Food Budgets for China
Friends planning to visit China always ask me how much they should budget per day for food, and I always give them the same very helpful answer: “it depends.” It depends mostly on: (1) how you want to eat, and (2) where you’ll be.
“How you want to eat” includes not only price range, but also type of food. If you’re in Shanghai (expensive!) and you want to eat good Western food (expensive!), you’re going to end up paying a lot (expensive + expensive). If you can eat all Chinese food (cheap!), and your vacation is to the forgotten corners of Shanxi Province (cheap!), you won’t spend much at all. Most travelers can manage a balance between the two. So with these two factors in mind, I give you my three simple budgets (the numbers are per person):
The Shoestring Budget
– 5 RMB breakfast
– 10 RMB lunch
– 20 RMB dinner
On this budget you’ll eat fine if you stick to cheap Chinese food. Shanghai will be a little tough, but you can still do it. You don’t have to eat street food all the time, but you can’t afford fancy restaurants. As for Western food, you can afford a McDonalds value meal for dinner, or maybe a cheap Taiwanese chain’s version of Western food, but not much else. You can also afford the cheapest cup of Starbucks coffee… for dinner.
For breakfast you’ll probably be eating at one of the little stands on the street. Just notice what Chinese people eat. Lunch is probably going to be some kind of cafeteria or small restaurant (look for the meals ending in 饭, because they come with rice). Dinner will be a similar small restaurant.
The Modest Budget
– 10 RMB breakfast
– 20 RMB lunch
– 50 RMB dinner
This is not a hard budget to do. You can buy bread and juice and yogurt for breakfast. You can afford McDonalds for lunch if you must, and you can eat better dinners. You can also have a few cheap dinners to save up for a more lavish meal. (Obviously, eating Chinese is the way to go.)
This budget is also nice because it works out to a little over US$10 (damn you, falling US dollar!). I actually loosely follow this budget in my daily life here in Shanghai.
The Comfortable Budget
– 10 RMB breakfast
– 40 RMB lunch
– 100 RMB dinner
If you find everything in China “so cheap” and you have the money to spend, this should do it. You can’t afford all-you-can-eat buffets at the Radisson on 100 RMB, but if you eat cheap for several nights you can. If there are two of you, you can afford to eat at most places (even in Shanghai), provided you don’t go crazy (especially with the alcohol). If there are four of you eating Chinese-style (sharing the dishes), you can definitely have some really great dinners on this budget.
This only works out to about US$20.
A few final notes:
– If you’re planning on drinking a lot at these meals, that is not taken into account
– Eating in larger groups, especially for dinner, will get you more for your money
– I’m assuming a pretty modest breakfast, so if you eat a lot in the morning, you might have to adjust the figures