Cost of Living in Tier 1 Cities in China

The cost of living in China really depends on the city in which you live (Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen for example are much more expensive than tier 2 or 3 cities such as Fuzhou or Kunming, which in turn are more expensive than smaller cities and countryside) and your lifestyle.

For these who seek a quick answer, living in Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen will cost you pretty much the same as living in cities like Toronto or Melbourne. It won’t be as high as New York or London, but they are still quite expensive to live in especially considering the average income is much less.

If you look further at tier 2 or tier 3 cities like Hangzhou, Fuzhou, Foshan, Xiamen etc, these are more affordable in terms of almost everything. Most of them are main cities of that province, so transportation is never an issue. Although it really depends on which specific city you are speaking of, you can find them more cost friendly on rent and food which can be half of the price you pay in Shanghai and Beijing. Tier 4 cities are even more cost-friendly, that is definitely the place you can expect to spend the least and see much less foreigners. Being a foreign teacher you will make a lot more than the local average and these cities are the ones with the most bang on your bucks. 

Xuzhou, a typical tier 3 city in China


So how much does it cost in Beijing and Shanghai? You should expect to pay 2,500-3,500 Yuan a month for a room in a shared apartment in Beijing, Shanghai or Shenzhen. For an one bedroom apartment, you should expect to splash a 5000-6000 Yuan a month. 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 internet) but 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.

Rent Utilities Phone Food Transportation Total
3000 200 100 1500 150  RMB5300

(US $850)

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.

Monthly costs (profiles)

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 awhile (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.


Is it expensive to live in China?

According to the information on, 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.

  • What is the most expensive city in China?

At the moment it’s Shanghai, even though Beijing comes close when it comes to rent. Note that, in general, the further you get away from the coast and/or the large cities, the more the cost tends to go down.