Is China Expensive to Live In?
The cost of living in China is lower than in the U.S., Australia, and Western Europe. Add in their amazing culture, high-tech modern cities, and incredible job opportunities and it’s no wonder why so many expats want to go to China.
But what else is it about China that makes it such an attractive country for expats?
China ranks right next to the US in the size of economies, so if you’re looking for a higher household income and more disposable income, it’s the place to be.
China also ranks #12 as the best place to raise children abroad. China offers excellent access to education and provides a better education than most, making it a favorite for expats with a child.
With its massive country and a wide range of lifestyles and cultures, China is a diverse nation, so the cost of living varies from city to town.
Keep reading to learn more about the cost of living in China.
Housing Costs for Expats in China
With over 1.4 billion people occupying about 3.7 million square miles, China has something for everyone. Its large modern cities tend to attract most expats, but there are also many areas that are completely agricultural.
For our cost of living recap, we’re focusing on the metro areas, which is where most expats prefer to live.
Compared to U.S. cities, Chinese cities offer cheaper housing and cheaper utilities. We scoured social media forums, review sites, and apartment listings to determine housing costs. For simplicity’s sake, we looked at 1 bedroom apartments in the city center of several major Chinese cities.
- Beijing – 4,750 ¥ (~$740 USD)
- Shanghai – 6,500 ¥ (~$1015 USD)
- Guangzhou – 4,450 ¥ (~$695 USD)
- Chengdu – 2,500 ¥ (~$390 USD)
- Urumqi – 1,500 ¥ (~$235 USD)
The prices vary depending on the city, and the bigger and more metropolitan the city, the more expensive apartments tend to be. But compared to U.S. prices for apartments in NYC and San Francisco, the rates are relatively cheap.
Entertainment and Social Life
You’ll definitely want to experience China’s incredible nightlife scene. With tons of dining options, sporting events, and concerts, there’s always something to do. U.S. expats can expect the prices to be about the same as they are at home.
- Two movie tickets will cost you between $9 and $22.
- A beer at a bar or a club in a major city will run you about $5, while a cocktail will cost closer to $10.
- If you happen to be a smoker, you’ll appreciate that the cost of a pack of cigarettes is only about $3.
Medical Expenses and Health Care Costs in China
If you need medical treatment while you’re in China and you don’t have local or international insurance, be prepared to pay. Specialty expat clinics are very expensive. You’ll find doctors and nursing professionals who speak your language, but you’ll pay for that privilege.
If you can get past the language barrier, local hospitals are much more affordable and often offer better service. But you’ll need to be able to communicate with the staff to ensure the best quality of care.
When you need to make a short 15-minute visit to a private doctor, expect to pay about $42 out of pocket.
Transportation Options for Chinese Expats
Getting around China is easy. The major cities have robust subway systems, and a typical ride only costs 2 RMB (approximately 30 cents). A short taxi ride will cost you about $2-$3 USD, or you can use DiDi (the Uber equivalent) for more personalized service.
If you prefer to drive, a gallon of gas costs a little over $4 USD. Just keep in mind that traffic tends to be very congested, so most expats choose not to drive.
Groceries and Food Costs in China
When you’re not in the mood to discover a new restaurant, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from in terms of food markets. The price of essential food is very affordable in China.
You’ll find the best prices at local markets and slightly more expensive prices at supermarkets. But regardless of where you shop, you’ll find that local foods are more expensive than imported products, such as cheese.
- A pound of boneless chicken breast costs about $2.50.
- A dozen eggs will run you $2.50.
- One pound of apples only costs $1.
- A 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola will set you back about $1.25.
Summary: Costs of Living in China
With the exception of entertainment, the cost of living in China is cheaper than the U.S. and western European countries. Housing is affordable. Transportation is cheap and easy to come by. Healthcare costs can vary, depending on whether you want an expat doctor or a local medical team.
And when you’re not in the mood to experience one of China’s amazing dining options, you can cook at home and spend relatively little on the cost of food.
If you’re considering moving to a foreign country, China is a favorite among expats. The culture is vibrant. The cities are bustling. The countryside is beautiful. And the cost of living is much cheaper than you might think.
Do your research before you go so you know exactly what you can expect to spend as an expat in one of the most vibrant countries in the world.