The cost of living in Shanghai is considered the highest in China. According to Mercer's 2023 Cost of Living Survey, it's the 12th most expensive city out of 227 cities for expats.

Depending on an expat's budget, some will naturally opt for a more economical lifestyle in the city. In contrast, others 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 lives on, knowing the basic cost of living in Shanghai before arriving is essential.

Cost of accommodation in Shanghai

Shanghai, known as the 'Paris of the East', is a bustling metropolis that offers expats a unique blend of modernity and traditional Chinese culture. Expat accommodation in Shanghai can be described as diverse, with options ranging from high-end luxury apartments to more affordable and cosy flats.

The cost of accommodation in Shanghai can vary depending on factors such as location, size, and amenities. Expats looking to live in popular areas such as Jing'an or Xintiandi can expect to pay a premium, while those who opt for more residential areas like Hongkou or Yangpu may find more affordable options.

Despite the varying costs, one thing that remains consistent is the high demand for quality housing in Shanghai, making it crucial for expats to do their due diligence before settling on a place to call home.

Cost of transport in Shanghai

One of the most populous cities in the world, Shanghai boasts a modern and efficient transport system that caters to the needs of expats and locals alike. The cost of transport in Shanghai can be described as reasonable, with various modes of transport available to suit different budgets and preferences.

For expats looking to explore the city, Shanghai's extensive subway network is a popular and affordable option. With clean and spacious carriages, the subway provides a fast and convenient way to get around Shanghai's sprawling metropolis.

Alternatively, the city's iconic yellow taxis are readily available and largely inexpensive for those seeking a more leisurely mode of transport. For the environmentally conscious, bike-sharing services have become increasingly popular recently, providing a healthy and cost-effective way to explore the city.

Cost of groceries and goods in Shanghai

The great thing about buying groceries in Shanghai is that almost anything can be found in foreign supermarkets. Imported produce is pricier, though. Although the bigger shops may have a larger organic selection, buying vegetables from local vendors is often half the price of fresh produce from supermarkets.

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

On the other hand, prices for luxury goods at places such as the Nanjing Road malls align with those in North America and Europe.

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 for expats to ensure they can access the best care at a reasonable cost.

If an expat employer will not be covering health insurance costs, expats will have to secure their own coverage. The cost of this will depend on several factors, including coverage level, lifestyle habits, and age. 

Cost of entertainment and eating out in Shanghai

Shanghai, a city that never sleeps, offers expats endless entertainment options that cater to all tastes and preferences. The cost of entertainment in Shanghai varies widely, with options ranging from high-end luxury experiences to more low-cost and casual outings.

For expats looking to indulge in the city's vibrant nightlife, Shanghai's many bars and clubs provide a glamorous and exciting experience. From chic rooftop bars overlooking the city skyline to underground speakeasies offering a more intimate atmosphere, the nightlife scene in Shanghai is both diverse and vibrant.

Those seeking a more laid-back evening will find Shanghai offers a range of cultural experiences, such as visiting traditional tea houses, enjoying a performance at the Shanghai Grand Theatre, or exploring the city's art galleries and museums.

Shanghai is also known for its excellent cuisine, with a vast selection of restaurants and street food vendors offering a culinary journey that caters to all budgets. From Michelin-starred restaurants to humble food stalls, Shanghai's food scene offers a gastronomic adventure that is both diverse and economical.

Cost of education in Shanghai

Shanghai has a reputation for offering high-quality education, making it an attractive destination for expats looking to provide their children with an international education. The cost of education in Shanghai can be described as modest, with a range of options available to suit different budgets and academic requirements.

International schools in Shanghai are a popular choice for expats, providing students with a globally recognised curriculum and a diverse student body. While the cost of tuition at international schools can vary, they generally offer a highly competitive standard of education. Additionally, some international schools in Shanghai offer boarding options, allowing students to access a full-time education that includes accommodation and meals.

Several local schools in Shanghai offer Mandarin immersion programmes for expats looking for more affordable options. These schools can offer a more authentic Chinese learning experience while still giving students a quality education at a lower cost.

Cost of living in Shanghai chart

Prices may vary depending on the product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Shanghai in April 2024.

Accommodation (monthly rent)
Three-bedroom apartment in the city centreRMB 20,700
Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centreRMB 10,000
One-bedroom apartment in the city centreRMB 7,300
One-bedroom apartment outside the city centreRMB 3,800
Food and drink
Dozen eggsRMB 14
Milk (1 litre)RMB 18
Rice (1kg)RMB 8
Loaf of white breadRMB 14
Chicken breasts (1kg)RMB 26
Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)RMB 25
Eating out
Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurantRMB 240
Big Mac MealRMB 38
Coca-Cola (330ml)RMB 4
CappuccinoRMB 26
Bottle of beer (local)RMB 10
Mobile phone monthly plan with calls and dataRMB 94
Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)RMB 137
Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)RMB 430
Taxi rate/kmRMB 3
City-centre public transport fareRMB 4
Gasoline (per litre)RMB 9

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