By now it’s no secret, living costs in China can be pretty cheap, and you’re likely to be earning as much as you would back home whilst living here. Here is our guide to all the different things you’ll need to pay for living in China. The guide is a little long, but feel free to scroll down to find whatever it is you’re looking for!
(Please note: all prices and conversions are accurate as of June 2018, we intend to update these routinely).
Right at the top of any budget is rent, and it’s a long way away from the UK rental market, believe us. The most common cities to teach in are the most expensive in China, but are still half as pricey as London.
But first things first, if you teach with a school in China, there is a good chance that they will be providing accommodation for you. This typically takes the form of one room in a shared apartment and is usually very close to the school. If this is not the case, then they are likely to give you some additional non-taxed stipend in your pay to help cover it.
What about the utilities you pay inside your flat? If schools provide you with accommodation, they are unlikely to cover these too, but don’t worry, they’re not going to break the bank.
Obviously, these things depend on how much you use them, but here are some roundabout averages:
As for your monthly phone bill, this is also not going to ruin you. You can forget about data allowances and such, China is so connected, constantly, that all you can eat bundles are the norm. Expect an average top up from one of China’s four network companies to get you anywhere between 70-100GB of 4G data, or more. That’s a lot of YouTube.
The one important thing to note is that the networks offer provincial deals, so you might have near-unlimited data in your province in China, but this will be eaten up a lot quicker if you are travelling around China.
But indeed, it’s so cheap, and so fast, that some people even permanently hotspot their laptops at home, given the temperamental speed of China’s internet at times.
You can eat out in a lot of different ways in China. At the low end of the pricing, there are the innumerable cheap, low-thrills, side street restaurants where you can get fried noodles or dumplings knocked up pretty cheaply, and knowing that it will keep you full until your next meal.
Then there are more expensive Chinese restaurants, often found at malls or business parks, where you can have more specific or well-known dishes cooked up for a little bit more. These are the places where you’re also likely to find regionally specific food, whether it’s sticky pork in Hanghzou or crispy duck in Beijing. Tasty.
If you’re missing home and fancy some typical Western food, you can expect it to be a little more pricey due to the ingredients needed to cook it. There are plenty of options in most cities though, and some cities offer far wider cuisines than simply Western, meaning you can find whatever you fancy with a search on TripAdvisor.
McDonalds (and other fast food joints) have a far better reputation here than they do at home. Whereas in the UK they are seen as cheap and unhealthy, here they are seen as world-class brands, with good quality meals. So you pay roughly the same you would at home for your McNuggets and Big Mac’s.
This is similar with coffee – which is largely a new trend to China’s tea-loving people. Starbucks is seen as a decent brand, again much unlike at home! New coffee shops are popping up everywhere and offer a really cosy experience if you want to sit in and chat with friends or do some work on your laptop.
If you want to cook for yourself, you can do, although ingredients you’re used to using in Britain might be a little expensive here.
This is because of dietary differences between China and the West. Dairy products are seriously uncommon in China, making milk, and sadly, cheese, quite an expense. But if you are a cheese addict, it is available for you to buy! Which is obviously brie-lliant.
Fruit is pretty darn cheap here, with plenty of interesting options aside from apples and bananas. You can eat mango and watermelon here pretty cheap, and if you’re feeling really adventurous, lychee and dragon fruit are popular and inexpensive choices too. Lots of fruit shops too are recently bringing in smoothie makers too and can offer you a juice at a decent price – made on the spot.
As transport prices continue to soar in the UK, prices here in China are subsidised, as they continue to be regarded as an important tool for people to use as China develops. There’s no difference in the prices you pay as a foreigner in comparison to a local, so you’ll be zooming around the city on pennies.
Taxi’s too are pretty good value. Just make sure that your driver has put the meter on at the front of the dashboard to ensure you’re not being scammed and surprised with a hefty fee at the end (though this is unlikely anyway). You’ll know the meter if you can see some little red numbers going up at the front of the car.
The quicker you get familiar with Chinese apps too, the better. Because DiDi taxi’s (that’s China’s version of uber) are even more affordable, and much more convenient, as the DiDi app comes in English and offers you an in-app method of communicating with your driver whilst you wait to be picked up.
Leisure costs all depend on you as a person. Do you want a gym membership? How often do you usually head to the cinema, if at all? Are you fashion crazy, or do you not really care for this?
If you like buying clothes, one thing you’ll want to do once you get here is learn about TaoBao. This is China’s person-to-person e-commerce app, a cross between eBay and Amazon, where you can buy, well, if it’s legal, pretty much anything. But it’s seriously good for fashion, whether it’s high end stuff at a good price, or scarily good (and cheap) fakes, you’ll find that sellers here always have their eyes on the latest trends. Just remember to ask them if they are selling Chinese or Western sizes!
So, now you know the average cost of living in China, why not try and work out how much you’re likely to spend of your salary in a month? We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!