Maggie Nel

For anyone relocating to a new city, one huge consideration to relocating anywhere is what it will cost to live comfortably in a new place. For South Africans living and working in China is considerably better than back home at the moment. The exchange rate for ¥1 (Chinese Yuan) is currently about R2. 7 (South African Rand) and the currency exchange has been relatively stable the last five years.

Here is a comparison of transportation, internet and data, groceries, utilities, and rent between Shanghai in China and Pretoria back home in South Africa.

Some considerations

I did this comparison as an expat living on an English teacher's salary. I use Pretoria as a comparison as it was my home-city for a long time before going overseas, so remember that whereas Shanghai is considered a first-tier city in China based on population, Pretoria is considered a second-tier city in South Africa based on economic health. Also keep in mind that the difference in currency doesn't equal the value of certain things, especially in relation to one's salary overseas.

1. Transport

As the main form of transport for many people, the average price of filling up a small car in Pretoria may cost anything from R800-R2500 in the city, depending on the distance traveled. There is no need to buy a car in Shanghai, as public transport is well planned and accessible, affordable, clean and safe, and often the preferred method of travel by expats. Taking the subway to work every day will cost you around ¥200 (R400) per month.

Taxis are more expensive, costing from ¥20 - ¥100 per trip, depending on the distance covered. However, they are considerably safer and more reliable than shared taxis in South Africa.

2. Internet and data

Currently internet and data are still substantially cheaper than the internet in the rest of the world (but not always faster). Unlimited bandwidth with China Telecom will cost around ¥1000 (R2000) per year and installing a router will be about ¥150. In Pretoria, costs are around R1000 monthly. Data will cost about ¥100 - ¥250 per month (R200 - R500), whereas in SA it will be around R500 - R1000.

3. Groceries

On average, it will cost around a R2000 a week to buy groceries for two people in Pretoria. However, this depends on your diet and lifestyle. Groceries are cheaper in China (approximately R800 for two people), if you buy at local convenience stores. If you shop at international markets, the costs will work out roughly the same as buying at Pick ‘n Pay back home.

4. Utilities

In a country where utilities are state owned, the cheap cost of utilities in China far outweighs everything else on this list. Water, electricity and gas combined costs around ¥200 (R400) per month for myself and sometimes it is even less. In high winter or summer, prices will go up because of heating and air conditioning. For 2 people it could go up to ¥500. In SA the cost is R1000 per month for two people in a 2-bedroom apartment.

Shanghai caters to approximately 24 million people with zero load-shedding or blackouts. The downsides are the air pollution and that tap water is not safe for drinking, though it can be used for bathing and cooking. Buying water will cost extra but not that much.

5. Rent

Renting a one-bedroom apartment in Hatfield, Pretoria will start at around R3600 per month and go up to R8000 in the eastern suburbs. In Shanghai, rent is quite expensive and is getting more expensive, largely due to Shanghai's status as a cosmopolitan and world-city. Second and third-tier cities' rent are half of what you would pay in Shanghai, which can range from around ¥1500 for a bedroom in a shared apartment, to ¥4000 (R8000) for a one-bedroom apartment in the inner city (still affordable on an EF salary). Here I focus on rent in the city-center as many EF teachers will rent closer to work. However, renting further away will be much cheaper if you are willing to do a longer commute.

6. Saving and traveling

As a single person living in Shanghai, I find that I can save around ¥4000 - ¥4500 per month (around R9000). This is my personal savings goal - not always easy to achieve - but feasible. Roughly ¥25,000 of my total savings might go towards planned international travel this year.

As the Yuan has more value than the Rand, I would say I can really stretch my budget. I consider myself a frugal person, even so the cost of living in Shanghai is easier to manage than in South Africa.

Interested in learning more about China and working opportunities with EF? Check out our job openings!


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