SDE International - Shenzhen

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People often associate traveling with spending money. However, when you live in China, the cost of living is so low that you can experience new cultures while keeping costs down. Here are a few things I treat myself to in China that I rarely considered splurging on in America.

1. Eating Out

This is embarrassing to admit, but I eat out 2 to 3 times per day in China. I’m an atrocious cook, much to the dismay of my husband. Thankfully, we can easily afford to buy meals here twice per day.

For breakfast, we usually buy shāo bǐng, meat-stuffed bread, from a street food cart. We’re slightly obsessed with this dish, and we only pay 4 RMB, or $0.58, each! The school where we teach provides lunch. For dinner, we eat at a restaurant for around 20 RMB each.

There is also no tipping in China, which saves us a lot of money. A $5 tip doesn’t sound like much, but that small additional expense would add up since we eat out often.

Due to the low cost of dining out, my friends and I can experience the vast array of cuisines our city has to offer! Dumplings, Sichuan food, Hong Kong-style waffles, Hunan food, steamed buns … my tummy is very happy.

2. Haircuts

In America, I typically paid around $40 for my hair to be washed, trimmed, and layered at a modest salon. Plus tip. I avoided having my hair cut more than 2 or 3 times per year because, well, I’m a cheapskate.

In Shenzhen, I can get my hair trimmed for $9. I recently asked a stylist to cut off ten inches and give me a whole new hairstyle—and I only paid $22! I can afford to invest in my appearance more often in China.

At most salons, you can pay a little extra to get a massage, too.

3. Massages

Getting massages regularly always seemed like a luxury reserved for only the most economically blessed. However, massages have become a normal indulgence since I arrived in China.

It is possible to book a massage at many places other than hair salons. At the salon across the street from my apartment, I pay around $10 for a one-hour foot and upper-body massage.

4. Airfare

From many parts of China, traveling beyond the country’s borders isn’t just a dream, it’s a reality. In January, I flew round-trip to Bangkok from my current home in southeastern China for only $90. If I had wanted to fly to Thailand from America, I would have had to save up for months!

China is an enormous country, so there are numerous opportunities to travel domestically, too. To take advantage of a three-day weekend in March, I decided to take a short trip to Taipei. In America, I never could have flown to Taipei for only 48 hours. It wouldn’t have been possible timewise and certainly wouldn’t have made sense financially.

5. Cabs

Before moving to China, I lived in Atlanta for ten months. During my time there, I never took taxis. My friends and I were elated when Uber hit the scene, because splitting an Uber ride meant we could afford to go downtown for a night out. If I was alone in paying for an Uber, though, I didn’t bother making the trip.

In Shenzhen, a cab ride can cost me as little as 6 RMB, or $0.87. A cab ride from the city center to my house takes 30 minutes and only costs me $11.

If you really want a sweet deal, hail a motorbike taxi. Their rates are a little cheaper than regular cabs, and you get an unparalleled cultural experience to boot!

6. Medicine

For months, I avoided going to a pharmacy in China. I assumed they would only have Eastern medicine. While some expats like Eastern medicine, it isn’t my cup of tea.

Finally, I needed medication. Upon stepping into a pharmacy, I realized my expectations were all wrong.

In America, most medications cost me $25 with insurance, in addition to a $20 copay to see a doctor for a prescription. In China, the same medicine costs me $10 to buy over the counter. I don’t even have to trek to a hospital to pay a doctor!

If you do have to go to the doctor, doing so is also much cheaper here. My husband had stomach problems a few months ago and wanted to make sure nothing was seriously wrong. He visited the hospital for only $9.


SDE International - Shenzhen

New teaching jobs in China interviewing now, apply today!

About the Author:

Laura Grace Tarpley
Laura Grace Tarpley is a freelance writer and English teacher in Shenzhen, China. She enjoys tinkering with crossword puzzles, reading Bill Bryson books, and taking naps on her huge couch. Follow her travels on her Instagram and Twitter. Or you can check out her blog, Let’s Go, Tarpley!
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