Today, I am going to reply this reader’s email about how much does it cost as a normal budget tourist in Shanghai. Here was the email:
Hi Jian Shuo,
I can’t find anything on your blog about how much per day it would cost to enjoy a holiday on various budgets. Maybe you can only do it for Shanghai but it would be good to see how much to expect to pay per day when I am there in March/April this year. Obviously accommodation costs vary so that could be excluded (with a disclaimer). I am talking about food and travel fares and apporximate sightseeing costs in general. I was thinking about $40US per day would be more than enough for my low budget holiday expenses, again not including hostels and souvenirs.
Here was my answer:
Thanks for your trust to ask me the question. It is obviously a FAQ – how much I need to plan to tour in Shanghai. Let me try to help.
As a normal tourist, you want to visit some places in Shanghai in a budget fashion. Let’s just try to describe what a day should look like for you, starting from breakfast.
If breakfast is included in your hotel plan, there are two possibility. Possibility #1: you stay in a five star hotel, like Shangri-la, or JW Marriott Shanghai… If it is the case, I don’t see any reason you continue reading this article. :-) Possibility #2: your hotel provide very cheap breakfast that they even don’t bother to charge, like a salt-egg plus some bread.
So, in most cases, let me assume that you need to buy yourself something to eat in the morning. You still have some options.
My suggestion for really curious visitor is to go to those eatery streets near where you stay, and eat as locals do. There are many places where vendors gather in the morning to sell breakfast – they normally share the same store-front with small local shops. When the shops open at around 10:00 AM, all the breakfast stores disappear. For example, my daily routine starts from the corner Tianping Road 天平路 and Guangyuan Road 广元路. If you are lucky enough to find them, 10 RMB (or 1.5 USD) can get you some nice delicious local food. You can buy some dupplings (Baozi 包子), or Toufu Milk (Duojiang 豆浆). You need to eat on the go – there is no place for you to sit down.
If you are not that adventous, find a local McDonald’s and the price for morning is also around 10-15 RMB. You know what you get. I would recommend KFC – the provide some varity from that you find in other countries in China.
In conclusion, budget 15 RMB for breakfast for budget travel. I bet that you can even save some money if you try.
Then after you are full, and you start your day by looking at your first place to visit. If you want to save money, take bus. They are 2 RMB in average if your destination is in Shanghai (I mean within the outting ring – a very large area). If you want to go to nearby “cities”, or “town”, that is another story. Or you can take Metro – one way cost you 6 RMB at most if you do not go to places like Songjiang or Minhang, or even between them… Most of the attraction of Shanghai is along Metro: The Bund? Pearl Tower? Xintiandi? Xujiahui? Where do you want to go?
So, I would say 20 RMB per day for transportation is enough for you, if you want to explore the city of Shanghai, not surrounding areas – that means you can take 10 times of bus, or maybe 5-6 metro ride. (To tell you a secret, I walked at midnight from the north-east of Shanghai to southwest, it only took me 4 hours. You get the idea?
Tickets are the major part of your day. Let me give you some example. To get to the top of Jinmao Tower, you need to pay 80 RMB. The higher WFC (Shanghai World Financial Center) cost you 150 RMB. Pearl Tower is 50 RMB. Most of the museums cost you 50 RMB (20 RMB is considered cheap).
So, let’s say, you want to visit two places in the morning, two in the afternoon, prepare 200 RMB in your pocket.
Lunch and Dinner
For lunch and dinner, you can try different styles. From the cheapest, visit any local noodle shop, and you can get a bowl of noodle at around 10 RMB. Be alerted that it is no way to the same service standard or cleaness standard of US. If you are adventous and want to try, please. That is a lot of fun.
If you want to be safe, and just want to have a cheap but nice lunch, visit the fast food stores. You already know McDonald’s, KFC, and almost all major brands in U.S (or international). They are likely to have an outlet in Shanghai. Or you visit the newer comers. My favorite is Ajisen Ramen. For all these fast food restaurants, their price is between 20-30 RMB.
There are of cause some decent restaurants that can easily charge you 150 RMB per lunch or 300 RMB per dinner (their entry level menu), but I think it is out of the scope of this article.
So, please 50 RMB for your lunch and dinner.
I don’t see any additional cost. You can always spend if you want, but besides food, and sometimes tickets, you don’t need to really pay too much.
A normal tour, as I described, cost you 265 RMB. For many people, I would just suggest you to take your time to walk on the Shanghai street. That is amazing, more engaging, and, free. I would not be surprised if a tourist tell me that he/she only spend 40 RMB per day for staying in Shanghai (excluding hotel). Believe me, the 40 RMB trip may be more rewarding than more expensive one.
Hope this helps, and I will publish my reply to my blog tonight.
Hi! This is Luke, the sender of the email.
Thank you very much for helping me to answer many of these questions that I was unsure of. I have a great book on China by Lonely Planet and there are other resources available but I could never really get a good indication of what a day in Shanghai would likely cost. When I asked other places I could not get a straight and clear answer to my question but you have done so in your reply to me.
Before I saw your reply this morning I tried again to make a list of the costs and end up with a rough food bill of between 175 and 225 RMB per day, including coffee at a more expensive cafe and a beer or two at night. You are right that I am adventurous and will be eating from the local street shops as much as possible and trying to steer clear of the over-priced westernised restaurants as much as possible. SO may be I have over-estimated and while I could easily spend 225RMB a day on food/drinks if I was not careful I can see that a more reasonable approximation would be 175RMB, and I am not a big drinker so that will cut the cost down too! :-)
Shanghai is only the first city of many but I hear that Shanghai is one of the more expensive cities, so I was using it as a guide to how much money to prepare. I am also going to Wuhan, Chengdu, Xi’an, Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou and Hangzhou. So if I plan to have enough money for the same in each city I should actually have more than I need.
I have been learning to speak Chinese for a while, so I think that will also help to keep the costs down a little bit. I know with markets you are able to haggle but does this also apply to buying food from street vendors?.. From all the videos I have seen people don’t normally haggle over the price of food (except in market for grocery shopping when buying in bulk like fruit and meats).
Thank you once again for this reply. May be I will see you in Shanghai this year when I am there! :-)
@light487 (Luke), you are generally right about the statement of Shanghai is one of the most expensive cities in China, or even world. However, there are always cheap stuff. The really high cost of cars, and real estate pulled all the numbers up, not food.
In my calculation, I obviously put most of the money (200 out of 265) to tickets. If you don’t pay ticket, or very little, 65 RMB is good enough, although I didn’t count a Starbucks coffee (22 to 38 RMB), or a cup of beer (some foreign friends that there are beer discrimination here, because they are always sold of super expensive beer – i know why. It is because the places they hang over).
Order your beer at the local restaurant that you’re having your lunch/dinner. It will cost you around RMB12-15 for a Budweiser or Heineken. If you buy the beer in grocery stores, you just need to pay RMB6-8.
If you have a Shanghai map indicating places of interest, you can start planning taking the bus using this bus route link http://msittig.wubi.org/bus/
Enjoy your trip.
Hi Jian Shuo,
Happy New Year. Gong xi fa cai! I haven’t been visiting your web site for a while. How have you been?
Hey, regarding Ajisen Ramen, my Shanghainese friend told me that all the Ajisen Ramen restaurants in China have a reputation for not cleaning their bowls, chopsticks, spoons etc properly. So I’m quite surprised that you actually like going there. Hmm, or have I been given the wrong information? Hmm…
@ling, the problem is, who does clean everything properly in China? Give me a list?
Guess your friend giving you a wrong idea. You’re just paying RMB20++ for that bowl of noodle, please don’t expect to get a personal attention like in a 5 stars restaurant.
Your friend meaning “not cleaning properly” is just merely they didn’t serve you a dry plates. However, you won’t see any left over by the previous patrons.
Ni hao, Jian Shuo, do you have a post about your 4 hr walk through Shanghai? That sounds very interesting.
Coming from the US, it is surprising that Shanghai is not really physically that big. But the travel time is still the same. Meaning, in a US city it usually takes 30 minutes to go somewhere, and the same in Shanghai. But in the US that’s 25 km, in Shanghai only 10 km.
We normally don’t recommend our guest using buses when traveling in shanghai, that is even complicated and difficult for Chinese travelers. Our sequence is 1: subway, 2: on foot, 3: taxi. Subway now is very convenient for most of the sightseeing place in SH. Greg is right. SH is not that physically big, especially for the downtown area. Cheers!
I would not haggle for food from the street vendors! It’s very cheap anyway, and I’ve never seen anyone haggle for that…
And the taxi is so inexpensive compared to, say, Canada, we got used to taking it all the time… There are so many, and it’s so much faster and more comfortable than the bus (the metro is very good too, if it takes you where you want to go – many new lines now!). However, you need to be able to say where you’re going. Having leaned Chinese will definitely help with that! :)
Have a fantastic trip!
Hi Jian Shuo,
We’re going to watch a concert in Shanghai at Hongkou Soccer Standium on Oct 2. We booked our flight to Shanghai from Oct 1 – 6. We will arrive 11:45 PM at Shanghai Airport. We are planning to stay at a hostel near the airport for our first 2 nights and leave for Beijing on Oct 3 at 4 am. Below is our temporary itinerary for this trip:
– Oct 1 – 2 Concert
– Oct 3 at 4 am leave for Beijing
– Oct 3 – 4 – explore Beijing
– Oct 4 – 6 – Back to explore Shanghai
Our budget for this trip would be $250 USD for food and travel fares and sightseeing costs. This already includes our trip to Beijing. Is it possible for us to survive visiting the two cities with the amount that we’ve prepared? Base on your post last Feb 4 about the daily cost of a tourist in Shanghai it would be possible; however, we do not have any information with regards to the possible expenses for Beijing.
We only want to visit Great Wall, Bird’s Nest, Forbidden City and Water Cube during our stay in Beijing.
Please help us plan our trip and if possible can you also quote a daily budget for us? This is our first time to travel outside the country.
Thank you in advance. Your response is highly appreciated.
@Izce, thanks for your comment, but I cannot help anyone to plan the trip individually – I am not a tourist agent or tour guide.
Its very hard for you to say what it costs to be a tourist as you would not do tourist activities each day. Shanghai is just as expensive as NYC. If you plan to do more than walk around and stay in your hotel. I would strongly advise against eating from street vendors especially noodles or anything using local water. You will find its very easy to get sick as a visitor if you are not careful.
Unless you miss McDonalds avoid it. There are great places like Malones that have great character if you miss the homeland. malones has a present lunch for just $7. Decent local restaurants will run $8 to $10 for lunch and more at dinner. Shanghai offers an international array of food. Prices are very similiar to the United States. Expect to spend $100 USD per day just to eat and sight see. If you want to actually enjoy the city some days will be more. A dinner at Xiantiandi can run $50 per person and even more at the Bund. If you plan to go out at night and enjoy the night life drinks are not cheap $7 to $10 or even a beer is $5.
Shanghai is an International City. I have visited many times and have easily spent $300 per day. Lunch, dinner, sightseeing, a night out it goes fast. It depends what you want to do. Of course it cheaper for one person. However there is no point to go out at night in shanghai and not make some friends. As a foreigner it is considered proper to buy a round or pay for a lady friend.
The best experiences I have had in Shanghai is out at night where I have met people from all over the world and all over China. By and large people are very friendly and many times will invite you to join them. It takes alot of effort to get to China save extra money and truly enjoy the experience.
A visit to Yuyuan gardens the dumpling restaurants there are a must and under $10 per person. Entry to the famous gardens itself is about $5. Avoid the souvenir vendors its very overpriced.
Go to the bund at night. At three on the Bund go to New Heights Restaurant (7th floor). They have an outdoor bar which has a spectacular view of Pudong. Photos do not do justice. For a glass of soda and a snack about $10 you can enjoy the view as long as you want.
Take a walk down Nanjin road to the Peace Hotel the neons lights are an experience in themselves. It is hard not to grab the various souvenir or great deal from astreet vendor or the gift market. My rule of thumb if its not less than you would pay at Wal Mart dont buy it. Normally items are marked up 300% or more.
You must go to the TV Tower especially when the weather is clear. It now 100($15)rmb to go to the second level. The first level you can go outside. Anything you buy inside will be premium priced.
Invest in a decent camera especially with video. Photos dont always capture the feel of the city.
I would invest in a tour to Hangzhou as well. Its about ninety minutes from Shanghai but it has great history the tour will cost $50 per person or perhaps more but lunch and tour guide come with it. Hotels offer these services.
There are plenty of minimarkets around. If you need snacks etc. The prices are marked and they will ring it up on the register. This will save you alot of cash vs buying a cokes etc at the hotel. It will also provide a good idea on what basic things cost.
For a real local flavor you need a Chinese friend. Most places dont have english speaking staff. Lonely Planet is great but its out dated as soon as its published. Shanghai changes very fast. Shanghai has seen inflation so prices are big city prices. The exchange rate is 6.83 to the dollar from 8.1 so weaker dollar does not help.
Again be very careful what you eat and make sure water is boiled first. Even brushing your teeth make sure you have bottled water. Bring plenty of imodium just in case. Be very careful although Shanghai is one of the safest big cities on Earth pickpocketing is rampant keep your wallet in front pockets. Lock your valuables in the hotel safe. You dont need to carry your passport. Never follow a stranger anywhere. Sounds like common sense but somehow in exotic places we lose prespective. In China strangers are not sinister they are often lovely girls who want to chat. Or street sellers with a special deal. Shanghai has its temptations. They are very good at separating foreigners from their money. Its ok to say no. Learn the words Bu Yao (I dont want it!) .
I am happy to answer any questions feel free to write me at Nickde2166@gmail.com. I am a frequent visitor to Shanghai as a foreigner and there is no place like Shanghai on Earth. Places like ShenZhen are cheaper but its not Shanghai.
About eating on the street: Go to places that are crowded, where lots of people are buying a meal. Rule of thumb is that if you can see it being cooked–fried, steamed, boiled–then it is safe. Splurge if you must on a Starbucks or Costa coffee, but you can buy good instant (it is somehow better tasting than in the US) coffee in a supermarket and make it in your hotel room. I also like the breakfast buns sold in local convenience stores–purple ones especially. And then there are instant noodles, but lot of them are REALLY spicy so watch out. Nick is right about the boiled water, and I do use it or bottled water for teeth brushing, but for me eating on the street is not problem–just stick with the crowds.
Other than that, Nick’s advice seems pretty good. Do not bother with the TV tower UNLESS the weather is clear (rarely). Check out the public parks in the mornings, evenings and especially weekends.
Don’t bother haggling over food, but if you are buying on the street you can always ask for something else to be thrown in (an extra roll of a different kind than what you are buying, an apple in addition to the bag of oranges you pay for, for example) and you’ll usually get it.
If you know some Chinese, you can try the buses, tell them your destination when you get on and everyone on the bus will make sure you get off at the right stop. It is really delightful.
Zjemi reminded me next to the TV Tower Shanghai has a great Aquarium I believe its 120 RMB to get in but its worth it. Check out the museum as well in the People’s Square. I am more paranoid about street vendors as I have gotten sick twice. Anything you can see cooked should be ok.
What is the life in Foshan. I am planning to take a job and move my family as well from India.
My kid is in the 7th grade (middel school by age in china) and wish to know which school he can adapt.
Are thre any indians in the city. I have been told some 300 live there. Not sure.
i am an architect, coming to enjoy the wonders of Shanghai, see the Expo. and maybe go outside of Shanghai for two days. (my visit is Oct. 18-27).
i see that you are very knowledgeable and I wonder if you have any suggestions:
1. are there ways to avoid the horrendous waiting lines at the Expo pavilions (even with some form of pay. I heard that there are tours that take you for some pay…).
2. where would you recommend to travel outside of Shanghai for 3 days max?
3. would you recommend for a tourist to drive (with a local) outside of Shanghai. Roads, traffic, danger…I heard that tourists can not drive a rented car without a local drivers license…
btw your answers to other q. are very good
I am moving to Shanghai from NYC to work as an architect and I am looking for any advice on finding an apartment. My office is located in the French Concession on Huaihaui Rd. I would like to be close to the office, some where on the Metro 1 line, but am looking to spend about 5000-6500 RMB/month for housing. I looked at your post on renting an apartment in Shanghai am interested in finding a service apartment or community, I would only need one bedroom. Do you know of any websites or places to look?
never go shanghai
theere life fucking bad .this is my life story.nothing you find easy .even you book ticket by on line so much truble
and food oh my god shit