Things to consider when studying in China

1. Where are the most popular places to study in China?

Following a massive urbanization movement, China currently boasts 20 cities with over three million inhabitants, including seven cities with over 10 million people. Specialized study abroad programs sometimes offer locations outside of the big cities in smaller towns or rural areas, but Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong remain the most popular study abroad destinations.

Other popular study abroad locations in China include Chengdu, Tianjin, and Kunming. China is a huge country, which governs over 22 provinces and five autonomous regions, many with their own distinct culture, dialect, and way of life. Anywhere you go will offer something unique and different —so research carefully, choose wisely, and travel a lot while you study abroad in China!

2. How much does it cost?

Rejoice—China is very affordable, even on a student budget. Although China boasts the world’s second largest economy, it is still very much a developing nation, and so the cost of living is quite cheap compared to most Western countries. Meals will generally only run you a few dollars and many prices are up to negotiation. Prices are lower in rural areas than in the cities, and informal market places are cheaper than recognizable Western businesses. Know that as a young tourist you will stand out so be careful of scams and artificially marked-up prices. These pitfalls quickly become recognizable though, and you will come to find the Chinese people unendingly hospitable and sincerely interested in Western culture.

There are many scholarships made available for study in China, from Western and Chinese institutions alike. Be sure to take advantage of these by consulting GoAbroad’s Scholarship Directory to find out more information on opportunities and eligibility requirements for studying in China. Here are a bunch of other ideas to cover the costs of study abroad, as well as awesome advice to create and stick to your study abroad budget.

3. Do I need a student visa?

For American students studying abroad in China, F Visas are required for students who plan to study in China for less than six months, while X visas are required to studying China for over six months. Even though China is a somewhat closed country, obtaining a visa to study abroad is a fairly simple process for American students studying abroad in China, which most programs will help guide you through. Just be sure to allot yourself plenty of time, consult your specific program provider, and check out GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory for more details about the visa policy specific to your home country.

4. What are the pros and cons of study abroad in China in summer vs. other times of year?

If your four-year college plan cannot endure a full semester abroad in China, then a summer China program is the perfect time for you to fulfill some degree requirements. Study abroad China summer programs require only a limited time commitment, so they are great for students with part-time jobs, familial obligations, or busy course schedules. When you’re not hitting the books, get your fill with water activities, like kiteboarding and surfing, or by savoring summery sweets, like snowflake cakes and red bean buns!

- Pros: Shorter program means a lower cost, so study abroad china summer programs can be more financially affordable for students on a tight budget. Fun excursions are almost always included in summer study abroad programs in China, and if they aren’t, you can always travel before or after! Studying abroad in China in the summer means you will earn academic credits during a shorter time period than taking a class during the regular semester, and it won’t seem like you are even taking any credits half the time. Spending the summer traveling and taking classes abroad is a great way to satisfy your itch for travel in a way that keeps Mom and Dad happy, as you will continue to work toward your educational or career goals.

- Cons: Chinese summers can be exceptionally hot and muggy in the big cities, so plan accordingly! While you might be left wondering why they still drink boiling-hot tea during the summer months, the list of super-fun activities for your summer in China exceeds the number of Chinese characters that exist.

Wouldn’t we ALL love to have this view from our classroom window while studying in Shanghai?!

5. What are popular classes for students studying abroad in China?

Common academic areas of study in China include math, economics, engineering, political science, urban development, and, of course, Mandarin. Programs available in major Chinese cities usually combine academic study with a variety of intensive language lessons and culturally immersive opportunities.

If you’re worried about being taught in the local language, fear not! There are plenty of ways that you can study in China in English, even though we generally recommend taking some basic, entry-level language classes to help with everyday communication, not to mention the chance to learn more about their vastly rich culture (more on this later). We have a feeling that no matter your major, you can knock out a considerable number of credits while studying in China thanks to its excellent universities and relative popularity amongst American students studying abroad.

6. Do I need to speak Mandarin to study in China?

The language barrier can be a very real obstacle to breaching China’s increasingly prominent national university system. While world-class institutions like Tsinghua University, Peking University, and Fudan University are the crown jewel in the eye of every Chinese national student, most classes are generally taught in Mandarin, which make enrollment a challenge for international students not studying Chinese.

However many of these schools do reach out with international programs to attract foreign students, and some subject areas, such as international business, are often taught in English. For more studying abroad in China tips, check out GoAbroad’s inside scoop on how to study in China in English.

7. Should I do a homestay? Where should I live?

Yes, yes, yes, always yes to a homestay. Homestays are great for the student who is interested in a more culturally immersive glimpse into the Chinese household and family life (and frequent home cooked meals), and an amazing chance to practice and learn Mandarin.

Standard housing options are made available through most study abroad programs in China—apartments, homestays, or dormitory style living being most common. While, homestays should be your number one, there’s nothing wrong with apartment or dorm living. Apartment living is good for the independently minded students who like their own space and individual liberty. Dormitory style living, especially at larger Chinese universities, offers an inside experience into the life of Chinese students and are a great way to break cultural boundaries and make lifelong friends.

8. What are the downsides of studying in China?

China isn’t ALL about tradition. You’ll adore it’s take on modern architecture!


Hugely chaotic crowds of people, inescapable urban pollution, and a spoken language, which could not differ more from English, all make studying abroad in China a daunting prospect to even the most adventurous of students. Indeed moving from a Western society which prizes individualism and creative freedom to an Eastern society which values hard work, disciplined obedience, and the observance of propriety will inevitably bring about a healthy dose of culture shock.
Yet growth comes from breaking out and experiencing new things.

9. Any ideas for my study in China bucket list?

We thought you’d never ask!

  • Eat dumplings! Lots of them, with lots of different fillings. Bonus points if you can find purple, green, or orange ones. 

  • Visit the Great Wall. It’s stellar. Pro tip: Wear good walking shoes because it’s quite the climb. Time your visit with sunset for especially spectacular photos.

  • Befriend a pengyou. There’s over a billion Chinese citizens—you can surely find a couple to be your friend, right? These relationships are perfect for complementing your learning and never having to drink milk tea alone.

  • Drink lots and lots of green tea. The more bitter, the better. Trust us. You’ll get there.

  • Gnaw on chicken feet. It’s wacky and weird and anything but tasty, but it is fun nonetheless and makes for great photos. These claws are made for walkin’ (and as a toothpick substitute?).

  • Try speaking Mandarin for a whole day. You’ll be surprised how much you absorb by intent listening, not to mention how quick others are to help you stumble through a complicated sentence. Damn tones!

  • Cycle from Yangshuo to Guilin. The karst mountains are stunning AND you’ll get a quick workout in. More room for “Crossing the Bridge Noodles,” a Yunnan speciality.

  • Chuan’r your heart out. Chuan’r is a way of life in the after hours. Don’t hold back when it comes to stacking your plate high with different kebabs—meats to buns to mushrooms to tofu. Wash it down with a crisp, cold Tsingtao on a tiny stool. The perfect China night, no?