How to Get Health Insurance in China as an Expat?

health insurance in China for expats

If you’re planning on moving to China, one thing you may be considering is what you’ll have to do if you get sick. How to deal with recurring prescriptions or chronic illness? And what exactly you might get from the company or school you work for?

Health insurance in China for expats is a complicated topic. I hope to help you navigate and understand it, so you can feel comfortable keeping yourself healthy in China.

1. Ask your employer

check your health insurance policies before singing the contract to work in China

The first and most important thing to do before signing a contract, is to inquire about their health insurance policies and benefits for expats.

In most cases, you will probably have an insurance policy through your employer. However, the actual coverage can vary widely. It can also be confusing to read and understand, especially since it was likely translated from Chinese, so it may have terms that just don’t translate well.

Ask if someone can explain questions you have about coverage, and point you in the right direction. In the time I spent in China, I had health insurance through my company, but personally wasn’t able to make much use of it, for reasons I will explain later.

2. Consider your “at home” insurance

Some health insurance policies may work internationally. If you will still have valid health insurance for your home country while you are in China, do some digging. In most cases it either won’t cover much, or will only cover in the form of reimbursements.

This means that anything you’d want to put through the insurance will have to first be paid out of pocket.

3. Private vs Public hospitals/ clinics

public and private hospitals in China

One of the biggest things you’ll actually deal with when trying to be treated for anything from the flu to a broken bone (and hopefully nothing worse), is that you have to choose between public and private hospitals and clinics.

From my experience, this is not as simple as a similar choice would be in the US. Most likely, your health insurance will cover public hospitals/clinics only. What this means in practice is that it only covers Chinese speaking healthcare. 

This can become one of the frustrating ways in which expats feel like they are unable to take care of themselves in China. If you don’t speak Chinese, you may need to take a gracious friend or colleague along with you to translate your condition and help you communicate with your doctor. If you’re really sick or hurt, this is probably something you’ll want and need to do, so make sure to find someone you trust who you know you can ask in case anything happens. If you don’t, treating acute conditions in private, English speaking hospitals (or at least hospitals with some English speaking doctors) can be incredibly costly, and likely none of it will be covered by your insurance. 

What does this mean for you, practically? It is another reason why you really should learn Chinese, but honestly medical Chinese is not something that you’ll learn quickly, so really, definitely, don’t forget to find a Chinese speaking friend to help out. 

*Please make sure to check how this will work in your city. If you live in Shanghai or Beijing, you may have better luck finding staff at public hospitals or clinics that speak English. Save that money if you can!*

4. What isn’t covered

some specialty doctors are not coverred in your insurance in China

So, as you now know, cushy, English speaking healthcare will likely be an out of pocket expense, unless your company has great health insurance.

I also found personally that my health insurance didn’t cover many specialty doctors, including dentists, psychiatrists, and pretty much anything else you can think of besides a basic general practitioner. This might be true, and might not, but is something to keep in mind.

What I learned is that expats just kind of accept this, and for most things they pay out of pocket if it’s more of a routine check-up. This ended up being the easiest thing for me to do in most cases too, especially because paying a little extra, but having the independence of making appointments and going on my own was worth it.  

This is reasonable for many health concerns, but if you’re dealing with more chronic illness or otherwise have reason to keep going back regularly – especially if it’s for something your work health plan doesn’t cover – you might want to consider getting your own, secondary insurance.

5. Getting your own

get your own health insurance in China

This is something that likely isn’t needed for most expats, but if you either don’t have any health plan at work, or your personal medical expenses are regularly high enough that it seems worth finding an alternative, you may want to consider getting health insurance independently.

While my company chose a healthcare plan for its employees, some may give a budget and allow you to even choose on your own! In this case, there are multiple companies that are either based in China or have China specific coverage plans you should check out including Ping An, Cigna, Aetna, Now Health, and AXA Tianping. 

6. Hospital and Clinic standards

hospital and clinic standards in China

Public clinics and hospitals are categorized into three tiers. Tier three being the one with the lowest standards and tier one being the highest. As long as you find a tier one or tier two hospital, it’s going to be nice enough.

Think about these standards as having more to do with the facilities feel and warmth than anything. You will still get fairly good treatment at either one. The tier one hospitals may have some more resources though. If you’re okay with things being a bit cold and clinical, tier two or tier one should be fine, but if you want a softer, more comfortable experience, your best bet is still private. If you have the time, ask around to what your co-workers and friends trust most in your city!


Health insurance can be a complicated topic, but I hope this gives you a good basic insight into how the expats I know deal with healthcare in China. It may be confusing at first, but with time you can figure out how to make the most of the plan you have.

How to use Didi Chuxing? (Tips for Expats)

how to use didi chunxing in China

If you’re new to China, you may have heard people mentioning Didi, or even seen some use it. You also may be wondering, where can I get an Uber around here?! This is going to be your guide to using Didi in China to get anywhere you need.

What is Didi?

For the absolute novice, Didi Chuxing is a ride-share app, which means it works very similarly to Uber and Lyft. You can call a driver, and they will come take you to your destination.

While Uber used to be present in China, Didi bought out Uber China in 2016. A theme you’ll probably notice in China is that they have their own version of every app and social media platform, and ride sharing is no different.

This makes Didi the only popular ride-sharing app in China. As far as functionality, it’s fairly similar to Uber or Lyft, except that there isn’t a carpool option, but they do have a “call a taxi” feature!

convenience and safety of didi for expats

Convenience and safety for expats

Personally, I love using Didi for a few reasons. First, it actually has a full English version! It includes auto responses for messages to your driver and a pretty comprehensive list of addresses in English.

Once you select where you want to go, the driver will just see the Chinese version. This means for the China novice, the hassle of trying to explain your address to taxi drivers is a thing of the past. In fact, if you prefer the metered taxi over Didi drivers, you can even opt to call a taxi instead. Your trip will still be tracked, they will still see the address you gave, but you’ll be charged off of their meter.

The other major reason is for security. You can track your trip easily, which means you’ll know when you’re near home, but your driver also can’t really go off course. For me, safety isn’t really something I’ve thought about a lot in Chinese taxis, but being ripped off is really more of an issue. Depending where you are, if a taxi driver thinks you don’t know where you’re going, they may drive you out of the way to rack up your fee.

This is so easily avoided through Didi. If you are worried about safety, however, there’s an easy button to alert police if you’re in danger, they double check and remind you to be careful when taking rides at night, and even ask for an emergency contact.

Now that you’ve been thoroughly convinced that Didi is a great app to learn how to use, let’s get into how to actually use it.

Getting Started

getting started with didi China

The first thing you’ll have to do when you download the app is sign in using your phone number or WeChat account. You’ll need to add payment information, which means you won’t be able to use it until you have a Chinese bank card. 

From there, your location will pop up, and it will ask you where you’re going. You should double check where the pin is showing to pick you up, because if the driver can’t find you, and calls you, it can get really frustrating (unless your Chinese is really good).

You can set a certain place as your home address, so it’s easy to select it every time either coming or going. Once I had my pin set to be outside the correct gate of my apartment complex, it was much easier to find my driver.

Finding your destination

didi China finding your destination

Now it’s time to find your destination. This might take a little trial and error. Some addresses will come up easily if you know the pinyin or if the place has an English name. This can get confusing when you don’t know the translation for a street or building, and Didi does.

For example, you may be looking for shixia bei yi jie, but Didi English has this registered as Shixia North First Street, which you might not have realized. Sometimes, if I can’t figure it out, I’ll switch over to baidu maps, where the pinyin usually works. Then I can find the location and move my map around on Didi until I find what it’s been translated to.

Once you found there address, the next thing is choosing your ride type. You can choose Express, the cheapest service, Taxi, Select, Premiere, or Luxe (the options might vary by time of day or city, so you might not see them all). I usually stick to Express because it’s cheapest, but if you’re looking for suited up drivers and free water bottles, you might opt to upgrade. Sometimes there are discounts for the upgrades, so keep an eye out. 


Now, you’re ready to reserve a car. This could take a few seconds, if it’s not a busy time and the weather is nice. But on a rainy day, at 6pm? You might see a queue. It will tell you what number line you are as well as the total number of people waiting. It gives an estimate of how long you’ll be queuing for but I find that it’s not always particularly accurate.

In the case of a long wait, I usually keep an eye out for passing taxis as I wait, and cancel my order if I find a taxi first.

Schedule a Pickup

Another tip for expats, is that if you need a ride to the airport very early the next morning, and you’re worrying that there isn’t enough time to get a Didi on the spot, you can also schedule a pickup time in advance.

Time to Ride!

didi China take a ride

Once a car takes your request, it will give an ETA and you can watch the car arrive. You’ll have the license, make, and color, so it is usually easy to spot. There should be a button to message or call your driver. If the driver tries to call and you don’t speak Chinese, honestly it’s easier to not answer, and send the autogenerated message (through the app) saying you can’t answer the phone right now. If there are problems, try explaining where you are as simply as possible, so that the messenger translates it well. Once your driver arrives, the rest is easy! Track where you’re going and how much the ride is going to cost, and you can set it to autopay once you arrive at your destination, you might just need to input your pin number or fingerprint to authorize the payment.

Now that you know how to use Didi, you’ll be able to easily get all over your city in China, even if you don’t speak Chinese. Don’t forget to have fun exploring!

Standard of Living in China

Standard of Living in China

A Brief Overview

Visiting and living in different countries allow you to experience an entirely new culture, an unknown language, beautiful traditions, and interact with people of different beliefs. But there are a few of the constraints too, especially when you are planning to live there long-term.

With China’s emerging economy, a lot of people are also moving here either for their job, business, or studies. And many of them share a common concern; what is the standard of living in China?

To answer your question, we have put together fact-based, data-driven information in hopes of giving you a clear picture.

For starters, the rising economy in China has certainly elevated the lives of millions of citizens. Today an average middle-class Chinese family enjoys similar luxuries to those of the European family. Tourism has been increased tenfold as more tourist destinations have been built, so you will never feel alone, or at a loss for things to do.

Food Quality and Variety:

Food Quality and Variety in China

Many of us have heard of the issues China has faced historically because of overpopulation, especially when it comes to food deficiency.

In efforts to control limited resources, many unhealthy fertilizers and hazardous chemicals were used. But luckily, because the government started implementing stricter food safety policies; today China offers safer and higher-quality food to its citizens.

Not only this, but Chinese cuisine is also getting more popular worldwide for the variety it offers. Many leading chefs all over the world and especially Asia are even moving to China to work (Dwain, 2019).

This means the tourists can enjoy not only local foods on the streets of Beijing, but also foods from around the world, be it Indian, Thai, Japanese, or Arabian. 


Transportation in China

China has a well-developed transport system with diverse options.

For the people traveling on a tight schedule, there are enormous airports in many major cities, offering convenient and quick travel around the country. Otherwise, there is the bullet train, available to take you to nearby cities in the blink of an eye.

These are not only quick but offer you a closer look into the cities as they surpass the window screen. Other than that, there is rental car service, wide network of buses including Bus Rapid Transit (BRTs), metro systems in most major cities, and bike-sharing programs to make your travel easy and enjoyable. 

Public Safety:

Public Safety in China

There have been significant efforts to eliminate corruption throughout the country, be it police, policy-making institutions, health sector or any judicial firm.

These efforts have made China is a safer place to travel and enjoy, even for foreigners, be it night or in rural areas. The citizens are no longer at high risk for violent crimes and robbery. The government imposed public safety rules that have been effective and allow citizens to feel safer. (Marchetto, 2019)

Gross Domestic Product (GDP):

Gross Domestic Product in China

The government has launched an anti-poverty scheme in attempts to mitigate class differences, which are currently significant. They have introduced various education, health and local industrial initiatives to help the cause.

A very common way to visualize the living standard of a country is to evaluate per capita GDP. 

GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, is the average amount of goods and services produced per person in a nation in a given year at constant prices.

According to the recent evaluation, China holds second place in the world’s top ten countries with the highest GDP with GDP of $15,543,710 (world population review).

Shanghai is the city with China’s highest median monthly wage of $1,135 (The globalist, 2018). Shanghai’s median wage is higher than that of Hungary and is nearing that of Czechia and Poland. (The globlist, 2018)  


Infrastructure in China

Infrastructure, including skyscrapers, road, rails, and telecommunications, do a lot to improve a country’s economy.

China has already proved its mettle in the field by building four of the world’s top 10 tallest buildings. It’s incredible to see all of these enormously tall buildings in cities like Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

There has been a 51% increase in road construction connecting the rural and urban areas from 2005-2015 (Jingnan, 2018). Also, more than 100 million citizens have benefited from the upgrades in power and telecommunication fields (Jingnan, 2018).  

Work life:

Work life in China

The economic reforms introduced in the country would have been useless without the struggles of the citizens. Despite the height of economic prosperity that they have reached still many people are working long, 12+ hour days.

Although China is considered one of the most highly over-populated regions they are not facing the scarcity of jobs and career opportunities as many of the economic prosperity has attracted the well-known companies to come and establish their plants in the region offering numbers of job opportunities to the residents. 

China’s economic prosperity has surely elevated the standard of living of not only the Chinese citizens but also of the foreigners.

Life in China is not only improving but also a lot more fun with many places to visit and a more diverse range of people. So if you have an opportunity to live or even settle in this country, it is a place is full of cultural heritage, taste, and economic stability. 


Dwain. (2019). travelguide/living-standard. Retrieved from China highlights:

Jingnan, Z. (2018). news/3d3d414d7949544e31457a6333566d54/share_p.html. Retrieved from CGTN News:

Marchetto, P. (2019, june 17). travelguide/article/chinese-laws. Retrieved from china highlights:

The globalist. (2018, april 14). china europe living standards gdp. Retrieved from The globalist:

world population review. countries/countries-by-gdp. Retrieved from world population review:

Cost of Living in China vs. the United States

cost of living in China vs US

Living in China and the United States both have its own pros and cons, this article is going to give you a brief comparison of the cost of living in each country.

In the United States for example, you can make quite a bit of money, but a lot of it goes to pay your bills. In China, on the other hand, despite the increasing cost of living, the overall price of goods and services are still quite low compared to most western countries. This provides an opportunity for a great life style while earning a reasonable salary.

Below is a simple breakdown of the comparison between China and the USA:

ExpensesCost (in China)Cost (in USA)Monthly Cost (in ChinaMonthly Cost (in USA)
Rent$200 ~ $700$500 ~$1,000$200 ~ $700$500 ~$1,000
Food$2~$5 per meal $10 ~ $15 per meal$100 ~ $150$150 ~ $250
Transportation$,0.3~$0.5 each way (bus) $3 ~ $5 each way$30 ~ $50$100 ~$200
Utilities$50 ~ $100$250 ~ $300$50 ~ $100$250 ~$300
Total$380 ~ $1,000$1,000 ~$1,750
cost of living in China vs. US
cost of living in China vs. US

Cost of Renting

  • US: $500 – $1,000 per month
  • China: $400 – $500 per month

Rent is always one of the biggest bills that you need to pay each month. In fact, over in the USA, you probably had to put out $800 per month minimum for an apartment unless you were still living rent free with mom and dad.

In China, the rent is quite affordable. In a Tier 2 or Tier 3 city, you can get a single apartment close to the city area with as little as $300 per month; However, in a Tier 1 city, the price increase to about $500, or as much as $700.

Cost of Food 

  • US: $150 – $250 per month
  • China: $100 – $150 per month 

In the USA, food prices are continuing to rise, which means you are probably spending at least $50-$75 each week to feed yourself.  And, that is if you are not going out to eat all that often. If you choose to eat out in the US, you can easily pay $15 to $25 per meal and that’s if you don’t have a drink or choose to have only one. Those prices can be even higher depending on where you live and the restaurant that you choose.

In China, the basic grocery in incredibly cheap, and it’s possible to feed yourself with $30 or less per week! If you feel like dining out, there are a lot food options that are both cheap and delicious. A normal meal for one person will cost about $2 – $5.

Cost of Transportation

  • US: $100 – $200 per month
  • China: $30 – $50 per month

You probably had your own car to drive around in, which meant you were possibly paying for your car, the insurance, and the gas that you used each week. If you didn’t have a vehicle, you may have utilized your local bus, a taxi, or the subway. Each one of those trips would have been a few dollars each way, or more, if you were taking the taxi to further destinations.

The public transportation system is China is very advanced, and cheap. A bus ticket costs you less than a dollar (10 to 30 cents) each way, and the subway ticket is about 50 cents to 1 dollar, depending on how far you’re going. Didi (the Uber in China) is another great option if you prefer more convenience, and the price is usually double or triple the subway price, which is still quite cheap.

Cost of Utilities  

  • US: $250 – $300 per month
  • China: $50 – $100 per month

Utilities is what gets everyone’s budget each month and they include electricity, water, gas, telephone, and Wi-Fi.

In the US, all these things can add up $300 per month or more depending on where you live, how much heat or air conditioning you need to use, whether you get your water for free each month, and what type of phone and internet plan you have.

In China, you should expect to spend  approximately $100 or less for everything each month.


Above are the cost of living comparison between China and the United States in renting, food, transportation and utilities. If you’d like to see the price breakdown of specific items, you can check out the updated date from Numbeo.

How to Spend Your Spare Time Teaching in China?

how to spend your spare time in China

You made the decision, you booked your tickets and packed your bags, and you finally flew around the world to embark on an exciting adventure!  

While it will be easy to become consumed by your new routine, it’s important to maintain a healthy life-work balance. You are here to do a job, of course, but that doesn’t mean you should miss out on all of the amazing things that China has to offer. 

Hopefully my experiences can offer some inspiration on how to make the most of your free time in China.

Visit Interesting Places

China is the fourth largest country in the world and is home to thirty-six Unesco World Heritage Sites, so no matter where you live in China there’s something fascinating to see! 

advanced train system

One of the greatest benefits to living in China is access to an extensive and affordable rail system. Many of China’s most renowned destinations, like the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and the Terracotta Warriors are easily accessible from most major cities. 

Depending on your location, you can even take short trips to neighboring countries like Russia from the north, or anywhere in Southeast Asia from the south. 

visit nearby countries in China

During my time in China, I lived in the northeastern province of Jilin. It’s far from most of the popular tourist destinations, but there were still so many captivating places to visit, and I even flew to Thailand during one of the national holidays!

My first weekend trip was to the northeastern city of Harbin, home to the famous City of Ice. This is an annual winter festival where impressive snow and ice sculptures are erected and, at night, illuminated. 


It’s a great place to visit, not just for this fun and frosty festival, but also for a chance to see firsthand the unique blending of Russian influence and local Chinese culture. 

Two more interesting sites are the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the adjacent War Atrocities Museum in Changchun city. Here you can learn about the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty (the puppet emperor), and the Japanese occupation of China. 

It gave me an eye-opening appreciation for a part of history that I had previously known very little about. Whatever city you live in, ask about the local sites and seek them out!

Sample the Cuisine

chinese food has great variety

Chinese cuisine is nearly as vast and varied as the country itself, and you’d be doing yourself a grave disservice if you didn’t take full advantage of this culinary cornucopia. 

You may already be daydreaming about wontons, Peking Duck, and Kung Pao chicken, but China has so much more to offer in terms of food. Find out what and where the locals eat, give it a try, and sample as much of the local or regional cuisine as you can. 

Trying to live on a western diet is possible, but expensive; save yourself the money and expand your culinary horizons with delectable chinese dishes instead. There are bound to be foods that you’ve never heard of, but you’ll be happy to have tried them. 

While it would be impossible to list everything I ate in China, here are a couple of things that became a regular part of my diet. 

The first is Ma La Xiang Guo, which is a flavorful and spicy Sichuan dish that is incredibly customizable; you are given a bowl to fill with whatever you like from a vast selection of meats and vegetables, which is then stir fried in a spicy sauce and served with rice. It remains my absolute favorite Chinese meal! 

Chiense food ma la xiang guo

The second became my go-to snack food in winter. A familiar sound in the streets during the colder months is the loudspeaker call “Kǎo Dì Guā!”. Sweet potato vendors wheel around large metal drum ovens filled with baked sweet potatoes, ready to be weighed and sold by the gram. These sweet potatoes are amazing, and quickly became a stable street food during my winter wanderings. 

So, if you hear the call of the Sweet Potato Guy, do yourself a favor and indulge in a healthy and traditional Chinese snack!

Fun Around Town

One of the best pieces of advice that I could give to anyone planning to move to China is to take the time to get out, get to know your city, and make friends

make friends in China

When you are living in a foreign country, even a simple walk to the park or trip to the supermarket can turn into an adventure. You never know what you’ll see, as there are special events, festivals, and hidden gems everywhere. 

Ask around your office or look online and find out what there is to do in your city. Undoubtedly, there will be no shortage of entertainment activities available for varying budgets and inclinations. 

How I Spent My Free Time?

My free time in China was filled with outings and adventures. In the winter there was a tubing course set up on one of the hills at the local park, and some friends and I spent the entire day speeding down the hills on our tubes only to hike up the makeshift stairs carved into the packed snow to repeat the process. 

my free time in China

In the summer, a group of us got together at the park and had an epic water fight. I also made frequent trips to a sports complex near my apartment where I did rock climbing and even played badminton a couple of times. 

Nearly every week I sang at the karaoke bar, danced at the local nightclubs, and took walks around the city to visit different parks and shopping districts. Whether it’s sports, shopping, or nightlife, you’ll find something to help you unwind and have some fun. 

As a teacher in China, I made it a point to visit places on my bucket list, and take day trips to nearby historical and cultural sites to learn more about the country and its history. 

Another important part of my Chinese experience was the food; no matter where you are, food is life. Chinese people enjoy a wide variety of dishes encompassing countless regional specialties, many of which I was fortunate enough to taste. 

When I wasn’t eating or traveling, I was making incredible memories with amazing people. With a job that takes you so far from your loved ones, it’s important to make friends and to create a family of the people around you. Some of my best memories of China are of simply spending time in the city with my friends.

Life is Not a Checklist: A Side Note on Teaching in China

Harold teaching in China with his student

You’re sitting there in your gown waiting for the guy on stage to call your name. Once you’re called, you standup, shake hands in front of 100s of people, and finally get your piece of paper.

It’s been a while but it’s official – you’re now an adult.

It feels good. But one thing of being an adult is that you have to find a proper job and one that’s related to your major. It’s been four years (and quite a chunk of money) so you’re hoping to get a job the moment you step off the stage.

It’s the reality for some people and that’s great.

But for others, they want something different.

They want to go festivals in America…

Explore temples in Thailand…

Go trekking in Machu Pechu…

…and longer than the 2-weeks they’re given every year.

And I don’t blame them.

I wanted to start a business and I wasn’t going to get there by working my way up an invisible ladder.

But there was only one problem – bills.

It would be good to pay them on time vs. being some mix of bitcoin investor / serial entrepreneur / IG influencer (in other words, unemployed).

That’s when I got introduced to teaching in China by my friend Zoe.

To be honest, at first I didn’t care what I had to do, I was only looking at what was in it for me. As a big reader, I’m not even particularly keen in structured education either.

There was nothing at stake expect time, so there was no reason not to try something new.

A month later, I got my TEFL certificate, packed my life into a suitcase, and booked a one-way ticket to China.

I didn’t even know much about Chinese culture other than the Three Kingdoms from a popular video game I played as a kid.

(Side note: it was great hearing the students talk about Sima Yi and Liu Bei and know what they were talking about)

After arriving in Chongqing and then my apartment, the first thought that crossed my mind was, ‘I should’ve studied harder at uni’. Heck, I would even say self-learning only gets you so far.

I must admit the few weeks in the beginning were rough.

The language was difficult, the food was strange, and I got along with maybe one other person here… (then again I’m the guy who likes to stay home and watch an analysis of some movie I’ve never watched before)

I didn’t even think I could last a six weeks let alone six months.

I wasn’t cut out for this.

Then they said I was moving to a different city.

It was much smaller where I’m the only foreigner for miles. I like my own company (as you can tell) but this was pushing it.

I thought I should have left to make it easier for everyone.

But for some reason I stuck it out… two years later it became one of the most transformative experiences of my 20s.

Harold teaching in China with his students

If you learn one thing is that living like a traveller and exploring as a tourist are worlds apart.

For one a tourist is someone who has a checklist of things to do.

See this museum. Eat at this restaurant. Post X number of photos on Instagram.

It’s useful if you want to get a lot done in a short time but you forget you’re on holiday – it shouldn’t be stressful… not the Amazing Race where if you didn’t see the Mona Lisa, ride on a Gondola, and meet the Queen in four days you feel like you didn’t get your money’s worth.

The traveller, in fact, buys a one-way ticket to a country that isn’t Canada (or the UK or Australia or any Western country if you happen to be from there already).

You’re jumping off the deep end and doing something completely different from what you’re used to.

I wouldn’t even say it’s enticing at first glance.

First, you’re choosing to uproot your entire life. Next, you’re saying those awkward goodbyes to everyone you know. Then, you’re off to a country where one word can have four different meanings (depending on tone).

But choosing one place while earning your keep (e.g through teaching) is where the real learning begins.

Don’t worry, I still want to see more of the world like anyone else. But there’s something profound about living the way another culture does.

When you understand why Chinese students study like it’s life or death or why families are so close to one another you develop a real empathy for others.

Imagine if all you did was check things off a list without going deep with the culture – everything becomes a blur.

It reminds me of something Mark Manson once said. Travelling to one country is cool. The second one is pretty neat as well, the third isn’t too bad either.

But country number 50th? Aren’t those buildings the same as country number 37? Haven’t I seen this same side street cafe 100 times now?

You get the picture.

This will sound cliche but even though you’re there to teach, you’re learning the most out of everyone.

Because when you’re living by yourself for a long enough period you pick up on a few things… (and I’m not only talking about doing laundry for the first time in your life either).

You learn what’s important and what’s not. It happens without that nagging feeling that you might be a little too weird compared to the people back home.

For example –

Good idea: riding on a motorbike across the mountainside in the middle of the Winter fog.

Bad idea: doing the same trip on a bicycle.

Good idea: trying yoga.

Bad idea: getting pressure sold 2-weeks of private yoga lessons for $1000 (…you learn that it’s not all rosy and that you know how to deal with people).

Then comes the teaching.

At first you’re a fish out of water.

One of my first classes was teaching a group of 20-somethings English without an assistant and yes, it was brutal.

Now it becomes one of those things that’s second nature.

You have almost full-control for the outcome of each class… it’s not all chaos so every class does have its structure. But you know you’re making a difference when the students are having fun and learning something worthwhile at the same time.

Well, that’s enough of my rambling about life in China. If you leave with anything, it’s worth having the ability to put yourself in your 80-year old self and work backwards.

If I could be a clueless 20-something again, what would I be doing?

If I never left for China, I’d be struggling to pay the bills while in limbo… the one where you need a graduate job to get experience and need experience to get a grad job.

But instead I’m able to live a way that’s completely unique to me.

On top of the teaching, I can pursue the things I wouldn’t have time for back home. Exercising, reading, hiking mountains, walking every day, exploring, working on side projects.

They’re not life-changing at first glance to but to be able to do that in another country?

Well, that’s all the persuasion I need! 🙂

Cost of Living in China for Expats: 2019 Guide

cost of living in China

If you plan to move to China, you might be very curious to know the cost of living and lifestyle over there. The cost of living in China can vary hugely depending on the cities, regions as well as the lifestyle you choose.

You can live in most China’s major cities for far less than $1,000 per month, and with a great lifestyle. However, there’s always room for luxury and more spending. It costs around $1,000 or more to rent a nice apartment in the center of Beijing or Shanghai if that’s the kind of lifestyle you are seeking.

For most entry-level ESL teachers, an average salary is around 10,000 RMB to 15,000 RMB per month ($1500 ~ $2180), usually with your accommodation allowances provided on top of that. You might be surprised that with this amount of salary, you can afford not only a comfortable lifestyle, but also save a decent amount!

A Breakdown of the Average Cost of Living in China:

ExpensesCost (USD)Estimated Monthly Cost (USD)
Rent$200 ~ $700$200 ~ $700
Food$2~$5 per meal$100 ~ $150
Transportation$,0.3~$0.5 each way (bus)$30 ~ $50
UtilitiesElectricity, water, gas, telephone, wi-fi$50 ~ $100
Total$380 ~ $1,000
Cost of living in China
Affordable Cost of living in China

Cost of Renting in China: $300 – $500 per month 

Well, over in China, you can pay as little as $300 and as much as $700 per month depending on where you live. The major cities will have the higher rents, while the outskirts of the city are much cheaper.

A massive money saver!

However, if you are teaching over in China, your school will help arrange your apartment either through allowances or provided for free. Depending on your contract, the way it’s arranged can vary. They can either deduct it from your pay each month or include it in your contract.

Cost of Food in China: $100 – $150 per month

Food in China can be very cheap, but it also depends on what you are buying.

How cheap it can be?

For basic grocery, rice is approximately costing $10 for a five-kilogram bag. Cooking oil is pricey, and chicken is reasonably priced at about $8 per kilogram.  You can pick up many different fruits and vegetables for less than $10 per week.

It is very possible to purchase all the groceries that you need for one week in China for $30 or less and actually still have food left over for the following week!

You want to experience the local cuisine and ambiance.  Don’t worry, you can eat out numerous times a week and never break your budget!

You can grab many great and filling finds like a big bowl of noodles for the equivalent of a dollar, usually about 1 or 2 dollars. Street eating is just as cheap. Grabbing baozi (steamed stuffed buns) or even fried rice as you rush off to the subway costs roughly the same.  A basic dish of beef and noodles will cost you about $2 and many other meals are about the same.  If you choose to grab a pint of beer with your meal, that will cost you about $1.

And there are A LOT of choices as well.

The food options will surely dazzle you, and you can keep it on the cheap side. Once you start craving food from back home though, that’s where it gets expensive. Western food definitely costs more but sometimes it’s worth it to get that taste of home.

Still, you can manage a good budget by shopping smart and cooking for yourself in your apartment.

Cost of Transportation in China: $30 – $50 per month

Most of the time, schools will usually try to arrange your apartment near where you work, especially if you are not in a metropolitan cities like Beijing, Shanghai, the apartment that you live in when you are in China is so close to the school that you can easily walk there every day. By walking to your school,  you can save a lot of money on transportation costs.

The buses are incredibly cheap, so even if you couldn’t walk to your school, you could do it for less than a dollar (10 to 30 cents) each way.

The subway is a little more expensive (still fairly cheap though!), but worthwhile if your destination is further away. Subway costs can be about 50 cents to 1 dollar, depending on how far you’re going.

Taxis are more expensive, like everywhere else in the world. But it’s most certainly worth it when you need to get somewhere faster. You can also try your luck with Didi, China’s answer to Uber. If you are in a hurry, the price tag is totally worth it.

Cost of Utilities in China: $50 – $100 per month

Utilities is what gets everyone’s budget each month and they include electricity, water, gas, telephone, and Wi-Fi.

Over in China, some of these may be included with your apartment, which means that you will not need to pay for them.

However, if you do, you should plan on spending approximately $100 or less for everything each month.

For example, mobile phone bills. As a foreigner, a prepaid phone is your best option. You can find good prepaid plans for around 200 RMB a month (can be cheaper depending on your needs), which is about $30 to $40. That’s much cheaper than the states.

Cost of Entertainment in China: depends

A ticket to one of the new English language films will only cost you a couple dollars and there are plenty of other things that you can do for just as little.

Dining out with friends and colleagues and participating in enthusiastic karaoke fun are the two most popular entertainment options after work. Both of them don’t really cost much money.

Your Cost of Living in China Depends on Your Location

which city you teach in China will affect your salary teaching English in China

There’s usually a noticeable difference among these cities in terms of the average salary rates, cost of living standard, city infrastructure and business opportunities etc. Therefore, choosing different cities to live in China also results in different salary and cost of living.

P.S: China has a unique tier system for all cities, and it’s used as a point of reference to refer to different economical development levels.

Tier 1 cities refer to metropolitan cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen; New Tier 1 cities are the emerging capital cites with high growth rate, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Wuhan are in this category; Tier 2 cities are usually the normal capital cities in a province, or big cities with good economical development level (e.g., Xiamen, Changchun, Haikou etc.); Tier 3 cities are even smaller cities comparing to Tier 2 cities.

City TierSalary (USD)Cost of Living (USD)Rent (USD)
Tier 1 Cities$2,123 ~ $2,800$1,000 ~$1,500$400 ~ $600
New Tier 1 Cities$,1415~$2,123$700 ~ $1,100$283 ~ $424
Tier 2 Cities$1,415~$1,840$560 ~ $1,000$212 ~ $424
Tier 3 Cities$1,132 ~ $1,415$424 ~ $566$141 ~ $353

Your Cost of Living in China Also Depends on Your Lifestyle

As you can see, the cost of living in China is comparatively low. With your salary as an expat, you’ll have a comfortable living there. However, your overall cost of living in China also depends on the lifestyle you choose.

You can live more frugally and save up to $15,000 a year in China, or you can indulge yourself in luxury, YOLO!

In China, you’ll never fail to find leisure spending opportunities. You can have your restaurant order delivered to you anytime you can, get a pampering massage every now and then, or a one-year gym membership. They are all very much affordable for your earnings as an ESL teacher.

The Monthly Budget of an ESL Teacher in China

Below is the monthly budget from an ESL teacher in Chongqing, China.

cost of living in china, save money while teaching in china
Save money while teaching in china

Enjoy your life in China! 

As you can see, it doesn’t cost that much to live in China and the difference means that you can save a ton of money while you are living and having the time of your life over there!

Of course, much of your cost of living in China also depends on how you plan to live.

If you want to live it up and enjoy yourself, you’re going to be saving much less of what you earn.

While the cost of living in China is indeed cheaper than most places, particularly when it comes to healthcare or home repairs, there is still room for luxury.

The best thing you can do is remember to live within your means so you can use your earnings to embark on fantastic voyages during your time off.

So, spend wisely.

You might also be interested in:

Teaching in China Salary: The Ultimate Guide

Cost of Living in China vs. The United States

Living in China as a Foreigner: Expectation vs Reality

5 Things I’ve Learnt After Living in China for 3 Years

Is China a Good Place to Live?

Is China a Good Place to Live?

Moving to China may sound scary and impossible to many people, but those who have taken the risk have quickly discovered that it was an excellent decision for them!

Living in China can be much more exciting and amazing than living in other areas of the world, despite the fact that the country can be slightly overcrowded.

Reasons Why China is a Great Place to Live

1. Exploring A New Place

One of the main reasons people want to live in China is because they love exploring new places and learning new things. Imagine all the cities, countrysides, and neighborhoods you can explore without venturing too far from your new home. Plus, the number of new attractions for you to see and explore are plentiful, giving you a plethora of things to do for weeks, months, and even years.

2. Learning About New Cultures  

Learning about other cultures is exciting because it allows you to see how the past has shaped today and the future.  While you can learn about different cultures from books, there is nothing better than experiencing it firsthand from the locals that live within those cultures every day.

3. Learning Mandarin

Learning Mandarin will also be exciting for you, although it can be a difficult language to master. However, once you start to learn a few words, you can easily begin to communicate with others that you meet over in China. Then, once you become slightly proficient, it will be one more thing that you can add to your resume!

4. Traveling in China 

Traveling in China 

Traveling and living in China go hand in hand because you can reach so many different areas in a short amount of time from this country. This means that when you are living in China, you can easily take a train or airplane to your destination of choice without needing to be away from your new home for weeks at a time.  You can easily spend long weekends traveling the world while seeing new sights that will instantly take your breath away.

5. Employment Opportunities

One of the best things about moving to China is that your future employer will help you get settled into your new life.  They will help you find a place to live, if they do not already have a place lined up for you, plus they will make sure that you know how to get to certain places.

Some of the places that your employer, and co-workers, will make sure you know about is where to get the best food to eat. While you may crave all those Western foods, you are not going to want to pay the price for them the entire time you are living there. Instead, you can easily try, and learn to love, the local and traditional cuisines of the area you are living in. The prices for these foods will be quite low, especially if you listen to your employer and go to the places that the locals visit all the time.

Learn More About Teaching in China

Reasons Why China May Not Be the Best Place to Live

There are a few reasons why China might not be the best place for you to live, but most of them are not really deal-breakers for many people.

1. Enjoy Big Living Space

Enjoy Big Living Space

One of the biggest reasons why people choose not to live in China is the fact that they want a very large house to live in. There are no large houses in China and in reality, you will probably be living in an apartment that is in a very tall building with narrow spaces.

2. Religions

If you are a very religious person, you are going to be in for a surprise when you arrive in China.  The Chinese people are mostly atheists, although a few do practice religion on occasion.  This can be a shock to some people, especially those who attend church every Sunday and other specific days of the week.

3. Not Used To New Things

Spending time in China always means spending time with those from other cultures.  If you are the type of person who only wants to spend their time with people that look, act, talk, and do things like you do, then moving to China is not going to be for you.

4. Internet Restriction 

One of the main shocks to many people is the fact that the internet has many restrictions in China.  This can be bad news for those that depend on the internet every single day for everything! If this is you, then you are going to want to think twice before you consider China as your next home away from home.

So, Is China a Good Place for You to Live? 

Now that you know the main reasons as to why China is a good place to live, and why it may not be the place for you, you can finally decide whether you are ready to make the move.

You may be pleasantly surprised at how amazing this country is and that the reasons not to move there are less bothersome to you than you first thought.

You might also be interested in:

What are the Pros and Cons of Living in China?

7 Must-Try Flavours: Discover the Most Authentic Chinese Food

14 Interesting Chinese Cultural Facts

What are the Pros and Cons of Living in China? (For Expats)

What are the Pros and Cons of Living in China?

Living in China has about the same pros and cons of living anywhere else in the world. In recent years, the number of expats living in China has hugely increased, many of them think the pros outweigh the cons.

While some people would argue that living in a foreign country can’t be that wonderful, those who did choose to work and live in China have discovered that they wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else!

Listed below are some major pros and cons for living in China, you can take them as a reference when making your own decision:



You may have a goal of learning cultures and languages more thoroughly so that you can become an expert in a particular culture. This is possible when you live in China.

Imagine learning enough Mandarin so you can easily order a meal in that language at a restaurant, or to haggle over the prices at a local market. The culture will be an eye-opening experience for you,  at the same time allowing you to see how things from the past have shaped the future.



Depending on the location you live, it can be extremely cheap to live in China. This is especially true when you have a job where your rent is paid for by your employer.

Even if you need to pay your rent each month, you will still find that you have more than enough money to go out to eat and travel to the many places that you want to see.

Convenience and Access to Services

When you live in China, you have the convenience and access to services that only the rich seem to have back home.

For example, you can have your restaurant order delivered to you anytime you can, it’s almost a daily routine for a lot of young Chinese people.

Want to level up your living? Getting a pampering massage every now and then, or a one-year gym membership are all very much affordable in China with the income for most expats.

Moreover, you can easily afford to have someone come to clean your home or order groceries and have them delivered. Or have clothing made just for you for a lot less than purchasing it through a regular store back home.

Great Variety in Foods

There is so much variety when it comes to food in China and you can easily choose to dine on numerous regional cuisines when you are there.

Imagine digging into Hunan or Dongbei one night and Taiwanese or Tibetan the next. The best part is that there are also plenty of international foods available here, so you will never need to go without your favorite Mexican, Indian, Italian, or French dish while living there!


China is quite safe compared to other countries because there is not as much racial tension that is prominent in many other areas of the world.

The locals are also very accepting of foreigners because they know that those foreigners are in the area working hard to provide a service that would otherwise be non-existent.

There are no gun rights in China either, so there is little chance that a gunman is going to be running through the streets killing people.


Transportation in China is amazing. It allows you to easily travel from one city to another in record time. The railways have more than one hundred twenty-four kilometers of tracks and twenty-two thousand of those kilometers are for high-speed railways.

It is possible for a person to take the railways anywhere in China, including the more remote mountain areas. Taking a bus through the city will get you where you are going quickly, without needing to worry about walking there or getting lost.

It is not recommended to take buses far distances, due to the discomfort of them. The metro is a much better option for travel throughout the cities though, as you can get somewhere in a shorter amount of time than the bus.



The options are endless when it comes to travel around China and nearby countries, and this is the top reason why many people choose to teach in China.  You can easily travel to many places for a couple of days, a long weekend, or a week without breaking your budget.


Internet Restrictions

In China, there are numerous internet restrictions in place.  Those restrictions make it difficult for those foreigners who are used to having access to everything that they want online and much more.

A workaround for this issue is a really good VPN, but those are not always reliable.  Therefore, you must be prepared to get yourself used to the Chinese version of the internet, apps or websites that are built and accessed in China.


Although improving each year, pollution in China can be quite bad. The pollution is caused by many things, and it’s mostly present in major cities, where manufacturing is present every day. Thankfully, the pollution is not as bad out in the country, or some less populated cities.


When a person arrives in China, there is little chance that they know how to speak, read, or write much the local language.

This can become a barrier in so many ways: at work, out on the town, and more. Depending on the person’s determination to learn the local language, it can take months or even years for one to speak good-enough Mandarin to carry on basic conversations.



It can be difficult to immediately make friends in China, due to cultural and language differences. While it can take time to find friends, once a person does find a few, they will eventually be introduced to more like-minded people to hang out with.

Rising Costs

As with everywhere else, China is experiencing rising costs, and no one knows when those rising costs will stop.  Therefore, you must be prepared to pay an increase in your rent, pay more for food, and pay more to have the services that you have grown used to since moving to China.


Once you have gone through all the pros and cons of living in China, you can then make a decision on whether living there is in your best interests.

8 Basic Chinese Social Etiquettes You Should Know

8 Basic Chinese Social Etiquettes You Should Know

The culture in China has been developed over hundreds of years, resulting in countless social etiquette that is only unique to China. A few things that you do without thinking back home may be something that is frowned upon over in China.

If you pay attention to how you act, understand the differences between cultures, it is actually quite easy to keep up with China’s social etiquette. Once you do that, you can easily immerse yourself into the Chinese culture and the lives of the locals.

1. Greetings

So many foreigners believe that they need to bow to everyone that they greet over in China, but that is not true.

A simple hi, or ni hao, while shaking a person’s hand and smiling, is always the best option. It is also best to acknowledge the oldest person in the group first, as it shows a sign of respect.

While you are shaking a person’s hand, it is important to not grasp their hand too firmly, as it shows aggression and not friendliness. You should also never give someone a hug when you are meeting them for the first time.

2. Visiting Houses

When you are invited to someone’s house in China, it is important that you arrive on time and bring a small gift for your host.

When you arrive, you should immediately take your shoes off and wear the slippers that your host offers to you.  Any time your host gives you something, whether it is a drink, napkin, food, or gift, you should graciously accept it using two hands.

3. Table Manners

Table Manners

When living in China, there are going to be many times when you are eating at a table with the locals. These meals may be in their homes or they could be at a restaurant, so it is important to know the etiquette for both.

When eating at a host’s house, you should always try everything that is being offered to you. Often as a guest, you should never take the last few pieces of food off a serving tray, as it is considered bad manners.

When dining at a restaurant, Chinese people don’t like the idea of splitting the bill. Therefore, you should be prepared to either pay the entire bill or have someone else pay for your meal. This has changed quite a bit among young people under the influence of western culture. So pay attention to how other people are doing, and do as the locals do.

4. Exchanging Business Cards

Handing out your regular business card in China is frowned upon, as they are only written in English. It is going to be necessary for you to have new business cards printed, with English on one side and the same information written in Mandarin on the other. When you are handing your business card over, you must have the Mandarin side face up and give it to the receiver with both hands.

When you receive a business card from someone in China, you should accept it with both hands before complimenting the giver on how wonderful their business card is. If you are attending a meeting, the business card should be placed in front of you until it is time for you to leave. When you do tuck the business card away for future reference, it must go into your shirt pocket or a business cardholder.

5. Gifts

The Chinese LOVE gift giving.

An interesting social etiquette about exchanging gifts is that it’s considered a good manner for the recipient to refuse the gift a few times before they finally accept it. When accepting the gift, use both hands to show respect and gratefulness.

While you may want to reciprocate and give a Chinese person a gift as well, there are certain items that are considered taboo within the Chinese culture. The items that you should never give as gifts in China include umbrellas, handkerchiefs, clocks, green hats, towels, shoes, certain types of flowers, knives, and items that come in sets of four.

6. Chopsticks


When dining in China, chopsticks are the main tools. If your chopsticks skills are non-existent, you can ask for a fork and spoon. However, not every restaurant has them prepared for a foreign diner.

One thing to remember when you use the chopsticks: you must never place them standing upright in your rice.  Instead, you should place them flat on the table when you are not using them. When you are finished eating, your chopsticks must be placed flat on the top of your bowl.

7. Stay Calm and Don’t Overreact

As a foreigner living in China, with the language barrier and misunderstandings caused by cultural differences, you might feel angry or frustrated from time to time.

The Chinese have perfected the art of staying calm and not overreacting, so if you find yourself in a situation that may make you lose your temper or overreact, you must work hard to not yell, criticize someone, or show anger. Remember, problems are solved by making an effort to communicate carefully.

8. Respecting Elders

Respecting Elders

Respecting the elders is a big part of Chinese culture. When you address an elder, it is important to use nin hao instead of ni hao, as the nin is more polite and refers to elders. Giving your seat to an elder in public transport is also expected by Chinese people, so when you see an elderly person on a bus, politely give your seat to him/her, and people will in return show respect to your gentle deed.

Real Respect Comes From The Heart 

When you pay attention to these eight things, and the do’s and don’ts of each one, you should be able to easily follow along with the Chinese social etiquette.

If you have any questions, ask one of your Chinese friends, they will be more than happy to give you the information that you need. And if by any chance you made any mistakes, your host will usually be quite forgiving. As in Chinese culture, we will try our best to avoid embarrassing our guests. So try your best, but at the same time, don’t be too nervous as well!