Ah, China – home to the Great Wall, the Giant Panda and 1.3 billion people – making it the most populated country on the planet.
China has fascinated travellers for a long time – however there aren’t too many who travel to this mysterious country of the far east. Difficulties obtaining a complex visa, the obvious language barrier and the cuisine are just some of the reasons that deter people – but one reason that shouldn’t deter you, is the cost.
We were incredibly surprised by the cost to travel in China. Whilst not as cheap as some of the other countries in Asia, it’s definitely nowhere as expensive as you might think. Transport options abound, catering for those with little time or short on funds. Food is delicious, cheap and easy to order. Accommodation in China also offers some of the best value going round!
We tracked EVERY SINGLE CENT we spent on our travels to China – a 24 day trip for two people. Whilst this was on a “budget”, we did splash out on certain things like transport as we wanted to make the most of our limited time in the country and therefore paid a lot more for faster travel options. I have included tips on how you can save even more money on your travels in China in each category.
Please note all prices are listed in Australian Dollars.
Expense #1: Cost of Flights to China
We started our adventures in China in Shanghai, as this was the cheapest city to fly into from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Most of China’s major cities are well connected to the rest of Asia as well as Europe and the United States. Be sure to shop around for the cheapest flight, searching both directly to your destination and also via routes like Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong. We love using Skyscanner.
- Amy’s flight from Kuala Lumpur to Shanghai: $165.74
- Mike’s flight from Perth to Shanghai (via Kuala Lumpur): $392.00
- Guangzhou to Perth: $587.00
Total cost of flights in China: $1144.74
Budget Tip: China can be entered by land from Hong Kong, Vietnam, Mongolia and other surrounding countries. If you’re already travelling in these regions, be sure to check out what it would cost to enter the country by land as opposed to air.
Expense #2: Cost of Accommodation in China
The accommodation in China was INCREDIBLE value. This is the first country in our Asia travels where we primarily stayed in hostels, and we highly recommend it. Why? This is one of the few places where at least one member of the staff speaks English and trust me – this was so handy! Also, the hostels were always very well equipped offering a range of rooms, facilities, well located and more!
- Shanghai x 3 Nights in HOSTEL: $105.00
- Beijing x 4 Nights in HOSTEL: $210.00
- Xi’an x 3 Nights in HOSTEL: $88.29
- Zhangye x 3 Nights in HOTEL: $81.99
- Chengdu x 4 Nights in HOSTEL: $94.24
- Zhangjiajie x 3 Nights in GUESTHOUSE: $108.15
- Guilin x 3 Nights in HOSTEL: $78.96
- Guangzhou x 1 Night in HOTEL: $34.00
Total cost of accommodation in China: $800.42
Budget Tip: All the above listed prices were for private rooms – dorms are much cheaper so be sure to check out the cost of these as this will save you a lot of money. Hostelworld is the best place to find great accommodation in China and we highly recommend using it to plan your trip.
Expense #3: Cost of Transport in China
This was our most expensive category. As we didn’t have a huge amount of time in China, we wanted to ensure we got to our destinations as quickly as possible. This meant that we used bullet trains for most of our long distance travel. We also took several flights as on some occasions as these were cheaper/faster than that particular train route and at more convenient times. If there were no options for trains, we’d take a bus – we only did this on two occasions.
Local transport is incredibly cheap so getting around the big cities with subway systems – Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an and others – was very easy.
- Internal Flights:
Lanzhou to Chengdu: $272.00
Chengdu to Changsha: $211.92
- Long Distance Trains
Shanghai to Beijing: $277.70
Beijing to Xi’an: $260.74
Xi’an to Zhangye: $263.18
Zhangye to Lanzhou: $96.20
Changsha to Guilin: $110.60
Guilin to Guangzhou: $90.80
- Long Distance Buses
Bus to Zhangjiajie from Changsha (Return): $95.82
- Local Buses
Bus to Terracotta Warriors (Return): $6.70
Bus to Le Shan Giant Buddha (Return): $37.66
- Public Transport (Subways & Buses): $19.26
- Taxis: $209.60
Total cost of transport in China: $1952.21
Budget Tip: The key to keeping your travel costs down in China is to plan ahead. We used the fantastic services of China DIY Travel to book all our train trips – you can read about them and their services in this post here.
Use taxis sparingly and only if there’s no public transport alternative. They can be expensive due to the language barrier if you don’t have your destination written down correctly – you might find yourself on an extended trip!
It’s also a great idea to compare the costs of flights vs train vs bus before making a decision, as sometimes the cost difference between them is very little. I know I’d rather pay $10 or $15 more and be at my destination in half the time!
Expense #4: Cost of Food in China
Food in China is often incredibly cheap – but it all depends on where you eat. Restaurants and chains charge a lot more for what is often the same cuisine you can find in the street. Some of our best meals in China were from tiny food carts or hole in the wall type establishments.
Total cost of food (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and water): $570.63 or $23.77 a day
Budget Tip: We highly recommend trying the street food, there’s no shortage of it and most vendors have so
me type of picture menu that you can point to. If all else fails – just point to a random food and try it – it (usually) won’t kill you!
When we knew we’d be out and about for the day with no access to food (other than at overpriced tourist stands), we’d load up from convenience stores on snacks and fresh fruit – this helps keep costs down as well.
Expense #5: Cost of Sightseeing in China
Sightseeing for us is always one of our bigger costs – after all, why travel to China without being prepared to pay to see the sights? As always, we try to explore as independently as possible – making our own way to the location, and forgoing guides.
- Forbidden City, Beijing: $25.10
- Great Wall of China at Jinshanling Package (inclusive of bus transport): $117.15
- Summer Palace, Beijing: $25.10
- Terracotta Warriors, Xi’an: $64.85
- Xi’an City Wall Entry & Bike Hire: $41.42
- Zhangye Danxia Geological Park (entry fees & taxi transport for 2 days): $125.52
- Leshan Giant Buddha, Chengdu: $37.66
- Panda Breeding Centre (including transport), Chengdu: $54.39
- Zhangjiajie (inclusive of park pass, and 4 x cable cars): $231.91
- Longji Rice Terraces (entry fee, cable car and shared transport): $146.44
Total cost of sightseeing in China: $831.77
Budget Tip: Do your research and try to sight-see as independently as possible – avail yourself of public transport when you can. If the easier option is to bundle transport in with your trip, try and share these costs. We did this for our trip to the Longji rice terraces and it was one of the nicest days we had as we were able to meet new people.
Expense #6: Miscellaneous Costs in China
We had a few miscellaneous costs crop up whilst travelling in China.
- Purchase of 2 x Sim Cards with 3GB data each: $41.24
- Souvenir purchases: $15.69
- Hire of towels in one of the hostels: $3.35
Total cost of miscellaneous expenses in China: $60.88
Budget tip: Miscellaneous costs happen. Don’t sweat it. It might be the purchase of an umbrella if its raining, a pair of shoes if they break, etc – we highly recommend getting a Sim Card though as this made our travel in China so much easier and we were able to keep our costs down by having access to the internet and being able to do research on the go.
Expense #7: Pre-Trip Costs in China
It’s most likely you will need a visa to visit China. If you’re travelling in other countries before you arrive in China, do some research into getting your visa whilst overseas. We found that my visa purchase (in Malaysia) was significantly cheaper than Mike’s (in Australia).
Another pre-trip costs – as in, you’ll need to purchase this before China if you wish to have it – is a VPN. You don’t NEED this, but it makes life so much easier whilst you’re there – you can stay in touch, book accommodation on the go, check emails for updates to travel plans, and have Google Maps at your fingertips! You can read all about getting a VPN in China in this blog post.
- Amy’s visa for China (obtained in Malaysia): $62.00
- Mike’s visa for China (obtained in Australia): $135.00
- Express VPN 30 day purchase: $12.95
Total pre-trip costs: $209.95
Expenses Grand Total: $5 570.60 or $116.06 per person, per day
There you have it – the total cost to travel in China. You can easily spend much less than this. If you have more time to explore, you can take cheaper, longer transport options. If you’re travelling alone, you can look at getting a bed in a dorm.
Our high transport and sightseeing costs are due to the fact that we didn’t have a LOT of time, and we visited some less travelled places that both cost a lot to get there and to get into the attraction – Zhangye in the Gansu province, and Zhangjiajie in the Hunan province.
If you were to stick to some of the major cities and more well-travelled places – like Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu – then you can expect to pay a lot less as all these cities have incredible public transport systems, an abundance of accommodation options and there are more frequent and cheaper options to travel between each destination.
However, this is YOUR trip – if there’s something you really want to see in China, then make it happen! Don’t be too nervous about venturing off the more well-trodden path. Travel in China is cheap, really straightforward and just requires a bit of planning ahead.
I hope this has given you a good idea of how much it costs to travel in China, and helps in planning your own adventure to this incredible country!
Have you been to China? Did you find it relatively cheap to travel? How much did you spend on your adventures? Be sure to share any tips in the comments below!
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