Study in China: The Lowdown

Samuel Clennett

China aims to welcome over 500,000 international students every year from 2020, helped by a focus on improving educational standards in universities, and the provision of scholarships. Although many of these overseas students come from other Asian countries, there are also an increasing number of adventurous students from elsewhere taking time out to study in China. In fact, many of the top universities in China offer some courses in English, making them accessible to students globally.

If you want a unique educational experience, why not consider life as an international student in China?

This guide will get you started with details about universities, tuition fees, how to get a study permit and where to live in China. We’ll also touch on how to make your money go further as an international student, with Wise.

Use Wise to send money overseas when paying rent or fees, and you’ll get a fast, simple service which can work out much cheaper than your normal bank. You can also seamlessly manage your money across currencies using the multi-currency borderless account from Wise. More on that a little later.

Studying in China

Over recent years, the Chinese government has started to increase their focus on higher education, including plans to create the elite C9 League of universities - set to rival the Ivy League. Growing investment in university education and more courses offered in English mean that China is an increasingly popular destination for international students.

As well as offering a fascinating opportunity to explore a different part of the world, studying in China comes with much lower costs than at home. Different universities set their own fees according to the course type and level, but you can expect the price tag to start in the range of AUD3,000 - AUD6,000 per year for a public university¹. Living costs, including rent and transport, are also relatively low, even if you choose to live in one of the major cities. You’ll also find that there are a range of scholarship opportunities offered by both the Chinese government and individual universities, to encourage international students².

If you’re considering spending time studying in China, it makes sense to do some research in advance to decide if the lifestyle will suit you. While courses may be taught in English, and many Chinese people in the cities also speak good English, you might want to take some language classes to help you get by when you travel. Naturally students will also experience a degree of culture shock - so learning as much as you can about the history, customs and culture in the region you’re headed to is a smart idea.

Study Visa

Once you’ve been accepted onto a study course at an approved institution in China, you can apply for your visa.

For long term study - over 180 days - you’ll need to apply for an X1 type visa. If you’re only planning on studying for a short time, and will leave within 6 months, you’ll need an X2 visa³,⁴. The documents you need to provide include:

  • Your current passport, and a previous passport if your current document is recently issued
  • Passport photos
  • Completed application form
  • Your previous visas if you have visited China before
  • Admission letter from your chosen educational institute

You’ll need to apply via a China visa application centre - there’s a full list of locations online, on the website of the Chinese Embassy in Australia⁵. You can either hand in your documents in person, or send them by mail - although mail applications may take longer to process. The published wait times on the Chinese embassy website are around 4 days in most cases, and up to 10 days if you send your documents by mail - although express services are also available for an extra fee⁶.

Cost of studying in China

You’ll find that the day to day cost of living in China is lower than at home - and tuition fees may also be cheaper than your local options in Australia. Here’s a rundown of some of the costs you need to know about.

Tuition fees

Different institutions set their own fees, which might depend on the course you choose. However, you can expect the costs to start from around AUD3,000- AUD6,000 per year for a public university offering taught courses in English. Some disciplines such as medicine or engineering may cost more¹.

You can also opt to study at the Chinese campus of an international university - these are private universities which are more costly than the public institutions, coming in at upwards of AUD12,000 a year⁷.

You’ll also need to factor in the cost of books and course materials when working out your budget.

Cost of living in China

Your lifestyle choices will make a big difference to how much you spend while in China. Rent is a major expense for any student - and choosing a dormitory in your university can be a cost effective way to find a place to live. Otherwise, you’ll be able to find a place on the open market.

A good way to check out the likely costs of daily living expenses is to use the cost of living comparison tool on website Numbeo for the cities you’re interested in⁸. Numbeo users submit data about the costs of rent, transport and everyday items, which are aggregated to get data about the overall costs of living in different cities around the world. Here are a few examples of the costs to consider:

Living expenseIndicative cost
Beijing: 1 bedroom apartment in the city centre - off campusAUD1,515
Shanghai: 1 bedroom apartment in the city centre - off campusAUD1,540
Monthly transport ticketAUD41
Macdonald’s mealAUD7
Cinema ticketAUD11

Numbeo uses live data which means it changes all the time as users update it. To see the current prices for the city you’re interested in, head over to their website.

Universities in China

There are 40 Chinese higher education institutions which rank among the top in the world - 6 are in the global top 100. Thanks to massive investment and focus on improving the quality of education in China, it looks likely that more universities there will start to show up in the global rankings in future⁹.

Here are some of the best ranked universities to think about when researching where to study in China¹⁰:

  • Tsinghua University
  • Peking University
  • Fudan University
  • University of Science and Technology of China
  • Zhejiang University
  • Shanghai Jiao Tong University

You’ll find handy resources online including listings of Chinese universities which allow foreign students to join their courses, which provide contact numbers and other application details to help you¹¹.

Cut the costs of studying abroad with Wise

No matter where in the world you decide to study, you’ll have fees and bills to pay. Studying abroad can make this even more expensive if you are hit by high bank fees and poor exchange rates. If you are looking for a way to send money to China, Wise could be an option.

The smart way to avoid this, and get the most for your money while you’re in China, is to use Wise. You can send money all over the world using the mid-market exchange rate, with no hidden fees. You’ll just pay a transparent charge per transaction, which can work out up to 16x cheaper than using your normal bank.

For day to day spending, there’s also the multi-currency borderless account from Wise. This new type of account comes with a linked debit Mastercard so you can spend easily when overseas. You just top up your account in dollars, switch to the currency you need using the mid-market exchange rate, and spend. You’ll pay a low fee when you convert your money, but then it’s free to spend in any currency you hold in your account - so there are no international charges to worry about.

Ready to make your dream of studying in China a reality? Use the ideas and resources given here to guide your research, and you could be living overseas and gaining a uniquely immersive experience in no time.


  1. Study in China
  2. Scholarships
  3. Visa Requirements
  4. More on Visa's
  5. Visa Application Centres
  6. How to and Cost of Applying
  7. Costs of Studying
  8. Cost of Living Comparison
  9. Where to Study in China
  10. Top Universities
  11. Enrolling

All sources accurate as of 10 December 2019

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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