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Cost of living in Beijing

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Post time: 2014-12-28 21:33:23
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The cost of living in Beijing is on par with many of Europe's most prolific capitals. As the cultural and political centre, it is also the most expensive city in China, and was ranked as the 11th most expensive city to live in the world in Mercer's 2014 Cost of Living Survey.

In short, despite the fact that living in China is generally more affordable than in other great economic powers, Beijing is not cheap – especially for expats who demand a certain standard of comfort and luxury.

With so many opportunities for exploration and entertainment, it can often feel like there is never "enough" money to live the life expats may imagine for themselves in the city.

If foreign residents can avoid getting too caught up in consumer culture and can avoid paying the grossly inflated prices associated with Western-style goods and services, it's easy to live well and to save money in Beijing.

Many expats are attracted to Beijing by lucrative salary packages, and if this is the case, expenses are not usually a concern.

Cost of accommodation in Beijing
Housing in Beijing will be an expat’s largest expense. Property prices have been increasing steadily over the last decade, and foreigners will find that both buying and renting accommodation in Beijing can cost a huge amount of money.

As a general rule, the closer a home is to the city centre, the more expensive it will be. Beijing is organised according to ring roads, where the first ring road is closest to the city centre. So, if someone finds the housing in an area is proving too pricey, they move toward the periphery.

Both furnished and unfurnished accommodation is available, and the former will be more expensive. Most apartments in Beijing are not incredibly spacious, however, regardless of how much furniture they have.

Expats should also anticipate paying for utilities in Beijing. Electricity and water are not exorbitant, although monthly costs obviously vary according to consumption.

Cost of schooling in Beijing
Expat parents who plan on bringing children to China should anticipate paying hefty school fees. Most foreigners prefer to enrol their children in one of the international schools in Beijing, and tuition in these institutions can rival that of a college back home.

Fees can cost anything between 120,000 RMB and 245,000 RMB per year, and vary according to the school and the age of the child.

Expats would do well to try and negotiate some sort of education allowance into their contract. Otherwise, homeschooling or one of the private bilingual Chinese schools could be more affordable alternatives.

Cost of food in Beijing
Despite the high cost of housing and education, food is relatively cheap in Beijing - including good-quality food. Of course, there are a lot of five-star places that can quickly deplete a person’s funds, but a meal in a decent restaurant for four people could cost as little as 300 RMB.

For new arrivals that are brave enough, the best and cheapest food often comes from backstreet restaurants; and often eating out can be less expensive than cooking at home. That said, for expats who enjoy making meals in their own kitchen, buying groceries in the fresh market and whipping up something special can cost next to nothing.

Expats do not need to tip in China. Waitresses and waiters receive a monthly salary and are not allowed to take tips.

The cost of food will be significantly higher for expats who rely on Western food and rarely eat Chinese. Many items that are considered staples in a Western diet are uncommon in Chinese eating, like cheese and bread.

These types of items will only be available at international supermarkets that target expats, such as Jenny Lou's. For example, cheese can cost up to 50 RMB for a 250g block of good cheddar. Cereal, another quintessentially non-Chinese product, goes for similar prices.

Cost of transport in Beijing
Whether a millionaire in charge of a huge company or an ordinary worker that struggles to get by, one cost that can’t be avoided is the traffic in Beijing – be prepared.

There is no rush hour, there’s only a never-ending day of traffic congestion. It’s the biggest headache for those who commute to work by car and a nightmare for those that have to use public transportation.

Travelling by car is not a wise solution because it is always difficult to find parking; expats easily get fined due to so many complicated and confusing traffic rules, and when a person gets stuck in traffic, they literally get stuck.

Furthermore, the cost of leasing a mid-range vehicle, paying for petrol and hiring a driver can add up to the equivalent of a second apartment.

It’s better to use public transport or taxis instead, which lets passengers get off and find a nearby subway station when the traffic jam gets too hectic. Not to mention, Beijing taxi rates are usually very reasonable but buses are even cheaper.

To take public transportation or to use taxis there is no big need to learn to speak Mandarin. Expats should rather learn basic practical phrases and sayings such as “where is the taxi?” (qing wen chu zu che zai na li?) or “where is the toilet?” (qing wen ce suo zai na li?).

Cost of living in Beijing chart 2014(Note that prices may vary depending on product and service provider and the list below shows average prices)
Accommodation (monthly rent from unfurnished to furnished)
Furnished two bedroom apartmentRMB 25,000
Unfurnished two bedroom apartmentRMB 20,000
Food and drink
Milk (1 litre)RMB 12.50
Cheese (500g)RMB 90
Dozen eggsRMB 12.50
White bread RMB 10.50
Rice (1kg)RMB 7
Packet of cigarettes (Marlboro)RMB 16
Public transportation
City centre bus/train fareRMB 2
Taxi rate per kmRMB 2.50
Eating out
Big Mac MealRMB 30
Coca Cola (330ml)   RMB 4
CappuccinoRMB 27.50
Bottle of beerRMB 10
Three course meal at a mid-range restaurantRMB 150
Internet uncapped ADSL per monthRMB 20
Electricity (average per month for standard household)RMB 400


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