Recently one of the non-China related blogs that I read (Get Rich Slowly) had a great post on how to save money by leaving the country. It has some great points about why living overseas can be a really good financial choice.

Kara and I moved to Beijing in March of 2008. Beijing has been listed as one of the most expensive places to live on recent lists, but we have both been working, enjoying our time here and we have also managed to pay off over $17,000 in credit card debt and student loans.

Most people can’t imagine moving to another country because they think it would be too expensive. There definitely are some significant costs involved in moving overseas (check our our earlier post on cost of living in Beijing) especially on the front end, but for Kara and I moving to China has been a really great thing for us financially. It’s not because we landed awesome high paying jobs. Here are the reasons why moving to China was good for us (and might be good for you):

1. Cost of Living is less.
The truth is, it’s cheaper for us to live in Beijing than in America. We don’t live like some of the expats that we know with big corporate packages and private drivers, but we have a pretty comfortable life. We are able to eat out at Western/American style restaurants about twice a week and visit Starbucks 2-3 times a week (we are a bit addicted to coffee) and we have a modest 2 bedroom apartment.

We don’t pay for car insurance, rent is less than what we were paying in Eau Claire, Wisconsin (not exactly a high end market), and food is generally really cheap. All of our China expenses come out of my salary and everything my wife makes goes to paying off our student loans, paying for her insurance and purchasing yearly tickets to go home and visit family.

2. Work is relatively easy to find.
The global economy has tanked, but China’s economy continues to grow. The easiest (by far) industry to get into if you want to live in China and you can’t speak Chinese is teaching English.

You can get a job teaching English in a university in Beijing with a Bachelor’s degree in any field. Typical compensation for Beijing is going to be around 6000  yuan ($880) per month for 15-20 hours of teaching, plus they provide housing and often access to the school cafeteria. On top of that it’s not too hard to add additional income by doing some private tutoring at about $30 an hour. If you don’t have teaching credentials, it’s hard to confirm a job from overseas, but if you come over here on a tourist visa you should be able to find something within a month or so.

Kara and I don’t teach English. I work for an international church and for a couple years my wife was a private tutor for an American family living in Beijing, now she does freelance writing and editing. There are other job options as well, but when in doubt there are always English teaching jobs available.

The upside to teaching English is that it’s easy to find a job, the downside is sometimes those jobs don’t pay a whole lot and the work environment can be challenging. But that’s ok because the best reason to move to China in order to improve your finances is…

3. It’s an opportunity to completely remake your spending habits.
The hardest part of getting on a budget is breaking bad habits, if you’re an alcoholic don’t hang out in bars, if you’ve been addicted to living the American dream, get out of America. Debt and money matters are only about 10% math and 90% mental and emotional. A major change in scenery changes you, and you’re the problem anyway.

So lets say you’re making about $1000 a month, spending $400 on living in China, $200 for health insurance and airfare, you’ve still got $400 a month to throw at your debt.

Bonus: Chinese Renminbi (RMB) is on the rise.
The exchange rate for RMB to USD is getting better and better for people who get paid in RMB, the bang for your buck (pun intended) is greater, and since the US is pressuring China to let their currency float there’s more and more reason to have RMB.

Here’s approximately what we spend each month:

Rent: $610
Utilities: $120
Eating Out: $150
Groceries: $120
Personal Spending: $250
Charitable Giving: $315
Storage for stuff back home: $50
Transportation: $150
Health Insurance: $250
Yearly travel: $250

Total: $2265 per month

Sometimes budgeting over $2000 a month seems like a lot to us, but we figure if we really wanted to cut back we could probably live on about $1200 a month without much problem (that’s for 2 people).

What has China done to your finances, has it been a good thing or a bad thing?

  • Shannon March 26, 2011, 10:18 AM

    Thank you so much for writing the blog! My husband and I are considering a move to Beijing and have really enjoyed reading your posts. We’re wondering if you can share any resources you have about health insurance. Most of my insurance will be covered through my potential employer, but they do not cover my husband and two daughters. Thanks for your help.

  • Kara March 28, 2011, 9:23 PM

    I’m currently working on a whole post about health insurance, so look for that in the next couple weeks. I will say that we currently pay for mine out of pocket and it costs around $3000 a year. More info to come!

    Thanks for reading! We love the feedback and questions!

  • James November 3, 2011, 1:16 PM

    My name is James and I have lived and worked in Shanghai, China for about three years now.

    I have been living as cheaply as I can for the past three years. I live an about five hundred usd per month for me, my wife and child. I suppose the biggest reason my costs are so low is because I can speak the language fairly well, and bargain for good prices at the local markets. My house is also in the suburbes, and I have a long commute to work(time I sound studying the language).

    As for health insurance, I don’t think you really need it. You can see a doctor here for 1-2usd and the medicine is not expensive. Although I am young (28yrs old) and I take pretty good care of myself. If you go to a foreign hospital, the cost can be much higher, but I have never had the need.

    As for English teaching, I have been an English teacher the whole time I have been in china. When I started, I made about 1500usd per month. Now that I know the market rate, and I have improved my language ability, I make over 6000usd per month. Mine is a rare case, but if you really push yourself you can make over 3000usd without breaking a sweat!(by the way, I work everyday of the week.)

    Coming to China was the best financial choice I have ever made. Tons of jobs for expats from North America. Hope to see you here

  • Elizabeth January 22, 2012, 4:23 PM

    I’ve been using SOS International for a couple of years for my travel insurance, they also have a Beijing clinic. They’re best for emergency cases/evacuation, and with travel and health insurance are US $1000/year. Good for US citizens, not so good for Brits like my husband — he’s getting local insurance through his university. Again, not a high priority for him, as healthcare here for the basics tends to be reasonable.

  • Luke February 22, 2012, 4:43 AM

    Thank you for the information. Eau Claire!!! My family and I live in Chippewa Falls, WI and are contemplating a move to China for a year-long educational leave. My wife and I are both teachers and have both been granted leave by our school districts. We are currently working with a recruting service called Teaching Nomad that is working to place us in an international school (most likely in Shanghai). We are really excited to share this experience with our children (ages 12, 10 and 10). Anyway, felt like I had to respond when I saw the EC reference…way cool!

  • Brad May 28, 2012, 11:19 AM

    Great information! Thanks. I’ve been considering going to China to teach English for at least a few years. Though my reasons aren’t necessarily to make pay off debt or do better financially than here, it’s great to hear a person can in the least get by. Obviously, I have no desire to go over and live in poverty either. But being single and debt free, it sounds like I would be able to get by just fine.

    Great post!


  • April June 30, 2012, 11:09 PM

    My husband and I moved to China 7 months ago with our three children, and we were really nervous about exactly what our budget would be like, because you get such conflicting stories from the various classes of expats. We are definitely on the poor end of the expat spectrum, as my husband is a teacher (he makes 16000 RMB a month at an English center) and I stay home with the kids, with just one on-the-side tutoring job to pay for the kids to go half-day to kindergarten. Even so, we have a very nice, spacious, well-furnished apartment in downtown Tianjin (though I can’t wait to move at the end of our lease to a smaller building), and with all of our monthly expenses:
    700 USD for rent
    500-1000 (we can do almost 500 if necessary, but usually end up closer to 700 or 800, and some months higher, like when my children all grew out of their clothes at the same time) for other monthly expenses like food, telephone and electricity, eating out (something we do much more frequently here, and can usually feed our entire family for about $10), and shopping for other miscellaneous items at the wonderful local markets
    500 for tuition for the kids at school
    …we are able to still send home 500 a month to use to pay off student loans and save for travel, which is far better than what we were able to do in America on a higher salary. We don’t buy a lot of Western items and we rarely eat at Western restaurants (I am able to cook some Western things using ingredients I find at the local market, and make a once-a-month trip to Metro, which is like Costco, and carries the all-important peanut butter, baking powder, and cheese), but I feel that our lifestyle is comparable to if not higher than our lifestyle in the States.

    Thanks for this article, I’m going to share it with my friends so they can see what I mean about why life is so awesome here :) .

  • Diana August 26, 2012, 2:16 PM

    Hello there! I just found your blog and it has been really helpful to me. I got an scholarship to go to Shanghai to study chinese, and I can´t tell how excited I am! Reading this post I was wondering: Being latinoamerican (I`m from Peru!) and haveing spanish as my native language, how easy is to get a job for a person with my profile? There are also opportunities to teach spanish? I speak fluent french and english too. Thanks!

  • Matt August 26, 2012, 8:54 PM

    I have seen some job postings for Spanish teachers in Beijing, I’m not sure about Shanghai. My guess is that there are some options, but probably not as many as for English teachers. I’m not familiar with the magazines and websites that cover Shanghai, but there should be some forums or classifieds that list job openings.

  • Emma November 28, 2012, 7:04 PM

    Hi there! This is a helpful feed. I’ve been thinking about moving to china. I am a licensed optometrist and can speak fluent English. Although I have my own practice here, im still struggling financially. Plus my husband just lost it big time on his investment. We are hoping to push our luck in china.
    The thing is, compared to most of our friends, we are living comfortably already. We have 2 small business, decent home, cars and maids. But really, we are just funded by both our families.
    We are hoping for a fresh start. We still don’t have kids so that could be an advantage for us. But I don’t know what my husband could be doing in china since he left when he was 16yo and didn’t finish his studies. And the risk of making the same amount of money and maybe living on less comfortable conditions there in china is making me think twice. I’m 30 and my husband is 5 years older than me. If we went to live in china, then realize that it is better here, by then, we would be too old to start at square one again.
    This is making me confused, whether to take the risk or just continue what we started here.

    Thanks for this post.

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