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How much does it cost to backpack in China? (on a budget!)

How much does it cost to backpack in China? Well, this is my 5th time in China and once again I’m loving every second. Hopefully, you guys are seeing another side to this massive country, different to the one the western media try to propagate (big factories, communist government, stifled people etc).

I thought I’d give an idea about how much it costs to travel in China on a daily basis if you’re on a budge. And from there calculate an approximate monthly budget that you can feasibly stick to. For sure, China offers a lot of luxury these days too, but this article is more about backpacking China without much money. True travel!

Accommodation Costs

China is home to the best hostels in the world, I’ll be sad to leave them behind. Most places with any tourist attractions will have a plethora of hostels to stay in, generally speaking, a dorm bed costs around 25-50 RMB ($4-$8), with private twin/doubles costing around 100 RMB ($15).

If there are no hostels (rare), you can always stay in a chain hotel like Super 8 or 7 Days Inn for around 140 RMB ($20) for a twin room.

Average daily spend on dorm-room accommodation: 40 RMB ($8)

best hostel in the world
Chinese hostels are the best in the world!

Food Costs in China

Chinese food isn’t quite what we get fed in the west, and it’s certainly not the same prices! A meal on the street runs around 8RMB ($1.30). A meal in a locals restaurant will cost around 15-30RMB ($2.50-$5). Obviously, if you want to eat western food or high-end dining, you can pay a fortune but that’s not for backpackers, so steer clear!

Average daily spend for 2 or 3 meals: 30 RMB ($5)

chinese street food
Chinese street food is so cheap, portion of dumplings? $0.80!

Sights and activity costs in China

This is where things can get a little pricey. The Chinese have a lot of very awesome things to see, and they don’t half know it. An amazing national park or a famous sight can cost around 200RMB ($30) for a ticket, but naturally, that’s not an everyday event. If you can squeeze a couple of these a week in, you’ll be doing well.

Smaller temples, activities and sights etc and much more reasonably priced and cost around 10RMB ($1.60) per sight.

Average daily spend for sights*: 70RMB ($11)

Calculated at 2 major sights per week, plus a minor sight per day 

The Summer Palace
The Summer Palace, Beijing

Transport in China costs

China is a huge country but the transport links are good. So f you’re willing to rough it, they can be quite cheap. A 10-hour bus will run around 65 RMB ($10), whereas a 10-hour train will run at 50RMB ($8) for a hard seat or 120RMB ($20) for a hard sleeper. So if you’re tightening your budget, use a train and take the seat!

Local transport within a city or area costs 2RMB ($0.30) per subway ride or 1RMB ($0.15) per bus ride. Once you get your head around the transport system, it can work out very cheap indeed.

Average daily spend on transport*: 25RMB ($4)

Calculated at a 10-hour bus every third day

trains in china
Train from Beijing to Harbin; backpack in China


$28 per day + $5 wiggle room

Plus, cheap travel insurance is just $9 a week

So, is it expensive to travel in China?

If you’re on a backpacker budget, as I used to be, it can be cheap. For around $900 per month, you can take backpack in China. That’s $30 a day, or so. Remember, if you want to stick to a budget like this you always have to consider what you’re buying. Always think ‘is the extra comfortable train to Harbin Ice Festival, rather than the slow train, worth the extra money? Should you eat on the street? Do you want to hold a panda for an extra $200? China is still a cheap country to travel in, so get here soon before they take over the world and crank their prices. Happy travels!

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Got a question? Wanna comment? I'd love to hear from you

23 thoughts on “How much does it cost to backpack in China?

  1. Thanks for sharing Johnny! China is indeed amazing and still remains very affordable to travel in!

  2. hey, i’m from Nepal , i wanna know about the visa to china ?
    and how much does it costs for a visa?
    i wanna go for like 1 or 2 weeks in china as being a tourist.

    Hope ,i’ll get my reply soon , thank you !

  3. Pingback: The Ultimate Guide To The Cost Of Traveling The World
    1. We went to the consulate office in downtown Los Angeles in April 2016. We read the info on their web site so we brought everything requested. We had copies of our email confirmations for airlines, hotels and trains. The office took the info along with our passports and told us to come back on a specific day the next week. That was it. It took a few hours waiting the first time.

  4. Hello Folks, I have a few questions listed below.
    1. What time of year is the best time to go?
    2. Would it be best to hire an interpreter and if so, what does it cost and do they have specific agencies to draw from?
    3. Would it be better to go through a tour agency in China or local one from my home province?
    Thank you,

    1. Hello,
      Very excited to be here! I had some experiences in China.
      1. It really depends on where you want to go. Generally, north China in summer and south in winter. DO NOT go any famous place on October 1st or May 1st…..It is crazy.
      2. You can if you want to, but…you really don’t have to since lots of people there know english. You can also install some live human interpreter apps on your phone like YesPo, which is charged by minutes.
      3. You should find an agency you trust, like via your friends …. Sometime, agencies in China might provide some “fake” information for more money.

      Good luck!


  5. Hey, I found this post when I was looking for rough prices of things in China. Have done the typical south east Asia route but am so excited to go to China. I plan to go for a month or more if I can before studying abroad in Tokyo at the end of this year and was wondering if anyone had any ideas of how prices have changed as these were posted a couple of years back. Also, as I don’t have much time your top spots not to miss out on (bar the obvious).

    1. Welcome to China! Every things from the OP haven’t changed much, but I’d suggest you expect a lil more than 30 bucks on food. When I was in China last summer, I spent daily 8 dollars on average, yet it was still cheap tho. I also can confirm that those backpacker hotels in China are super nice and hommie if you don’t mind share rooms with other backpackers. One last tip, the cab in China charges about 1/4 price than US ones, and Chinese bus and subway system could be really confusing for foreign travelers, so if you want to save some times, call a cab instead. Hope you have a good trip in China

  6. Hi Johnny – nice post and pretty much spot on – agree with the “Chinese Hostels are the best in the world” bit. I have travelled quite extensively through China since 2007 – 15 visits now (most of them in the last 2 years since basing myself in Hong Kong) and I LOVE IT. I have backpacked a lot in the last 10 years and China is still one of the cheapest places. I cant understand why so many travellers head to places like Thailand, Cambodia etc. instead of China.

    An important thing to note about travelling in China in my opinion is to avoid places like Beijing and Shanghai. Sure theyre good and lots to see and do, but to get the taste of real China backpackers need to head to real Chinese towns and cities like Ljiang, Shuhe, Yongding, Xiamen, Chongqing, SHaoguan etc. Whenyou get to places like that you can get by on $10 US a day easily. Amazing!

    The sightseeing part is definitely the most expensive part though. The beer is ridiculously cheap – like 20p for a small tin in some remote rural towns.

    The biggest problem with China is its size. After 15 visits I have still only been to parts of 9 of the 29 provinces an despite having seen a lot of it, I feel it could take years to see the whole country. Once I hit the 100 country mark, I’ll be planning to visit all 29 provinces of China. You and your readers can check some of my really remote China stuff on my blog:

    Safe travels, Jonny

  7. How recent were these prices? I’m thinking of heading to China next year and am looking into what kind of budget I’d need…

  8. Excellent post! Fits my budget plan pretty good. I will soon be backpacking China, so its very interesting to read all your posts right now. Alot of the places you have been (zhangjiajie, beijing, chengdu, leshan, yangshuo) is on my initiary 🙂 .. I’ll fly to Thailand the 30th april and spent one and a half month and then take a boat to china (not the illegal way that you did haha).. Check out my blog for updates!

    1. hey alex, it’s cool you’re gonna be doing what i did, such a great trip! let me know if you need any help 🙂

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