A guide to living costs in China for international students
A young woman takes pictures of the city with her mobile phone, from the glass-floor observation platform, in the Oriental Pearl Tower, in the financial district of Shanghai, on May 9, 2019. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP)

Studying in China is becoming increasingly popular amongst international students. When it comes to selecting a university, there is a lot to take into consideration. Quality, course selection and college reputation all play a huge role, but so does the cost of living.

An ultra-comfortable living standard in China might require just as much financial resources as it would in some states in the US or Australia. However, basic necessities do not cost much and with the right planning, you might save a lot by studying and living in China. Here is a breakdown of some of the essential costs today’s students might incur:

Average Living

In the coastal metropolises of Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, it can be costly to get by comfortably with the average cost of living expenses coming up to US$1,000-1,200 a month. In other cities, students could manage with approximately US$500-900 a month, including accommodation if they live on campus. The average cost of living in China per month can vary depending on city population, personal spending habits, and tuition fees. 


Monthly rental for a one-bedroom apartment within the city centre costs around US$500, while it would cost around US$300 outside of the city centre. If you are looking to split the cost with two other roommates, a three-bedroom apartment in the city centre would cost around US$1,000, while it would cost around US$600 outside of the city centre. 

Shanghai and Beijing are known to be some of the most expensive cities to live in, however there are also affordable options available. The most popular and cost-efficient option amongst international students would be to live with roommates.

Student residential halls are also a fairly reasonable option, ranging US$500 to US$1,400 a month. All methods of accommodation would require a security deposit of US$300 to US$500, while utility bills would add approximately US$50 a month to the total cost of accommodation. Rental rates are known to be lower in places like Tianjin, Jiangsu, and Sichuan. 

Food and Beverage

China is known for its diverse and affordable selection of food. An inexpensive meal, including fast food, would cost around US$3 to US$5. Mid-range dining options could go up to US$7 to US$10, for both local or international cuisines.

Purchasing groceries and cooking your daily meals at home would always be the cheaper option, in any country you choose to study in. Local produce and basic provisions would cost around  US$170 to US$200 a month. 

People line up to buy food from a street vendor at an intersection in Beijing on June 9, 2020. Source: Greg Baker/AFP

Phone and data bills

In general, US$15 should be enough for a standard phone plan with over 60mbps or unlimited data. 


Using public transit in China is very economical, even taxis can be used at a fairly reasonable price. Using the bus or train would cost a student around US$0.50 to US$1 a day. Taxis would be a little more expensive within the city centre but are still comparatively cheaper than most countries. For public transportation, a monthly student pass would cost around US$15 to US$20.


There is a diverse range of fun things to do after dark in China. Bar streets can be found in Beijing, however the bars in Shanghai are a little more dispersed. To bar hop in Shanghai you would need to have cab fare on hand, but to save you could share a ride with friends and split the cost. 

A cocktail at a high-end bar costs about US$6 to US$10, while some places could serve you a beer for just US$3. You may or may not be running low on finances for the week, but the options to have fun will always be endless.

Couples walk together beneath red lantern decorations along a Beijing street famous for its late-night dining. Source: Frederic J. Brown/AFP

China can be a cost-effective location to live and study in. As long as you live within your means and focus on productivity, the standard cost of living in China can be managed. Definitely a small price to pay to live in a geographically vast country that is incredibly developed, yet still developing faster and faster every day!

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