One of the hardest parts of making the first leap abroad is anticipating costs. While it’s always best to expect some financial pitfalls to occur while getting situated in a new country, we’d like to do our best to raise awareness of a lot of the basic startup and everyday costs are in making a move to China. Before we get started, it’s important to note that all of our partners generally have some form of startup assistance or will give advances to teachers who are struggling to make ends meet—If you are starting out with a less than optimal budget, you are not alone, and you can definitely find ways to defer costs until checks start rolling in as well. We will try to touch on possible short term solutions to some of these costs as we touch on them.

MONEY

START-UP COSTS

HOUSING:

This is easily the number one issue facing teachers upon arrival for those who have elected to receive a housing allowance. For one, a teacher will generally have to put two months down on their deposit, pay a half month’s rent towards the real estate agent’s fee, and then pay the first month’s rent. This varies wildly, but if an apartment costs 3,000 RMB, a teacher would be paying 10,500 RMB for their first month of housing. Now, the housing deposit will be returned eventually, and the teacher’s stipend will eventually cover the monthly payments, so it’s really just the agency fee that is a true cost to the teacher. However, it’s clearly an opening expense that needs to be accounted for.

Possible Solutions: Most of the major companies in China will offer some kind of advance or deposit assistance if they are asked. Other housing options could also be better, especially for a first year. For example, some companies offer free shared housing, and a roommate could be a wonderful friend and asset for someone new to a foreign country. Roommates can also be easily found before arriving, and then the deposit can be split, and housing allowances tend to go further for two or three bedroom apartments shared among roommates. This can be a wonderful way to save additional money from the teacher’s housing stipend.

INTERNET:

Typically, ISPs in China ask for the year’s service upfront. Cheap plans are definitely available at lower speeds. Deals can row as low as 600 RMB, but this is definitely not optimal. The best plans usually cost around 2000 RMB.

Possible solutions: While this may be considered a “startup cost,” almost every restaurant and business in China has WIFI, and most schools also have WIFI or internet connected desktops available to teachers. There are also some really fast 4G options on phones that are billed monthly, so there are ways to hold out for a high end plan until the first check comes in.

PHONE:
As mentioned above, you can find phone plans on the higher end at 400-500 RMB for near unlimited data, though most people can get by on pre-pay plans for 100RMB or less per month if they use office WIFI. If a teacher has an unlocked/jail broken phone, they can simply bring it to China and swap their SIM card. If not, there are plenty of decent phones for sale in every city in China with tons of cheap options from national brands like Huawei and Oppo.

FOOD/UTILITIES:
Most people can live within 2000 RMB for food and basic utilities if they eat some meals at school and home and go light on alcoholic beverages. This can be dropped even lower if teachers opt to mainly eat at cheaper Chinese restaurants or do a college ramen diet.

Possible solutions: While this may be considered a “startup cost,” almost every restaurant and business in China has WIFI, and most schools also have WIFI or internet connected desktops available to teachers. There are also some really fast 4G options on phones that are billed monthly, so there are ways to hold out for a high end plan until the first check comes in.

TRANSPORTATION:

This can vary a lot, but if one uses mainly public transportation like buses or subways, they will usually spend around 200 RMB on travel expenses for a month. Obviously, taxis can raise this amount significantly, but the average ride within one’s district is usually around 30 RMB. Going to another district or on a longer ride may cost between 50-60 RMB. Going all the way across town by taxi would cost 120 RMB. Most of the tier 1 cities also have excellent bike sharing apps that cost 1 RMB an hour for bike rentals—an excellent time saver if one lives 20+ minutes away from the subway.

Startup costs

WHAT PEOPLE SAY

EVERYDAY COSTS

FOOD:

It’s possible to find breakfast food like steamed pork buns or noodles for 5 or 6 RMB. A typical Chinese breakfast might run 12 RMB on a tight budget. Lunch is usually provided by the school for public school teachers, but those wishing to eat out can find Chinese meals for 18 RMB and up or western meals for 30 RMB and up. An expensive meal in Shenzhen might cost 200-400 RMB at a nice Chinese restaurant with multiple courses.

 

HOTELS/HOSTELS:


Traveling around China is incredibly cheap, in part, because hotels are so affordable. It’s possible to find lower end hotels at 140 RMB a night, but four star hotels generally cost 200-300 RMB in many cities. A lot of times it’s advised to spring for a better hotel since it will include a delicious breakfast. Rooms can typically be booked through apps like WeChat or CTrip.

HIGH SPEED TRAINS:

Traveling out of tier 1 cities is a breeze thanks to how connected the railways are. From the southern provinces to Beijing costs under 600 RMB in most cases. However, trips to cities within one’s province will generally run in the 100 RMB range. Most people use an app like CTrip to book tickets

 

MOVIE TICKETS:

If booked online, most tickets run around 35 RMB. Some new releases cost a bit more.

 

THEME PARK TICKETS:

It’s usually 200-300 RMB for adults depending on holiday pricing.

FREE THINGS TO SEE AND DO

PUBLIC PARKS:

China has some of the most gorgeous public gardens and parks in the world. Everything from pagodas to flower gardens can be experienced for free in the massive parks there. Most of them will take 2-4 hours to fully explore and will often have fun activities like boating or fishing to do.
 

BEACHES:
Most of the beaches are open access, and many have activities like speed boating or surfing. They can get rather crowded during peak season, but usually they are enjoyable year round for barbecues and bonfires. Some of them even do tent rentals for those wanting to camp on the beach or get out of the sun.
 

OLD TOWNS & SPECIAL DISTRICTS:
Most Chinese cities have unique districts that show off their cultural contribution to the country. Explore centuries old town squares or go to a commercial district and see where most of the clothes and electronics in the world are put together.

WINDOW SHOPPING:

The tier 1 cities in China all have some of the best shopping imaginable. Expect to see enormous malls all over the country. Check out the bustling market streets and take stock of where all of the fresh fruits and vegetables are. Exploring the back roads of a city is often once of the most enjoyable parts of the experience.
 

FREE SHOWS & EVENTS:

In the hottest parts of the city, it’s not uncommon to see free concerts or shows taking place. Everything from break dance performances to huge PC game competitions can often show up seemingly at random. Huge outdoor art displays are often set up outside of malls or shopping areas. Holiday festivals are ubiquitous and usually free to join as well.

Leanne, Shenzhen

After two years in China, I was able to finish paying off my student debt. Now I'm able to save almost all of my paycheque if i feel like it, as cost of living is quite low. I send money home almost every month.

Hayley, Shenzhen

The money situation here is great for many reasons. One is that, you have the potential to make as much money as you want. I work an extra gig 2 times a week for an hour and a half and I make an extra $500 USD/month by doing that. I have had plenty of other opportunities come up to make extra money.

Colby, Shenzhen

Ha.. I'll retire with 7 figures in 10-12 years teaching ESL. Hows that for a case study?

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