China's most expensive cities

Hello everyone,

What are the most expensive cities to live in China? What are the costs of things such as rent, utilities, weekly groceries, dining out, etc.?

What is the lifestyle like in these cities, for expats and locals?

What are the different neighbourhoods like? Are there more affordable areas?

Do you have any experience living in any of China's most expensive cities? What was it like?

Which cities in China would you recommend? Are there any that offer particularly good value for money when it comes to cost of living?

Thank you for sharing your experience.


I've only lived in Shanghai so i can only talk about my experience here, but it is understood as being the most expensive City within China. The other contenders are Beijing, Guangzhou, Zhenzhen, etc...

It is difficult to say what is the biggest expense as it varies on the lifestyle. I would say rent is the biggest part regardless of the lifestyle. A bedroom in a shared apartment in downtown starts at 3~3.5KRMB and increases to 6~7KRMB for single bedroom apartment (5K can be found). Then prices go up the bigger the flat is.

Some areas in the suburbs still offer cheap alternatives (Jiading, songjiang, chuansha...), but in that case the transportation budget will increase significantly especially for going to downtown (150~200RMB taxi rides). For example a flat can be rent in those areas for 1500RMB/month; but commute takes more than 1 hour to downtown.

The lifestyles varies and there are many choices in town that can accommodate one's desires. Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, gym, etc...

It is difficult to give a suggestion to where it can be better to live. I reckon it will be much cheaper to live in a smaller city, but then there are other points to take into account:

- The lifestyle: There will be less options and thus the need to travel more to places like Shanghai or HK. Thus a new expense is needed.
- The transportation: Usually without a car in a small city, commute is much more complicated. If that is negotiated with the company, then problem solved. Otherwise electric scooter...
- The salary: This is a tricky point and one which i encounter often while interviewing for a new job. Two main criteria:

1- Social benefits: The main big cities are exempt from the obligation of paying the social benefits for their foreign employees. Which means if someone is earning 15000RMB/month gross in Shanghai, he only needs to pay 1500RMB taxes. But if he moves to a smaller city, to earn the same salary in net (13500RMB), the gross need to be around 22500RMB (Net salary 13500, income tax 1600RMB, employee part of social benefits 1750RMB, company part of social benefits 5500RMB).
Therefore a higher gross salary for the same income....

2- Allowances: In Shanghai it is normal for companies to pay housing allowances for their foreign employees and the amount varies let's say from 3000 to much much higher amount... However, in those rural places, the rents are so cheap that for 1500RMB you can have a very good place. Therefore, the companies will slash the housing allowance and usually they will rent the place by themselves directly to the employee, giving him less options to save on the rent.

In fact, these 2 points makes it very difficult to get a similar salary as in big cities; which puts in question the option of moving to a cheaper rural city....

Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province is definitely an expensive city although not many would agree with me if I say it is the MOST expensive city.  A short visit to the city could be worth it.  It is a vibrant metropolis with a sizable expat community.  Since Sichuan province is a vast agricultural plain, the abundance of fruits and vegetables is one great feature worth noticing.  The air quality though, tends to deteriorate as the winter sets in.  As in all Sichuan towns and cities, the intense Sichuan dish is something to look forward to.

A less expensive city would be Mianyang, which is the second largest city in the province and is several times smaller than Chengdu.  And the air quality is much better.  The industry in Mianyang is mostly on electronics and computers which, of course are not smoke belchers.  Enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables year round.

I cannot say I am experienced with costs in China. I just lived one month in Wuxi last autumn. Howvere, I saw big differences in appartments. I saw one flat where you paid about 1000 Yuan per month but then the electric bill where also about that price and then there where som trouble with waters and that kind of things. Then when you browse around you'll find appartments from 2500 Yuan like [link moderated]
I also saw a big difference in prices on diefferent restaurants. I saw the difference between going alone(as a foreigner) or with a native in to a restaurant or any type of shop, hotel or whatever. If I brought a native I could eat a good meal from 10 Yuan, if I went by myself I had to pay, at least, 20 yuan.
I agree on the prices on transportation to Shanghai where very different. I think I paid around 100 yuan just to get from Wuxi railwaystation to Pudong airfield but heard that you actually go this way for a much better price if you had time to go slower don town.
Anyway. I think this area is exciting and would recommend anyone to see it. For us europeans it is a bg adventure going here.

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