Cost of Living in China
Deciding to live abroad commonly has more to do with its' cost than your desire to live there. When we were deciding to move to China, the cost of living was a crucial factor. How long would our savings last, and how quickly did we need to start pulling in a stable income after we arrived, these were all questions that kept me up all night researching.
One important piece that I want to mention is all of the upfront costs that are associated with "moving-in" in a foreign country. After various moves to other countries after China, it is my belief that the U.S. is the only country that ONLY requires a one month deposit for a rental lease. I would also include deposits on internet service, electricity, television, etc. these costs I explain in further detail below.
The goal was to live off of my ESL teaching salary alone. We didn't know how Zeek's employer would take, "Hey, I am moving to China with my family." We didn't know what the answer to be to his announcement. We were utterly surprised when they said, "great, let's order you a different laptop so you can work from there." His salary is not included in any of these numbers since we ended up flagging it for other uses.
Cost of Living in China Breakdown
Here are the quick cost of living numbers for our family of four. I will explain each expense along with all of the upfront costs.
Teaching Income: 10,000 RMB
Apartment 75 sq meters = 4,000 RMB
Utilities = 250 RMB a month
Internet =70 RMB a month (required to pay 1 year upfront)
Nanny/ Ayi = 2200 RMB a month
School = 650 RMB a month
Food = 1700 RMB a month
Taxes = 400 RMB a month
Left Over = 730 RMB
Teaching Income = 10,000 RMB for 40 hours of English Teaching
My work was broken down into 25 classroom hours & 15 office hours (keep in mind that most Chinese teachers make around 2,500 RMB a month for 40 hours of working). Where I worked every Foreign teacher had an assigned Chinese teaching assistant. An interesting part about the Chinese working environment was that everyone knew each other's salary. It was something that was openly known. The other interesting piece is that every teacher's assistant knew that they were being paid 1/4 of the foreign teachers, and it wasn't an issue of resentment or jealousy. Foreign teachers had some different tasks, however, not enough to justify the difference in pay, other than of course we could speak English fluently and without an accent. Something that most of us take for granted every day.
Apartment: 4,000 RMB a month for our apartment: 75 sq meters
(It would have been 3600 a month if we would have agreed to sign a year lease, we decided to sign a six-month lease considering I was still looking for a job when we signed our lease after I had to quit the original job we moved to China for.
This apartment had western toilets, an elevator, we had a security guard as you entered the building. It was a furnished apartment with two beds, a television, a dining room table, washer, and some wooden furniture. It was a relatively new building, which was a bonus.
Utilities: 250 RMB a month (Our utilities consist of electricity, gas, water, cell phone, internet, t.v.)
For the internet and t.v., you have to pay the entire year upfront, which cost us 850.00 RMB for a year of T.V. & Internet. We ended up paying for the television service because it was too hard to explain to our landlord that we didn't want it.
We also had to purchase our wireless modem from the internet company at (I am sure) an inflated price of 200 RMB, but it was convenient, and they set it all up. We pay about 250 RMB a month for electricity, gas, water, and cell phone. You pay for everything upfront, and then when it runs out, you go pay again. There are NO payment plans in China.
Nanny/Daycare: 2,200 RMB a month
We decided on hiring a nanny/Ayi for our time here in China. If you are interested you can read How to Hire a Chinese Nanny.
What do you get for 2200 RMB a month? We have a full-time adult woman working for us. She cooks three meals a day for all four of us, takes care of the kids, laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning of our 75 square foot home. Most nannies only receive one rest day a week. We like our family time, so we give her two days off a week. She comes at 8 am and leaves at 8 pm. If, for some reason, she works extra (like when we brought her to Thailand for a month), we pay her extra.
School: 650 RMB a month
We decided to send Lupita to a local kindergarten where they teach in Mandarin. We pay 430 for school, 10 a day for food, and then 20 a month for the air conditioning. Yes, that is how they broke it up for us.
Other added costs were registration, uniform, and a cot for naps. Since I don't work on Monday and Tuesday, she rarely goes to school on those days unless there is a particular function. It has been tough for her to adjust to her new school environment. She has made one friend, and that has helped tons.
Food: 1700 RMB a month
We spend 1200 RMB on everyday food and another 500 RMB on juice, coffee, and milk. We have to shop at a western store that carries imported items to get good coffee, real juice, and cow's milk.
Our nanny buys all of our food fresh every day at the local market. Many people don't advise buying your meat from the local market because you have no idea where it came from. We are not big meat eaters and have not found it necessary to purchase our meat from the imported grocery store. Our nanny buys what little meat we do eat from the market. Our meals mainly contain veggies prepared in all different ways. We eat rice with every meal or a type of noodle. We are now used to eating our food with chopsticks and find it helps us eat a lot slower. You can't shovel food into your mouth with chopsticks. The "western" meals we eat regularly are 'peanut butter & jelly sandwiches' and 'oatmeal.' These little snacks are all we need to satisfy our western taste buds...oh ya and coffee! I can't survive without coffee. Somethings never change.
Leftover 730 RMB
You probably are wondering about our transportation costs? Well, due to our location we walked to 90% of the time. The occasional metro ride wasn't something I kept track of, so that would have come out of our 730 RMB left over.
This isn't a lot of money left every month, however we were able to live in China and have an experience of a lifetime!
I didn't talk about taxes much or other more complex issues. Here is a site that gives you a great breakdown of the cost of living and goes into paying taxes while in China.