Costs of living in China

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Costs of living in China

What a broad topic, huh? But of course it’s one that everyone wants to know, so I’m going to try to lay it out as evenly as possible and cover as many aspects as I can. Keep in mind that I’m writing this article as and to the native English speaking population.  Which, there is really no other way to put it except that by being a native English speaker you have quite a built in advantage here in China. Especially in the world of Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). 

Parents shelll out a lot of cash to send their kid to English school and they want to make sure they are learning it from people that grew up speaking it (with a passport to prove it).  Teachers at these private language schools with just a year or two of experience can earn $1,500 – $2,300 (I’ll write everything in US Dollars to make it simple), senior trainers and center directors can easily earn over $3,000 per month.  Or maybe you’d prefer to teach at a University, although the monthly salary is typically less, you'll enjoy free housing, free meals and 1-2 months of PAID vacation.  In addition to your salary, many of you may want to pick up some freelance tutoring on the side, this can pay anywhere from $10-$30/hr. Now, keep in mind that China is a huge and varied country; the highest earning individuals are in the biggest cities and of course this is where the highest expenses are.

To put his in perspective for you the average Chinese person in Shanghai earned just USD$460 per month in 2011. People in the smaller towns can get by on half of that.  On the other hand, I know 3 expat teachers living in $3000/month penthouse apartment. So, the larger the city the more opportunity you’ll have to spend that newly acquired cash. Everyone finds their balance in between somewhere. Some nights you’ll cook at home and probably not spend more $4(2 people) on salad, chicken breast and fried rice or noodles. For another $5 you can add in a bottle of wine, the wine is actually cheaper in the US, but if beer is your drink, stop by your local convenience store for a .50 cent half-liter of beer. Occasionally you may want to visit the all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink teppenyaki restaurant. For $23/person you’ll be eating beef Carpaccio, sashimi, sushi, duck, vegetables and washing it down with all the beer and hot Saki your stomach desires.  Prefer a little Indian food? A real nice spot called Punjabi offers their own all can eat buffet with unlimited beer for only $14. Of course these offers are really only the best value for people who drink, but you get the picture.

The apartment you choose to live in will ultimately affect every part of your cost of living. Are you within walking distance to work or do you have to pay .50cents each way for the subway. Do you take the subway or do you spend the $2 ($2 for the first 1&1/2 miles) or more on a cab ride? Do you live next to the imported foods supermarket that will happily charge you a huge mark up for all the items your used to seeing back home or do you shop at the local store? I’ve even seen one scenario with 2 McDonald’s locations only 5 blocks from each other. The store on the more “local” street only charges $2 for a double cheeseburger combo meal. While the store on the more “foreigner” street charges $4 for the same thing!  A starbucks cappuccino will run you $4, while the local shop is only $1.50. If you are anything like me, ultimately you choose convenience, so I make sure the convenient choice is the cost effective one.  A basic guide to go off of for apartment cost is:

One bedroom apartment in a Capital city - $500+

One bedroom apartment in a smaller city - $175+

I think a lot of expats come out here with the plan to save money, pay off debt, etc. Many accomplish this, but some don’t, so I warn you now not to fall into the same trap that others have.  They seem to get too carried away with all the extra money that they are making now, I believe for many people it’s the most amount of discretionary income they’ve ever had available to them. So, decide what your goals are. Decide how much you want to save and stick to it. Pay yourself first by stashing money away in your savings before heading out to the club.

Some other expenses you may run across:

House keeper (called an Ayi) - $1.50 - $2.50/hr

Train ticket (50miles) - $5

Train ticket (Beijing to Shanghai) -$60

1hr massage - $10-$20

New motor scooter (very popular in big cities)- $230 - $460

New bicycle - $150 - $250

Hotel stays, 1 night -$30+ (Youth or backpacker “hostels” cheaper)

DVD - $1

Video game - .75 cents

Home internet & TV service - $22/month

Satellite TV with all your favorite English channels - $250/year

Plane ticket (Shanghai to Bangkok, Thailand) for your summer vacation - $350 - $500roundtrip

Imported beer in Supermarket - $1

Imported beer in bar - $4-$6

These are just a few examples of expenses you may come across while living and teaching in China. Moral of the story is by working with Teaching Nomad you are guaranteed to be getting a position that will pay you enough to live well, save money, pay off debts or any combination. I believe a basic goal for every teacher is to save at least $500 per month, many will save more. What would you do with an extra $6,000? Many people use that money to travel to exotic places, others use to start a business - the choice is yours.

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