The Cost of Living in China – Luxurious or Standard Lifestyle?


How much does it cost to live in China? Is China cheap for both international students and foreigners? Well, this article will reveal the cost of living in China. To begin with, the expenses incurred while living in China will depend on your geographical location and the lifestyle you choose. For instance, the price can be high in coastal regions such as Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenzhen.

In China, money is issued in notes and coins. There are notes for 1, 2 and 5 jiao and, 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 yuan. Fen are issued as coins while yuan and jiao coins have a value of 1. It’s important to keep in mind that there are very strict foreign currency exchange regulations in China.

Exchanging back Chinese currency back to foreign currencies requires a copy of the original exchange memo. Therefore, if you are working in China and paid in yuan, it might be difficult to convert your savings into another currency. Due to such regulations, there is an active black market for currency exchange. While the black market option might seem preferable, you might be given fake currencies hence you should stick to official channels.

The Cost of Living in China Explained

A few decades ago, China was considered a “bargain country”. However, with the current world economy and an increase in living standards, the cost of living has increased. Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing are among the most expensive cities to live in the world. For example, if you want to live in class-A apartments in Hong Kong, you might be forced to pay up to US$10000 per month.

The rent is not the only thing to worry about. Foreigners who live in the higher circles of the Chinese society will have to pay Western prices at 4 or 5-star restaurants, top-level schools and other places.

On the brighter side, you can also live cheaply if you stick to the living standards of the low and middle-class population. For instance, living in old-fashioned Chinese apartments with limited amenities, eating at cheap noodle outlets and riding buses instead of taxis will save you a lot of money. Also, if you move out of the big cities, you will notice that the price for almost everything has dropped by more than 50%.

If you are street-smart, you can also live fairly comfortably in Beijing off US$15 per day. You might also consider taking a part-time teaching job for extra income.

Transport costs

While it’s hard for one to get around Western Cities, such as New York, without owning a car, in China, you don’t need a private car. China’s railway system is the most advanced in the world. This makes it easier, convenient and affordable to travel around. The urban public transport systems are also advanced, modern and more efficient than those present in Western metropolises. The only limitation is that China’s population is so huge hence getting a seat is quite a hassle.

Here’s a glimpse of transportation costs in Major cities:

· Beijing – Subway (about 30 US cents), Bus (10-20 US cents) and Taxi (30 US cents per kilometer).

· Guangzhou – Subway (40-120 US cents), Bus (20-40 US cents) and Taxi (40 US cents per kilometer).

· Shanghai – Subway (40-120 US cents), Bus (30 US cents) and Taxi (about 40 cents per kilometer).


The Chinese food available in your home country is different from what you will find at local Chinese food joints. This is because most recipes are tweaked to suit local tastes. Food from Northern China tends to be heavier and locals prefer wheat-based staples such as bread, dumplings and noodles over rice. Central provinces of Hunan and Sichuan are known for spicy dishes.

International food is also available in larger cities. The bigger the city, the wider the variety. Most Korean and Japanese restaurants in China offer Western fast foods. Vegetarianism is not very popular in China.

Eating in China is very affordable. For instance, a meal at small local restaurants can cost between 5 and 25RMB (US$1-4) while mid-range restaurants charge between 25-45RMB (US$4-7). This included both international and Chinese cuisine.


You need a place to sleep. Accommodation is a necessary expense and can increase your cost of living in China. If you are students, you should know that most Chinese universities provide very comfy dormitories. You might also choose to rent an apartment outside the university.

As far as housing is concerned, you have two options. Expat accommodation or Chinese-style apartments. Expat accommodations are not good for your wallet as they are located in most expensive coastal cities. However, they come with better amenities such as gyms, swimming pools, playgrounds and more.

Chinese-style apartments are ideal for foreigners who desire to save some money. A standard one-bedroom accommodation in Beijing requires 5000-6000 CNY per month while expat accommodations require at least 22000 CNY per month.

Utility costs

In a typical expat home, the rent covers your monthly utility bill. However, in Chinese-style apartments you have to pay the utility bills separately. For instance, the gas bill for a two-person household is about 50-100 CNY per month. Water is more expensive while electricity is the largest expense.

So, how much money do you need in China?

As mentioned earlier, the cost of living in China will depend on your lifestyle and location. Here’s a rough estimate of how much each living standard costs:

· Minimum survival – About US$400 per month. This is how much you need if you don’t have to pay the rent. It allows you to live on rice and noodles, buy a Western meal once in a while, pay for basic health treatment and take a taxi when a need arises.

· Average – Around US$1000. Here, you can rent a basic apartment in major cities, pay health insurance, travel around and enjoy a bit of Chinese culture.

· Luxury – This is “the good life”. Here, you don’t limit yourself. This lifestyle can cost you up to US$1,000,000 per year in major cities.


As a foreigner, the cost of living in China can be cheap or expensive. Take part-time jobs to boost your income. Also, ensure that you learn a bit of Mandarin as this will help you communicate well with the locals. Know where to eat. If you are there with friends, take an apartment together so that you can split utility bills and monthly rent.