What's the Average Cost of Living in China for Expats

April 02, 2023

For expats, knowing the average cost of living in China is very important before making the move. Such important information can make or break a decision.

Here are some of the key factors that influence the cost of living in China. For ease of comparison, all costs mentioned in this article are in USD.

Is China Expensive or Cheap?

Before we look in more detail, it is important to understand that, overall, China is not an expensive country to live in. However, there are obviously more expensive cities and cheaper options, too.

The Chinese government uses a tier system that consists of four levels:

First-tier: Beijing (北京), Shanghai (上海), Shenzhen (深圳), and Guangzhou (广州). These are the four most-developed cities in terms of economics and infrastructure, as people have high purchasing power. All are large cities with political and cultural influence over the country.

New first-tier: A total of 15 cities including Chongqing (重庆), Xi’an (西安), Hangzhou (杭州), and Chengdu (成都). These are also powerful cities with high development, but not quite at the same level of the Big Four above.

Tier 2 cities: These are cities such as Harbin (哈尔滨) and Xiamen (厦门) that have a relatively small population (by China standards) and aren’t quite as booming as the tier above.

Tier 3 cities: Cities that are important within their province but don’t have a major impact on a national level.

As you can imagine, the average cost of living in Beijing is much higher than in Harbin. Even with such a disparity from city to city, according to livingcost.org, China ranks at a very affordable 116th place in the “average cost of living by country” list, with the average cost of living in China calculated at around $750 per month.

Top of the list is the Principality of Monaco, with an average cost of living just under $3800 a month. However, a better regional comparison can be made between China and Japan (44th place at $1200) and South Korea (53rd place at $1117).


Average Costs in China

According to research conducted by pandabuddy.net, the average cost of living in China ranges between $380-$1500, depending on the city.

The majority of that money is spent on rent and utilities, which ranges from $250-$1000. In the top-tier cities and provincial capitals, you are looking at the top end of that range or higher.

In addition to the above, the average cost of life in China is impacted by whether you prefer to cook at home or dine out.

China has a vast range of produce that is available at relatively cheap prices. Additionally, in the major cities, foreign comfort foods can also be accessed, albeit at a much higher price.

In the four first-tier cities, expats rack up extra grocery costs by going to stores like April Gourmet, Jenny Lou's, and Jenny Wang's to purchase a foreign comforts, such as a particular sauce for their pasta or a juice that was imported from their home country.

Even with such specialty items, an expat likely will not spend more than $300 a month on groceries. A realistic monthly average cost for groceries in China is around $150-$200 per month.

However, if you prefer to dine out regularly rather than cook at home, your costs will increase starkly depending on your city and the type of cuisine you are craving.

It's no shock that going for sushi in downtown Shanghai is drastically pricier than eating at a local noodle restaurant in Xi'an.

Estimated Monthly Living Costs in China

A. China Living Costs for a Single Person

A single expat is likely to spend around $1300 a month on average (in first-tier cities). This amount includes a decent home and dining out a couple of times a week. However, if you like to party out all the time and don't know how to cook, you can expect costs to be double the average.

If you are located in a Tier-3 city, the average cost of living is a reasonable $300-$400 a month.

B. China Living Costs for a Couple

You may think that the cost of living in China for a couple would be double that of a single expat, but it’s not.

Firstly, although rent and utilities are likely to be more expensive, the couple would be sharing that cost. Plus, if at least one of the two cooks, food costs will be cheaper than dining out.

When these factors are considered, the average cost of living in China for a couple is around $700 in a cheaper city and $2000 in one of the Big Four cities.

C. China Living Costs for a Family of Four

A family of four will need a large home and more groceries, and the utilities will cost plenty as kids are always getting themselves dirty.

Plus, with more people in the house, parents are likely to need stronger internet, which will cost more.

Parents will be looking at a monthly expenditure of around $1500-$3500 to make sure their families' expenses are covered.

This amount likely will be even more if you like to dine out as a family.

Chinese money-RMB

How Much Money Do You Need to Live Comfortably in China?

To live comfortably in China, you do not need much money at all. That said, you will earn more than enough money to enjoy a somewhat luxurious life.

Firstly, it's no surprise that expat salaries are much higher than the national average in China. In most cases, expat salaries are triple, even quadruple, that of local staff. The reason is that to work in China, a foreigner has to be deemed a “foreign talent”. This allows for the foreigner to be offered larger sums of money in compensation.

Moreover, if you work in a highly specialized industry, then your salary will most likely supersede what you could have earned in your home country.

Average Monthly Salaries in China

First-tier cities: $2500-$4000

New first-tier cities: $2000-$3000

Tier-2 cities: $1200-$1800

Tier-3 cities: $800-$1400

No matter where you live in China, the average cost of living likely will not phase you. It is a country that caters to single expats as well as families.

More importantly, your salary will allow you to live a comfortable life.

You may even have some savings by the end of your time here if that is your financial goal.

About the Author

Mehmet has been a struggler, learner, and maybe one day a solid grasper of the Chinese language and country thanks to his decade plus spent in the Middle Kingdom.