Cost of Living in Shanghai

The cost of living in Shanghai is considered the highest in China and, according to Mercer's 2019 Cost of Living Survey, it's the sixth most expensive city in the world for expats. 

There is wide variation in expat budgets which leads some to opt for a more economical lifestyle in the city, while others tend to live more extravagantly than they would back home, taking advantage of Shanghai's luxuries and renowned nightlife.

Regardless of which end of the spectrum an expat ends up living on, it's good to be informed on the basic cost of living in Shanghai before arriving.

Cost of groceries and eating out in Shanghai

The great thing about buying groceries in Shanghai is that just about anything can be found in foreign supermarkets like City Shop. Imported produce is, however, more expensive than back home. 

Buying vegetables from local vendors is often half the price of fresh produce from supermarkets, although the bigger stores may have a larger organic selection.

Expats who would like to live cheaply can follow the example set by many locals and foreign students and eat at a small mian guan or tan restaurant for dinner. Slightly more mid-range Chinese-style restaurants would usually cost more per person.

Restaurants serving foreign food are often much more expensive. Occasionally, more upscale restaurants will also apply a service charge to the bill since waiters don't normally receive tips in Shanghai.

Alcoholic beverages in most bars and restaurants might cost more than expats are used to, especially if they choose a more upscale venue for drinks. Although the cost of alcohol may seem daunting, frequent promotions and "happy hours" run rampant in Shanghai, allowing those of all budgets a chance to indulge.

Expats who are particularly money-conscious can purchase local beer, wine and the notorious baijiu – which tastes something like vodka and rubbing alcohol – at any convenience store at much more affordable rates. 

Cost of healthcare in Shanghai

The cost of healthcare in Shanghai varies dramatically. In the case of emergencies, fees at a private hospital in China would add up quite similarly to those in a Western country. As a result, medical insurance is essential.  

Cost of shopping in Shanghai

Some of the best bargains in Shanghai can be found in its local markets. Spread throughout the city, these places are a great way for savvy shoppers to find deals on pearls, electronics, antiques, books and branded clothing. Quality, selection and authenticity may be lacking, but expats are often able to bargain prices down to a fraction of what they would be sold for abroad.

On the other hand, prices for luxury goods at places like the malls on Nanjing Road are in line with those in North America and Europe.

Cost of living in Shanghai chart

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider and the list below shows average prices for July 2019.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Furnished two-bedroom apartment

RMB 15,300

Unfurnished two-bedroom apartment

RMB 10,500


Milk (1 litre)

RMB 16

Dozen eggs

RMB 17

Loaf of white bread 

RMB 15

Rice (1kg)


Packet of cigarettes 

RMB 21

Public transportation

City centre bus/train fare


Taxi rate per km


Eating out

Big Mac Meal

RMB 34

Coca-Cola (330ml)   



RMB 30

Bottle of beer

RMB 20

Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant

RMB 200


Uncapped ADSL internet per month

130 RMB

Utilities (average per month for standard household for electricity, gas, water etc.)

420 RMB

Expat Health Insurance Partners

Aetna International

Aetna is an award-winning insurance business that provides health benefits to more than 650,000 members worldwide. Their high quality health insurance plans are tailored to meet the individual needs of expats living and working abroad.

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Cigna Global

With 86 million customer relationships in over 200 countries, Cigna Global has unrivalled experience in dealing with varied and unique medical situations and delivering high standards of service wherever you live in the world.

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