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

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