Studying Abroad in China #WeSwapWisdom

Of all the travellers and expats we speak to, China is often touted as one of the hardest countries to navigate. Whether that’s financially, linguistically or geographically, China can be a bit of a mental maze for the first time visitor. It is also often touted as the most rewarding. So, for those of you thinking of taking an academic tour of the Far East, whether it’s a year out or a full course, you could do a lot worse than China.

Managing your finances while studying in China can be especially difficult. So, to give you a helping hand, we had a chat with Mia, a Modern Languages (German and Mandarin) graduate from the University of Birmingham to get the lowdown.


Where did you study?

Since I studied two languages, I split my third year/year abroad across two countries. I spent eleven months at Fudan University in Shanghai followed by a four-week intensive language course in Berlin.

What money arrangements did you make before you go?

I began saving for my year abroad by getting a part time job when I started university. Therefore, I had some money to cover travelling and emergencies, but I don’t know many people who saved that much! I wasn’t aware of the financial support that was on offer for the year abroad so it ended up being a lot less stressful than I’d anticipated.

I took the equivalent of about £200 with me in cash, because I’d already paid the deposit online for accommodation in Shanghai. When I first arrived I transferred my savings across to a Chinese bank account that I’d set up straight away with a leading Chinese bank. Unfortunately, the money was “lost” for 2 weeks due to an error during transfer and so I used the small amount of cash I’d taken, was kindly helped out by friends and used my UK credit card to withdraw if I urgently needed money. Bureaucracy in China is very different to the UK and so I’d definitely advise other students to take enough in cash to cover them for two-three weeks if they can.

Once there how long did it take to set up a bank account?

It was relatively quick to set up an account and you can do it once you’ve got proof of accommodation/study, a visa and your passport. However, it’s not completely straight forward if there’s a language barrier (especially if you’ve only started a language ab initio at university!). There were some issues transferring money from the UK, as I said, and this may be important to consider when going to a non-European country because protocol can be very different than what you’re used to. Cultural differences often mean that people would send you away whilst they look into issues rather than resolving them there and then.

If you didn’t set up a bank account what was your main way to make purchases?

In China if you link your Chinese card to your WeChat account you can pay for in store transactions and things like bills by simply scanning a code (like Apple Pay).

Are there any extra loans/help you received from the local council/government in your area?

I just accepted the money I’d been allocated through the University of Birmingham. However, there are numerous funding opportunities available in Shanghai: Generation UK is funded internship programme available through the British Council) if you’re looking for a work placement.

Fudan University, where I studied, offer a variety of scholarships. When I was there I had friends who had all language courses fees for the year paid for them, medical insurance, a room in a four person flat in the foreign student dorms and approximately £250 a month - which goes really far in Shanghai. If you’re put off by the thought of sharing a small apartment then you can always take the scholarship and rent your own apartment (you can get a large room in a modern apartment for under £300)

What financial tips would you give someone who’s off to study in China?

Don’t forget to factor in surprise charges that you may not have considered (like electricity and Wi-Fi cards for your dorm room in Shanghai).

If you stay in dorms (very common in Shanghai) then keep in mind the difference in Chinese dorms; you may consider the facilities (e.g. in the shared kitchens or your bedroom) quite limited and therefore need to factor in money for your own fridge or a European style mattress.

Travel is extremely cheap; lots of people choose to travel by bike (don’t get ripped off by the bicycle sellers) and you can get across Shanghai on the metro for about 30p!

Studying Abroad in China: Key Facts

How do I apply to study in China? 

There’s a number of options for applying. Once you identity the university and course you’re keen on, you can just apply directly. There are also two popular services , CUCAS and CUAC, that can help you to apply.

There are also 100s of scholarship options for international students (they can be found here).

Deadline wise, it’s best to check with the university itself as semester dates can differ across the country.

You’ll need the following documents to apply:

  • Passport photo
  • Photocopy of valid passport
  • Photocopy of valid visa
  • Personal ID card
  • Health certificate
  • Certification of no criminal record
  • Chinese/English language proficiency certificate (more on this below)
  • Letter of guarantee from your parents or guardian
  • Proof that you’ve got enough money to live in China
  • Certificate/diploma from last graduated school
  • Academic transcript from last graduated school

What are the student visa requirements?

There are two types of student visa in China. The X1, for students studying for longer than 6 months. And the X2, for students studying for less.

If you’re coming from the UK, Australia, Canada or the EU, you can apply through the CVASC (Chinese VISA Application Service Centre). If not, you’ll need to apply through your nearest Chinese embassy or consulate (you’ll have to do this in person, though).

You should apply around a month before you plan to move.

How much will I be looking to spend on fees?

This can vary quite a bit as there are a number of public and private universities in China and also a lot of UK unis have campuses in China that charge fees pretty similar to UK uni fees.

Our friends over at Study Portals have all the info on pricing here.

Are there any language requirements?

是 or Shì (or yes)

If you’re applying for a degree taught in English (and you’re not a native English speaker), then you’ll need to pass a TOEFL or IELTS.

For a Chinese-taught course, you’ll need to take a HSK test.

Do I need health insurance?

You’ll need health insurance cover that will cover around 62,000 USD (around 47,000 GBP). You can get this from an insurance company in your home country or buy a health insurance card in China.

Can I work while studying?


But, if you’re studying as part of an exchange programme with a UK university you’ll need their permission. You’ll need permission from the Chinese immigration authorities as well.

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