entrance Tickets: For tickets, I assume that you would be visiting almost every tourist attraction in Beijing including the Great Wall. This cost is for one person.
If you’re interested in more nitty-gritty details behind these budgets as well a number of tools and resources to help you map out your own travel budget to China, keep reading more below.
Realistic Airfare to China | Travel Budget
There are plenty of strategies to save on China flights for your trip and they’re worth checking out if you’re interested to save money. But overall, you can generally expect a round trip ticket to run you between $700 to $1700 during the spring and summer.
Variables that drive that down are if you live in a big city like New York, Seattle, or Los Angeles with direct flights to China and if you don’t have a connecting flight in China. You’ll also notice that many of the cheaper options require you to make multiple stops, have long layovers, and arrive at odd hours of the day.
If you really want to save money on airfare to China, travel during the winter when prices are low. That may not be practical, but it’s true.
Although the north is cold and likely really polluted in the winter, places like Yunnan that are spring like year-round are great for traveling during the winter months. Check out the best times to visit China here.
It may be worth it to also cash in on your accrued credit card points or miles. If you don’t have any points saved up, you can always shop around for credit cards with large sign-on bonuses and redeem the points for your trip to China.
Hotels in China | Travel Budget for China
When it comes to housing, you have so much more room for saving money. The easiest means of saving lots of cash is to stay in shared room hostels over private hotel rooms.
Staying in a shared person dorm in the center of Beijing will save you around 75% than what you would pay to stay in a standard hotel in the same area. Single room hostels are also a cheaper way to save money over hotels if you still want your own room.
Hostels aren’t for all of us, including me now that I’m not the young traveler I once was and have a family. Nowadays, I always opt for a hotel and in recent trips, I’ve learned how to keep my hotel budget down.
Tips for Saving Money on Hotels in China
If you’re traveling on a budget and need to stay in hotels, there are a couple ways to save money such as:
- Avoid Western Name Brand Hotels: There are plenty of variety of hotels to choose from in China. Avoid staying at Western hotels like the Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton. You will pay a ton for the fancy amenities and conveniences like a Western breakfast and an English speaking staff.
- Search for Chinese Hotels: Instead of fancy hotel resorts, opt for Chinese hotels that are licensed to host foreigners. The language barrier is pretty easy to overcome and you’ll save plenty of money.
- Location, Location, Location: Consider staying in a hotel away from the city center. Although your transportation time and costs go up, they’ll likely be cheaper than the extra fees you’ll incur by staying in a hotel in the city center.
Of course, there are some times when it’s nice to splurge on some good hotels while you’re traveling around China. The experience of waking up in a room that overlooks the Great Wall of China or maybe the beautiful rice terraces of Longsheng can be incredible!
It’s possible to find very comfortable hotels and luxury accommodation in China as long as you’re willing to pay. However, when you’re thinking about how much to budget for travel to China, this is one of the easiest places to save money.
Transportation Costs | Budget for China
When I say “transportation” here, I’m going to divide this into two different groups: transportation costs with the city and transportation costs between cities.
Let’s look at each of these individually.
Transportation Costs Within the City
Once in China, you’ll be taking many forms of transportation that you need to factor into your overall travel budget for China. If you’re not on a tight budget, you can easily take taxis within the city, which in Beijing typically start at 13 RMB during daytime hours.
These taxi costs can skyrocket quickly, though, so you’ll need to watch how often you take taxis and how much time you actually save over other modes of transport.
For travelers trying to keep transportation costs down, I’d stick to the subway and if you can, take a bus. Local non-express bus fares are as cheap as 1 RMB all over China, but require some abilities in the Chinese language as the stops are only written and called out in Chinese.
Other creative ways to keep transportation costs down are to use bike sharing services should you be willing to cycle between tourist sights on your trip. While these bikes aren’t meant for criss-crossing the city, they can be useful for shorter jaunts of a mile or so.
Overall, you can try to map out your transportation costs by calculating how many trips you’ll take and the type of transportation used during your stay in each city.
Transportation Costs Between Cities
Your transportation budget can get expensive if you plan on traveling between a number of cities. This is especially the case if you plan on traveling by plane, which can be both expensive and inconvenient.
Luckily China’s railway network is among the most advanced in the world and keeps traveling between cities fast, convenient, and for folks traveling on a budget, often cheaper than airfare.
Food Expenses | Travel Budget for China
As with other expenses, food prices vary from city to city with Shanghai and Beijing generally being the most expensive.
But should you be traveling to Beijing, you can expect the following prices when dining at restaurants:
- Breakfast: 5-20 RMB
- Lunch or Dinner at an inexpensive restaurant: 20-40 RMB
- Meal at a mid-range restaurant: 100-150 RMB
- Combo Meal at McDonalds: 35 RMB
- Domestic Bottle of China Beer: 12 RMB
- Imported Beer: 25 RMB
- Cup of Coffee: 30 RMB
- Bottle of Coke: 3 RMB
- Bottle of Water: 1-2 RMB
Tipping is also not customary in China, so sticking to the prices above will help you plan out how much to bring for eating in Beijing.
Should you be traveling to another city, Numbeo is a great tool for getting a rough idea on what to expect for food prices to help you plan your China travel budget. Although I wouldn’t say the prices on Numbeo are 100% exact, they are pretty close.
Another tip is to consult with your hotel on prices in the nearby area to help you budget for your trip.
How to Save Money on Your Food Travel Budget for China
For me, China is a top food destination and eating out in China is an expense I’m personally willing to splurge on. But as every traveler has different goals, here are some tips to help you limit your travel budget for China:
- Limit your consumption of Western meals as they are far more expensive than local cuisine.
- Restaurants in your hotel or hostel charge more than what you would pay at restaurants
- Frequent hole-in-the-wall type restaurants are way cheaper than mid-range sit down restaurants. Just be careful to only eat at clean restaurants!
- Eating Baozi (steam buns with meat or veggie filling) every day for breakfast is delicious and cheap on your wallet.
Keep those tips in mind on your trip and you’re more likely to leave China having spent within your set budget.
Conclusion: Realistic Travel Budget for China
Overall traveling to China can be cheap and it can be expensive. So much of your travel budget for China depends on when you choose to travel, where you’ll visit, your decision to take DIY tours over organized travel, and if you plan to be a budget traveler or live like royalty on your trip.
At a bare minimum, I would prepare around $2,150 and there are plenty of ways I shared above in addition to more tips you can learn about here to keep expenses down while you travel.
Lastly, some final advice to remember is you may only travel to China once and spending a little extra money to visit a location off the beaten path or trying some delicious food in my opinion is well worth it!