Cost of Living in China

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Cost of living in ChinaMany expats are lured abroad to China by lucrative salary packages that allow them to live a far more luxurious life than many locals. But most don't realise that a Western lifestyle comes at a price and expats should carefully evaluate their level of comfort, research the associated cost of living and negotiate their contract accordingly.

An expat's cost of living in China will depend on their lifestyle, how much luxury they want and how far they'll go to recreate the life they had back home.

Imported, Western-style brands and goods are significantly more expensive than locally made items, which are widely available and very affordable. Prices associated with products that aren't typically Chinese, like dairy and wine, will also be higher. Fresh produce and foods, clothing, entertainment and domestically manufactured electronics are all reasonably priced in China.

As in most destinations, the cost of living in the larger urban centres will far exceed that of the rural villages. Beijing and Shanghai, in particular, claim cost of living levels on par with major European capitals.

Cost of transport in China

Transportation costs can be kept to a minimum for someone based in a big city like Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou, which have reliable and affordable public transit systems. Many other people choose to cycle or ride scooters, which is often the easiest and cheapest way to travel short distances in China.

By contrast, driving in China can be very expensive, as well as dangerous. A leased vehicle can cost nearly as much as accommodation rental, petrol isn't cheap, and it's often necessary to hire a driver.

Cost of food and eating out in China

Eating out in restaurants is generally affordable, although some establishments are cheaper than others. An expat could eat breakfast out from as little as 10 RMB to a more realistic 30 RMB. Lunch costs upwards of 15 RMB for some local cuisine or around 80 RMB per person for a good Western lunch. A fancy brunch or dinner can cost about 600 RMB per person, but it's possible to get a decent Chinese meal for 35 to 110 RMB per person. A typical Western dinner will cost about 100 to 200 RMB per head.

Cost of accommodation in China

Most expats will find their largest expense to be accommodation in China, especially if they're based in Beijing or Shanghai. Expats tend to congregate in the suburbs near the city centre that have higher-than-average accommodation prices.

Cost of schooling in China

Expats who relocate with children will find the costs attached to international schools in China can be astronomical. An average year for a primary school child will cost about 125,000 RMB, and this increases as the child ages. It's best for expats to try and negotiate an education allowance into their contract.

Cost of living in China chart 

Prices may vary across China, depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Shanghai in June 2017.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Furnished two-bedroom apartment RMB 13,000
Unfurnished two-bedroom apartment RMB 9,500


Milk (1 litre) RMB 18
Dozen eggs RMB 17
Loaf of white bread  RMB 15
Rice (1kg) RMB 7
Packet of cigarettes (Marlboro) RMB 21

Public transportation

City centre bus/train fare RMB 4
Taxi rate per km RMB 2.50

Eating out

Big Mac Meal RMB 36
Coca-Cola (330ml)    RMB 3.50
Cappuccino RMB 31
Bottle of beer RMB 20
Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant RMB 250


Uncapped ADSL Internet per month 130 RMB
Utilities (average per month for standard household for electricity, gas, water etc.) 400 RMB

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