Anyone who has ever thought about moving abroad has at some point wondered, “How much will I have to pay for XYZ?” While a Google search of living costs or the advice of someone who has lived there can be incredibly helpful, you don’t really know how things will turn out until you actually live in a place.
When I first moved to Shanghai, I was fresh out of college and extremely budget-conscious. This, combined with the fact that I was excited to soak in everything *~China~*, meant that I spent a significant percentage of my income on Chinese classes, and went without luxuries such as a gym membership. However, as I’ve lived here longer, I’ve relaxed a bit and allow myself to indulge in luxuries that are more expensive, but worth the happiness they bring me — i.e. workout classes, and the occasional indulgent brunch.
Even now that I’ve lived in Shanghai for over three years and have become more accustomed to the prices, I am still thrown off on occasion. Some nights I marvel at the juxtaposition of eating my fill at a hole-in-the-wall dumpling place for less than $5, and then spending almost $20 on one cocktail. I was curious to learn what costs surprised other expats living in Shanghai, so I decided to ask around. See their answers below!
1. “Rent, rent, rent, did I mention rent? Having lived in NYC before, I was shocked that prices for shared apartments in Shanghai were very comparable in price to that of one of the most expensive cities in the world. Interestingly enough, Chinese herbal medicines are many times more expensive in China than in Chinatowns abroad. When sold in China, they are often packaged with the delicacy of fine jewelry and then sold at that price.” – 26, USA
2. “I was really surprised by how inexpensive public transportation is. To get to my office, I can take the metro, the bus, the tram, or Mobike, (a bike sharing network). Even better, every single one of these options costs less than $1 USD. It’s wonderful to have so many choices and much more sustainable as well.” – 25, USA
3. “I am always amazed by the amount I need to spend in order to live a healthy life in Shanghai. Yoga classes and boot camp classes are generally priced at around ~$30 per class, which adds up after a few months! Eating healthy can also be tricky too in terms of the balance of convenience and price. It’s tough to find high quality healthy meal places around my workplace, so I end up overspending at places that deliver or at places where I can pre-order. I end up spending at least ~$10 USD per meal, which isn’t cheap…” – 28, Japan
4. “I often take for granted how delicious and cheap local foods are here, and I will for sure miss this the most when I leave. Authentic hand pulled noodles for less than $3? In the US, you wouldn’t even be able to find this type of dish outside NYC Chinatown, much less for such low prices. In fact, any ‘local’ Chinese food brought over to the US is turned into the next trendy concept, and marked up at exorbitant prices. For example, my breakfast obsession — the jianbing — a longtime morning staple that costs me less than $1 in Shanghai, sells for $8-15 in New York City. Crazy.” – 28, USA
5. “Someone has overstated the necessity of certain items in Shanghai. Every 50 meters there is an identical general store selling replica dustpans for $1.50 and power boards for $4. Yet finding something I use everyday, like deodorant, is a real mission and will cost at least $15. Moreover, coffee is the item that troubles me the most. Understandably, it is fairly new to China with most demand coming from the expat community, but $5 for a small coffee with a high variation in quality is hard to swallow.” – 28, Australia
6. “Good milk and cheese is expensive in Shanghai. In addition, expect to pay more than you do in the U.S. for salads, with a protein topped leafy dish going for up to $18 at standard dine-in restaurants. Meat prices carry nominal differences, though some Western staples like non-processed deli meats and white meat chicken are hard to find. Find solace with the fresh and cheap veggies and fruits that stand to benefit further from a surge in Chinese organic farming and farm to table concepts. Last but not least, China recently lifted its embargo on US beef products, so you meat lovers out there will be in for excellently priced burgers here soon.” – 25, USA
7. “Coming to Shanghai, I’d heard about certain prices but I was never warned that my future city would lack affordable seafood! Going from The Bahamas to Shanghai brought new challenges for my palette. Though there are a few places to indulge my cravings, it would be better if it was as easy as picking up an orange from the local market than the feeling of a night out on a baller’s budget.” – 31, The Bahamas
8. “Most foreign or imported goods do cost significantly more than they would back home, but what I like most about Shanghai is how affordable fresh vegetables are. Whenever I go to the local market by my home, I walk out of there with a huge bag of at least 8 different kinds of veggies all for about ~$10.” – 26, USA
To learn more about the cost of life in Shanghai, read Astrid’s article “Living Abroad Without Going Broke: Shanghai.”
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