Cost of living in China
One of the first things to keep in mind about the cost of living in China is that China is big and this means that there will be significant variations in prices between large, cosmopolitan cities, with an influx of tourists, and smaller, countryside locations. For example, the cost of three-course meal for two in a mid-range restaurant averages at around $18-$19 (although it can go as high up as $35) in cities like Beijing or Shanghai, but is only about $8-$9 in a city like Linyi. So, the general assertion that living in China is cheap is more nuanced, although it is indeed cheaper than in a Western country.
At the same time, the growing Chinese economy has generated not only increased living standards, but also growing differences between the different classes. This translates into a wider and more diverse range of services that target all these different categories of consumers. This means that someone living in China is likely to find products and services at any category of budget or spending limit. As little as $400 a month, often the average salary in China, often provides a decent living with no excesses, but also does not cover the cost of housing. With around $1000, rent can be included for a basic apartment, and this amount would also cover some travel and other small pleasure expenses. The flexibility of the offer of products and services makes China very adequate for any budget level.
Although everybody is more familiar with the Yuan (especially in news flashes as to how the Chinese refuse to float their yuan – nothing to do with liquid physics), the official currency of China is the Renminbi, with the Yuan, the Jiao and the Fen being the primary denominations. Although still in use, the Fen has almost disappeared from day to day economic life. 1 Yuan is equal to 10 Jiao and to 100 Fen, with coins for 1 and 5 jiao, as well as 1 yuan, and banknotes for 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 yuan.
You can buy Renminbi at the airport, upon arrival, at the different branches of the Bank of China and at some of the larger department stores and at many hotels, although, in the latter case, exchange may be conditioned by staying at the hotel. The rate is the same in all locations, is usually communicated by the Bank of China each morning and you can check it out in a newspaper.