If you’re new to China, one of your main worries is likely that of living costs. Although the average income in China is around $4,200 a year (as of 2012), it is important to note that ESL teachers tend to get paid substantially more than that. However, your salary and living expenses vary depending on location. China is a large country with cities in all shapes and sizes. Your salary will in turn vary with these local conditions.
The Four Most Expensive
One index ranks Beijing as the most expensive city to live in mainland China, followed closely by Shanghai. Guangzhou and Shenzhen rank third and fourth respectively. This is not to say however, that these are expensive cities. It simply means that if you want to empty your bank account, you are more than welcome to. There are several avenues at your disposal to do this. A night in one of Shanghai’s upmarket hotels can easily set you back US $400 a night. Top this off by a night out in some of the swankier bars in the French concession and see your money evaporate. However, if you live normally, you will find that the average cost of living is far below American or European standards. You could easily eat well for under $10 a day. A take-away consisting of rice, two vegetable dishes and a meat dish runs at around $2. Fancy a beer? That will be 50 cents for 500 ml bottle.
Your main expenses in the larger cities, however, will be rent. A decent one-bedroom apartment in Shanghai will likely start around the $650, climbing to $1000 a month depending on location. Bear in mind, however, that average teacher income in the four most expensive cities are not only higher but may also include a housing allowance or even a free apartment.
All in all, let’s say you earn RMB 15,000 a month, equivalent to US $2,400 in 2012. Assuming that your rent is $800 a month, this leaves you with $1,600 for living expenses and savings. If you regularly eat locally and assuming a few nights out on the weekends, you should feasibly save around $1,000 with a bit of careful money management.
If you’re considering employment out in the lesser-known cities like Xi’an, Chengdu, Harbin and Qingdao, your costs will fall dramatically. While it’s true that your salary will fall, this is consummate with respect to local costs. In all, prices are about half of that in the four expensive Chinese cities. A set lunch will set you back around $1. An upscale, world-class apartment with four rooms, communal pool, gym, concierge with a panoramic view of the city is around $400 a month. Considering that the average salary of an ESL teacher in these cities is around $1,500, you do end up saving roughly the same amount (or even more) each month. In addition, you get to experience more of the “real” China.