The overall cost of living in most cities in China is much lower than in the despite lower salaries, foreign teachers’ incomes in China actually provide a comfortable lifestyle. Foreign English teachers in China usually earn 2-3 times more than a local Chinese teacher. Most teachers can enjoy frequent meals at restaurants, trips to other cities in China, and the ability to enjoy little luxuries such as weekly massages.

High disposable income

Most English schools in China offer benefits in addition to your salary. This will usually include a flight allowance to and from your home country paid at the end of a one-year contract, a free furnished apartment, limited emergency health insurance and sometimes even free Chinese lessons. Therefore, a lot of the usual expenses you are probably used to paying in your home country are already covered. The typical cost of living in China that teachers face in terms of monthly bills are housing bills of around 200 to 300 RMB (30 to 45 USD) and mobile phone bill of roughly 300 RMB (45 USD).

Cost of living in China allows for significant savings

In the west you may be able to save only a small amount of your salary, with the lower cost of living in China, teachers can save up to 40% of their salary. It will be easier to do this if you eat at local Chinese restaurants and prepare their own meals, don’t party too much and set yourself a budget.

Regional differences in the cost of living in China

The cost of living in China varies somewhat depending on which area you are based in. Most teaching jobs in China are located in major cities of at least 3 million people. Generally cost of living in China is similar throughout these first and second tier cities however cities in the west of China are slightly cheaper than in the east. Some teaching positions are available in smaller towns where the living costs will be 20-30% lower. For teaching jobs in Shanghai and Beijing the cost of living is about 10-20% higher than other cities. Apartment rents can be 1,000-2,000 RMB (160-315USD) more per month than other cities.

Food prices in China

Food prices can vary considerably in China depending on where you decide to eat. You will have countless options for local Chinese food, which doesn’t mean just rice and noodles, rather pages and pages of delicious Chinese cuisine including all your favourites from your local Chinese restaurant back home plus countless new dishes to try. It is not easy to believe that English teachers can afford to literally eat out for every meal; breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout their entire time in China. Saying that, if you choose to eat in foreign restaurants or fancier local places the price can easily be double, triple or higher.

Chinese RMBUS DollarsUK Pounds
Chinese lunch box152.301.50
Local Chinese dinner20-403-63-4
9″ pizza in restaurant4064
Water (1L) in supermarket30.500.3
Milk (1L)610.60
Instant noodles40.600.40
Local beer (0.5L)40.600.40
Chicken breast (1kg)152.301.50
McDonalds meal223.402.20
Prices as of May 2012

Travel costs in China

Chinese RMBUS DollarsUK Pounds
Subway (major cities)3-60.50-10.30-0.60
Taxi (within 3 km)10-151.501
Purchase a new bicycle250-100040-16025-100
Fast train from Shanghai to Beijing6009560
Flight from Shanghai to Beijing1000160100
Prices as of May 2012

Entertainment costs in China

Chinese RMBUS DollarsUK Pounds
Cinema ticket70117
Massage (1 hour)4064
Gym or yoga membership / month1502315
Theme park ticket5085
Prices as of May 2012

With a cost of living in China much lower than that of the west coupled with generous salaries and other benefits including a flight allowance and free accommodation, teaching English in China allows for a very comfortable lifestyle and the chance to build up some good savings.