If you’ve dreamed about walking along the Great Wall, getting lost in backstreets of Beijing or gorging on the world’s best dumplings in Shanghai, chances are you’ve wondered, “How much would a trip to China cost?”
The good news is that travelling in China can be very affordable. The average traveller spends about RMB 2,500 ($360) for a one-week trip, or RMB 9,000 ($1,300) for a month long trip. If you’re a backpacker, a daily budget of RMB 175 ($25) would be enough to see world-famous sights, eat delicious food and sleep in comfortable budget accommodation.
The prices used below are in Chinese Renminbi (RMB) and United States Dollar (USD).
How expensive is China?
While China isn’t the cheapest destination in Asia, it’s A LOT cheaper than its East Asian neighbours. Transport, accommodation and food in China tend to be cheaper than you’d find in Korea and Japan, but still a bit more expensive than Southeast Asia.
Travel costs in China vary dramatically based on which destinations you visit. In Shanghai and Beijing, prices are on par or close to what you’d find in the West. Outside of major cities, costs drop off precipitously. And traveling in rural China can be dirt cheap, although it’s a challenge without Mandarin skills.
When you’re in a city, there’s usually a good range of options for transport, accommodation and food to suit any budget. Food is especially cheap in China. You can enjoy street food meals for less than $3 and fancy restaurant dinners for the cost of fast food back home. Overall, China is a great value for travellers of all budgets.
The exception to this is Hong Kong; travellers should be aware that the former British colony is very different from mainland China! Hong Kongers speak Cantonese instead of Mandarin, use a different writing system and have their own currency. In addition to this, costs are astronomical compared to the rest of China. (Hostels beds can cost around $50 at peak times!)
This guide will cover average travel prices for mainland China. Make sure you budget extra if your trip to China includes a stop in Hong Kong.
How much money do you need per day in China?
As with most destinations, your daily costs in China can fall within a wide range depending on your location and travel style. One of the biggest factors is destination: Beijing and Shanghai, (and to a lesser extent Tier 2 cities like Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hangzhou) are much more expensive than small cities or rural destinations.
Here’s a breakdown of average daily costs by travel style:
Budget/Backpacker: RMB 150–240 ($20–35)
While you can probably get away with spending less than 150 RMB in many places, this range will cover hostels, local food, metro rides and attractions just about anywhere in China, with some leftover room for incidentals and optional stuff (like sunblock, beer, flea market shopping, etc.)
Mid-range: RMB 250–450 ($36–65)
With this budget, you can enjoy private hotel rooms, specialty restaurant meals, shopping and the occasional taxi ride. This budget will cover a few cocktails (China has some phenomenal, ultra-modern modern cocktail bars) or other entertainment and nightlife options.
Luxury : RMB 600–1200 ($87–173)
While there’s never really an upper limit to how much you can spend travelling, this range will be more than enough to see China in comfort and style. Think spacious hotel rooms, banquet dinners and top-tier entertainment. While China’s luxury travel amenities aren’t as well developed as in other countries, they’re relatively affordable. If you decide to splash out on a nice hotel room or fancy dinner, your money will go pretty far in China.
In addition to these daily budgets, you’ll have some general expenses in China.
Prepaid travel SIM card:RMB 300 ($50) for 30 days of basic talk and text + 10 GB data
China Tourist Visa: RMB 200–960 ($30–140) depending on nationality (although you can avoid this by visiting a visa-free zone)
Bottled water: RMB 10–30 ($1.5–4.5) per day. You can’t drink tap water in China without boiling it, but any sort of accommodation will have an electric kettle. Bring your own water bottle and refill with boiled water to save a few bucks.
How much would a trip to China cost, per week or per month?
So how much money should you bring to China for one week? How much would a month of backpacking cost? Factoring in visas, SIM cards and the budgets above, here’s what you can expect to pay.
Backpacking in China for one month: RMB 5,300–8,200 ($770–1,190) One-week Trip (Mid Range): RMB 2,370 – 3,770 ($345–550)
One-week Trip (Luxury): RMB 4850–9,050 ($705 -1,316)
Two-week Trip (Mid Range): RMB 4010–6920 ($585–1,005)
Cheapest time to travel China
The months of July and August are high tourist season in China. You’ll find better prices (and weather) in spring and fall. Winter is usually the cheapest season to visit China but be sure to avoid Chinese public holidays!
Lunar New Year especially (usually sometime in late January to early February) can be a nightmare for travellers. Prices skyrocket and attractions are jam-packed. There’s also a week-long national holiday in October that’s best avoided. View the public holiday calendar here.
Cost of food in China
Food in China is a phenomenal experience at every price range. From watching street chefs whip up $3 bowls of hand-pulled noodles to decadent multi-course hot pot feasts, Chinese food will satisfy both your stomach and your wallet.
On the low end of the price range, a full meal (noodles or rice plus a main dish) can be had for less than RMB 20 ($3) at a street food stall or small restaurant. Mid-range meals may run RMB 40–100 ($6–15) per person, and meals at the nicest restaurants, including drinks, will usually cost more than RMB 100 ($15) per person. Keep in mind that most Chinese restaurants are set up for communal dining, so portions can be huge! You’ll be expected to order a few dishes to share.
Western-style food, however, is incredibly expensive and usually not great quality. Even fast food is more expensive than Chinese food; basic meals tend to be RMB 20-50 ($3–7). Stick to local meals for the best value.
Cost of hotels in China
Although Chinese hotels aren’t known for great atmosphere or amenities, they’re generally very affordable.
A basic double room in a mid-range hotel will usually cost RMB 100–200 ($15–30), which can sometimes be cheaper for group travellers than a hostel. Hostel beds generally cost RMB 30–60 ($4–8) depending on location (most hostels also have affordable private rooms). Airbnbs are another great option, especially in Beijing and Shanghai. In smaller cities, there are fewer listings and hotels are often cheaper. You can also consider homestays and Couchsurfing, although they’re not as popular in China yet.
A high-end hotel room will usually cost RMB 400 ($60) and up. If you’re going for luxury though, be aware ‘luxury’ in China might not always meet your expectations. Many hotels are a bit dated or designed with Chinese sensibilities in mind.
Cost of transport in China
You’ve got plenty of options for intercity transportation in China. The quickest way to get around is flying. There are airports in most major cities, but flights aren’t particularly cheap (and they’re often delayed). For example, a flight from Shanghai to Beijing will usually cost at least RMB 600 ($100).
The same trip by high-speed train will cost only about RMB 500 ($72) on average. The bullet trains in China are fantastic: clean, modern and always on time. They’re one of the best ways to get around the country.
There are also cheaper slow trains. A ‘hard seat’ on a slow train is generally about a quarter of the price of a high-speed ticket for the same route. You can also get a ‘hard sleeper’ (a plastic bunk bed) for about half the price of a bullet train ticket. The more spacious and private ‘soft sleepers’ cars are usually around the same price as high-speed trains, but they can save you the cost of a night of accommodation.
Costs of intercity buses vary wildly, but a 2-3 hour bus ride in East China is usually under RMB 100 ($15). Longer overnight buses are more expensive but typically won’t exceed RMB 300 ($30) or so. They’re cheap but the least comfortable and convenient option for foreigners.
Cost of attractions in China
Attractions in China are a mixed bag. Top historical sites and museums like the Forbidden City and Summer Palace are very reasonable, while entry to national parks and nature attractions like Huangshan or the Zhangjiajie National Park (Avatar Mountains) can be astronomically expensive.
The Forbidden City entrance fee is RMB 60 in the high season from April through October and RMB 40 in the low season from November through March. Visiting the Treasure Gallery and the Clock and Watch Gallery are an extra RMB 10 each. Make sure you bring your passport to the Forbidden City, you need it to buy tickets!
The Summer Palace entrance fee is RMB 30 in the high season and RMB 20 in the low season. There’s also an extra RMB 5 charge for a handful of specific buildings and areas.
There are dozens of places you can visit the Great Wall, but some of the popular ones around Beijing are Badaling, Mutianyu, Simatai and Jinshanling. They’re all between RMB 40–55 in the high season, and RMB 5–10 less in the low season. Extras like cable cars, chair lifts and slides down the mountain will usually cost over RMB 50 a piece. (You can save money by visiting an unrestored section of the wall)
Make sure you’ve got cash in Beijing! While some major tourist sites are beginning to take cards, most of the sites above ONLY TAKE CASH (no WeChat or AliPay either).
While most temples, small historic sites and museums won’t usually cost more than RMB 40 ($6), mountain parks and natural attractions can be crazy expensive. A ticket to the famous Yellow Mountain (Huangshan) costs RMB 190 ($14) and entrance to Zhangjiajie National Park costs RMB 225 ($32).
There are discounts for students and seniors, so bring ID if you qualify. Make sure you check out ticket prices before you visit to avoid sticker shock.
Cost of souvenirs in China
There are lots of cheap things to buy in China. Classic, traditional souvenirs like tea, silk, and ceramic tea set area great choice. You can spend a lot of money on these items, but there are good quality cheaper options too.
Chinese grocery stores carry nicely packaged tea sets (RMB 50–100), and silk and pottery can often be found in open-air markets. A silk scarf might be as cheap as RMB 20 and a handmade tea set around RMB 200. Make sure you bargain! Chop sticks are also a great dirt cheap souvenir.
If you’re looking for something more modern, there are lots of great options. Knock-off designer merchandise can be a lot of fun (and often surprisingly good quality). The sneaker and handbag selection in most markets is amazing!
Asian beauty products are also a good choice – they’re unique and usually come in great packaging. You can buy individual face masks for RMB 5–10 or different types of makeup for under RMB 40. (There’s also a wide selection of Korean and Japanese products available in China)
China is a great destination because there’s something to suit everyone’s budget and taste. Your question on “How much would a trip to China cost?” should be answered by now. Hop on over to an article about money-saving tips in China if you’re looking for ways to travel around China on a budget.