This post will see us take a look at the estimated cost of travel in China. We have two daily travel budgets – one for shoestring travellers and one for those on a slightly more comfortable backpacking budget. Further down, you will find more details on the local currency and typical prices for travel in China.
China Cost of Travel in 2023
Shoestring Backpacker Budget
- US$40/day | 275 Chinese Yuan
For anyone backpacking around China on a low budget, expect to spend roughly 275 Yuan per day. This shoestring budget aims to cover all your daily travel expenses including the cost of accommodation (hostel dorm bed), transport and meals. However there is a great deal of regional variation with a big city like Shanghai considerably more expensive than the more rural West of the country.
China may have risen to the status of a global super power over the past 15 years thanks to enormous economic growth but the country is still on the whole pretty good value. In truth, prices haven’t risen as much as you might think. Even the big cities are still really quite affordable if you steer clear of the bars, shops and restaurants that are clearly geared towards the growing wealthy elites.
One thing that makes that tricky is that local restaurants, while great value, will rarely have English menus and often don’t have English speaking staff and the language/alphabet is not easy to translate. Chinese street stalls and BBQ’s offer a good alternative and are found all over the country. It’s much easier to know what you are getting with them and you can often stack up on tasty snacks that won’t set you back much cash. Nights out can also be good value and if you know where to go, you can find some really cheap bars and clubs. Sometimes they even have ‘all you can drink’ deals.
The cost of travelling between destinations can add up though if you are looking to see large areas of the country in a relatively short space of time. In that case, $40/day might be an unrealistic budget but if you are spending a lot of time in cheaper areas of China, you can certainly get by on that sort of amount and do a large amount of travelling around.
More Comfortable China Backpacking Budget
- US$60/day | 410 Chinese Yuan
Our shoestring China backpacking budget of $40/day isn’t impossible by any means on a day-to-day basis in most regions of the country. However, you may want to consider allowing a bit more if you are sticking to the Eastern route between Shanghai and Beijing with perhaps a couple of other stops. Even that would be dependent on you not taking any internal flights and settling for the slower but cheaper trains rather than the fancy high-speed ones.
By upping your budget to $60/day you won’t need to stress out as much about costs. You might then be able to afford the odd high speed train or internal flight. It should also be enough to cover your daily expenses in any city in mainland China or probably even in Hong Kong, which is a bit more expensive.
For a longer stay, consider teaching English in China which can be a good way to build up some travel funds. Living in China, it’s a lot easier to get by on less than the figures quoted above, particularly if you base yourself in one of the cheapest cities to live in China which would be an experience if nothing else!
Also note that the budgets above do not cover extra pre-trip costs such as booking flights to/from China or the cost of travel insurance. Check out our recommended travel insurance options for backpackers for an idea of prices.
China Travel Costs
|Approximate Price (in US Dollars)|
|Flight from Shanghai to Kunming (3 hours)||From $130 + Baggage Fees|
|Beijing to Shanghai by Train||$80 (High Speed – 5 hours 30 minutes), $45 (Slow sleeper train – 12 hours)|
|Meal in an affordable local restaurant||$3-5|
|Local beer in bar/restaurant||$1-2|
|Dorm bed in a hostel||From $12/night|
|Budget private room||From $25/night|
|Entrance to the Forbidden City, Beijing||$6-9 (varies between summer and winter)|
|Travel insurance for backpacking China||Get a quick quote from SafetyWing (from $45 depending on your age)|
China is overall pretty good value. Relative to other Asian countries, it’s certainly cheaper than the cost of travel in Japan but a fair bit more expensive when compared to the cost of travel in Nepal.
Money – Chinese Yuan
£1 = 8.50 CNY
€1 = 7.47 CNY
US$1 = 6.87 CNY
These exchange rates are correct as of March 2023. Mobile payments are hugely popular in China, although the system may be a little complicated for foreigners as Western services like Google and Apple Pay may not work.
This China backpacking budget was last updated in March 2023.