Lucky China volunteers, you're going to find some pretty rad deals while volunteering with International Language Programs (ILP). Here's what you can expect to find for really good prices.
Pst: we have a whole write up on what it's like to volunteer in China. If you have questions about what a typical day is like, how vacations work and other questions, you'll get your answers there!
We could write forever about all the reasons we absolutely love China ... but one major contender is how affordably this country is. It's made even more affordable because in some situations, you can bargain to get an even lower cost. If you do your shopping on street markets, use these tips on bartering to get the very best deal — something our ILP volunteers have learned quick!
Clothes and Shoes
Are you a shoe lover? You can find great deals on all sorts of shoes — your name brand rainbows, favorite tennis shoe brands and more. Think between $3-15 for each pair of you bargain hard.
You can get clothing for cheap too. Instead of spending $20 on a shirt you can find them for around $5. Nice jeans are about $15-$20 — they will be knock-off brands but will have a designer name sewn onto them (not authentic but still good quality). Buy printed jumpsuits, fuzzy sweaters, jackets and more. I had people in my ILP group redo their entire wardrobe while in China.
As a head's up, it's a bit harder to find all size ranges in China, but if you're more China-sized, you'll have plenty of options.
You can get some really sweet souvenirs throughout China and they won't break the bank. Steer clear of tourist attractions for your souvenir shopping, and decide to get your souvenirs at other spots (like street markets or in Shanghai and Beijing at the underground shopping malls). One perk of being an ILP volunteer is that you'll be living in a Chinese city that won't really have those tourist-inflated prices.
Markets will generally have a lot of souvenirs like Buddha statues, custom painted scrolls, postcards, chopsticks, silk shawls, fake jade bracelets, calligraphy pens, China attraction specific statues (like The Great Wall, Summer Palace etc:), paintings, and much more!
Trains or buses will get you to where you need to go for cheap. Where I was living with ILP, it was a $5 train ride to Shanghai. Five dollars! Granted, it was for a slow train over there, but it was well worth it for us budget travelers.
You can even save more if you're willing to give up comforts. China sells standing room only train tickets which I absolutely do not recommend (can you imagine standing your whole trip?), or seats. You can also rent out a sleeping room for overnight journeys for just a few dollars. Trains and buses are significantly cheaper than flights in most cases.
And don't forget the city buses! China uses a thing called DiDi which is like Uber (and isn't terribly expensive) but often, city buses cost just $0.40 or so cents to ride as long as you'd like. It's slower, but way cheaper.
Makeup and Jewelry
Ladies, get really good deals on makeup especially in places like The Pearl Market. Expensive eye shadow pallets found in the US for $45-$50 are only about $10, nail polish can be as cheap as a dollar, make up brush sets have killer deals, etc. Time for a makeover!
Jewelry can be found everywhere and for a great price. The street markets usually have lower quality of jewelry but that is where I stocked up on earrings like crazy. Most pairs were $0.50! You can also get a real set of pearl for just a few dollars at the Pearl Market in Beijing.
As an ILP volunteer, you're housing for the semester is totally covered in your program fee, but you'll pay for lodging on vacation. That really isn't an issue because hostels, hotels and Air BnBs can all be found in China and for some really great prices. I never paid more than $30 a night anywhere I went in China (and that was for an expensive hostel!). Usually it was about $10 a night but can prices can really range depending on where you go. I've stayed in nice, clean hostels that were as low as $6 a night.
Here are some good websites for places to stay:
I'd do anything to go back to China right now and eat my favorite noodles and dumplings! The prices on food is killer. A HUUUUGE plate of noodles will cost you about $2 and will more than fill you up.
In a lot of places you can find 10 dumplings for 5-10 RMB which is only about $.80-$1.50. Our favorite street market seasoned tofu was another absolute favorite (and I don't even like tofu) was only $0.50. Fresh fruit is at every market and varies in price but will cost you barely anything and smoothies are usually around $1.
You will most likely find some American chains while you're traveling, but check out your city and see where the best prices are for local food. The markets and small hole-in-the-wall restaurants will be cheapest, but even most sit down, local restaurants aren't too pricey. If you eat local, be prepared to save.
Electronics and Accessories
You can get speakers for $5-$10 and headphones (kind of like Beats) for $15-$20. If you're looking for phone cases and accessories you can get them super cheap as well $1-$5. The quality is a bit more questionable for electronics, so I'd recommend testing things out with the vendor present before you buy anything, but the pieces are so low, it's worth getting a bluetooth speaker and using it until it breaks, right?
Your semester living abroad in China will change your life. As you make a difference, travel and try new things you will fall in love with China! Click the button below to learn more about what volunteering with ILP is like!