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Cost of Living in China: Is it really a breakdown?

Today I read a post about Cost of living in China : a breakdown written by Agness from eTramping who had ever worked in China as an English teacher, and she listed the cost of Food, Transport and Clothes in China, and made a conclusion that expats can make a decent living for around CNY1200 – CNY 1600 per month.

I was so shock and wonder how Sofie can survive in such amount of money in China and even say that it is a decent living in China? Are you living in CCTV News, Sofie  ? LOL ( CCTV News  is China Central Tele-Vision official news Program which only report the good side of Chinese people. In the news, All Chinese are living in a happier life, while Foreigners are suffering).

Is it real low cost of  living in China? As a local Chinese guy who stay in Hangzhou, a middle city 300km away from Shanghai, I am hard to survive with CNY4000 per month. Let is check what Sofie List and find out the things.

1.What Agness List:  Food –  CNY500 a month

  • Breakfast: 3baozi and porridge CNY5
  • Fried Noodle with vegetable CNY4
  • Water (0.5L) – ¥1, (1.5L) – ¥1.5
  • Can of coke – ¥2.50
  • Bottled beer – ¥10
  • Milk (1L) – ¥8
  • Fried rice with vegetables – ¥5 – ¥10
  • Beef noodles – ¥7 – ¥12
  • McDonalds/KFC meal – ¥29

Okay, the price list here are possible. But I don’t think you can just take baozi, porridge, noodle all the time.  Normally, A Chinese breakfast (baozi, soy milk) cost CNY 7-10. Or if you like western breakfast, at least CNY10-15 for toast and bread.  And a Chinese lunch in fast food restaurant will cost CNY15-20 at least. Let say you take dinner as same as lunch for CNY15, It totally cost around CNY45 per day which mean CNY1200 a month, not to mention you would like to have an apple (CNY6-10 for half kilo)  a day , or take a coffee in Starbuck(CNY22),or have dinner with friends in Chinese Restaurant(at least CNY200).

Comparison Price of China Common fast food

Comparison Prices of China Common fast food between 2012 and 2013

From this price comparison, you will see that Chicken Rice with lemon coke rise from CNY22 to CNY23

The truth is CNY500 is just enough four one of your dinner in a decent restaurant.  You have to pay CNY1500-2000 a month for food at least.

2. What Agness List: Transport – CNY200 – CNY700 a month

  • Buses CNY 1/2
  • Taxi CNY5 (depends)
  • Metro CNY2 in Beijing
  • Train :hard seat

For Buses and Metro: With a large population in China, the public transportation like buses, metro are the common tool for Chinese to transfer between home and office. The price is really very cheap as Safie list, especially in Beijing. Chinese for other cities are admired Beijing citizen can enjoy as low as CNY0.8 for bus, as Beijing is the capital of China. The Buses  price in every city of China are also very low which cost CNY1 or CNY2 for air-condition bus. But you get what you pay! After seeing these pictures below, I Dont think you would like to try it any more.

Crowded Buses in Beijing

Crowded Buses in Beijing

Crowed Metro Beijing

Crowded Metro Beijing


For taxi: the price starts at 13CNY for the first 3 km, and plus CNY2.6 per km in Beijing. In Hangzhou, it starts at 11CNY, and CNY2 per km. It is impossible to take CNY2 taxi in China.

What about train? It is true that those normal speed trains with Hard seat are really cheap. but can you really bear about the smell,crowded, dirty carriage?  For high-speed train, it is comfortable but more expensive. Take Train from Beijing to Shanghai for example, the hard seat price in normal-speed train is CNY177.5 (15hours), while  second class seat is CNY553 and First Class Seat is CNY933 (5 hours) for high-speed train.

Condition of Hard Seat on China Train

Condition of Hard Seat on China Train

The truth is that you only can stay at your city with public transpiration in CNY700 per month

3. What Agness List: Clothes – CNY200 -CNY400 a month

  • Pair of trainers/sneakers – ¥39+
  • Pair of jeans – ¥100<
  • Winter jacket – ¥200
  • A t-shirt – ¥29
  • Scarf – ¥10
  • Sunglasses – ¥15-30 for a cheap pair

The cost of Clothes depends on how often you buy it and how the quality  the clothes is. As China is the world factory, you can buy any clothes in any prices. However, The average isn’t as low as Safie list. Levis Jean is around CNY600-1000 in China, how about in your countries? Below is price list I screenshot from Taobao(Chinese Ebay), an place for Chinese to buy cheap or fake goods. Price here are much cheaper than those in street shop or departments.

Common price for sneaker and Jean on Taobao

Common price for sneaker and Jean on Taobao

 The truth is that CNY400 even cannot buy a Levis jean in China


5.Renting Cost

As Sofie is luck dog to find a boss who provide her free accommodation, renting cost is what Sofie doesn’t mention but in fact it is  the most important part of cost of living in China. Anyone who focus on China will know the crazy real estate in China. The apartment prices in different cities of China is quite different, from highest price iCNY 30000 per sqm  in Beijing, Shanghai, to CNY6000 in Chongqing.  So doesn’t the Rent. Here are some average renting price in different cities

Average Rent Cost in Shanghai

Average Rent Cost in Shanghai

This Chart show the average Rent Cost  in Shanghai from 2009 to 2014. In April 2014 ,the average rent cost is CNY 58.54 per month per square meter. That is CNY5854 for 100 sqm apartment per moth.

Average Rent Cost in Chongqing

Average Rent Cost in Chongqing

This is the Chart of Average Rent cost for the past 5 years in Chongqing . In April, 2015, the average rent cost in Chongqing is CNY2325 per 100 sqm per month

The truth is that you have to pay around CNY2500-3000 for your apartment

6. Other fee

 Let say if you are not as luck as Sofie, you have to pay rent by yourself, then there are extra cost that you have to pay, such as electricity, Tap water, Gas etc

Do you still agree with Sofie that China is a cheap country in the world? I would like to exchange with you if you like to stay in China :)

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4 Responses to "Cost of Living in China: Is it really a breakdown?"

  1. Sofie says:

    P.S. Angess’ blog focuses on low cost travel. That means she does everything the cheapest way.
    On top of that, her article is about living in China as an expat teacher, thus with all the perks that come with that. It is not about living in China as a local.

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Sofie, OK. I am sorry, I Just share views from my side, and what a local guy’s feeling about living in China.

  2. Sofie says:

    Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for your view on the matter.
    However, could you please correct your introduction? As is clearly stated in the article on my blog, that post was a guest post.
    It was not written by me and it is not me, but the author of the article who has lived in China for a while.
    I have asked her to reply to your comment.

    Thank you