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.
Cost of Living in China – Index
- General reflections
- Price tables for the largest Chinese cities
- Monthly expenses (according to your profile)
- Is it expensive to live in China?
- Salaries in China and minimum wages for foreigners
- Salary differences between Chinese cities
- Personal tax regulation for foreigners
- China’s new income tax law
- Frequently asked questions
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 the internet) but it 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 expenses (according to your profile)
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 a while (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.
Salaries in China and minimum wages for foreigners
Salaries have risen much in China in the past years and many foreigners don’t necessarily need to wait for their companies to offer them lucrative expat-contracts. You see, if you possess skills and have experience that Chinese companies see as valuable, you can earn substantial amounts of money.
Besides, along with development and as the local workforce gets more skilled, we see a smaller demand for high-paid expats compared to a decade ago. We also see this trend in Hong Kong where increasingly more foreigners take up local positions.
To give you a better understanding of the salary levels in China, let’s review how the salaries differ depending on where you live in China.
Salary differences between Chinese cities
Below I have listed the biggest and most popular cities in China, where most foreigners move to take up local positions. Let’s start and review the salaries in Shanghai.
As of 2017, Shanghai had some of the highest expat-salaries in the world, averaging at around USD 202,200. That was more than twice as much globally and higher than cities like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo.
Worth mentioning is that rents are significantly high in Shanghai as well and companies reimburse expats for rents most of the time.
Looking at salaries for locals, the click here to fill out the questionnaire and help us to better our estimation of prices in the city of your residence.” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>Shanghai government informed that the average monthly wage, after deducting tax and social welfare contributions, was RMB 7,200 (USD 1,047) as of 2018. As you can see, the gaps are significantly big.
Yet, bear in mind that salaries differ much according to professions.
Persons that work in banking, for example, earn around RMB 36,100 (USD 5,157) per month, which is considered high. The lowest salaries start from RMB 20,400 (USD 2,914) and reach up to RMB 66,800 (USD 9,542).
Persons working as clinical pharmacists, on the other hand, earns around RMB 32,166 (USD 4,595) on average per month.
In 2018, Beijing had the highest salaries on average and where we saw a significant gap between persons working in non-private sectors and in private dittos.
According to China Daily, salaries in the non-private sector averaged at RMB 145,766 (USD 20,823), while salaries in the private sector averaged at RMB 76,908 (USD 10,896) yearly.
Expat salaries are similar to those in Shanghai and foreigners can easily earn USD 100,000 – 200,000 while working as expats.
According to Payscale.com, locals earn the following salaries depending on the profession:
- Software Engineer: RMB 228,000
- Human Resources (HR) Manager. RMB 384,000
- Project Manager, (Unspecified Type / General) RMB 234,000
- Marketing Director: RMB 495,000
Shenzhen is a tech-hub where high-earners make 10 times more than the lowest-paid. According to government data, professionals in tech and finance earn the most, while manufacturing jobs and catering are ranked in the bottom.
The median salaries in the top paying sectors were RMB 25,274 (USD 3,610) per month in 2017, an increase from RMB 24,305 (3,472) in 2016.
I’d say that you should earn at least RMB 20,000 if you want to live in a 1-Bedroom apartment in the central areas and save some money every month. Rents have increased much in Shenzhen over the years, even if it’s still cheaper than places like Shanghai and Beijing.
Living costs are fairly low in Chengdu, at least compared to the other big cities. Thus, salaries are lower there as well. Having said that, Chengdu is one of the fastest-growing cities in China and we see a greater demand for foreigners and expats.
As such, don’t be surprised if you can land a job that pays you equally as much as in Shanghai.
According to Numbeo, local salaries average at around RMB 5,567 (around USD 800), which seems reasonable. That said, you can, of course, earn more than this.
Salarayexplorer.com claims that the median salary is RMB 29,694 (USD 4,242) per month, where the lowest salary is RMB 4,187 (USD 598) and the highest salary is RMB 136,967 (USD 19,566).
Even if you’ve got a general understanding of the salary levels in China, bear in mind that salaries can vary greatly depending on your experience and profession. It’s not rare to find jobs on job boards with salaries reaching up to USD 150,000 to 300,000 per year.
Working as a factory or quality director in Dongguan can easily pay you as much as USD 300,000 a year, according to job ads on LinkedIn and on Robert Walters for example.
Personal tax regulation for foreigners
The personal income tax is comparably low in China by European standards and increases progressively. Below you can see how the tax increases, according to your salary. The rates are issued by China’s State Administration of Taxation (SAT):
- RMB 0 – 3,000: 3%
- RMB 3,001 – 12,000: 10%
- RMB 12,001 – 25,000: 20%
- RMB 25,001 – 35,000: 25%
- RMB 35,001 – 55,000: 30%
- RMB 55,001 – 80,000: 35%
- RMB 80,001 and above: 45%
However, foreigners can also enjoy a monthly standard deduction of RMB 5,000.
The tax year is the same as in most other Western countries and from January 1st to December 31st. However, you need to file your tax declaration to the State Administration of Taxation latest by March 31st.
This is normally managed by your employer.
Besides, you need to file a tax return if meet any of the following conditions:
- Your income is greater than RMB 120,000
- You’ve earned money in China but where taxes were not withheld
- You have more than one Chinese employer
China’s new income tax law
On January 1st, 2019, China issued the individual income tax (IIT) law which impacted foreign workers. In short, the law had the following impact:
- Foreigners working in China for more than 6 months (183 days) are treated as regular residents for tax purposes and have to declare their worldwide income in China
- Foreigners can resolve this issue by leaving China for 30 days every 6th year
The law follows the example of many other countries, including the UK, US, France, and Australia. Thus, we can say that China has become more internationalized from a taxation point of view.
The previous term was one year and China has, therefore, cut the time in half. However, this will probably not be a big issue as long as you are aware of the new regulations. As mentioned, you simply have to leave the country for 30 days within 6 years to avoid taxation on your worldwide income.
I know it looks a bit complex. If you think this could affect you, I suggest you contact an accountant.
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).
How can you help us?
This thread seems to have attracted quite a few…peculiar posts over the years. I wanted to share my own experiences on the site, as i have consulted it often over the years.
I currently live in Wuhan, and I work as a research professor at CCNU. My income is:
1. Salary, 25000 before taxes/month (20800/month, average, after taxes);
2. House subsidy: 5000/month. This part is not taxed (but see below);
3. I also receive end-of-the-year bonuses based on performance/extra tasks.
My wife works free-lance and earns around 8000-10000/month.
The house subsidy covers rent (2000, 75 sq. mtr., on campus) and bills (20 water, 20 gas, 200 electricity, 110 internet, 100 phone, 100 gym./month), plus furniture and transport initial expenses (I bought a scooter at 6000 yuen and it was covered by the subsidy; I bought an extra A/C and it was alo covered).
This means that I spend 2550/month on basic needs, but I need to provide parcels (Fa Piao) for every expense before I get the money.
I do not receive the leftover money (around 2000/month) until the end of the year. When i receive it, it may be taxed (e.g., the first year I received 22850 yuen instead of 24000 yuen). The core policy is to wait and see if an employer can claim tax-free refunds, up to 5000/month, before taxing the house subsidy money.
The house is good: recently renovated, though the building is ugly (say, like a suburban building in Rome, but infinitely better than an average London house).
The end-of-year productivity bonus is really based on work performance, so I am not adding details (yes, I received high bonuses).
Regarding cost of life: an apartment in Wuhan outside campuses can be 4000-5000k for 76-80 sq. mtr., not including bills, ugly furniture included, in the fanciest zones. CCNU is in the Hongshan district, in which young professionals can rent serviced 30 sq. mtr. apartments and studios for 2000 yuen/month (and often the complex include gyms and other facilities).
I buy groceries locally, and a healthy diet costs me 300/week (you know, fresh vegetables, fish, meat, no caviar, no booze, Italian olive oil…).
Cheese, coffee and other imported goods can be bought on TaoBao at decent prices and certified quality (e.g., 30/250 grams for Italian coffee). I do buy pasta in shops (Molisana and DeCecco) because they are easy to find.
We dine out twice per week, and expensive places can be even 100 yuen per person. So, I would say that 600/week, 2600/month is the average cost of groceries (…we buy crabs when in season, though).
Summing up, I would say that a month in Wuhan costs me:
2550 (rent, etc)+2600 (groceries, dining)+550 (various, e.g. dresses)=5600 yuen.
At an average of 25800 yuen BEFORE bonuses, I can save 25800-5600=20200 yuen per month.
My wife covers some of the expenses, too, so she can save around 9000 per month on a good month.
From these savings we can then start removing costs for trips (abroad and within China), luxuries (the occasional week-end in a Spa), and so on.
I am not adding specific details on these expenses, as I think that the post gives a good idea on what might be a “cost of decent life” in Wuhan.
I’d like to re-iterate that my quality of life is non-trivial: I buy organic food, imported luxury delicacies (e.g., pasta, coffee, etc.), dine twice per week in department store restaurants, go to the gym, etc.
These are not SURVIVAL expenses, but my own GOOD LIFE expenses.
I’d also like to underline that rent may be an important factor (do your employers support you? Is your house subsidy tax-deductbile? Etc.), and that certainly children will motivate further expenses.
But I cannot avoid to observe that some of the older posts shooting disparaging numbers like 75k per month (or even 30k per month) seem to be based on not offering evidence on expenses, or on including really high end luxuries (ballet classes for children? Most sports courts are free! Go running!).
Living abroad, whether in China or anywhere else, means being a bit more aware on how to spend money and avoid useless expenses.
If you cannot live without Dom Peri every night, though, you may face a though life even “at home”, quite frankly.
.Breakdown on the groceries list (with calories and macronutrients’ numbers!): on request. Ditto for training schedules and working hours ;)
Sapore di Cina says
Thank you Francesco for the detailed comment and for check on us regularly : )
Is $3000 usd a good monthly salary in Beijing?
Sapore di Cina says
It’s a good salary for Beijing. However, all depends on your living standards
Hello dear, this is Heddi from China, I’m based in Zhengzhou, a tier two cities. i noticed that there are some points in the article need to be updated, If possible you can contact me privately so we can talk more or have futher cooperation！
hope to hear from you
Cherece Smith says
Hi, i must say this is a great article. I have applied to teach on China & got a placement in Tongren, Guizhou with a salary of 9500rmb monthly. Do you think it’s a good salary for such a city? What can you tell me about Tongren?
Sapore di Cina says
It’s not bad as Guizhou’s cost of living is quite low. Togren is an interesting place, but also is a small city with almost no international population so can be a bit difficult for a foreigner to live there.
I am a US Expat, retired and have a fixed income of $1500 a month, in addition to approx $40,000 cash in a US based brokerage account.
I had a Chinese girlfriend and travelled to China on several occasions, the last time was in 2015 on a one year multiple entry visa and spent several months in Schenzhen, Guangzho and Wuhan…and a few days in Zuhai.
I loved China and would like to go back…I received a BUSINESS VISA invite letter from a company I was planning on working for in Shanghai, about a year ago, and they requested a two year Visa, although I have not pursued that opportunity further…would it still be valid after one year, and should I use it if it is, and if not what would be the most sensible option for me in terms of a retirmenent Visa, should I apply for the ten year multiple entry Visa offered to US citizens?…or is there a more sensible option you would recommend givin my income and available cash in the bank?
I can’t be sure about the status of your current visa, you should ask the Chinese consulate
I don’t think that there’s a retirement visa, you can either apply for the 10 year tourist visa or if you are planning to marry your girlfriend, apply for the Q1 family visa
If you are less than 60 years old, you can find a formal work for example English teaching, so the school can help you apply work visa. If you are more than 60 years old, then the best option for you is to hold L visa to come.
Sapore di Cina says
Be careful working with an L visa is illegal, also you cannot get a resident permit or a working visa in China I’d you entered the country with an L visa
Holland friend says
These numbers seem only credible for a young single guy or girl. With student style life, may be escaping from joblessness in europe and just in shanghai to fuck around a little. Not saving and not thinking about any kind of permanence.
If u want a european quality of life.. pension, saving, health care, neat house and some trips back home i would suggest not look at this blog. I have lived and worked in china for a long time and live within first ring of shanghai and have done business in most of china. A tiny little piece of french or dutch chees costs allready 10 euro in sh. I have one wife and one kid no car and no expensive hobbies and with forementioned ambition of europe life quality i would say u need at least 75000 after tax to make it work. Then im talking no holidays and no fancy schools. Two trips back home every year and save a little for after 65. No buying property and live in rental. Especially kids are unbelievable expensive in china.. if you want your kid play piano ballet and learn to swim.. go to a local school with a foreign passport u easily can spent 15.000 to 20.000 a month on the kid alone. Lets not kid ourselves a serious life in china is seriously expensive. Keep it real!
Furio Fu says
If you had read the article with attention, you would have maybe understood that we are trying to:
a.) give the reader an idea on what is the amount necessary to SURVIVE, which is what matters for doing a more complex calculation (the one you talking about).
b.) the calculation is done for a single person.
It doesn’t take a genious to understand that savings, trips back home, children, buying property, piano ballet etc aren’t included in this calculation, and this has a simple reason: we can’t forecast each reader situation.
We provide a tool that people can then apply to their specific situation.
So, yeah, as you said, keep it real!
Robert Allman, Jr. says
Can anyone tell me about the cost of living or availability of apartments for one person in Sanya, ro any other city in Hainan near a nice beach ?
Furio Fu says
Hi there, sorry, we didn’t cover Sanya yet
Unless you’re here to study Chinese, research a specific aspect of the culture, or are married to a Chinese girl, there is no rational reason to be in China if you’re making under 30K a month. I say this with all objectivity. I’ve worked here the last eight years (all 2nd and 3rd tier cities), have traveled extensively all over the country, and immersed myself fully in the “real” China. In the end, China is not for the faint of heart. And expats who try to save money by eating street food cooked in gutter oil need to step back and seriously reexamine their reasons for beIng here. There are so many other better countries to be.
Furio Fu says
I think many people are attracted to China because it’s a totally different world.
To others, China may offer possibilities that they can’t find elsewhere. It depends on your skills/job, but think for instance at all the people that work in the manufacturing industry.
Thanks for your reply! I’d asked about 6 people, everyone said the same thing.. salary too low for living in Shanghai. now i’m hesitating again even the company had already email me the offer letter. :(…
Sborto Zhou says
James if they provide accommodation, 7k isn’t bad for the first months. 10k with accommodation is quite good salary, as renting a place can be expensive in Shanghai
Thank you for your informative article! I’m from Malaysia, there’s a job offer as interior designer with RMB 10k basic salary per month, but first 3 months probation will only pay me 70% of basic salary as in 7k but they provide accommodation and one way ticket to Shanghai. Do you think this worth a try working at Shanghai? I do have the plan to stay in shanghai for at least 3 to 5 years before i decided to stay longer and build my career there.
What do you think? Thank you so much !
Furio Fu says
You can certainly make it, probably living far from the city center etc, however the salary looks quite small, for living in Shanghai.
Hi Furio great article, very usefull
I think the amounts for studio in city center and far from city center are switched.
Keep up the good work
Furio Fu says
Thank you Bruno,
We will take a look at the stats and correct it
I must commend you for your swift response to comments and questions. I am a Nigerian, had my first degree in urban and regional planning from Nigeria. I recently got admitted for Chinese language course at Hainan University. I’m willing to pursue a career in piloting or any aviation course as soon as I’m done with the language course. My questions are:
How easy is it for me to get a good job to cater for my needs in hainan?
Will I be able to transfer to another school in another city where aviation course is available?
What is the cost of living in hainan city?
I am proficient in English language, flexible and will be willing to take up any job so far the pay is good.
Is it easy for international students to get jobs and thrive easily in China especially in Hainan?
Furio Fu says
Hi there, I’m sorry but I don’t know what to answer to you as I’m not familiar with your career and I’ve never been to Hainan
Alice Lee says
I am thinking to take up a job offer in Shanghai with monthly gross salary of RMB40,000. Do you think it is enough for 2 person including renting an apartment, food, transport and miscellaneous with target monthly savings of RMB10,000?
Furio Fu says
Yes, shall be more than enough, unless you want to drink champagne at M1NT every night : )
Debra Tomlinson says
I am thinking of taking a job offer in Shanghai China. The offer us 3500USD. I have three children who i will bring with me.
Medical and school for the kids will be covered and there is a housing allowance.
Do you think i would be able to comfortable live with that salary?
Furio Fu says
if they cover the school, the rent and the medical insurance, I think it’s a pretty good salary!
Wendy Vivier says
Good Afternoon from South Africa! We will be visiting Beijing in June for 4 days and have budgeted 2000 yuan per day for two of us for food and spending. Will this be enough? Hotel and transport/tours are fully paid for. Your advice would be appreciated as we have never traveled to China before.
Furio Fu says
Hi there, it looks more than enough to me!
Wendy Vivier says
Hi Furio! Thanks for the help!
Four years ago, I was staying in a private studio in Mianyang (student area) and paid 190RMB/month, and that was one of the more expensive places!
Furio Fu says
Happy times : ) Although 190 RMB/month looks extremely low also for 2013!
First of all, I’d like to say that this site is great. Some excellent information regarding the lifestyle in China.
There is a quick question I’m hoping someone will be able to help me out with. In regards to finding teaching positions, do the prospective employers take into account the classification of an applicants degree, or does it only matter that you have a degree in the first place?
Any help that anyone can offer me in regards to this matter will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Furio Fu says
What do you mean the “classifation”? Whether you graduated first or tenth on your class? I don’t think this really matters, when it comes down to find a job in China!
Thanks very much for the reply. I graduated with a lower class degree in Law and Politics. Nothing to do with either my level of intelligence or command of the English language. I was forced into doing the course by my parents, hated every second of it and thus did no work for it. I still managed to get a degree for not attending University and studying a few days before tests.
My question is do they take into account that my degree is not a first class, or is my holding a degree the only consideration?
I appreciate that you guys are very busy, so hopefully I’ll hear back from you soon. Keep up the good work on the site.
Furio Fu says
I dont have a certain answer to this; however for what I saw both first hand and from others, is that what matters is the degree you hold, not the marks or class!
That’s great. Thank you very much for the reply. I was just worried the lower grade might hold me back. Hopefully it won’t.
Furio Fu says
I can’t assure it, but what I saw from both me (and many of our readers) is that most of Chinese entities don’t really check grades, just whether you have the right degree or not.
Sborto Zhou says
You can read this article for more information about this topic.
Does anyone knows a way for transfer money out of CHina to USA? A not expensive way?
Furio Fu says
Hello, you can try Transferwise, however I’m not sure it’s working in China (it’s certainly working in Hong Kong)