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  • Writer's pictureTeach ESL China

China Startup Costs - How much money will you need

One of the hardest parts of making the first leap abroad is anticipating costs. While it’s always best to expect some financial pitfalls to occur while getting situated in a new country, we’d like to do our best to raise awareness of a lot of the basic startup and everyday costs are in making a move to China. Before we get started, it’s important to note that all of our partners generally have some form of startup assistance or will give advances to teachers who are struggling to make ends meet—If you are starting out with a less than optimal budget, you are not alone, and you can definitely find ways to defer costs until checks start rolling in as well. We will try to touch on possible short term solutions to some of these costs as we touch on them.


This is easily the number one issue facing teachers upon arrival for those who have elected to receive a housing allowance. For one, a teacher will generally have to put two months down on their deposit, pay a half month’s rent towards the real estate agent’s fee, and then pay the first month’s rent. This varies wildly, but if an apartment costs 3,000 RMB, a teacher would be paying 10,500 RMB for their first month of housing. Now, the housing deposit will be returned eventually, and the teacher’s stipend will eventually cover the monthly payments, so it’s really just the agency fee that is a true cost to the teacher. However, it’s clearly an opening expense that needs to be accounted for.

Possible Solutions: Most of the major companies in China will offer some kind of advance or deposit assistance if they are asked. Other housing options could also be better, especially for a first year. For example, some companies offer free shared housing, and a roommate could be a wonderful friend and asset for someone new to a foreign country. Roommates can also be easily found before arriving, and then the deposit can be split, and housing allowances tend to go further for two or three bedroom apartments shared among roommates. This can be a wonderful way to save additional money from the teacher’s housing stipend.


Typically, ISPs in China ask for the year’s service upfront. Cheap plans are definitely available at lower speeds. Deals can row as low as 600 RMB, but this is definitely not optimal. The best plans usually cost around 2000 RMB.

Possible solutions: While this may be considered a “startup cost,” almost every restaurant and business in China has WIFI, and most schools also have WIFI or internet connected desktops available to teachers. There are also some really fast 4G options on phones that are billed monthly, so there are ways to hold out for a high end plan until the first check comes in.


As mentioned above, you can find phone plans on the higher end at 400-500 RMB for near unlimited data, though most people can get by on pre-pay plans for 100RMB or less per month if they use office WIFI. If a teacher has an unlocked/jail broken phone, they can simply bring it to China and swap their SIM card. If not, there are plenty of decent phones for sale in every city in China with tons of cheap options from national brands like Huawei and Oppo.


Most people can live within 2000 RMB for food and basic utilities if they eat some meals at school and home and go light on alcoholic beverages. This can be dropped even lower if teachers opt to mainly eat at cheaper Chinese restaurants or do a college ramen diet.


This can vary a lot, but if one uses mainly public transportation like buses or subways, they will usually spend around 200 RMB on travel expenses for a month. Obviously, taxis can raise this amount significantly, but the average ride within one’s district is usually around 30 RMB. Going to another district or on a longer ride may cost between 50-60 RMB. Going all the way across town by taxi would cost 120 RMB. Most of the tier 1 cities also have excellent bike sharing apps that cost 1 RMB an hour for bike rentals—an excellent time saver if one lives 20+ minutes away from the subway.

Visa costs:

It’s important to check with whichever company or agency that one has signed through to determine which costs he/she will be responsible for. Usually the visa itself is a cost the teacher will have to prepare for, and the amount will depend on nationality. Only some companies reimburse the local medical check and residence permit fees, but it’s a question well worth asking.

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