Cost of Living in China for English Teachers

Many young people today are looking for the opportunity to earn a good living that will enable them to enjoy their life and even put a little money in the bank.  This is one of the reasons so many people are choosing to teach English in China. Not only can teaching in China provide some great benefits, like immersing yourself in a new culture, traveling around exotic lands, and meeting new people, but teaching in China can provide a good salary. This salary coupled with the low cost of living allows many teachers to enjoy a great lifestyle in China and even save some money.  So let’s dig deeper into the cost of living in China!

Average English Teacher’s Salary in China

The average foreign English teacher salary in China is around 10000-15000 RMB after taxes ($1,400 – $2,200) per month.  Overall, most reputable schools will be in this salary range for new foreign teachers coming to China to teach English.  While this may not seem like a high salary compared to your home country, the key here is to factor in the cost of living expenses in China. As we’ll discuss below, 15000 RMB can go a long way, and actually provide a nice lifestyle in China.

Cost of Renting an Apartment in China

As in your home country, rent will take up the biggest chunk of your living expenses in China.  However, the cost of renting an apartment in China is still nothing like what you would pay back at home.  While prices will vary depending on the city and district, most teachers in China can expect to pay around 2000 – 4000 RMB ($290 – $580) per month for an apartment in China.

A standard apartment in China – fairly new, lots of windows, often with balconies, and nearby parks, restaurants, and public transportation.

Beijing and Shanghai are high cost cities, where you will definitely be paying at least 4000 RMB, or even higher if you want to be in prime districts of town.  While other cities like Guangzhou can be a lot cheaper, especially if you choose to live on the outskirts of town.  These prices will also vary if you want a 1 bedroom or 2 bedroom apartment.  Most teachers in China can afford to live in their own apartment without roommates, but some people choose to have a roommate to make their expenses even less and to broaden their circle of friends.

Another consideration to renting an apartment in China is that most schools, including First Leap China, provide an apartment allowance as a part of your teaching salary.  High cost cities, like Beijing, will have a higher apartment allowance for teachers.

** Note: When you first arrive in China, you will need to have some cash available for upfront expenses – especially your apartment.  In major cities around China, you may be required to pay a couple months of rent in advance, as well as deposits and rental agent fees.  Be sure to talk with your recruiters in advance for more details.

Cost of Transportation in China

When it comes to transportation, the prices are also extremely low in China. The city bus is 2 RMB and a 20-minute taxi ride across larger towns can be 25 RMB (but traffic can make this journey a short one for the price). Riding the subway (or metros) in China is also very affordable, starting at around 2 RMB for short distances.

Even traveling within China or beyond can be rather inexpensive. In fact, it costs around 490 RMB to get the high-speed train from Guangzhou to Wuhan which are a few hours apart, and even the slow train for the same distance will be cheap, around 120 RMB (although it will take much longer).  Flights to nearby countries can be inexpensive as well, depending on the departure / arrival cities, due to the variety of airline options available — including low-cost airlines like Spring Airlines and Air Asia.  Imagine being able to fly to Thailand for just a couple hundred bucks?!?

On the whole, transportation is inexpensive in China.  Leaving you that much more money to put in the bank or spend on other fun activities!

Cost of Food in China

A thing to note in here is that the local food in China is very different from what you have probably had back in your home country.  While there is a wide variety of food to choose from, the food in China is overall quite good.  And the more local the food, the cheaper it is.

This means you will have a very low cost of living if you enjoy eating local food. And of course, you can find local food everywhere in China.  However if you prefer imported food such as European food, then it can be more difficult to find (unless you are in a big city) and it can be rather expensive in China.  So you may want to keep that in mind when it comes to your budget and your food preferences.

Dining Out in China

There are many options for dining out in China.  For the adventurous, there is the local street food.  While some of it can be questionable, much of it is actually quite tasty and cheap. For example, in the north of China you may see people at a street-food cart cooking up a breakfast of eggs, potatoes, carrots and some meat wrapped in a thick and flaky rice wrap and drizzled with spicy pepper sauce.  This hearty meal costs around 3 RMB ($0.43 cents) and you can pick it up on your way to work!


For restaurants, you can find many local or family-run establishments where you can get a bowl or rice with meat and veggies, or a bowl of noodle soup for an average of 8-15 RMB ($1.16 – $2.18).  There are also international fast food chains, such as McDonald’s, KFC, and even Pizza Hut (yes, there is pizza in China).  The prices of these fast food outlets are similar to what you might pay at home, making them a little more expensive option while you are in China.

For example, a simple hamburger at McDonald’s in China costs about 12 RMB ($1.74).  And Pizza Huts in China are actually more of a higher end dining establishment (a true “date night” establishment) – and you may pay 50 – 80 RMB for a pizza.  Of course, there are always nicer Chinese restaurants too — where can have a meal upwards of 50 – 100 RMB ($7.27 – $14.54) or even higher, depending on the establishment.

In the States, most people pay $5 – $10 for nearly every meal when they go out to eat.  But as you can see, the prices are much lower in China.  You will only pay $10+ if you are dining out at a very nice restaurant, or going to a specialty foreign restaurant.  If you eat local food much of the time, then you will be paying a fraction of what you would have spent back at home to eat.

So overall, it depends on your preferences and budget.  Most teachers in China mix it up.  They may eat some local street food most of the time, and go out to dinner at a nicer restaurant a few nights a week.

Grocery Shopping in China

On average, dairy products are quite expensive in China because Chinese people don’t consume dairy products very much.  Milk costs about 7 RMB for a small carton, but cheese is quite expensive at around 25 RMB for basic cheddar.  Eggs are everywhere (they eat lots of them in China), and they are cheap – about 5 RMB for a pack.

Vegetables are quite inexpensive, and are of good quality (think farmers markets like in the States).  From carrots, to potatoes, onions, peppers, cucumbers, and so on — you will only pay roughly 5 -10 RMB for most items in the supermarket, and even cheaper if you buy them direct from growers at local markets or on the street.  Chicken breast may cost you 15 RMB and other things like rice, water or beer will be around 5-8 RMB.

So, the food prices in China are extremely low in comparison to your home country.  Depending on how much you cook at home and your preference for dining out, it’s easy for you to get a lot of value from your English teacher salary in China.

Cost of Leisure Activities in China

Most people who come to China to teach English are looking forward to the variety of leisure and cultural activities.  Again, the good thing is that many of these activities are cheaper than what they would be back in your home country.

To put things into perspective, you can go out for a nice 3-course dinner, and this can cost you less than 100 RMB.  If you want to join a fitness club (an activity that is growing in popularity in China), membership will be around 150 RMB a month.  Depending on the theater, a night out at the movies can be around 65 RMB, and there are many other museums and cultural activities that range from free to less than 100 RMB.  Even a visit to the famous Forbidden City in Beijing is only 60 RMB in high season.

Explore cultural and historic places during your days off, like the Forbidden City in Beijing.

As a young professional or someone just out of school, the salary of an entry level job back in your home country can make it hard to make ends meet, let alone splurge on luxuries!  But in China as an English teacher, your salary and the cost of living allows you to actually be able to make some splurges.

For example, Chinese massage is quite popular and is an important part of health and well-being in China.  You can find that massages can be found for as little 40 RMB for a half an hour, and you can even find entire day spas where you can indulge yourself and be pampered for around 300 – 500 RMB.  Housekeepers are another inexpensive luxury – for about 30 RMB you can have someone come to clean your apartment for 2 hours.

This is where being an English teacher in China really has it’s perks, because you can start to see just how far your money can go for all the fun stuff that make your life enjoyable.

Example Teacher’s Budget in China

As you can see, the cost of living in China is not that high.  Below is an example breakdown of an example English teacher’s budget while living in China.  

In this example, we have estimated quite a nice apartment with a hefty dining out budget (80 RMB per day average) + a few hundred RMB each week for leisure activities, such as shopping, massages, movies, etc.  With this nice lifestyle, you can see that the balance leftover is nearly $1000 USD each month — which can be put in the bank to save.

English Teacher Budget in China

Monthly Salary (including housing allowance) 15,000
Rent & Utilities -3500
Transportation -250
Dining Out (80 RMB per day avg) -2,500
Groceries -600
Leisure Activities & Shopping -1300
Leftover / Savings = almost $1000 USD 6,850

Living the Good Life in China

As a whole, there are few other opportunities for those just out of college to earn this kind of money which enables a good lifestyle, and the ability to save money.  Combine that with the opportunity to explore a new culture, travel to amazing places, meet people from all over the world, and gain transferable skills and international working experience, and it’s hard to deny that teaching English in China is one of the coolest and most valuable experiences of a lifetime.

(click to view a larger image)

Share this Useful Infographic On Your Site

(just copy and paste the html below and you’re done!)