Expat Cost Of Living In China + living in China guide

After previously speaking about the cost of living in Thailand and the UAE, this article will focus on China.

Of course, we can’t speak about every city in such a big country in this article, and the costs are subject to change due to inflation and exchange rate changes.

China tends to be an expensive country for “expat services”, but relatively good value if you can live like a local, and this article will elaborate more on that.

Our staff have also looked at some of the other aspects of living in China, such as visas and the positives and negatives of living in the country.

For any questions, or if you are looking to invest as an expat, you can contact me using  this form.


China is located on more than nine million square kilometers of the Eurasian continent.

More than a billion people live in this country. Emigration to China is therefore difficult for many foreigners. According to recent studies, this state is the strongest in the world in many respects. You can apply for a visa to visit China on your own.

Independent monitoring commissions note an increase in the average standard of living in China in 2019-2020, which is greatly facilitated by the constant growth in the production of goods and the development of the service market. 

All this suggests that life in China is improving every year, and this cannot but attract a huge number of both tourists and investments.

The modernization of the economic sector, which began in 1978 and continues to this day, has gradually brought China to the global level. China’s economy is currently considered the world’s most powerful economy. 

The expansion of the social sphere with the development of the country’s market economy and the improvement of the living standards of the indigenous population, treatment in China are vectors that have priorities for the government. Moreover, the state strictly regulates the activities of the subjects of both the external and internal markets of the republic.

Now let’s learn more about this country and specifically about one of the powerful cities Shanghai, how much you have to invest to emigrate there and to start a new life in China.

  1. Visa and Residence Permit

To live and work in China, you need to obtain a business visa or residence permit.

Business visas are given to entrepreneurs who do business with Chinese companies.  To stay in the country for a long time, business visa holders periodically travel to Hong Kong or Macau to “reset the counter”.

If you want to live in China for years, you need to get a residence permit.  

It is issued to spouses of Chinese people, foreign students and employees.  

The residence permit is renewed once a year.  The best way to legalize is to open a foreign export company in the country.  The license of such a company is valid for 49 years.  All this time, while the license is valid, you can renew the residence permit.  This will have to be done every year.

No one can hope for citizenship here.  Chinese citizenship is rarely granted to foreigners, for special merit.  In the entire history of the country, no more than ten passports were handed over.

  1. Salaries and Prices

The average salary in China in 2019 for locals is $750, although expat salaries are much higher of course.

Every year this figure increases by about $ 50-70. China is one of the most powerful countries.

China’s manufacturing industry focuses primarily on exporting goods to all over the world. Due to large production volumes, the level of GDP and wages of employees are growing. Average income in Shanghai is 9,800 Yuan per month, this is about $ 1417.59.

Concerning the prices in China, it depends on the locality.  All cities, depending on economic and social factors, are divided into several categories.  

The cities of the first category are the most developed: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. The second includes the capitals of the wealthy provinces: Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Chongqing. To the third – regional cities, to the fourth – regional centers and further downward. 

Food prices in cities of different categories may differ by 20-30%. In Shanghai, bread costs 7 yuan ($1.01), milk 12 yuan per liter ($1.74), apples 15 yuan per kg ($2.17), potatoes – 4 yuan ($0.58) , tangerines – 14 yuan ($2.03), beef – 140 ($20.25), pork – 70 ($10.13), salmon – 160 ($ 23.14) yuan per kg.

A business lunch in an inexpensive cafe will cost from 30 yuan (250 R).  Sitting in a good restaurant costs 200 yuan ($28.93) per person, in a very good restaurant – 300-400 (about $43.4 – $57.86).

  1. Housing

The easiest way to rent a house is through a real estate agency.  They can be found on almost every street.  

You just need to choose the area where you want to live and contact the nearest agency.  You should not trust the ads on the Internet: the beautiful photos and the low price do not correspond to reality.

In Shanghai, realtors can specifically set a price of 1,000 yuan ($144.65) per month higher than the landlord asks for. If a foreign client doesn’t care or a company rents an apartment, the agency will earn this thousand. If you start bargaining, they will drop the price.

A contract is always concluded with the tenant. The tenant makes a deposit in a month or two, if you leave the apartment ahead of time, the deposit will not be returned.

Renting an apartment in Shanghai is three times more profitable than buying it.

To take a mortgage, you need to pay at least 30% of the cost of housing and work in China on a work visa for at least three years, paying taxes.  It is not profitable to take a mortgage now, prices are at their peak.  Ten years ago, the cost of housing in Europe and Shanghai was about the same.  Now, having sold an apartment here, you can buy ten apartments in Europe.

4. Utility Rates

Utilities in Shanghai are cheaper than in other European countries, but there is one peculiarity.  There is no central heating, and during the cold season, electricity is consumed a lot – up to 1,000 yuan ($144.65) per month. True, there is a night rate: from 10 pm to 6 am the price is halved.

Paying utility bills is easy.  Banks have special terminals: you scan the code on the account and pay from the card. In China, they began to use a system for remote control of energy resources and water.  If you don’t pay for electricity or water, they will turn off automatically.

  1. Banking Services

Banks in China have been stuck in the last century. In the branches they serve for a a very long time, nothing is understandable, so bring with you a cup of coffee because you will wait very long. Foreigners in China are not allowed to use investment vehicles, they can only take a mortgage or put money on a deposit.

A similar story is with credit cards.  The card is opened to a foreigner on old-fashioned conditions: you need to make a deposit of 10,000 yuan ($1446.52), you cannot spend it, interest is not charged.  

After depositing funds, a credit card is issued, but in fact you use it as a debit card: after all, your money is on the deposit. If you need to close the card, you must personally come to the bank, write an application and wait 30 days. Shortly, the banking system is not the best one.

  1. Communication and Internet

There is one federal tariff for calls in China. For calls within China, 200 yuan ($28.93) per month is enough.

For home internet you will pay up to 800 yuan ($115.72) per year. But the internet is peculiar here because of the censorship. Foreign sites will open more slowly, and many will be completely blocked. For example, Facebook, Twitter and Google are blocked in China.

In China, everyone uses Alipay, the Alibaba payment system. In “Alipay” they pay for goods on the Internet, pay for communal services and transfer money to other people. The second most popular payment system is Wechat. They already use little cash, everyone pays through payment systems.

  1. Transport

Shanghai has a developed metro, and it is more convenient to get around the city by public transport. The ticket price depends on the distance. It costs 2 yuan ($0.29) to travel three stops. On average, 200-250 yuan ($28.93 – $36.16) comes out per month. The Chinese Uber is called Didi.

Buying your own car is not profitable. The Chinese government limits the number of cars.

To buy a number plate for a car, you will have to participate in a special lottery, and if you win, you will have to pay 40,000 yuan ($5786.08) for a number. For a “lucky” number, which contains many sixes or eights, the Chinese pay hundreds of thousands of yuan.

Other taxes and fees will cost another 10,000 yuan ($1446.52) annually. Add to this the cost of gasoline: 6.5-7 yuan ($0.87 – $1.01) per liter. In addition, there are paid parking lots in the city. There are many of them, but in the center there are problems with places.

One of the local attractions is the maglev train. It takes 6-7 minutes to drive 37 kilometers from the city to Pudong Airport. 

For bikers there is good news. In China, bike rental is very developed: you find a special parking lot on the street, scan the code and receive a password on your phone. You can ride these bicycles in your area.

  1. Ecology

In China, air pollution levels are several times higher than normal due to coal-fired power plants, industrial plants and a large number of cars.

In Beijing, schools are sometimes closed due to pollution. In Shanghai, the air is cleaner, but sometimes pollution rates are very high.

A lot of people left China because of the poor environment. But the the environment in Shanghai is not as bad as in Beijing. So be ready for this kind of disadvantage.

  1. Medicine

All medicine is paid. If an accident occurs, and there is no insurance or money, then doctors will not help, even if the victim is a Chinese citizen. Almost no one uses ambulances, it is cheaper and faster to come to the hospital yourself.

If the case is not critical, then it is better to contact a public clinic. It costs 150 yuan ($21.7) to recover from a simple cold and this price includes medicines and tests.

Pneumonia without hospitalization will cost from 3,000 yuan ($433.96). Here, everyone is sensitive to their health: being ill, you let down not only the employer, but also your family, spend extra money.

If you want a special treatment, you can contact the hospital’s VIP department. A doctor’s appointment here will cost from 280 yuan (40.5), tests will rise in price by 30%, but the nurse performs without waiting in line.

In China, international insurance is in use, they cost from 20,000 yuan ($2893.04) per year.

With it, you can go to a good international clinic, where without insurance, an appointment will cost 2,000 yuan ($289.3). Local insurance is cheaper, but only an employer can do it. It costs an employee from 1000 yuan per year ($144.65), the same is paid by the company. It can be used in certain public hospitals. 


It costs 3,000 to 5,000 yuan (about $433.96) per month to send a child to kindergarten. Therefore, it is cheaper to hire a nanny for the child. Schools, on the other hand, are free.

Parents pay only for school uniforms, about 500 yuan ($72.33) for three sets: winter, demi and summer. The form is issued every two years. Parents also pay for meals, 6 yuan a day.

Children of legally residing foreigners can attend a Chinese school. But in fact, this makes sense only if you give the child from the first grade.

All training is conducted in Chinese, and it is difficult to learn it to the extent necessary for a school outside of China. You can send your child to an international school where education is in English, but it costs from 70,000 yuan ($10125.64) per year.

University education is paid – from 10,000 yuan (1446.52) per year. But there is a large number of government grants, many students study for free. A European diploma is recognized in China and you will have no problem with that.

Advantages & Disadvantages

China is such a mysterious and interesting country, full of new discoveries and beginnings.

In modern times, China is increasingly attracting not only tourists, but also emigrants. China is truly a great country, the beauty and variety of landscapes fascinate, huge cities, skyscrapers amaze. It is rich in cultural diversity; many people visit this country to enrich themselves spiritually. Living in such a country is not at all easy, as every country in China has its pluses and minuses.

Emigrants are tempted to move to China with a large selection of professions; there is always a job in this country, even if a person does not know Chinese. The well-being of an emigrant depends on which city or province he moves to. After all, each city has different levels of wages. And now let’s discover the best and worst points of living or moving to China.

It is definitely worth starting with the pros of living in China:

  • In the first place, of course, the number of jobs and the variety of professions – no language skills are required to work in the entertainment industry.
  • Cheap household technologies – since almost all household appliances are produced in China, their cost is very cheap, respectively, in China itself the prices for appliances are very pleasant. This is especially true for mobile phones.
  • Huge selection of products – the choice of various goods in China is really huge, regardless of the budget. From such a variety, eyes simply run up.
  • Night rest – China has a huge selection of restaurants, cafes, nightclubs and other entertainment venues. Almost everything can be ordered at home. Home delivery is very popular in China. This is especially true for food and beverages. There are thousands of delivery services in this vast country.
  • Clothing – clothing prices in China are simply ridiculous and delight tourists and expats. The same goes for the choice of clothing. The only problem with what may arise is the size. The Chinese are very undersized when sewing clothes.
  • Starting a business – a huge population and a sparing policy on entrepreneurship make it easy to open your own business.
  • Housing – there should be no problems with finding a place to live either. Even with a limited budget, housing can be found without problems. The question will only be about the condition of the home.
  • Transport – public transport fares are very low. The choice of mode of transport is large. But most of the citizens of this country use bicycles. Every family member must have a bicycle. Also, many tourists coming to China rent a bike.

As in every country, there are also enough disadvantages of living in China:

  • Ecology – at present, the issue of ecology is very important, and it is considered in all countries of the world. However, in China, due to the number of factories, plants and other industrial enterprises, the ecology is in a deplorable state. The exceptions are provinces that are far from metropolitan areas.
  • Contaminated air – air pollution in big cities is a serious problem. Masks and respirators don’t help. Dirty air can cause respiratory problems.
  • Traffic on the roads – Chinese roads are insanely noisy, drivers honking all the time. There are practically no traffic rules. Drivers can back up, turn or change lane without warning. It is almost impossible to cross the road without crossing.
  • Theft by bicycle – since in China, a bicycle is the most common form of transport and there is a huge risk of being stolen. And if that happens, there is almost no chance that he will be found. Bicycle locks are sometimes more expensive than the transport itself.
    Heating – it is really cold in Chinese houses in winter due to the lack of central heating. Each family warms up as best they can.
  • The Internet – the Chinese Internet is a real test for the nervous system. It is very congested, slow and intermittent. Fast and high-quality internet is very expensive. Unlimited internet is quite rare.
  • Unhealthy food – Chinese national dishes are very fatty and high in calories. In China, fats and oils are very fond of. All dishes are very difficult for the stomach, even if it is rice, then fatty fried meat will be cooked for it. There is also a problem with drinks. They contain a lot of chemicals and sugar.
  • Lack of days off – in China, there are practically no days off and holidays at work. Many workers have to work overtime, even on major national holidays. 
  • Smoking – the number of people who smoke in China is off the charts. You can smoke everywhere: in the subway, hospitals, hairdressers, cafes, restaurants, offices, which is a very big problem for people with children and for those with respiratory problems.
  • The work of the banking system – huge queues and slow bank employees make even the smallest banking transaction hours of hell. A huge number of forms, several queues at different windows, all this, of course, is a drawback.
  • Pets – the fact that keeping pets in China is difficult and very expensive is no secret. However, even walking or training the animal is a challenge. You have to stand in a huge queue to get with your pet to the training ground or walking path.

The disadvantages are really shocking and surprising, but it is what it is.

China will be a wild place for European people, even for American people, so think well before you move there. Yes, it is a very developed country with a very powerful economy, but is it worth to move to China? 


If you live in one of the first tier cities in China, such as Beijing and Shanghai, you can easily spend $5,000-$15,000 a month if you want international education for your kids, excellent housing and typically expat services like foreign bars and restaurants.

This is especially the case if housing isn’t part of your expat package.

In comparison, it is possible to live off $500-$1,500 a month in many third tier cities, especially if you are single and housing is part of your package.

Further Reading

One of the negatives about living in China is getting money out of the country.

This article explains how you can do it.


Add a comment

*Please complete all fields correctly

Click to Hide Advanced Floating Content

Adam Fayed financial consultant WhatsApp