China travel

Published on May 20th, 2011 | by Paz


Cost of living in China

What does it cost for a family of four to live in China? If you wanted to move to China how much money would you need. Now after three months I am happy to give everyone a break-down of what our life here is costing and how affordable is it.

When we were picking places to move to there were many things that ran past our minds in our decision process, but one of the most important choices was how much was it going to cost us? Could we live on my teaching salary? We didn’t know if Zeek would be able to keep his job or not so we planned on worse case senario. If you prepare then you know what to do to keep your dream on track.

China is growing at a crazy speed. I have never experience such a growth process in the U.S.A., but I imagine that my grandparents did. I wonder if they were as bewildered about it as I am here in China. We live in one of China’s largest cities with over 13 million people. If something needs to be done, there is never a shortage of hands or workforce. In China things are built at lighting speed. Did you know that China consumes more than 50% of the worlds concrete. More than 50% of the world’s concrete…that is just crazy to even imagine. If I tried to imagine that much concrete my brain would just hurt. So I won’t.

(Picture of a side street on our way to Lupita’s school)

A city you saw last year…well could look completely different the next year, or even the next month. The 2010 Asian Games were held in Guangzhou and we are told that the city drastically changed 6 months prior to the event. If the government wants something done, well they just do it.

Anytime a city experiences growth it also experiences inflation. The costs we expected while planning ended up being quite different once we got here. Things we thought would be cheap were expensive, things we thought would be expensive were cheap. So that being said, what is our cost of living now that we have been here three months?

(The financial district of Guangzhou)

What do we live on and how much is China costing us?

Pay: My teaching salary is 10,000 RMB for 40 hours of English Teaching: 25 classroom hours & 15 office hours (keep in mind that most Chinese teachers make around 2,500 RMB a month for 40 hours of working)

Living: 4,000 RMB a month for our apartment: 75 sq meters (It would have been 3600 a month if we would have agreed to sign a year lease. We decided against the year lease because I still didn’t have a job when we originally found the apartment. I know we over pay a bit for ours and that there are better deals out there.  We should probably be paying around 3200 a month considering our location and the size of the apartment. When we found the apartment it was the best and the least expensive. It was important for us to find a place that we all felt comfortable with. I ended up finding a job in the same building as we live so my commute is about 5 minutes.

(Beijing Road, Guangzhou)

Utilities: 250 RMB a month (Our utilities consist of electricity, gas, water, cell phone, internet, t.v.) For the internet and t.v. you have to pay everything up front. You pay for your year of service up front. That cost us 850.00 RMB for a year of T.V. & Internet. I know we didn’t have t.v. in the states why did we get t.v. in China? Only because it was too complicated to tell our landlord that we didn’t need t.v. and the cost was minimal, so we have Chinese tv! We purchased our wireless modem from the internet company at (I am sure) an inflated price of 200 RMB but it was convenient and they set it all up. We roughly pay about 250 RMB a month for electricity, gas, water, and cell phone. You pay for everything up front and then when it runs out you go pay again. There are NO payment plans in China.

Nanny/Daycare: 2,200 RMB a month We have to have a daycare/nanny for Abe & Lupita while we are at work. Even though Zeek works from home it is not like he can work and watch a 14 month old. There really aren’t day cares in China, so we had to look into a nanny. We also liked the idea of someone at our house, so that Zeek could see Abe more during the day and we knew everything that was going on. We were happily surprised to find out that not only does a Chinese nanny watch your kids but they cook all of your meals, go grocery shopping, clean your house, and yes wash your clothes. We were so surprised by this and have become extremely spoiled with our new nanny. I am someone who doesn’t enjoy cooking so, I love having meals served three times a day by someone else. hehehe Most nanny’s only get one day off a week. We give ours two and that brings her price down a little bit. She comes at 8 am and leaves at 8 pm. If she works extra days if we need her assistance then we pay her for her extra day. It seems to be a win win situation.

(Lupita in the financial district)

School: 650 RMB a month We decided to send Lupita to a local kindergarten where they teach in Mandarin. We pay 430 for her school, 10 a day for food, and then 20 a month for air conditioning, which equals 650 RMB a month. We had to pay to have her registered, uniform, and a cot for naps. Considering we had been use to not paying for school in the U.S. I have to say at first it was a little hard to come to terms with. There is public “free” school but that is not available until kids are 5 yrs old. We chose one on the cheaper side. Since I don’t work on Monday and Tuesday, she rarely goes to school on those days unless there is a special function.  It has been very hard for her to adjust to her new school environment. She has made one friend and that has helped tons.

(Paz in the financial district)

Food: 1700 RMB a month We spend 1200 RMB on everyday food and another 500 RMB on juice, coffee, and milk. We have to go to a special store that carries all sort of imported items to get good coffee, real juice, and cow’s milk. Our nanny buys all of our food fresh everyday at the local market. Many people don’t advise buying your meat from the local market because you have no idea where it came from. We are not big meat eaters and have not found it necessary to purchase our meat from the imported grocery store. Our nanny buys what little meat we do eat from the market and we have been fine. Our meals mainly contain veggies prepared all different ways. We eat rice with every meal or some sort of noodle. We have gotten use to eating our food with chopsticks and find it helps us eat a little slower. You can’t shovel food into your mouth with chopsticks. The “western” meals we eat on a regular basis are ‘peanut butter & jelly sandwiches’ and ‘oatmeal’. These little snacks are all we need to satisfy our western taste buds…oh ya and coffee! We can’t survive without coffee. Somethings never change.

So after all of our expenses and taxes (400 RMB), we have about 800 RMB left at the end of the month.

I know that this isn’t a lot of money to go travel the world with, but we are able to live extremely comfortable and still have money left over. Remember we have almost half of a normal Chinese teacher’s salary left at the end of the month.  We could save quite a bit of money on our apartment. There are many nice places to live in Guangzhou that cost between 2500 and 3500 a month. We have thought of moving after our 6 month lease is up to a less expensive place. I am not sure if we will or not. The idea of packing makes me a little sick to my stomach at the moment. I love being able to come home for lunch and only having to leave for work 5 minutes before I have to be there.

We use our 800 RMB to go out with friends,travel around Guangzhou and on ice cream every once in a while. Although there are many wonderful things to buy in Guangzhou we have very little interest in buying things. We buy the occasional small toy for the kids or crayons but we have no interest in cluttering our life back up. Oh Zeek did have to buy a pair of Pumas (60.00 USD) because of all the walking we do here. His brand new Converse lets say died….the amount of walking we do here is not meant for an innocent pair of Chuck Taylors.

American Bills: We still have some American bills that we have to pay. So if you have these as well you need to keep them in mind. We have student loans, life-insurance, part of our mortgage payment, and hospital bills that we have to make payments on every month. So we use Zeek’s income to cover these payments.

What this all mean? Although prices changed from what we thought before we came, we are happy to say that our standard of living is much higher for some key points. We eat a million times healthier than we did before, yes I do mean a million!!! We spend more time with each-other and the kids because no one is worried about  laundry or cleaning the house…or cooking. We walk with each other everywhere which is so much better than jumping in the car and running a million errands.

If you are interested in moving to China this is what it will cost you. Hopefully some of you will come and visit us.

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About the Author

Paz is an avid adventurer in life and food. Traveling across the globe with her family they enjoy cultural immersion and checking out the local eateries.

14 Responses to Cost of living in China

  1. Sara says:

    Thank you for this post! Not every foreigner is willing to talk about money even Chinese people do. It’s interesting to know how your family uses money in Guangzhou. It’s hard to say how much money I use in monthly basis because it varies. Basically I get 460 euros a month (not during summer holiday) from Finnish government and then I can use my student loan if that isn’t enough. Maybe later I can make a post like this and explain how a foreign student uses money in China.

    • Paz says:

      Sara-Thank you for sharing your money situation. I think it is always hard for people to make a move, especially around the world if they are unsure about how their money is going to go. I would love to read a post about how students can receive money. I know a couple of foreign students and most of them have money coming from grants, or their government and I am so impressed on how they came about this information. I wish I would have had it 10 years ago…opps now I am dating myself. lol

  2. Hello,
    My name is Zuzana Malachi and I work for Cartus Intercultural & Language Solutions. My company specializes in cross-cultural training programs for people relocating internationally. Throughout the workshop, we bring in subject matter experts, each to focus on a specific area of expertise, for example: history, business, social customs, and/or day-to-day living issues.
    I am currently working on a program for someone moving from Ohio to Guangzhou.I am attempting to find an expat living in Guangzhou who could speak to my client about daily life and getting settled in their new country. We have found in the past that it is really helpful for them to speak with someone who has already made the move and who can give some hands-on practical advice. The informal presentation would take place via conference call on Thursday, June 2nd and would last no longer than 90-minutes in length. Cartus would compensate for the presentation.
    Would you be interested in doing this presentation? I will be happy to give you more information such as list of possible topics etc. Please feel free to contact me directly on my email
    Thank you very much. It is much appreciated!

  3. Gely says:

    Hello Paz, thank you for sharing this information…Could you please where you come from? Are you Spanish or Mexican by any chance?

    Kind greetings.


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  6. Christine says:

    Hello Paz,
    This has been very nice to come upon. My family and I would like to change countries (currently in France)and are looking at China. Your cost information was so informative, but I have one (out of many) question: was it difficult to get a visa for your child?
    I would love to hear more about your stay (are you still there?) even more so given that you are Mexican (my boyfriend is Mexican and has taught English to children and is thinking about getting a TEFL 120h on site certification) and could perhaps (again, not knowing your situation) tell me if it was difficult for you to find work (if not a native English speaker).
    If ever…I’d love to hear from you.
    Looking forward to reading more posts!

    • Paz Chentnik says:


      It wasn’t difficult for us to get visa’s for our kids they stayed on their visitor visa. I am Mexican but have an American Passport. They mostly care about the passport. I did work with a girl from Brazil with a Brazilian passport, however it can be more difficult to get a job.

      It isn’t necessary for him to get his certificate, however it could never hurt. Check out for information on jobs in Guangzhou it is a great service and they know there stuff. We aren’t in China at the moment, but check out where I have lots of information on living in China!

      Good luck and have a great time.


  7. Christine says:

    Thanks so much for the information Paz!
    I have just one more teensy weensy question if ever you have the time: what does health insurance like-I’m assuming you were covered with your job-did you have to pay out of pocket for your children?
    Anyway, thanks again for the information, we’ve been doing a lot of research and it sounds like China just might be the place for us as the next stop on the map (if not, Taiwan)…
    I hope you and your family are doing well and still traveling the world! Suerte!

    • Paz Chentnik says:


      We actually never received insurance through my work. 🙁 But medical needs in China are way way less than in the U.S. however we did have international medical insurance which we got online. It wouldn’t cover us in the U.S., but everywhere else it does. 🙂

      Good luck and keep us all posted on your move!

  8. Ginger says:

    Great blog post! I didn’t realize education could be so cheap here with international schools charging exorbitant tuition fees! My college roommate and his wife found positions in China through a company called Teaching Nomad and the school tehy’re working on provide 95% tuition reimbursement plus housing and a very decent salary. Maybe I should consider going to China too haha
    Ginger recently posted..Teaching Certification + Job PlacementMy Profile

  9. Tiana says:

    Hi Paz,

    I see that those comments are over 2 years old. How is the situation now in the south of china regarding teaching english jobs? Are you still in China?
    Another question, would we be able to get teaching visa if we were born in non native english country but hold american citizenship?
    Thank you

  10. Kelley Botha says:

    Hi Paz,
    Thank you so much for your informative webpage.

    My family and I are moving to ZhangJiaGang in March, I have a 1 year old son who will need a Nanny to take care of him while my husband and I are at work.
    I just would like to know how did you find your Nanny? did you use an agency or through word of mouth from friends etc.
    Any help will be greatly appreciated.

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    We are a family of four: dad, mom, sister, brother, who decided to leave our job, home, and community to live life in China. After a year abroad we decided to become permanent nomads. We road school our children and try to enjoy every minute.

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