With China changing so quickly the cost of living changes every year, so every 12 to 18 months we post an update. First thing is to calibrate based on your standard of living. We’re a married couple, no kids. Kara works full-time as a teacher and I’m doing freelance web development and other entrepreneurial endeavors. Our budget is more than a typical Chinese language student or ESL teacher, but much less than the typical expat-package family.
Monthly Budget Summary (2 adults no kids):
1. Housing: $800/¥5000
2. Food: $300/¥1900
3. Transportation: $60/¥400
4. Household Costs: $60/¥400
5. Health Insurance: $450/¥2850
6. Spending Money: $300/¥1900
7. Travel: $380/¥2500
8. Stateside Expenses: $400/¥2850
Total: $2750/¥17,800 per month
Housing in Beijing is expensive. We recently found a new apartment for ¥6000 a month (2 bedrooms, 130 sq. meters). Check out this post to see why we ended up where we are. I’d say ¥5000 is doable, but you’re going to have to sacrifice size, or number of bedrooms, or something else.
Prices are often very location dependent. Everything is cheaper the further outside the city center. A rule of thumb is add ¥1000 a month for anything inside 4th rind road, ¥1500 inside 3rd Ring. Rent in the university district is also really high, and most of the places are pretty crappy and small. If you’re coming to study or teach your school might provide an apartment for you. They aren’t usually that great, but it might be worth it to avoid the extra cost.
It’s often cheaper to eat out than to cook western food for yourself, so plan on eating out for about half your meals, even if you’re on a pretty tight budget. We usually shoot for ¥25-30 per person for Chinese food and ¥60 a meal for western food. That’s not including drinks other than soda or Chinese beer. We don’t go out drinking so alcohol isn’t a huge expense for us.
We do most of out grocery shopping at Chinese vegetable markets and Carrefour (large supermarket), but we purchase some things at a Western import store (Jenny Lou’s). We used to shop mostly at Jenny’s, but it’s less convenient from our new place so we’re there nearly as much, it’s also cut our grocery bill a bit. Our total food budget is usually between ¥1500 and ¥1800 a month.
Transportation in Beijing can be almost nothing, or it can be quite expensive. These days we are able to keep our transportation costs very low. We primarily use the subway and buses for longer distances all year round. March to October Kara rides a pedal bike to/from work and I ride a scooter all over the city. In the cold months Kara will take a cab to work in the morning and public transportation home.
The biggest factor to keep in mind is how close you live to your workplace and/or how easy it is to get there by subway. Taxis are very reasonably priced in Beijing, but it’s harder and harder to catch one. We’ve often been stuck waiting in the cold or rain for a half-hour or more trying to find a cab. If you don’t live on a subway line I’d make sure to add taxi money to your budget. Our suggestion is ¥400 a month.
Some expat packages will include a car and driver as part of the deal. It’s difficult to purchase a car as you will need to win the license plate lottery (about 1 in 5 chance), then you can purchase a car for about 2-3 times the cost of what you would pay in America. Getting a license is not too hard, I’ve written an eBook guide on how to get your Chinese license. If you’d like to hire a driver with a car to drive you around a driver typically costs about ¥5000 a month.
Most foreigners in China hire a domestic helper (Ayi) to assist with cleaning, shopping and sometimes childcare. An ayi will probably be between ¥20-¥30 per hour. You’ll also need toilet paper, laundry detergent, cat litter, etc. That’s another ¥150 a month or so.
We purchase our health insurance on our own. For the two of us it’s about $500 a month. I’m 30 and Kara is 27 and healthy. Our insurance includes maternity and covers us 90% here after the deductible (70% after deductible in the US).
We budget an additional ¥15 per day for personal spending money. We’re on a pretty tight budget and most people will want to budget more than that. I’d suggest something like ¥30-¥50 per day.
We don’t travel much (in part because of a pretty tight budget), but we try to take a trip home once a year. A round trip ticket during the summer or at Christmas time will cost about $1700 per person. We also end up spending much more per week while we’re in the States, so a two week trip usually comes in at about $5000 per trip for the two of us.
We subscribe to Hulu Plus (needs VPN) for $8 a month, we also sponsor two kids through Compassion International, and we have a Skype phone number which costs us about $10 a month. We also have minimum student loan payments of $450 per month. In total we have about $550 per month in stateside expenses.
We don’t have kids, and when I was living in China during highschool I was homeschooled. Homeschooling is at least $500-1000 per kid per year, plus one parent teaching them full-time. There are some online school options that are between $3000 and $5000 per year per kid.
Kara worked as a private tutor for three kids for a couple years for ¥15,000 ($2,300) a month, and that’s about what I would expect to pay if you hired a private teacher.
International schools are pretty expensive, most of the good ones are over $20,000 (that’s USD) per year. If you’re looking for an international school, check out YCIS. They are a great school with a good bi-lingual program. They are also a sponsor of this blog, and we only promote things that we can personally vouch for.
And also some families choose to put their kids in local school when they are young in order to help them learn Chinese. A local school will cost about ¥6000 per month.
Everyone is going to have a somewhat different budget and level of living, but hopefully this gives you a pretty good starting point. If you have specific questions or comments let us know in the comments below.