American students have long flocked to Europe for study abroad, but there’s a wider world out there. China, for example, is an attractive alternative. Not only is there a wealth of overseas studies programs, but it can also be relatively cheap. For many students, the cost of studying abroad in China is much less than what it would be if they headed to perennial favorite destinations like Italy, Spain, or England.
Wherever you’re interested in pursuing your studies, we recommend making a budget first. It’ll help you ensure that you have enough to cover the essentials, and then help you prioritize any “wants.” Admittedly, it’s not always a fun process, but you’ll thank yourself later.
Average Tuition Cost for a Semester Abroad in China
China continues to grow as a global power, and an increasing number of its universities have programs for international students. It is possible to enroll directly at a Chinese institution, or you can select a program offered by a third-party overseas studies provider. The first option is typically less expensive, as you’ll see below. Still, even the latter option can actually cost less than a semester of higher education in the United States.
Choosing the right program for your specific needs is important. Learn more about how direct enrollment differs from third-party program providers, so you can choose the right study abroad program for you.
Here are some samples of the costs you might pay for different study abroad options in China:
Tuition for a Semester of Direct Enrollment Study Abroad at:
- Sichuan University: $1,200/semester (2017-18)
- University of Nottingham in Ningbo: $6,900 (one semester, 2019)
- Study Abroad Programs with Shanghai Jiao Tong University: $3,600/year – in Chinese; $11,600/year – in English (2019-20)
- Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University: $12,700/year (2019-20)
Tuition for a Semester of Study Abroad through a Third-Party Provider:
Average Cost of Living in China
China has a lot to recommend it as an overseas studies destination, and one of those pros is the relatively low cost of living. That said, expect higher prices in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. You’ll find smaller cities such as Chengdu or Nanjing to be much more budget-friendly. Consider the tradeoffs when choosing your temporary home base.
For your time in China, you should budget for living expenses of at least $2,000 per semester. After that, you’ll have to consider what you’re likely to spend your money on, from tea houses to travel and electronics to eating out.
|Monthly rent||$145 - $1,000 for a one-bedroom apartment|
|Utilities||$30 - $85 per month|
|Cell phone||About $20 per month|
|Local transportation||A monthly pass: about $16|
|Total||Your living expenses will likely fall between $2,000 and $5,800 for one semester in China after airfare and program fees.|
Sources: Numbeo China
Average Airfare & Travel Costs
Overall, you may save money by opting to study abroad in China rather than another part of the world. Airfare, however, is not necessarily going to be one of your areas of savings. Flights to Asia from the United States can get expensive. Ticket costs vary widely, so while it is possible to find flights for around $500 from some major U.S. hubs, they can also climb to more than $1,500.
Once you’re in China, there’s plenty you could potentially explore, from the Great Wall in the north to the rice terraces of the south to neighboring countries like Japan, South Korea, or anywhere in Southeast Asia. Trains and budget airlines can be good options if there’s a trip on your study abroad bucket list. Of course, extra travel may take a toll on your bank account, so if that’s a concern, remember that it isn’t the only way to have an amazing experience; studying in and exploring a new city is already an adventure in itself.
Other Costs to Keep in Mind While Studying in China
Health insurance is a must while studying in China. Not only is it generally a good idea to have it, but the Ministry of Education requires it. The first thing you should do is check to see if you’re covered by your current policy. If not, some overseas studies programs will include it or offer it for an additional fee; consider those options if available. You can also look into buying a plan yourself, which it’s possible to find for less than $150.
When all is said and done, the cost of a semester in China is likely to be in the range of $4,000 to $17,000. How much you actually spend is dependent on you and your spending choices. Luckily, there are plenty of tips out there for how to study abroad on a budget. They’ll help you make the most of your time abroad – no matter which end of the spending spectrum you fall on.
If you’re serious about studying abroad in China, the earlier you can start working on your budget, the better. It may sound obvious, but I’ve found that it’s much easier to make smart financial decisions when you have actual guidelines for yourself. Since you’re clearly already doing your research, you’re off to a good start. Go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back.
This post was originally published in October 2016, and was updated in March 2019.