This post was last updated on April 10th, 2020 at 10:49 am
China is not the first country you think of when you want to go on holiday to Asia. Yet it is one of the most versatile and beautiful countries in Asia. But what exactly does traveling in China cost? One thing is certain; your budget for China will be somewhat higher than for other countries in Southeast Asia. We have kept track of our costs and are happy to share our tips for a China budget.
Budget for China
You can make a stay in China as expensive or as cheap as you want. Low-budget backpackers will spend much less than other travelers. One settles for sleeping in a dorm while the other wants to sleep in a luxury hotel.
TIP – Expect your budget for China to be at least US$30 to $35 per person per day.
It can be cheaper if you do everything by public transport or only sleep in dorms or hostels, but it can certainly also be more expensive if you spend the night in hotels or travel with your own transport. China is a bit more expensive than other countries in Asia, so with $20 a day you probably won’t get very far.
What Did We Spend?
During our trip through China, we spent around US$40 per person per day (excluding the flight to China). We are not low-budget backpackers, but also no luxury travelers. We always sleep in double rooms in hostels or budget hotels.
What Does it Cost to Travel in China?
That is different for everyone. Backpackers can live for US$20 a day, but will always sleep in dorms and undertake few paid activities while other travelers easily spend US$50 a day and do whatever they want to do. To give you an impression, we have listed a number of costs to keep in mind.
Cost for Accommodations
Accommodations will have the largest impact on your China budget. Prices for accommodations start around US$5 per night for a dorm in many of the smaller cities. In larger cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, you pay a bit more for the same kind of room. For a private room, you quickly lose US$20 per night.
The advantage of staying the night in China is that accommodations are available in large numbers. The larger cities, in particular, are full of all kinds of options where you can spend the night. We have made an overview of our accommodation costs. All costs are for double rooms in hostels.
- Shanghai ➜ US$19
- Beijing ➜ US$25
- Yangshuo ➜ US$14
- Dorm in the same hostel ➜ US$5
- Lijiang ➜ US$13
Cost per day
On average we paid around US$18 per night. If you can (or want to) share those costs, you end up with US$8 to $9 per person per night. If you sleep in dorms you can count on roughly the same. It can be more expensive if you want to spend the night in hotels. In hotels you quickly spend up to US$30 per night.
Cost for Food and Drinks
Eating in China is cheap. In any case, the food will not make a big hole in your budget for China. A meal from a street vendor costs less than US$2. This meal can include noodles, rice, pork sandwiches or soup. A full meal in a restaurant costs between US$5 and $15.
In the west, southwest and inland the food is much cheaper than in the big cities. Here you can score food all day for half the price. For Western food, you pay much higher prices and often the quality is disappointing.
An example of our food costs:
- Breakfast in a hostel (scrambled egg) ➜ US$1
- Breakfast in breakfast tent ➜ US$3
- Noodles, a sandwich, and coffee ➜ US$9
- Dim Sum for 2 people plus drinks ➜ US$16
- Chinese dinner in hostel ➜ US$4
- Snacks (street food) ➜ US$2
Cost for drinks;
- Bottle of water (0.50 liters) ➜ US$0.40
- Coffee ➜ US$1
- Beer ➜ US$1
- Fruit shake ➜ US$3
Cost per day
Assuming that you do not cook your own food (that saves a lot), but eat outside the door for breakfast, lunch and dinner you have to count on a minimum of US$10 per day. We spent an average of US$15 per person per day on food and drinks, but we love Asian food! So it could be a little cheaper.
China is a big country, but it is easy and cheap to get from A to B. Buses are the most popular way to travel and in the city, they cost less than US$1 per ride. Large cities also have an extensive metro system that will take you to your destination for less than US$1 per ride.
A ticket for the high-speed train from Beijing to Shanghai costs around US$70 for 2nd class, US$120 for 1st class and around US$230 for a VIP seat. Keep in mind that on the night trains, the lower bed is usually cheaper because you are closer to the noise.
That is a lot more expensive than traveling in Thailand, but keep in mind that train journeys can easily take up to 20 hours.
Buses are generally cheaper than the train. For example, the 2-hour journey from Beijing to Tianjin costs between US$4 and $6, while the high-speed train costs around US$10. The journey from Shanghai to Hangzhou is 2.5 hours by bus (US$10) and the train costs US$13.
Our transportation costs:
- Bus from Beijing to the Great Wall ➜ US$2
- Night bus from Guilin to Yangshuo ➜ US$3
- Minivan from Xi’an to the Terracotta Army ➜ US$1
- Lijiang to Yunnan ➜ US$25
- Lijiang to Vientiane (Laos) ➜ US$75
- Beijing metro ➜ US$1
- Tram to The Peak (Hong Kong) ➜ US$11
Cost per day
The cost of transport is difficult to include in your budget for China because everyone travels differently. You are not on the train or bus every day. If we look at the average amount that we spent on transportation in China, we come to about $10 per person per day.
Cost for Activities
Activities and tours are endless in China. Anything you can imagine is probably possible here. Cycling, hiking, diving, climbing mountains, viewing ancient temples, booking city tours, cycling on city walls… it’s all possible here!
These costs are also different per person since not everyone will undertake (paid) activities or tours. We have done a number of them. An example of costs for activities and entrance fees;
- Forbidden City entrance fee ➜ US$6 to $8
- Summer Palace entrance fee ➜ US$5
- Terracotta Army entrance ➜ US$22
- Cruise on Li River ➜ US$65
- Tour to the Great Wall of China ➜ from US$135
- Entrance fee for the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Lijiang) ➜ US$16
Cost per day
The costs for activities are difficult to determine. Not everyone will do paid tours and one does more than the other. The fact is that activities have an impact on your China budget as they are quite expensive, especially if you compare the price with countries such as the Philippines or Laos. On average we came to around US$9 per person per day for activities.
The currency in China is the Chinese Yuan. If you take the cash you can get notes of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 Yuan. Remember that in Hong Kong they use the Hong Kong Dollar and not the Chinese Yuan. In China, you can exchange dollars or other currencies for the Chinese Yuan.
The days that China was extremely cheap are a bit over. The country is more expensive than countries such as Thailand or Vietnam in many areas. Still, you can still travel fairly cheaply in China if you search well. Transport is certainly quite cheap if you look at the distances you cover.