The first part of this article contains a general reflection on the cost of living in China.
The second part contains a table with prices of the most common goods and services in the majority of Chinese cities. We’ve included transportation, utilities, sports and entertainment, bars and clubs, groceries and salary. Notice that this data was gathered through a questionnaire compiled by our readers who live in China. The questionnaire is still active and the prices about each city are updated in real-time – just as soon as we gather the data.
Furthermore, if you live in China, click here to fill out the questionnaire and help us to better our estimation of prices in the city of your residence.
Note that at the moment we only have complete information on Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou but, as soon as you send us the data, we will also add information on the other cities!
In the third part of the article we calculate the monthly cost of living for three types of expats (which we have called the “prude”, the “average expat” and the “party animal”), in a way to give you an idea of how much you might spend in China (obviously it’s an estimate since we can’t exactly know what you will buy).
In the last part we will try to answer the fateful question “Is it expensive to live in China?”, comparing the cost of living in Shanghai with that of Rome, Madrid, London, New York City, Los Angeles, Bangkok and Hanoi.
Cost of living in China – General reflections
The cost of living in China depends on the city in which you live (Beijing and Shanghai for example are much more expensive than secondary cities such as Chengdu or Kunming, which in turn are more expensive than smaller cities and countryside) and your lifestyle (if you like drinking whiskey and cola in the elegant bars of Shanghai and buy extra virgin olive oil at the City Shop you will spend more than those who shop at Perry’s – a bar for students on Huai Hai Road where a bottle of Tsingdao beer will cost you 10 Yuan – and those who only eat Chinese food).
Expect to pay at least 2,500-3,500 Yuan a month for a room in a shared apartment in Beijing or Shanghai (at least if you don’t want to live in the deep peripheries). In other cities the rent is much more economical but it depends on the individual case. You’ll also have to pay for electricity, water gas and internet. According to our data you shouldn’t spend more than 400-600 Yuan a month. The expenses are for the entire apartment so if you live with others you should pay just a portion.
You’ll also need a cell phone. In general, 100 Yuan a month should be enough (also counting internet) but depends on your use.
A meal could cost you only 10-15 Yuan for a plate of jiaozi (ravioli) or of lamian (noodles). If however you want to eat meat and fish regularly and visit elegant restaurants, prices rice quickly. It depends on your diet.
The subway and buses are still economical; let’s say 5 yuan a day (or 150 yuan a month). Taxis are becoming expensive, especially in Shanghai and Beijing, but are still much cheaper than those that you’ll find in Europe or the United States.
Let’s review: Rent (at least 3,000 Yuan) + utilities (at least 200 Yuan) + telephone bills (100 Yuan, with internet) + food (at least 2,100 Yuan for a high quality diet, at least 1,100 Yuan for a diet that includes a lot of rice, pasta and potatoes) + transportation (at least 150 Yuan) = 4,500-5,500 Yuan a month.
Let’s say, therefore that the starting point is 4,500 Yuan a month in Beijing or Shanghai. Clearly you should add expenses for entertainment (travel, dining out, alcohol, cigarettes, some tea), clothes, health insurance, visas, international flights, and unforeseen expenses.
Keep in mind that in China it is very common to perceive different benefits beyond just salary. This can go from 5 Kg of rice for the Spring Festival up to total reimbursement for rent, transportation within the interior of the country (even taxis), health insurance, visas and an international flight a year.
Price tables for the largest Chinese cities
Monthly costs (profiles)
In the table below we’ve listed expenses for three profiles that, even if they’re imaginary, reflect an accurate enough representation of three different lifestyles.
The first profile, which we have called “the Prude”, is the one that tries to save money in all possible ways: he has a room rented in a shared apartment far from the city center, uses only public transport, rarely frequents clubs, and instead of eating in restaurants cooks at home.
The second profile, which we’ve called the “Average expat”, is one who concedes a few “luxuries” without going to extremes. The average expat has a shared apartment in the center of the city, hits the clubs 2-3 times a week, every once in awhile (especially at night) takes a taxi and often eats out, even if he often settles for a cheap Chinese restaurant.
The third profile, the so-called “Party animal”, is someone who doesn’t care about expenses: he lives in a studio in the center of the city, without roommates to break his balls, gets around exclusively by taxi, goes out often, eats almost only in “expat” restaurants, indulges in two massages a week, etc.
|the Prude||the Average expat||the Party animal|
|Beijing||5,970 CNY||10,937 CNY||22,668 CNY|
|Guangzhou||5,621 CNY||10,814 CNY||24,570 CNY|
|Shanghai||6,431 CNY||12,312 CNY||27,450 CNY|
|Shenzhen||5,952 CNY||11,381 CNY||25,241 CNY|
Is it expensive to live in China?
According to the information on Expatistan.com, the cost of living in Shanghai is 5% lower than that of Rome, 6% higher than Madrid, 45% lower than London, 41% lower than New York, 26% lower than Los Angeles, 45% more expensive than Bangkok and 77% more expensive than Hanoi.
Note that the data considers only the costs, not salaries. Therefore, for example, if you live in New York and earn three times what you could earn in Shanghai, despite the higher prices your quality of life in New York would be higher.
The reasoning also works conversely: it’s useless to decide to live in Hanoi, in Vietnam, just because it’s cheaper, if they only pay you a third of what they would pay you in Shanghai.
Frequently Asked Questions
Each time a reader fills out the questionnaire, the data is automatically updated, making the average of all data that has been sent in available.
Our intention is to gather data on the cost of living – and salaries – of all large Chinese cities. When we have enough information we’ll be able to publish statistics not only on the cost of living in various Chinese cities, but also in the quality of life (economically speaking, or rather the relationship between expenses and salaries for the most common trades among expatriates).
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[Cover Photo’s Copyright: Depositphotos.com]