Cost of Living in China

Many expats are lured abroad to China by lucrative salary packages that allow them to live a far more luxurious life than many locals. However, 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 many 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 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 is often necessary to hire a driver.

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. This cost increases as the child ages. As a result of this, it is 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 Beijing in July 2019.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Furnished two-bedroom apartment

RMB 13,000

Unfurnished two-bedroom apartment

RMB 9,500


Milk (1 litre)

RMB 13

Dozen eggs

RMB 12

Loaf of white bread 

RMB 11

Rice (1kg)


Packet of cigarettes

RMB 21

Public transportation

City centre bus/train fare


Taxi rate per km


Eating out

Big Mac Meal

RMB 35

Coca-Cola (330ml)   



RMB 31

Bottle of beer

RMB 25

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

RMB 250


Uncapped ADSL internet per month

RMB 130

Utilities (average per month for a standard household)

RMB 460

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