Living Cost in Shanghai (2009 Edition)

I have published a series of articles on Living Cost of Shanghai (2002 Edition, and 2007 Edition). Let me continue to update this pure unofficial one-man effort index of the living cost of this city. It is not only a annual update, it is in the new background of global financial crisis, and I try to analyze its impact to living cost in Shanghai.

Please note: 1 USD = 6.80 RMB as this article is written. (It was 7.75 on January 22, 2007)

What is Not Changed

Since more of the information included in my Living Cost 2007 Edition didn’t change too much, please refer to the original article for most of the items. I will only update the changed items.


On Transportation, the Living Cost 2007 Edition is still up to date: 2 RMB for most buses, 3-6 RMB for metro ride (3 is most possible), 2.1 RMB/km starting from 11 RMB (including 3 km), and 2 RMB single way ferry…

You may also check out the Daily Cost of a Tourist article for tourist specific transportation cost.



A can of Coke now is 1.60 RMB, higher than 2007. For example, this online store sells 24 cans 355ml at 38.6 RMB. Most restaurants charges premium for serving coke – 5 RMB to 8 RMB is normal price.


Let me also give you example. A can of Tsingtao Beer (355ml) costs 3.8 RMB


Most of the items in my 2007 Edition is still valid today. The price range is from 10 RMB to 100 RMB per person.

There is something new today. There are more and more fast food chain appearing on the streets. Just like KFC, McDonald’s, they offer standard food, nice location, clean environment, but much more expensive than local noodle shop. Their food is at 20-30 RMB range.

House Rental

There is a big change since the 2007 Edition. You can safely add 50% to all the numbers I gave in that report.

The premium housing price has been up to something like 15,000 – 45,000 RMB per month (for nice places in Xujiahui area for a family).

The normal price also raises to 3000-5000 RMB.

Room sharing ranges from 800-1500 RMB in good areas. (Check Room Sharing to get a sense of room sharing. Disclaimer: I am the CEO of


Most of the other items are not changed since 2007 too much (where are the increase of CPI, Consumer Price Index?)

Child Care in Shanghai

I tend to use the title of Child Care in China, but at second thoughts, the varity of how people handle their childcare differs so greatly from city to city, from city to villages, and from north to south. I would rather only talk about Shanghai.

Family Structure in China

With the implementation of One Child Policy, most of the families in China is three person family: wife, husband, and child. If you include the extended family, there are parents for both of the couple, which is 7 in total.

The other fact is, women in China works. Although cited as a key indicator of equal opportunity employment and equality between male and female, that is also the economy choice since very few household can hand it with only one person working.

The public holiday for mom is 4 months after the child is born. That means, when the child is 4 month old, the month has to go back to work. It is still a stage the child needs breeding. It is possible to extend the vacation to 12 months, but the mother risks her job – the first 4 months are popular, but not many people extend their vacation.


In China, the tradition is big family, and the child care responsibility easily and naturally fall to the grandparents when the parents need to go to work, while most grandparents already retire. It is both emotional needs that the child is brought up by the grandparents; it is also the most economical method. I would argue that the society needs to take more responsibility on this so the grandparents can have more freedom in doing things they really like (taking care of child is interesting, and rewarding, but there are still pretty hard work involved).

For parents who live far away from their parents, or the health condition of grandparents do not permit them to take care of the child, there are not many choices left.

Nanny Services

Most family with just husband and wife, the little child needs someone to take care of.

The standard rate for Nanny (or Ayi) in Shanghai in normal times is 10 RMB (or 1.5 USD) per hour (it was 7 RMB before when I wrote this blog entry: Life in a Low Cost Labor World). That means, if you hire a nanny to help to take care of our child, you pay 80 RMB or 1600 RMB for the month. Typically, the rate is lower if you hire someone full time on monthly basis, instead of by hour.

If you hire a full time nanny to take of the child, it cost a little bit more – around 2000 RMB (250 USD) per month. We used this option. The nanny stay at your home and take care of the child 24 hours day. You can choose to ask the child to sleep with the nanny, or with us (Now Yifan sleeps with us).

Although the rate is not significant higher than by hour or day-time child care, the nannies can save a lot on housing and meal which may be paid by themselves otherwise. Typically the 2000 RMB or something can 100% go into their saving account, that they can bring or mail back home at Spring Festival…

Other Options

For mothers to stay at home is another option, but very few of my friends take this option (actually none for native, and two for people who return from US). It is an economic decision since raising a child is pretty expensive, and most people don’t have enough cash to support it when there is only one person working.

The other option is to send the child to child care center. But most of the centers accept 2 years old or above.

I even heard of complain of some of my friends who arrive in Shanghai just like Wendy and I did, and have a child without any help, and they don’t have the money to hire a nanny, and of cause, cannot support one person staying at home. Their choice was to leave Shanghai and getting back to where they originally from.

Another friend of mine sent their child back to their hometown, and their parents take care of the child. This is also popular.


Anyway, having a baby is a big responsibility for the parents, and there is no easy way to handle it. Thanks to the relatively lower cost of child care in China, we can still hire a very good nanny to take care of Yifan.

P.S. The topic is inspired by Carroll’s suggestion about it. Thanks Carroll for bring the good topic.

Paying Bills with SHFFT.COM

This month, I started to handle the bills – Wendy shifted her duty about this apart to me – after doing it for 8 years for us.

Paying bills is easy in Shanghai. Thanks for Shanghai FFT.

It was established in 2003 as a government project. Now they have several banks and public service companies connected with the system.

You can pay

  • Mobile Phone Bill
  • Electricity Bill
  • Gas Bill
  • Water Bill

They have other features like online train, movie, performance tickets, but it is not new or unique. The ability to pay household bill online is a feature that makes the service different from any other B2C sites.

They even have English version. Look for the English version link on the top-right corner.

The Company

The investor of the company includes many big names like: Shanghai Information Investment Company, Shanghai Telecom, PayUnion, Shanghai Water Company, Shanghai Post… You can see – a company with strong government background.

Hope you enjoy paying with FFT.

Grocery Cost in Shanghai, 2007

What is the grocery cost in Shanghai? This is the FAQ people have before moving to Shanghai. Let me show you some details, and I know some of you may love it.

I went to supermarket today – the Hymall (The one on Jinxiu Road, and Chengshan Road, 锦绣路成山路乐购) to purchase some grocery for the next week – it is sunny. The wind is mild and cool, and the sunshine is hot. Prefect weather to visit Shanghai, or go out for a walk. I get everything I need, then I took picture of each of them, and list the price along with it. Hope you get some idea about the living cost in Shanghai.

Please note: supermarket is fine tuned for convinience, not neccessary for price, or quality. If you want more fresh vegetables, and fruits, many some local market is better, such as the Beicai Market nearby. (Some one asked me how to visit this market via email. I laughed. It is nothing similiar with Xiangyang Market. It is just one of thousands of local markets in Shanghai.)

Cucumber: 12.00 RMB/kg

In this picture: 0.500 kg => 6.00 RMB

Tomato: 12.00 RMB/kg

In this picture: 0.435 kg => 5.22 RMB

White Gourd: 2.00 RMB/kg

In this picture: 0.650 kg => 1.56 RMB

Chicken Wings: 24.50 RMB/kg

In this picture: 0.390 kg => 9.56 RMB

Pork: 19.80 RMB/kg

In this picture: 0.165 kg => 3.27 RMB

Vegetable: 2.80 RMB

I don’t know the name of this vegetable. They don’t list the unit price or weight. In this picture, it is 2.80 RMB.

Pork: 29.00 RMB/kg

In this picture: 0.204 kg => 5.92 RMB

Green Pepper: 3.00 RMB/kg

In this picture: 0.210 kg => 1.89 RMB

Pumpkin: 12.00 RMB/kg

In this picture: 0.480 kg => 5.76 RMB

Mushroom: 15.80 RMB/kg

In this picture: 0.210 kg => 3.32 RMB

Stawberry: 3.98 RMB/box

In this picture: 3.98 RMB

Red Pepper: 10.00 RMB/kg

In this picture: 0.130 kg => 1.30 RMB

Daily Life in Shanghai

To go to a grocery store in sunny Sunday brought me much happiness. And to post it on the blog to help people to have some ideas (maybe not precise concept, just ideas) of how expensive it is to live in Shanghai makes me even happier.

Please note: this is just my personal experience of one single shopping, and in one supermarket at this specific time. The price may change (sometimes dramatically) over time, or from location to location. Quality of the grocery is also a factor to consider.

Happy living!

Living Cost in Shanghai – Service Fee

The third article to answer SSC’s question:

What about service fees, like cleaning, electricity installation, etc.?

If you want to live in a low cost life, and a local life, chances are, you don’t need any service. You clean the house by yourself, and install electric applicants by yourself, and change bubble by yourself.

If you do need service, check it here.


I once wrote an article named Life in a low cost labor world.

It described how to hire someone to work at home. Later, to further clarify the reason I encourage people to hire instead of do by himself, I wrote Helping by Hiring. Hope you read two articles together.

In Shanghai, the general practice is to hire an Ayi (which literally means Aunt in Chinese), or nanny to help you on cooking, cleaning, baby sitting, or other household works.

Price for work per hour is typically 7 RMB. Some areas, like Xujiahui charges 10 RMB. There is a significant difference in hourly pay between Shanghai Ayi, and other places Ayi. Shanghai Ayi asks for 12 RMB per hour in places where others asks for 7. I believe this is clearly discrimination, but to describe the fact, let me just put it as it is.


There are not too much installation service, since the market is not big enough. I don’t know the price, but you can refer to the average 10 RMB per hour price, and double it (because it requires some technique).


To have you hair cut, it is typically 20 RMB in many chain beauty salons, like Young, or Wenfeng… If you buy their pre-deposited card, it is 10 RMB per hair cut, pretty amazing, since they also have hair wash, shoulder massage (like 20 minutes?) service.

Foot Massage

I hesitate a little bit whether I should include this service as “living cost” in Shanghai, because it is really an add-on instead of necessary services. Anyway, just give you some sense about the world where labor cost is not as costly as industrial product.

Typical foot massage costs 50-60 RMB for one hour. Cheap street shop is as low as 20 – 30 RMB per hour, and better one is 100 RMB.

I met many friends in California who have been to Shanghai. To my surprise, their favorite was food massage (and Xiaolongbao). Some added Xiangyang Road.

Living Cost in Shanghai – Driving

Continue to answer SSC’s list of question:

– What about driving costs, like registration, oil, parking, tolls, fines, etc.?

I have a car category in my blog. You can see many article related to having a car.

There are several part of cost related to a car.

Buying a Car Itself

Not surprisingly, buying a car costs a lot. Cars in China is more expensive than in U.S.

Cars under 100,000 RMB are classified as cheap cars, like FIAT, Buick SAIL, VW Polo, VW Gol, Golf…

Cars between 100,000 – 200,000 RMB are referred to as middle-class cars, like Honda Fit Salon, Toyota, Volkswagen Bora, Satana…

Above 200,000 RMB are expensive cars, like Volkswagen PASSAT, Audi, BMW, Benz…

Of cause if you count the luxurious cars, there is no limitation.

Registration Fee

This is the license fee. In Shanghai, license fee is very expensive. Since its price is settled in a bidding process, it varies from 20,000 RMB to recent 40,000 RMB.

People workaround this buy getting licenses outside Shanghai.

Annual Fee

Every year, you need to pay the annual fee, and the so-called “Road Maintenance Fee”. It is around 1400 RMB (again, I have no idea about the real price.


It is 4.90 RMB per liter today. Two year ago, it was 3.2 RMB per litter.


In Shanghai, most of places (90% places I go) charges 10 RMB per hour for parking. Underground parking is more likely to charge according this price.

Some places charges lower, like 5 RMB, or 20 RMB per day, 50 RMB per day, depending on how many customer they have.


Typical fine is 200 RMB, for example, if you park at the wrong place.

Car Insurance

Depending on how expensive is you car, you need to pay for the insurance. It is mandatory. It is like 2000 RMB for a car of 100,000 RMB per year.

P.S. Correct me on any numbers I gave for sake of readers’ benefit. I am not sensitive to money, and I cannot remember the price clearly.

Living Cost in Shanghai – Medicine

SSC asked more about the living cost. Let me try to answer these “new” questions.

– What about medical expenses, like insurance, hospital visit, drug prices, and even “red packets”?

For medical expenses, it is really hard to give a guideline. It depends on what kind of illness you got. Also, for the insurance, it depends on how much you want to cover… Let me just give some examples, so people have a sense.

A typical hospital visit costs at least 100 RMB. If you just feel not good and want to go to see a doctor, no matter you just feel a little bit fever, or your teeth feel pain, or stomach does not feel good, you need to prepare some money. It works this way:

1. You need to pay the Registry Fee (挂号费). I don’t know how I should translate this into English. It is the fee you have to pay first at the counter to get a ticket. Without the ticket, no doctor will talk with you. Sometimes I just pay the 8 RMB (sometimes 13 RMB) to say hi to a doctor. :-) Just kidding.

2. The Laboratory Test Fee. Recently, doctors in most hotel I go to ask me to do the laboratory test before they give me any suggestion. Blood test and other test is typically 100 – 200 RMB.

3. Medicine Fee. Since recent hospital reform have put the revenue of medicine sell into the hospital’s P&L, and some even connect the doctor’s revenue of sales of medicine with the doctor’s bonus, most doctors are willing to give you more medicine than you actually need. I am often confused about the different types of medicine they gave me. Last time, I got a little bit fever, they give me several boxes of expensive medicines, and many others. I believe although the doctor was hurry to sell more medicine, he still care my health a little bit, so he told me: just eat this (the cheapest one). If you feel good, ignore the rest. If you don’t feel good, then you can try others. It seems he gave me enough backup drug that I even don’t need to take.

Well. For this part, it costs 100 – 200 RMB.

I don’t have any experience to end up within 100 RMB for whatever ill I got in the last three years. Most of the time, if I don’t go to hospital, two tablet of normal fever medicine works great for me.

OK. This is about the medicine and hospital part. As you can see, I am not a professional and I don’t have the ability to tell exactly whether it is the right medicine or not. I just feel I am over charged every time. Medicine is such a special good, that people seldom negotiate with doctors. The root cause is, the sale of medicine now happens in a hospital, instead of in drug store.


Most citizens in Shanghai enjoy basic medical insurance. I didn’t really argue with the doctors because although it was expensive, it came directly from my medical insurance account, and I don’t have to pay.

Employees pays a certain amount of social medical insurance from their salary at certain percent, and the employer pays the other part (majority). If I remember it correctly, employers pay 8% of the monthly salary and employee pays 2% of salary. After that, basic medical care is covered.

Besides social medical insurance, you can also buy commercial medical insurance. This really depends how much you want to cover, and it varies greatly from company to company, from contract to contract, and even varies for different age.

Just an example, I know a major disease medical insurance costs 2000 – 3000 RMB per year…

Red Bag

I don’t know exactly the situation of red bag, since I never encountered any serious health problem that requires a red bag. I heard it is not as popular as before. Many hospital hang big banner to claim they don’t tolerate receiving red bag for their doctors. I don’t know the real situation now.

How Expensive It is?

For most people with a job in Shanghai, it is OK to be sick, since the medical insurance covers most of normal disease. However, if there is serious disease (those may cause death), you have to use commerical insurance to cover.

Many people who don’t have that kind of insurance face serious challenge, and to raise money from family and friends, or people in the same company is typical solution.

For foreigners, or expats in Shanghai, i don’t know exactly that the sitution is. If someone has any experience, please feel free to share.

Living Cost in Shanghai (2007 Edition)

This is the third report on living cost in Shanghai, following the previous two (I, II). The data is updated according my personal experience in Jan 2007. The data is pretty like the city in my eyes. Please be aware, different people may have different impression of the same good (depending on when to buy it and where to buy it). It is intended to give overall guideline to living cost in Shanghai.

Please note: 1 USD = 7.75 RMB as this article is written.


This is easiest one.


most buses is one price for all route: 2 RMB. Some specially and urban buses are higher (4 RMB) and some non-air-conditioned bus are 1 RMB, but pretty rare now.


Lowest price (one stop) is 3 RMB, and the longest stations are 6 RMB. Typically transportation via Metro is 4 RMB.


11 RMB for the first 3 km, and 2.1 RMB for each additional kilometer.


Ferry is not often used, and it costs 2 RMB (with air-condition), and some are cheaper than 1 RMB.



A can of Coco-Cola is 1.2 RMB in super market, but it is at least 5 RMB if you order the same thing in a restaurant.

Purified Water:

A bottle of purified water (500 ml) is around 1.5 RMB.


A bottle of beer (600ml) is typically 4 RMB (for example, Tsingtao Beer). Foreign beers are a little bit more expensive.


Grocery is much cheaper than going to restaurant (it is the same everywhere in the world).

I don’t want to give price of every fruit, or meat. Just give you some idea, 10 RMB raw material for a meal for two persons is good enough (at least for persons like me).

Meal at restaurants varies greatly. Here are some example:

Dumpling in small dumpling shop is 2.2 RMB per 50g (I used the shop of Xiaohui at the gate of Jiaotong University). 4.4 RMB is good enough for really nice dumpling or Xiaolongbao.

Shanghai-style Noodles at street shops is between 3 – 5 RMB (if you visit residential areas), or 10 – 12 RMB in tourism area (like most places visitors go, People’s Square, bund…). The food is the same, and the difference is just the rental price of the venue.

Above are the traditional food shops you find on small streets.

For modern food shops, like those in big shopping malls, a meal cost 20 – 30 RMB.

40 RMB per meal per person is called “average”, and there are some better places with 100 RMB per meal per person. (How much better is “better” varies from person to person).

The next level of restaurants are those with fantastic views, like the top of the Jin mao Tower, the Huangpu River scene restaurants. They typically have minimum fee of 300 RMB per person.

For western food, most decent restaurants (run by expats) charges lower price than San Francisco, or New York, but is still way to expensive. Don’t be surprised if you get a bill of 500 – 700 RMB per person in restaurants in Three on the Bund. (Last time, my friend from San Francisco told me her feeling: it is not cheap, but it definitely worthwhile for the view and environment).

House Rental

Flat sharing (three or more person share the same residential apartment) is typically 500 RMB per person per month. This is the cheapest place I can think of. There are lots of this apartments in my residential area.

For a standalone apartment near Metro, I believe 1000 RMB is the minimum price you need to pay. However, be prepared that it may be the terminal station of Metro #1, or #2, which is very far from city.

1000 – 2000 RMB is the most typical price for an one-living room, one bed room apartment. 2000 – 3000 RMB for two bed room apartment. Be prepared that these apartments are not in downtown, and maybe in an unfamiliar residential area that could not be found in any tourism guide.

If you want to live in downtown – I highly recommend you to do that to fully experience the beauty of Shanghai, be prepared to pay more.

For example, in Xujiahui area, 3000 RMB is the minimum price I can find. It is for an apartment with one bed room and one living room (or only two bed room), like 60 sq. meters. Also, be warned that apartments with this price must be a pretty old one, with smell, and dirt…

All the apartments described above come with kitchen, bathroom.

The next level are much better. It is like 3000 – 8000 RMB. These are not bigger, just nicer – in newly built residential area (built in the last 10 years), and with very nice garden view, and environment.

I also know some expats who spend like 5000 USD to 10000 USD for a historical villa in downtown every month. It is out of the scope of this article.

Water and Electricity

Water is very cheap, compared to the items listed above.

Water is like 100 RMB per 1000 kg. Just to give you some idea, I paid like 30 RMB for water for two persons who take shower almost everyday.

Electricity for a household is typically 200 RMB (for household like me).

All rent prices do not include water, and electricity.

Telephone and Internet

Telephone is 0.12 RMB per minute, and domestic long distance varies depending on your comm. plan. It is less than 1 RMB per minute.

Internet fee (for example, ADSL) is 100 RMB for the whole month. You can buy higher speed with more money.


Here are some items I can think of:

A middle-sized Mocha in Starbucks: 22 RMB

Ice cream: 2 RMB (Haggen-dazz is like 30 RMB)

A typical McDonald meal: 15 RMB (the cheaper package)

Salary: 1400 RMB per month is the city’s average. 3000 RMB is treated fair for university graduates. 10,000 RMB is regarded as high salary for employees.

Anything else that I missed?

You can come to the newly established BBS to discuss more about how to live in Shanghai.

Update September 18, 2007

This is a minor update of this Living Cost in Shanghai (2007 Edition). Since it is September, and especially after the increase of price of many goods (the Consumer Price Index increased by almost 6% in August), the price needs some updates. I have a reader who are so kind to list all things he wants to know, so let me update it according to these items:

Car Fuel:

    I am using 100 RMB per week (30 km on weekday and 10 km on weekend)

Car expenses: Insurance, taxes, ….

    (this is complicated.)

Groceries: We love to cook, we would cook almost everyday at home.

    If you cook at home, the cost should be pretty low compared to dining outside. I have a groceries cost list here. The price is recorded this March, and please add about 10% increase for current situation.

Entertainment (bars, ice cream, cinemas,…)

    Bar is expensive here. Budget 100 RMB for a bottle of beer for one person or 200 RMB for two. If you really want to drink a lot, there is no limitation. Typical movie ticket is 60 RMB. Ice cream is pretty cheap – I mean the normal Icecream, 2 – 4 RMB, but if you love HaggenDaze or Iceason, it is 30 – 40 RMB per person

Internet: Unlimited broadband high speed access

    This is easy: 1400 RMB per year

Water, Electricity, phone line with international calls

    300 RMB for water (for normal use), 300 RMB for electricity, 100 RMB for gas, and phone line monthly now is typically included in the broadband Internet access (the 1400 RMB package), and international call is 4 – 6 RMB per minutes, but you can always find Skype which is almost free to make phone call.

Cell phone plan: average plan

    Budget for 100 RMB for normal use, or 300 RMB for intensive usage

Transportation: Occasional buses, taxis, metros

    Bus is cheap – 2 RMB per ride. Metro is 4-5 RMB per ride, and taxi is more expensive. Common taxi ride is 20 RMB

Health: 2 private insurance plans, everything covered

    3000 RMB is typical insurance plans for one person.

Chinese lessons

    Budget 60-100 RMB per hour for one person. Typical class is like 1000 RMB per person

OK. I am happy I finished all the questions. However, please do remember that it is not easy to answer general questions like this. Everything really depends on how much you use it, how good is your standard of good. So I didn’t bother to check any exact price of anything (for exact price, check my other entries under Living Cost category.) My suggest just give you a range, or impression about how expensive it is. So you understand at least “is it expensive or cheap”, or “is it in 10s range, or 100s range, or 1000s RMB range. Above all, life in Shanghai is an adventure, and you may not be able to plan for everything. People in Shanghai don’t like planning.

Living Cost in Shanghai – Part II

After I posting Living Cost in Shanghai last November, many people asked for more information related to house, tuitions, salary, even the cost of deliver a baby. :-)

I can understand that all such kinds of information are very critical to people who are going to relocate to Shanghai. I am trying my best to provide more….


The latest news (Chinese site), the average house price for Jan to March this year reached 5315 RMB / sq. meter, a 12.18% increase than the last year. The new apartment reaches 6555 RMB /sq. meter in May.

Typical houses in Shanghai are from 100 m2 to 130 m2. These are for normal Chinese people with relatively high income – above 4000 RMB, maybe.

Of cause there are always fantastic large house that is at least 300 sq meters. There are lot of very nice single house near Sheshan. The price is about 9000 RMB per sq meter.

Besides single house in nearby areas outside downtown Shanghai, very high priced houses are also available. The latest “Sheng Da Jin Qing” listed 2000-3000 USD per sq.m with 130 -300 sqm per apartment. It is exactly located in the CBD area in Lujiazui.

BTW, Beijing’s house price is much higher than Shanghai and is still the city with highest house price.


I am monitoring the car cost in Shanghai closely recently, since I am learning to drive.

People will get astonished to learn the car price in Shanghai. It is even higher than that in U.S. and Japan although the income standard of local people is much lower.

The typical cheap cars cost about 100,000 RMB (12,000 USD). They are the entry level cars in Shanghai, like Santana (from joint-venture of Volkswagen in German). It is cheap but too old-fashioned and I don’t think I would consider it.

The new popular car model named Polo (also comes from VW) may be a good choice. It is priced from 127,500 to 148,000 RMB (1USD = 8.3RMB)


Image credit:

BTW, Wendy like the silver car very much. There is one parking downstairs everyday. It is also silver – looks very nice, especially the two big lovely “eyes” in front of the car. The only concern is, the car is very nice for girls and women. Men typically don’t consider it.

Other cars like BORA (160,000RMB+) and Sail are also very cars.


Image credit:

Living Cost in Shanghai

Update If you are looking for Shanghai Weather, please visit Shanghai Weather (TQ) June 24, 2004

Yesterday, I received an email from Raz, discussing about the living cost in Shanghai.

I’m mostly interested in the living costs in Shanghai…what normal salaries are and the rent for a small apartment in the city. Also how mush does it cost to buy stuff…a pc, a bigmac, local food and transport??

/ Raz

Very interesting topic, isn’t it?

It is hard to tell

Shanghai is among the top 10 cities for living cost in the world. Actually, it is the sixth expensive city for expatriates, according to CNN. But during my talk with some expiates in Shanghai, I found they think Shanghai is a heaven. This is partly because the pay for foreigners in Shanghai is much higher than that for local residents while the costs are almost the same.

I’d better start the topic with some prices of daily lives. I will RMB (Renminbi) as currency unless otherwise noted. Please keep in mind that 1 USD = 8.3 RMB.

Normal Salary

According to a goverment report, average worker’s monthly salary is 1492 RMB.

In 2001, Shanghai’s average worker’s salary was RMB17,910, making it number one in the 30 areas of China.

1492 RMB is a magic number and was used for many areas, such as the house fund deduction.

179 USD for one month? This number is astonishing for most people in U.S or Europe. Well, it is true. I told my friends just arriving in Shanghai that people feel happy if they get 400 RMB per month in my home town, they said “Oh, my god!!”.

Don’t get the wrong impression. For undergraduates of computer major, their expectation for starting point salary is about 3000 RMB. Some can get 5000 to 7000 RMB, this will be a very good number. It is very common for employees in foreign companies to earn more than 10,000 RMB per month.

For foreigners, it is another story. The first question when they see a job advertisement is, “Is it local pay or U.S. pay?” This phenomenon is interesting. For local pay, they get RMB and although it is still very high (4000 ~ 12000 RMB? I **guess**), but for U.S. payees, they get a package that is attractive even in U.S. You know the payment level.

Rent for a small house

It depends. Apartments with different size, different area, different decoration style and different environment may vary greatly in price.

I once was living in a rented apartment for 600 RMB per month. It has two bed rooms and one living room – 68 square meters.

Now, I moved into the new apartment I bought. It is rented at price from 3000 – 4000 RMB. For an apartment of 120 sq. meters in Gubei, the area where expatiates gathers, costs about 10,000 RMB per month for rent.

To buy an apartment will cost you a lot. It is more expensive than a house in U.S. Average price is about 5000 RMB per sq. m. in urban areas. The price for some downtown areas will be about 9,000 ~ 10,000 RMB per sq. m.

Other prices

Personal Computer: 3000 RMB can buy a computer that can run. 6000 RMB will get a powerful computer. Seldom can I see a desktop computer more expensive than 10,000 RMB.

Big Mac: 10 RMB. McDonald’s and KFC can be seen everywhere. KFC has opened 60 stores in Shanghai. There are four KFC, 1 McDonald’s, and two PizzaHut within a 500 meter area around the building I am working in. The price is low. 20-30 RMB will get a great meal there.

Local food: About 30 RMB per person will get very good food. There are lots of restaurant in the city. Normal dishes cost about 16 RMB, while some expensive one cost 40-60 RMB.


This is the most easy one since the price is settled and consistent across the city.

Bus: 1 or 1.5 RMB for normal bus and 2 RMB for air-conditioned bus.

Taxi: 10 RMB staring price w/ 3 km and 2 RMB for each kilometer more.

Metro: 2 to 5 RMB depending on the distance. 3 RMB is the most common price.


Movies: about 25-30 RMB

Starbucks: 25 RMB for Cappuccino.

Beer in bars: 30 RMB


Thanks for Uday’s suggestion Here are more examples for the costs.

Medical expenses

Medicine is much lower than in U.S. It is an obvious evidence that medicines are on top of shopping list for most Chinese who returns to China for vacation. Here is some sample:

Berberine (100mg x 24 tablet): 3.3 RMB

Eyedrop (bottle): 5-10 RMB

Tylenol: Around 20 RMB

However, seeing a doctore costs much more. This is not because of the service charge of a doctore is high. On the contary, it is very low – around 8 RMB only. But the doctors tends to write you a prescription with only very high price medicines and much more than you need. This is bad actually, since the income of the doctor heavily depends on the medicine they “sell”.

Thus, typically, it costs about 100-150 RMB for the lightest fever or eye-ache. It cost much more if there is any serious illness. Medical insurance is defintely needed.

Education expenses

Collage tuition: Let’s take one of the most famous university Shanghai Jiaotong Univeristy (Chinese site) as an example. The tuition is 1500 RMB per year in 1995. Now it seems to be 6000 RMB.

After-work study: I mean some classes like guitar, music, Chinese language, driving and other specialty training typically cost about 800 RMB to 4000 RMB per term. A typical term is about 2 weeks (daily class), or two month (weekend class)

Professional training: This type of training means you attend the professional training provide to company like “Communication Skills”, “Sales skills” – it usually costs 1000-2000 RMB per day.

insurance: It really depends on the insurance company and the plan you are using – even the insurance agent need to calculate and give you a number. To give you some idea, I have talked with a life insurance agent and she wants me to pay 1000 RMB per month for 30 years. I forget about coverage since I didn’t buy it at last.

Income tax structure for expats

According to the last regulation (Chinese site)

Monthly income:

<500 5% 500-2000 10% 2000-5000 15% 5,000-20,000 20% 20,000-40,000 25% 40,000-60,000 30% 60,000-80,000 35% 80,000-100,000 40% >100,000 45%


Shanghai’s cost is still very low compared to that in U.S. It is really a heaven for expatiates. Experience it by yourselves.

See also

Update January 30, 2004

In response to Mr. Tan’s question, I added more items to the price list.

Estimate cost for each item below (in US Dollars):

– monthly rent for apartment (fairly new and near town with at least 3 bedrooms)

Wow. That is high above average living standard in Shanghai. So I would say, it should be 5000 RMB (600 USD) or higher for downtown area (inside the Inner Ring Elevated Road. In any area that can be described by any of the following term: decent, graceful, historical, very modern, etc, it should be above 4000 RMB (480 USD) for a apartment of 3 bedrooms. Of cause you can get an apartment of one bed room at around 1500 RMB (180 USD) in downtown or a three bed-room apartment that is far from downtown (but near Metro) at around 2500 RMB (300 USD). Check my articles under Real Estate category for more information on housing.

– monthly international school fees for 2 children (both 8 years old)

The fee varies greatly. Here is the phone list (Chinese page) of international schools in Shanghai. For example, Shanghai Singapore International School offers Singapore – based curriculum and faculty.

– estimate monthly transport for 4 persons

If you take metro only – which is very convenient, it is 4 RMB (0.5 USD) per person and 4 persons make up of 480 RMB (60 USD). If you take taxi, 200 RMB (25 USD)/person should be enough if you live in down town.

– estimate monthly food allowance for 4 persons

I checked with my mom and she said if every day, you cook by yourself and eat at home, 400 RMB (50 USD) should be enough for four people family. If you go to restaurant, 50 RMB (6 USD) per person is the common price for low end restaurant. 100 RMB (12 USD) per person is already very decent(expensive) restaurant.

Again, any estimation varies so greatly depending on your own standard of living.