Currency and cost of living

What you need to live in China

 

The Chinese currency is called Renminbi (RMB), which consists of yuan, jiao and fen. 10 jiao make up 1 yuan, and 10 fens make up 1 jiao.

Money is issued in notes of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 yuan, and 1 yuan coins. There are also notes for 1, 2, 5 jiao, and 5 and 1 jiao coins. Fen are issued as coins.

Note that China has established some very strict regulations on foreign currency exchange. Exchanging yuans back to foreign currencies usually requires a copy of the original exchange memo. If you’re working in China and get paid in yuan, you might find it difficult to convert your Chinese currency savings into another currency (keep your proof of payments as this might help). Due to the strict regulations, there is an active black market for currency exchange, but illegal money changers sometimes operate with false currencies so it is definitely preferable to do your currency exchanges at an official institution.

Cost of living in China

China is no longer the “bargain country” that is used to be. Along with the rise of living standards, prices have also dramatically increased. Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong have become some of the most expensive cities to live in the world, with prices for top-range apartments reaching US$ 10,000 monthly rent or more. Education for your children can also become quite costly, and if you move within the “higher circles” of Chinese society, expect to pay Western prices at top-level restaurants and other places.

On the other hand, you can still live relatively cheaply if you stick to the living standards of the lower and middle class ends of the local population. Riding buses instead of taxies, eating at cheap noodle outlets and living in an old-fashioned Chinese apartment with little or no amenities will save you a lot of money. If you move out of the big cities, prices for everything drop dramatically, often by more than half.

How much money do you need in China?

The amount of money you need in China obviously depends largely on your living standards. As a rough estimate, calculate with the following budgets:

Minimum survival - around US$ 400 (per month): This is the money you need for a bare-bone existence if you don’t have to pay for housing. It reflects the average income of many locals and allows you to live on noodles and rice, buy a Western dinner every once in a while, take a taxi in case you really need it, and pay for basic health treatment at local Chinese clinics.

Average – around US$ 1000: This allows you to rent a basic apartment (in major cities a very basic one!), enjoy a bit of Chinese culture, do some travel and pay health insurance.

Luxury: If you want to live a “good life” with higher class living standards similar to those in your home country, there are no limits as to what you can spend in China. If you want a villa-style house and to send your children to an international school, these two things alone can cost you as much as US$ 100,000 per year in major cities.

Further reading

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