Going east is indeed THE opportunity today, no doubt about it. I personally feel I’ve got much more opportunities here than I had before. I feel it was a good decision to make.
Still, with all the excitement of moving to China there was also a portion of planning. Some we planned right, and some we planned wrong.
I guess that if you read this blog, you are not coming to China with a relocation pack. Therefore in this post I’ll try to give the most essential costs you can expect when moving to Beijing as an entrepreneur, who wants to learn what’s going on in China and be part of this ever-changing place.
Of course every place is different, but when you have no clue it always helps to have some kind of estimation and take it from there.
So, how much money do I need to get started?
You should plan ahead of course and it’s good to be prepared, but you should also take into consideration, that most of the time things don’t move in the pace you want them to (unfortunately, usually they’re slower…).
Let’s take it step by step:
step 1: Make a list of your prospective expanses (I really mean it, make a list now!)
step 2: Go over the list I’ve made here, update your own list, and get an idea about your upcoming expanses.
(Step 3: update our dynamic list regarding the costs, so our database will be more accurate and helpful).
How long should I plan ahead for?
It takes about 2 months to actually settle down. After two months, there’s a good chance you’ll find some temporary job to start with, and support yourself. This is of course a rough estimation, but from my own experience this is the case.
Please read the post about teaching English in China.
List of expenses on the first two months of your stay
Note: I’ve used the local currency RMB for costs, in order to check current exchange rate, go to the Yahoo Finance Currency Converter
Housing in Beijing can be very expensive. The good news is that 10 minutes walk from an expensive place, there will be much cheaper options waiting. Assuming you want to spend as little as possible on housing, you will need to compromise (or not, depends on your point of view) on living in a local Chinese community and not in an expats community. Chinese communities have their own magic and you get to learn a lot about China. So, it’s cheaper and definitely worth it.
Renting a local apartment within a few bus stops from a subway station would cost 2200 – 2700 RMB per month. If you want to be within walking distance from a subways station, prices will go up, to 3000 RMB and more.
Now, take into account that Chinese landlords tend to ask for a quarterly payment over their apartments, add to this a one month agent fee and a deposit of one month and you get that you need to pay a 5 month amount of rent right away when you arrive. For an apartment of 2500RMB, it adds up to 12500 RMB right away. But this would be a minimum to prepare. The good news is that this is the largest expense you will have, so all the other expenses, would look like a piece of cake.
TOTAL for housing: ~12,500 RMB
I didn’t do an extensive market survey regarding this, but managed to get an Internet connection to our apartment. The cost is about 500RMB for 6 months of Internet. They say it’s officially 10Mbps of speed, but it’s never that fast. I checked my speed, it’s about 1.5Mbps
Internet in China is slow. The infrastructure is still not that good, add that each packet goes through the Great Firewall, which causes more latency when surfing and you get China’s Internet service: SLOW!
TOTAL for Internet service: ~500 RMB
Chinese classes are not an essential thing for living in Beijing but considering the benefits you’ll get from that (and the admiring looks of your friends, for learning it), it’s really a must. Many people in Beijing still don’t speak English and if you want to get to live the local life style and hence succeed in saving some more money, speaking Chinese is extremely important.
Costs for this also vary greatly. From premium schools charging thousands of RMB to local schools, which can be just as good for a much lower fee of 30RMB for a class of 1.5 hours.
The latter of course is the option to choose when you are on a budget. The local school of Global village (Di Ci Cun) has 2 campuses, one in the students area in Wudaoko. The other is in Wnagjing which is where the whole Korean community is living in Beijing.
Between those branches Wudaoko is more English speaking friendly. The Wangjing branch mostly caters for the Korean community, but it’s teaching level and low prices make it worth it, once you figured how to approach the school staff and join the classes.
Another great school is at the high end of Chinese classes called That’s Mandarin, I know a few people that are very happy about it. You’ll learn with excellent teachers and if you buy 100 hours of teaching in a bulk the price would be 75RMB per hour (if you have 15000, RMB to spend all at once…)
TOTAL for Chinese classes: ~1200 RMB
On this point I can’t stress enough how important it is. Each person has his own insurance from his home country, so it’s hard to estimate this expanse. In general it can be from around $50-$300 per month.
TOTAL for health Insurance: ~620 – 1900 RMB
Food in China is fairly cheap despite the crazy price increase because of inflation (some products cost 3 times more than 2 years ago!). Don’t expect to have western food in fancy places if you are trying to save. Go to local places where the locals dine, it will be cheaper and will help you to understand your crowd later on (You are about to set a business in China, no?)
Lunch in a local restaurant can cost $1-$3.
Small Bottle of water – $0.15
Large bottle of water – $0.3 – $0.5
TOTAL for food ( 3 meals a day + 1 large bottle of water) : ~360 – 500 RMB
China has 3 mobile phone companies. The most widely used is China Mobile (simplified Chinese: 中国移动通信; traditional Chinese: 中國移動通信; pinyin: Zhōngguó Yídòng Tōngxìn). It has the best coverage and is mostly known. The other two companies are China Unicom ( (Chinese: 中国联合网络通信公司，中国联通) and China Telecom (simplified Chinese: 中国电信集团公司, 中国电信).
I personally use China mobile. The rates I’m paying are 0.12 RMB per minute inside Beijing. If you are calling our of Beijing it’s 0.2 RMB per minute. 50RMB per month is enough if you don’t call that often. All mobile companies has various plans so you can choose to add data pack and a block of minutes to talk. DO NOT USE DATA on your phone without a plan, it’s crazy expensive and you will end your phone credits within 1-3 days.
More on the consequences of data use on your phone in a future post.
TOTAL for mobile phone bill: ~100-150 RMB
Electricity costs depends on which month you’ve arrived in obviously. Take Beijing as example (Yes, BJ is where I’m located…).
Winter is freezing cold and many houses have central heating, BUT we still had to use en electric heater. bills then were around RMB130 per month. I guess summer time would be around the same as we need to use air conditioning, summer is HOT! On the moderated season, (April – May) bills would be even less than RMB 100.
TOTAL for Electricity: ~200 – 260 RMB
Not much to say about this…so far from personal experience RMB 30-40 a month
TOTAL for Water bills: ~80 RMB
I think that gas was the cheapest expense we had so far. We paid 100RMB almost 5 months ago. It’s almost over only now, and we cook a LOT!
TOTAL for Gas Bills: ~40 RMB
GRAND TOTAL for 2 months expenses in Beijing (As of April 2012):
Since the numbers I”m giving here are just rough numbers and come only from my personal experience, I’ve built a form to help other users put in their expenses, to keep this data updated.
I”m going to publish the updates of this survey from time to time.