If you do not want to read this article with full factual details and require a simple short answer to the question of if you can live in China with US$500 then my answer would be ‘No’ for those who would be moving to China with their families and ‘Yes’ for those who would be moving to China alone. I lived in China for 8 years in a row from 2016-2023 in big metropolitan cities and as well as in small cities which is why i know much much it cost to live in Big or small cities of China in recent times so now lets get into details.
We are assuming that we have US$500 (Around CNY 3,500) monthly budget for living in China so for that i will take this budget for both big and small cities separately and based on that i will describe details.
Living in Big Cities of China with US$500 (3500 CNY)
If you moving to a big city (Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Changsha, Nanjing etc) in China and have nobody accompanying you then you have to make some compromises with quality of living standard so you must not be spending anything above $500 per month.
Living in big cities of China is very expensive which is why US$500 is way too low for you to rent an apartment there because property rental values are very high in big Chinese cities but if you are moving to China alone and can adjust in low end properties or shared spaces then as per my experience US$500 would easily get you through the whole month.
First of all you will look for a rental place (Small/shared) which will cost you around US$140-200 per month inclusive of utility expenses, spend around US$100-120 on groceries (you will have to self cook to stay within your monthly budget), allocate around $50 for transport, spend $50 per month on internet and call service, and after covering these basic necessities you will still have money left from your $500 monthly budget.
Living in Small Cities of China with US$500 (3500 CNY)
Lets talk about living cost of a person in small Chinese cities and by referring to this i mean Chinese cities such as Zhenjiang, Suzhou, Kunming, Dali, Jiaxing, Yiwu, Wenzhou, Yangzhou, Yancheng, Nantong, Wuxi, Jiamusi and similar cities. You will be glad to know that you may live a very comfortable and high class life in most of these small cities of China if you have a monthly budget of CNY 3500 (Around US$500) because property rental value in these cities is way too low.
For example, if we get a two bedroom apartment for rent in Zhenjiang then that would burn our US$170 (Around CNY 1200) per month but what we have now is a full two bedroom apartment compared to a shared or one room accommodation at same price tag in a big Chinese city. Similarly, in these small Chinese cities, we will be spending less money on groceries, vegetables, meat, and other basic necessities of life US$80-100 (Around CNY 560-800) because most of these daily life things are quite cheaper in price in small cities of China.
Therefore as per my experience, if you are going to live in a small city of China then US$500 will be more than enough for a two or three member family but if you are going to settle in a big Chinese city then US$500 will only be enough for one person with considerable compromise on living standards.