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How much do I need to travel China?

29th November 2019

Prepare to have your mind blown when you visit China and realise there is more to the country than a Great Wall and dumplings. 

China presents travellers with perhaps the most significant culture shock of all, as it’s monolithic cities contrast with remote villages and scorching summer days are met with snowy winter nights. Similar to a meal from your local Chinese takeout, a trip to China will leave you satisfied and craving more. 

Planning a trip to China isn't quite as easy as choosing your Saturday night noodle dish though, especially when you consider how big the country is. Things become even more complicated when you start planning your travel budget and converting between Aussie dollars and Chinese Yuan. 

At Travel Money Oz, we aim to take the hassle out of foreign currency, which is why we've come to the rescue with a nifty holiday budget calculator and Chinese travel budget guide. We've made it so easy, that you could punch in your budget details while simultaneously shovelling takeout chow mein into your mouth. Sounds like a pretty exciting Friday night if you ask me. 

Before we fire up the calculator and dig into the chow mein, let's have a look at what could be included in a Chinese travel budget. 

What goes into a budget for China?

Transport

There are regular flights from Australia to major Chinese cities so you should have no issues scoring a deal on flights. Expect to pay between $500 and $900 - anything more and you can probably shift your dates to get a better price. 

Once you arrive in China, chances are you're going to want to travel around the country a bit. Don't let the fact that it is over 9.5 million square km's deter you, instead prepare for a few travel days. You have a few options when it comes to cross-country travel:

  • Flights: there are 30 domestic airlines in China, so if you're in a rush, there are plenty of options to get you around. While they aren't the cheapest option, they are affordable if you're in a hurry. 
  • Buses: These are a great option for intercity journeys that are less than nine hours. They are cheaper than trains and are comfortable enough for the distance.
  • Trains: Choo-choose this option for longer journeys. There are bullet trains and sleeper trains that are perfect for overnight trips as it saves you paying for a nights accommodation and frees up your days for exploring. The lower bunks are cheaper, so book a few days in advance if you're keen to save some cash or aren't a fan of being on top.
  • Car hire: China doesn't recognise international driving licenses, so unless you have a Chinese license car hire isn't for you.

Once in a city, you will be well served by buses and metro systems. Bus fares will set you back between 1-3 CNY and a subway ticket around 6 CNY. You can also catch a taxi, just ensure it is metered and has set prices. There is a slew of taxi scams so be cautious about those. If you have a group or are too full of honey chicken to catch the bus, you can download rideshare app DiDi to get you from A to B.

Finally, walking is always the cheapest way of getting around. Just keep in mind that air pollution is pretty bad throughout many of China's major cities, so it may limit how far you can and should walk. 

Accommodation

Chinese cities have accommodation options for every traveller and budget. You will be able to choose between homestays, hostels, Airbnb's and hotels, so do a bit of research and see which option best suits your budget and the goal of your holiday. 

Accommodation options may dwindle as you head further away from major cosmopolitan areas; however, you will notice a significant decrease in price. For example, a hostel bunk can cost anywhere between 50 and 100 CNY per night in a big city like Beijing, however, a similar bed will cost you less than 35CNY in a smaller town. 

If you're after a truly authentic experience, we would highly recommend spending a few nights in a local homestay. Not only will you see how the locals live day-to-day, but you might also get treated to a delicious homemade meal. 

Food

When it comes to Chinese food, I've found that, like many, I don't stop eating when I'm full. Instead, I load up my plate, eat way more than the recommended serving size, before collapsing onto the closest couch in a mixed cloud of regret and pure joy. There is a reason every town in the world has a local Chinese restaurant - Chinese food is delicious and loved across the globe.

Food in China is incredibly cheap, and you could easily spend less than $20 a day on delicious street dishes. It is cheaper to eat out then cook in China, so take this advice and go crazy trying anything and everything possible. 

As a guide, you can expect to pay the following for Chinese dishes:

  • Street vendors and markets: between 5 and 20 CNY per plate. Generally, this will be noodles, dumplings, pork buns, soup and rice dishes. 
  • Sit down meals: between 10 and 60 CNY per dish. This is still incredibly affordable and worthwhile for something like hot pot or bigger meals. Just keep in mind that you will have to pay extra for clean bowls and rice. Though, by extra we mean 4 CNY, which is less than $1. 


If you're eating alone, be sure to ask for Xiao Pan, which is a smaller portion size. Or don't, we won't judge if you decide to smash a four-person serving of fried rice on your own. Calories don't count on holidays, right?

It's also worth noting that western food is quite expensive, and things like burgers or coffee can cost a similar amount to what you would pay back home. Also, the water isn't safe to drink, so buy bottled water and fill up at safe refill stations. 

Activities

China has everything from Great Walls to Forbidden Cities, and underground warriors made of terracotta. The countries rich and intricate history means there is no shortage of monuments to visit and tours to join. Tours themselves aren't overly expensive, and you should be able to get a decent day tour for between 50 and 200 CNY. Hiking and outdoor activities can be slightly more costly, however, they are well worth the price as China boasts incredibly beautiful landscapes. 

When you arrive in bigger cities, it's worth joining a free walking tour. Not only will you be able to gain your bearings in a new city, but you'll have a knowledgeable guide that will provide historical knowledge and plenty of tips on where else to visit and eat. 

China's culture is so different from that of home, so it's worth taking a few classes to gain a better insight into a typical day-in-the-life. Cooking, dancing, tai chi, calligraphy and tea ceremonies are just some of the classes you can take part in. Who knows, you may go home with a new skill or, better yet, a new signature dish to cook at your next dinner party. 

Pre-travel expenses

These are particularly important for China, as visas, travel insurance and immunisations are all necessary. The Chinese visa is not cheap, so be sure to include it in your budget calculations and give yourself plenty of time for it to arrive, so you don't have to fork out for express service. 

Head to your doctor and be sure to have any of the relevant immunisations. While they can be a little expensive, chances are they will cover you for a long time, and you won't need to worry about them for your next trip. 

Finally, don't just opt for your credit card insurance. If you do, be sure to read the PDS and ensure you are well covered for all activities. 

How much does a trip to China cost?

 

New to this budget planner business? No stress, we've got a step by step guide below.

Step 1

Enter your destination (China)
Let us know how long you'll be away
Choose your currency. In this case, it will either be AUD or CNY
Start counting down to unlimited dumplings since you've started your holiday budget.

Step 2

Prepare to feast on delicious Chinese cuisine that is 100x better than your local takeout shop. It's time to account for everything you plan on eating. Remember to put yourself in a holiday mindset; thankfully, food in China is super cheap, so you don't need to feel bad about having five pork buns in one sitting. 

Step 3

Shopping time!! There are plenty of unique shopping opportunities in China; just keep an eye out for any unwanted knock-offs! Try to estimate how much you plan on spending every day. You might spend more on some days than others, so your daily budget is more of an averaged out figure of everything. 

Step 4

This is for all of your transport outside of flights and significant journeys. So basically, your day to day means of getting around. Have a quick Google of the transport options available in your destinations, so you know what to expect. Chances are it will be buses and trains.

Step 5

The hard work is done! Here you'll find a simple layout of your planned expenses in both Aussie dollars and Chinese Yuan. From here you can either go back and edit, or start saving for your holiday!

It's important to note here that this only accounts for your most basic expenses. You'll need to add in travel insurance and other daily expenses. It's also worth having a bit of wiggle room in the kitty for unexpected costs, like a last-minute decision to visit the Great Wall or remote Chinese town that is known for out of this world noodles.

Chinese Budget Examples

Here are some examples of what the bones of your travel budget would look like. Please note all of these examples are based off seven nights accommodation and are quoted in Aussie dollars. Prices will, of course, vary with seasonality and availability. 

Couples trip

This couple plans to explore everything Beijing and the surrounds have to offer over the course of a week. 

Flights

$651 per person

Sydney to Beijing return with Air China.

Accommodation

$1200

King Room in a central hotel.

Food

$50 per day

A bit of street-fare coupled with delicious restaurant cuisine. 

Activities

$100 per day

A few day tours coupled with a chance to explore the city on your own. 

Total for couple 

$3,552

We’re being generous with this figure too. Either way, it’s a cheap week in a world unlike our own.

 

Family getaway

Mum and Dad are treating the kids to the cultural shock of the century in Shanghai. Expect bullet trains, Shanghai Disney and more fried rice then your belt can handle.

Flights

$2246

Sydney to Shanghai return with Virgin.

Accommodation

$1150

Three bedroom apartment in the middle of the city.

Food

$80 per day

It’s cheap to eat out, so you can treat the kids to plenty of street food and the occasional restaurant meal.

Activities

$150 per day

A few days of guided tours, a visit to Shanghai Disney and some time exploring the city on your own.

Total

$5006

Just over $5k to take the family to the home of fried rice and honey chicken. Where do I sign up?

 

Solo traveller

This lucky traveller is keen on immersing himself in as much history, culture and cuisine as possible in Xi’an.

Flights

$690

Sydney to Xi’an return with Qantas.

Accommodation

$45

You read that correctly. $45 for 7 nights in a hostel dorm.

Food

$20 per day

Cheap street eats will have you eating like a king for less. 

Activities

$60 per day

History and food tours with a pub crawl or two thrown into the mix.

Total

$1295

Seriously, it’s more expensive to stay in Australia. What are you waiting for?

 

Last-minute tips

  • You will find ATMs everywhere; however, they may be slightly different from what you are used to at home. Watch out for scams or super high transaction fees, and pay attention to the buttons as they may be in a different order to what you know.
  • Avoid Golden Week at the start of October. Everything is more expensive and super busy.
  • While you'll be able to get Wifi, sites like Facebook and Google are blocked. Use platforms like Whatsapp to stay in touch with fellow travellers and home.
  • China is a cash-based society; however, it's also worth having funds loaded onto a prepaid travel card like the Travel Money Oz Currency Pass so that you're not travelling with excessive amounts of cash.
  • Tipping is not expected and is sometimes considered rude.
  • Haggling at markets to get a better deal, just watch out for knock-off designer goods.
  • China is vast, and transport doesn't always stick to the schedule, so give yourself plenty of time.
  • Research your 'per day' budget and include the things you want to do. Once you know the costs, you have a savings goal to work towards.
  • Take advantage of Travel Money Oz's Best Price Guarantee. If you find a better price from a competitor, we will beat it*.
  • Hostels are a great way to save cash and meet like-minded travellers.
  • Check out reviews if you think something is too good to be true. Chances are it might be.
  • Don't forget to factor in pre-travel costs like travel insurance, immunisations and visas. These are particularly important for China.
  • Sign up for Rate Alerts. We'll let you know when the AUD is doing well against the CNY so you can purchase and maximise your travel money.
  • Are you worried about street food? Go to the stalls that have a long line up; chances are they are popular for a reason.
  • Step out of your comfort zone when it comes to trying new foods. Chicken feet can be surprisingly delicious. 

 

Flight costs based on search from www.flightcentre.com.au and are indicative costs only for travel dates 4 - 11 August 2020. Prices were sourced on November 27 2019. ^Accommodation costs are based on an average per night price for budget, moderate or luxury hotels, as indicated in the table. ~Food based on the average cost of 1 coffee, 1 fast food meal and 1restaurant meal per person, per day. 
COST COMPARISON TABLE: All costs are based on estimated approximate costs from major metropolitan cities. “From” costs indicate costs that start from the indicated price and may be higher than shown. Average prices indicate a typical estimated cost you would pay for the indicated item. Prices may vary from time to time, and in different cities and towns within China. This blog is provided for information only and does not take into consideration your objectives, financial situation or needs.  You should consider whether the information and suggestions contained in any blog entry are appropriate for you, having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs.  While we take reasonable care in providing the blog, we give no warranties or representations that it is complete or accurate, or is appropriate for you. We are not liable for any loss caused, whether due to negligence or otherwise, arising from use of, or reliance on, the information and/or suggestions contained in this blog.