Just how cheap is China? Figuring out the cost-of-living.


Are considering a job in China? I sure hope it works out because living in China is a life-changing adventure!  If you are like me, one of the first questions that popped up in my head was how much money will I need?   

It's important to have an idea of what your finances look like (even if you are lucky enough to get a per-diem).  Getting to know the average cost of items and services will help you adjust to the conversion rate and spot deals and rip-offs a lot sooner. Looking for individual prices and compiling your own list is a nightmare, trust me I have numerous incomplete spreadsheets to compile individual item costs from forums and blogs.  Check out these 2 resources unless you love spending your weekend making excel spreadsheets: 

But Miss ColdFoot Expat, If China is cheap, why should I care? 

-When someone tries to charge you $40USD for a tea ceremony and 10 OZ of loose leaf tea, will you know you are being ripped off? Yes, you are.

- When you arrive at the airport and a guy offers to take you to your apt for 500 yuan, will you accept? No way, Not if you know what you can get for $500 yuan. (Total digression: If you HAVE to take a taxi check Didi to find a reasonable price, a taxi is usually within 10 yuan of the didi price, add more for night rides, or traffic). 

- What should dinner normally cost? I've met many people new to China spending 200 yuan ($30 USD) on dinner EVERY NIGHT.  If they had checked these sites they would have realized they were basically eating at the equivalent of Ruth Chris Steakhouse EVERY DAY. Once they realized they were only eating in expensive tourist areas they adjusted from then on spent around $10 USD for better food.

This is the value of knowing the cost of living. Ok, enough chit-chat, my friend, these are the websites you should be using...



Whats so great about this site?

Don't skip the "Scores" and the "Nomad " tabs.  These 2 graphical easy to read tabs answer about 50% of the questions people first ask me about moving to China. Sure wish I had this in 2009 :). 

  • Will they speak English?  
  • How is the internet?
  • Is it safe?
  • Are people friendly to foreigners? 
  • Do they have problems with air quality?
  • And of course, how cheap is it.  


This website has so many tier 3 (and lower) cities on it. If you cant find your exact city there  probably aren't too many expats living there.  Use a nearby city for estimates of cost-of-living to get a general idea.  Housing will likely vary greatly but you will likely be bussing it to one of these cities any chance you get so prices for goods and services are still relevant.

Forums, guides to the neighborhoods (really helpful when picking your apartment), easy infographic details of the nearby cities and key details. It is more than the cost of living, it really addresses quality of living well and even includes expat ratings of all the cities featured.


Most of the cities I have looked at have approx 100 reviews but I cant tell when they were reviewed so numbers could be skewed by some old data.  





This website gets more detailed than NOMADIIST. I love that I can find the price of eggs, or a cappuccino, or even my utilities. Numbeo will tell you how many prices were entered over what time frame and from how many contributors (less than 100 contributors usually but the numbers are recent, within the last 12-18 months).  You can compare the cost of living easily with other cities in China and learn fun facts like this one: Chengdu is ranked to have the least expensive domestic beer out of 99 cities in Asia :)

There is a nice summary comparing the cost of living to where you are currently at and there is an awesome distribution of expenses chart on the bottom. I prefer not to look at it because it makes me feel bad about how much I spend on entertainment and clothes, but I'm sure someone more responsible will find it helpful! 


You can only find data for the following most popular cities: 

This site is really just about numbers. This will not tell you anything about the quality of life, safety, or air quality.  It is meant to give you flat out numbers. 

To make it easy, start with Nomadiist and spend some time getting to know your city. If you really need to know how much eggs cost then head straight to Numbeo.  

Happy relocation!!!!

If you have any questions or are looking for something that these sites don't provide feel free to ask in the comment section below.