Let's face it; most expats in China live very differently to most locals. Our consumption, eating, social and transportation habits may offer some home comforts while we’re living in foreign lands, but they also take a toll on the wallet. So how can you live more like a local and save money as an expat in China.
Get the shopping apps
If you haven't experienced the wonders of having ridiculously cheap goods (sometimes of dubious origin) delivered to your door, it’s time to learn how to TaoBao. Often dubbed "the Amazon of China", Taobao really needs no introduction. You can buy pretty much anything: electronics, clothes, gifts, even live pets (not recommended) from thousands of “stores" and individuals selling online.
Unfortunately for expats in China, the site and accompanying app are still entirely in Chinese, but with a few characters under your belt or a translator app that can decipher screen shots, you’ll soon figure out how it works. You don’t even need an Alipay account/Chinese bank account to buy off TaoBao anymore as the site now accepts international credit cards.
If all that still seems like too much effort, however, give BaoPals a go. Although you won’t find everything that’s for sale on TaoBao here, this translated version is a great option for expats who just can’t be bothered to do everything in Chinese. For arguably even better bargains, you can give XianYu (闲鱼) a try. This app is like TaoBao for second hand goods. Happy shopping.
Travel with the masses
The very mention of the words "public transportation" causes many expats to cringe in fear of sweaty buses, so overcrowded you can’t even see out of the window in order to know if you’ve reached your stop. Back in the bad old days, you also needed to be constantly on the lookout for pickpockets on Chinese public transport, but such off-putting elements are now largely a thing of the past. Most of China’s big cities now have super efficient, clean and safe subway and bus networks, many with stop announcements in English as well as Chinese.
Taking public transport as opposed to taxis and DiDis (China’s answer to Uber) can mean the difference between spending 5 RMB or 40. And while bus routes were once a mystery to foreigners with no Chinese, these days they are clearly marked on Baidu Maps and other navigation apps.
So scope out the routes that are useful to you and consider cutting back on a few taxi rides a week when you’re not in a huge rush. Before you know it, you'll be a public transport expert with a lot more cash in your pocket than usual.
Embrace wet markets
A trip to the local wet market can be a scary prospect for a newbie expat in China. In these indoor fresh produce markets, now notorious thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, shoppers can find a wide range of Earth's edible organisms in both their live and more ready-to-eat states.
There is good reason why many, especially older, locals get the majority of their food from wet markets. Supermarkets tend to have less fresh produce (and produce that is less fresh), while wet market stall holders get up at the crack of dawn every day to pick the best of the best from bigger wholesale markets that are directly supplied by regional farms. And while China's numerous food quality scandals were cause for concern in the past, things are much better these days. Overpriced Western supermarkets aren't necessarily immune to such problems anyway.
Thanks to lower overheads and staffing requirements, wet markets are usually able to offer better prices than supermarkets. If you become a regular, you’ll also find stall holders will gift you small items, typically spring onions, every time you visit.
Live it up at the restaurant, not the club
If inebriated Chinese revellers stumbling out of restaurants at 9pm can tell us anything, it’s that you can often get a lot more bang for you buck in China’s eateries than you can in its bars and clubs. Whether you’re going for a hearty dinner banquet or just a spot of light supper, a boozy night with friends in a restaurant comes at a fraction of the cost of a pub crawl.
Chinese beers are, for the most part, pretty weak and rubbish, but you’ll find more international offerings in China’s restaurants these days alongside a good selection lethal bijou and even a smattering of passable wine. You can also take advantage of two-for-one cocktails or all-you-can-eat-and-drink deals at some places if you really want to hate yourself the next day.
Reduce your energy use
Electricity, while cheaper in China than in many other parts of the world, can still add up to a hefty chunk of your salary each month when the elements reach their extremes. The idea of going through a winter in the uninsulated homes of the Lower Yangtze Delta Region without the aid of heat is one too terrible for most expats to consider, but that's exactly what many local households do. Natives will forgo the use of their heaters in lieu of piling on layer after layer of clothing, drinking hot water and using blankets and hot water bottles.
Likewise, it's common to go into a shop in Beijing the middle of the steamy summer months to find the air con off and the drinks fridge unplugged. Before you crank the AC all the way up to 11 next summer, consider if you really need to cool your whole flat rather than a room or two. You might find some well-placed fans or cross-ventilation will do the trick, particularly in the cooler morning and evening hours.
So there you have it. Five ways to live like a local and save money as an expat in China. If you’re one of those expats who wants the “Real China” experience, you can thank us later.
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As someone who has lived in China for 15 years, II have some alterrnative suggestions: 1. Stop buying premium brand coffee (Luckin, Starbucks). Family Mart, C-Ctore, 7-11 and a number of independent cafes sell similar tasting coffee at a fraction of their prices. 2. Stop buying alcohol; but if you must have some, skip the sports bars and get them from supermarkets for, again, a fraction of the price. No matter how good the mohito is, it's not worth 50 RMB. 3. Limit eating out and cook meals at home with lots of noodles, pasta and vegetables, as they are still quite cheap. 4. Just use common sense when it comes to water and power. I don't know how extreme the weather gets in Beijing that they have to pay so much but in Guangzhou, power's so cheap, it might as well be free.
Nov 22, 2023 16:59 Report Abuse