Cost of Living in China – ‘My Colleagues and I Pretty Much Live like Kings’
This weeks blog comes from Teach China Graduate, India-Mae Alby, her third blog installment to date. She shares an important insight into the cost of living in China by giving an in-depth personal experience of how she manages her time and money since arriving in Fuzhou.
My salary stretches a very long way…
When I got this job, I was super excited about most of it but one of the things I was worried about was the pay. It just didn’t seem like much! The contract offered about 10,000rmb a month, which roughly equated to a monthly pay of £1000. £12,000 for a whole year of work? That wasn’t particularly enticing. However, after arriving in China, I soon realised how generous this salary actually is. Relative to the cost of living, my pay is more than enough to support my lifestyle here. Britain is an expensive country to live in. China is not.
My 10,000rmb a month pay stretches a really long way when everything in Fuzhou is so cheap. It helps that I live in a third-tier city and not a top-tier one like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen or Guangzhou but even if I did, my pay there would be higher to reflect the higher cost of living. I’ve said it a few times here that my colleagues and I pretty much live like kings and I stand by it. See the view from my apartment below..
Food and Clothes
My regular expenses mostly consist of food. I eat out most days a week, either for lunch or dinner. Most restaurants in Fuzhou are small and family-run. A meal usually costs between ¥15 and ¥20, which would be between £1.70 and £2.25 at home. Every time I eat a great meal I think about how it would’ve cost me between £8 and £12 to buy it in Britain. Eating out in Britain is ridiculously overpriced! And the food is hardly ever that impressive. A whole nation is getting ripped off daily. Groceries here usually don’t amount to much either. Fresh produce is super cheap. I always delight at how inexpensive pak choi is. Snickers bars cost the equivalent of 60p. However, most foreign imported foods can be quite expensive.
Apart from food, I spend money on clothes from shops in Show Park, the mall next to my apartment. Clothes are expensive here, no doubt about it. I Haven’t found a Primark equivalent yet either. There’s a H&M which offers the same prices as in Britain. But now that £20 is roughly ¥180, it seems like a lot of money to be spending on a top. Watching hundreds come out of your bank account feels terrifying, but I need to stop thinking in pound sterling and get myself accustomed to this different currency.
Leave your bank card at home – the amazing WeChat payment system!
A note on paying for things here: there are no card transactions. I leave my bank cards at home because I never use them. You either pay in cash (which they’ll always put through a machine to ensure it isn’t counterfeit) or with your phone, which is the more popular option. WeChat, which is China’s version of Whatsapp but is so much more than that, is the primary source of payments in Fuzhou.
In some other Chinese cities, like Shanghai, people don’t use WeChat for payments but Alipay instead. But WeChat (or Wēixìn as the Chinese people call it – ‘way-shin’) is king here. It’s amazing and I’ll miss it when I go home. You can transfer money to friends or taxi drivers or street food vendors by scanning their QR code. In shops it works a lot like Apple Pay or Samsung Pay. You can also use it to pay your bills, book hotels and flights, top up your phone balance, message people, translate Chinese characters, buy clothes OR as I’ve just found out, find out the name of an unknown song playing by shaking your phone!
My Apartment is Provided
I don’t pay rent, as my school provides the apartment rent-free, but pay water, internet, gas and electricity bills which I split with my flatmate. It really doesn’t amount to much at all and comes straight out of our monthly pay. Our apartment is super nice and spacious but our wifi is appalling. That’s not a Chinese thing or a Fuzhou thing, that’s just a room 3108 in Building 8 thing that my flatmate and I got unlucky with.
Taxis and Saving Money
I walk to work and taxis cost, on average, between ¥10 and ¥20 a journey (£1-2) so it’s not a big deal when I have to use one. Buses cost ¥1 per journey (10p!!!!!!!!!) and ¥20 in the summer when they use air conditioner. Bars and clubs are free-entry here and I don’t drink so my spending on nights out merely consists of taxis and street food (¥15 for dumplings). If you do drink, you can buy a bottle of the infamous baijiu, at your own peril, for a terrifying ¥10. I’m saving up money for holidays right now and it’s proving very easy. My trip to Shenzhen cost less than £150 (train tickets came to about £50 equivalent) and a weekend break in Yong Tai cost maybe £50 total. Future travels will be more extensive and therefore priceyer, but nothing that will significantly break the bank.
I’m living well and enjoying the lack of financial anxiety. I’ve only checked my bank account twice since I got here and I know I’m doing just fine. The money isn’t necessarily a lot but the spending isn’t either so everything works out.
India is a University of Warwick graduate, and currently teaching in a language centre in Fuzhou as part of the 2018 Teach China Graduate Program. Read more about her China journey here.