How to Move to China On The Cheap

How to Move to China On The Cheap
Aug 04, 2022 By Andrea Hunt ,

Most foreigners come to China for a short stint of one to three years and therefore don’t need or want to spend a fortune finding and furnishing a new home. If you’re in this boat, here are some tips on how you can move to China without blowing all your savings in one go.

 Move to China
Source: Forrest Wheatey

Find sublets and roommates 

Renting an apartment, and all the various added expenses that go with it, will be the first and biggest cost when you move to China. To avoid paying a hefty deposit (usually a month’s rent) and agency fees, look through the Classifieds of local expat websites and ask around to see if you can sublet from someone who’s leaving or breaking their contract early.

If nothing decent is available for sublet, consider renting a place yourself and advertising for a roommate. While a nice one-bed or studio apartment in the CBD of Beijing will set you back a pretty penny these days, if you get a bigger place and split the cost with more people, your share of the rent will become much more affordable.

Most of us probably grew out of roommates when we left college, but when living abroad it’s not at all uncommon for unmarried expats to rent together to save on costs. Having flatmates will also help alleviate some of the homesickness and loneliness we all sometimes feel when finding our feet in a new place. Advertise for your flatmates in the local Classifieds, in WeChat groups and on your WeChat Moments and you’re sure to find someone quickly. Read this for more on finding roommates in China.

Rent smart

If you do find yourself having to rent an apartment on your own, try to avoid using an agent by finding apartments rented directly by landlords. This can be tricky as a foreigner, but you could ask a kind-hearted Chinese friend or colleague to help. If you have a basic grasp of Chinese characters, you can also search Chinese rental sites for individuals lets(个人)rather than agent lets (经纪人).

If you find yourself having to go with an agent, remember that they will expect you to bargain. The rent, deposit and agency fee (the latter of which should be paid by the landlord in some cities) can often be bargained down quite a bit. Also remember that areas and complexes popular with expats will generally be more expensive, so consider living in an older and predominantly Chinese neighbourhood in order to save money.

Furnish with thought

This is a tricky one, as a fully-furnished pad will come with higher monthly rent, while furnishing an empty flat is obviously a hassle and expensive. If possible, try to find a part-furnished apartment and purchase some second-hand necessities from local markets or other expats who are leaving town. While that IKEA sofa might seem cheap compared to what you’d pay back home, you’ll probably end up giving it away or selling it for a fraction of what you paid when you leave. Pretty much every Chinese city with an expat population will have WeChat groups from which you can acquire second-hand and even free stuff.

Finally, think about what you buy. Although a salt water aquarium might be really cool for about two weeks, it isn’t something you can bring home with you. When you’re rushing around at the end of your stint trying to pack your life up, it’ll simply be one more thing you have to deal with. It might also be smart to make do with watching TV on your laptop and listening to music via a portable speaker rather than buying a big home entertainment system.

Commute on the cheap

Decide early on what your main mode of transportation to and from work will be, otherwise you’ll probably find yourself wasting a lot of money on DiDis (China’s answer to Uber), as they tend to be the easiest way for expats with no Chinese to get around. Consider purchasing a bike or a moped, which, despite the initial investment, can save you a lot of time and money over the long run. Again, look in the Classifieds of local expat websites for second-hand bikes and be sure to look for a buyer for yours when you leave.

Try to pick an apartment with easy access to your place of work, whether that be by bike or public transport. The subway in most big Chinese cities is cheap and convenient, albeit pretty busy at rush hour. Buses are even cheaper.

Pack strategically

Some things are cheaper to buy back home, but these days, more often than not, most foreign products can be procured in China and the price difference is negligible. There’s therefore no need to break your back or spend a fortune shipping over things over when you first move to China.

Western food, toiletries and makeup are now widely available in China, so unless you’re particularly attached to a certain product you know you can’t get here, it’s not necessary to buy anything in bulk before you arrive. Even things that used to be hard to get in China, such as deodorant and tampons, can now be purchased easily in the foreigner-focused shops you’ll find in expat cities or on Taobao.

Do you have any other tips on how to save money when moving to China? Drop them in the comments box below.

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Keywords: move to China


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I need a friend from China please

Oct 18, 2022 04:10 Report Abuse


Well these pieces of afvice work for any place in the world.

Aug 17, 2022 22:19 Report Abuse


I agree with the larger person bringing their shoes, shirts and pants from home. I would also recommend that you bring all the other clothing as the "quality" of things like socks and underwear are far less than western products. All that said, you do not want to be worn down by your wardrobe as you make your way through airports and to your final destination. I did and it was horrible. Limit yourself to one large check-in luggage WITH WHEELS, a carry-on bag and a backpack. Large people may find it difficult for choice of clothing, but it can be found usually on the internet shopping sites like Tao Bao (except for oversized shoes. I was 300 pounds when I arrived in China and I managed to find clothes. One thing new expats seem to forget is that there is a power difference in electricity. Leave most of your electronics at home. Laptops come with a converter usually, but things like electric shavers do not. I had a pair of computer speakers that caught fire. Remember that most things can be purchased in China these days, even with the supply chain issues. I always recommend that any new expat coming to China ensure that the company they work for provides the housing to you, or have something in the contract that the company will offer support when setting up housing. If you are a teacher, they often have housing apartments ready for new teachers. Take that deal in your first year. Everything is supplied, including the utilities. Why mess with the headaches of finding a place and paying out of pocket all those costs. Once you have settled into a way of life in China and get to know where things are and how things operate, then think about moving.

Aug 08, 2022 20:53 Report Abuse


If your shoe size is larger than 45, bring shoes. It's almost impossible to find large-sized shoes in China. Additionally, if you have broad shoulders, bring lots of shirts. Shoes and shirts are just not available in China for a large person.

Aug 05, 2022 16:06 Report Abuse