My wife and I moved abroad in December 2022 to semi-retire in China, and are so grateful that we did!
There are a host of benefits awaiting those who are looking to settle down and retire or semi-retire in Asia.
In this article, I will share our expense breakdown so you can see how much it could potentially cost you to semi-retire in China.
Coming from the US, the dollar’s spending power has been greatly increased due to the low cost of living here.
Note: The Chinese currency is Yuan or Renminbi (RMB/￥), and the American Currency is the United States Dollar (USD/$).
For this article, I’ll be referencing our currency as USD/$/dollar and will be using the following calculation of $1.00 USD = a￥6.5 RMB (Yuan).
Since we have semi-retired in China for over a month now, I will be sharing our expenses here for the month of December (31 days).
Here is a quick overview of our expense categories-
Related Content: Chinese vs American Views on Money | Explained From Natives
Before breaking down each of the expenses, I’d like to throw in a quick thought on our situation regarding rent in China.
Our Rent Situation in China
My wife is Chinese and is the only child in her family. As you may know, a central part of Chinese culture is collectivism. It’s not uncommon to see three generations living together in the same house – grandparents, parents, and grandkids.
This exact thing happened when we came to China and moved in with my in-laws who were so excited to see our kids for the first time.
We offered to pay rent multiple times but they refused. It’s not common and is actually strange for kids to pay rent to their parents in China. So we are grateful for their hospitality which has allowed us to save money on rent & utilities.
You can see on this chart below from Hofstede Insights how China ranks compared to the US for collectivism and individualism.
1. Residency Permit $185 (annual)
Some of the main Chinese visa categories are tourist, business, student, work, and resident. You can visit Chinahighlights.com for a comprehensive list of all the types of visas.
Since my wife has Chinese citizenship, my two kids and I, who have US citizenship could enter China with Q1 (family reunion) visas.
Upon arriving in China, we had to apply for a foreign residence permit from the people’s republic of China. We went to the exit/entry administrations of public security located in my wife’s city to apply.
This permit for me and my two kids will last one year and cost us a total of $185, or $62 per person.
Some big cities will give you a five-year foreign residence permit but my wife’s city is smaller and the longest they can give is two years.
They will not give the full two-year permit at first since they want to make sure everything goes well at the beginning.
The process to apply for a foreign residency permit in China
The process for us when first arriving in China was to visit the local police station to have them set up a registration voucher of residence for visitors from overseas.
Since the city we’re staying in is smaller, they did not understand and just took down my wife’s phone number and address haha.
We then went to the exit/entry administration of public security, and they told us that the police station didn’t fill out any registration for us.
One of the head workers called the police station and chewed them out for not doing such an “easy task”.
Originally they were only going to give us 1/2 year permits but since the process took a long time and they saw we were a family they ended up giving me and my kids one year each for our permits.
After one year we can apply again and there’s a good chance we will get a longer permit!
2. Family Insurance: $215 (annual)
My kids and I were able to apply for China Healthcare Security since we had foreign residency permits.
China Healthcare Security is provided by the government and has many benefits such as being cheaper than private health insurance.
So for my wife, me, and two kids our total ANNUAL health insurance costs only $215, or around $54 per person.
The process for obtaining China Healthcare Security took many days and was quite stressful at times. Since we are in a small city there are few people with the needed training to get foreigner information into their system correctly.
Fortunately, the people we worked with were very dedicated and took the time to get everything figured out, woohoo!
3. Gym: $154 (15 months)
Exercise has always been a passion of mine, so I signed up for a gym membership at a place called JiaFu Fitness.
I came to China at the perfect timing because the gym was just celebrating its 10-year anniversary and giving a discount to new sign-ups.
The total cost for 15 months is $154 which is about $10.27 a month. The best part is I have access to all locations, many have swimming pools, and there are no annual fees.
Covid restrictions were lifted here about a month after I started going to the gym. With the lifted restrictions, basically, everyone got sick, so the gym was closed for a couple of weeks.
The gym also closes for the Chinese New Year holiday coming up so for these reasons they are going to give me another month free.
4. Fun: $180
Most of December was spent settling in with the in-laws taking us around to explore the city.
It’s nice being semi-retired in China because we have the flexibility to go out on adventures.
We used our fun money to go see Avatar 2, for arcade games, and for little kid car rides.
The biggest expense though was a one-time purchase of a gaming router that cost $115. The whole family benefits from faster wifi though lol.
5. Eating Out: $150
One of my favorite things about living in China is the FOOD. There is so much variety to the delicious foods here and so much flavor!
Don’t get me started on the deserts either. I love the shaved ice, mango drinks, and boba drinks, the list goes on probably forever.
In total, we spent $100 as a family of four eating out. We also spend a lot of time eating in and eating my mother-in-law’s delicious cooking which helps us save on costs too.
6. Phones: $20
I am currently on an international plan with Google FI where my monthly payment is $20.
It comes with unlimited wifi texts and calls which is awesome since I can keep in touch with my family in the US.
If not on wifi, it is then $10 per GB of usage. I’m using the Flexible plan, but for more details on all the plans and options you can check out Google FI Plans.
The customer service is truly amazing. They accidentally deducted the wrong amount from my first bill so they gave me a $100 credit.
My wife and I also have phones for use in China with Chinese SIM cards. They are under a family plan and my in-laws insisted on paying for it.
7. Baby Expense: $135
With both of our kids still very young, a lot of our spending for this category went to diapers, wipes, formula, etc.
We purchased these baby items in bulk to help give us a discount and also last for a long time.
Something we noticed is that the price for these baby items is very comparable if not the same as in the US.
8. Living expenses: $460
These expenses include new clothing, toiletries, and other personal daily-use items.
We did not bring a lot of personal items with us to semi-retire in China so we had to buy quite a few things to get settled in.
The costs for December were really not too bad considering it was a settling-in month and we had a lot of one-time or annual expenses such as the foreigner residency permit, family insurance, and gym membership.
Below is a table showing our semi-retired costs of living in China with the total amount for December equalling $1,449!
|Expense Categories||Costs (USD)|
|Foreigner Residency Permits (annual)||$185|
|Family Insurance (annual)||$215|
|Gym (15 months)||$154|
Please let me know in the comments below if you’d like to see more of our regular monthly spending and budgeting.
Wishing you all an amazing new year! 🙂
We hope the information in this article provides valuable insights to every reader but we, the Biesingers, are not financial advisors. When making your personal finance decisions, research multiple sources and/or receive advice from a licensed professional. As always, we wish you the best in your pursuit of financial independence!