What Costs A Lot and What Costs Little in China

Per a reader request I put together a little list of items/services that has a signficantly different price point in China (at least in Shenzhen, China) compared to what I pay in the US:

  • Walmart - Walmart does not seem cheap in China. In general I have shopped at Walmart in China for the convenience, but the prices are not necessarily on the low end.
  • American Brands/Foods - I pay a hefty premium for what limited American/International brands (esp packaged food) that I can find in China. I am addicted to Diet Soda (ie Diet Dr Pepper) and it roughly costs me roughly $1USD per can plus a couple hours a week aquiring a weekly supply from Hong Kong. My wife and I can easily spend $100USD/week on American brand foods and barely put together a couple meals out of it.
  • Haircuts - Prices vary, but I pay $7USD for a 30min scalp massage and salon haircut.
  • Massages -- I never had a massage before living in China, but for ~$5USD I can get a 1 hour+ foot massage.
  • Housekeeper - In the US, my wife and I would never consider hiring a housekeeper, but at <$4USD per hour for an English-speaking housekeeper, it is certainly an extremely cost efficient way to reduce unnecessary stress in a foreign environment.
  • Real Estate is Expensive. A comfortable 3 bedroom apartment (by our spoiled American standards) costs about $1,600USD a month in Shenzhen. The real estate market has doubled over the past 15months.
  • Every restaurant (at least in our locale) delivers for free; even Starbucks. Imagine having Starbucks delivered to your door when you get up in the morning (Note: we haven't actually had Starbucks delivered to our home yet). Certainly a perk (which maybe true as well in larger cities in the US) is that we can order food from any restaurant and have it delivered to our door free of charge. However, as they say, the grass is always greener - in Hong Kong, you can get Krispy Kreme delivered to your door ;-).
  • Tipping -- not common in China. We only tip in restaurants that cater to Westerners.
  • Tailoring -- I am currently getting a suit custom-made for me for ~$57USD. Granted it is probably not going to be as nice as a high-end suite, but I would say it compares to a $200USD suite from S&K or Men's Wearhouse.
  • Brand fakes -- Super cheap fakes on almost all brands of clothing, handbags, sports equipment, software, etc. are readily accessible here. DVD's of your favorite new movies run $0.75~$1.50USD.

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Comments (4)

Really interesting post. Curious to see some of the 'cheap' names over here being classed as expensive over there.

I'm interested in real estate. Are you living in a 3bdr apt? What about the prices for 1bdr or 2bdr? A comfortable 3bdr apt for $1600/mo is not expensive for most major US cities.

Have you seen any effect of the Yuan vs Dollar changes?

Ture -- apt is expensive for me from living in Raleigh, NC. Probably cheap for CA and NYC. We live in a 3bdr apt.

Absolutely -- the exchange rate has been one way since I arrived in July. Every ATM withdraw for the same amount of yuan (RMB) becomes more expensive (USD-wise) everyday.


This is very helpful! I'm planning a trip to China later this year and I'll be sure to put getting a massage on my list of things to do. :)

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