If you're reading this, you're probably considering a change of scenery. Maybe you're fascinated by Asian cultures. Maybe you're just curious. Maybe you have a craving for Chinese food that just won't let up. Regardless, if you're considering a move to China, but you are not familiar with the cost of living in Beijing, this is the article for you.
My name's Katerina, and for the past 13 years, I've had the privilege of calling Beijing home. I moved here in 2007 from my native Macedonia on a foreign language scholarship and never looked back. Throughout my stay, I have seen Beijing grow and change in many exciting and unexpected ways. In turn, this city has caused me to grow and change similarly. Even though I started as a student, Beijing has allowed me to experience life as a backpacker, an office worker, an entrepreneur, and finally, a digital nomad.
So, hold on to your chopsticks, because I'm going to share with you all the reasons why Beijing is great, explain expat life in the capital city, and detail what this lifestyle costs in Beijing.
At the time of this writing, the exchange rate is 1 US Dollar = 6.47 Chinese Yuan (CNY), and 1 CNY converts to .13 Euros.
EDITOR'S NOTE : Money in China- Chinese currency can sometimes be confusing. References to both Yuan (CNY) and Renminbi (RMB) make it seem like China has two currencies (ignore Hong Kong (HKD) and Taiwan (TWD) for this post to avoid confusion).
Renminbi is the official name of the currency, while Yuans are the denomination of money. Think of it as Renminbi is the name of Chinese money, which comprises up 100 yuan bills, 50 yuan bills, 20 yuan bills, and so on.
Colloquially, Chinese people use both terms interchangeably. Merchants sometimes will even refer to prices as kuai, which in conversation is kind of like saying "bucks."
What Is The Cost Of Living In Beijing?
|Total Monthly Expense||$1991|
|COST PER MONTH|
|Rent- Furnished ONE-bedroom apartment expat district||1000|
|High Speed Internet||8|
|Maid Service 4 Hours per Week||93|
|Cell Phone- 12 GB Internet Per Month||9|
|Total Housing Expense||1176|
|Home Cooked Meals 2 times per week||28|
|Budget Meal- Chinese Food 11 time per Week||239|
|Mid-Priced Restaurant 1 time per Week||72|
|Total Food Expense||338|
|Hotpot with Friends 1 time per Week||65|
|Budget Night Out- 2 times per Week||174|
|Gym Membership with Classes||52|
|Bus 10 times per Week||13|
|Subway 2 Times per Week||18|
|Didi/Taxi 1 time per Week||22|
|Total Transportation Expense||52|
|Travel Health Insurance||50|
|Health Care Expense||50|
|60 minute massage 1 time per Month||27|
|Personal Care (Shampoo, etc.) & Household Items (Soap, etc.)||20|
|Nail Service 1 time per Month||38|
|Total Personal Care and Misc Expense||85|
|Exchange Rate to $1 USD to Yuan (CNY)||6.47|
EDITOR'S NOTE : Monthly Budget For A Single Person- All costs in the budget spreadsheet above are for one-person living in Beijing. For consistency, the apartment rent included in the budget spreadsheet above is for a ONE-bedroom apartment vs. Katerina's TWO-bedroom apartment she shares with her husband.
How do costs in Beijing compare to the United States?
China has a reputation for being cheap, which in rural towns or smaller Chinese cities, the country can be. However, Beijing is not one of those "smaller" cities. Monthly costs in this city are 2X other Asian capitals (Taipei, Taiwan, Manila, Philippines, or Bangkok, Thailand).
Don't let that statement scare you off from living in Beijing; there are still geoarbitrage opportunities for expats, digital nomads, and retirees looking to move to the capital city.
Let's add some context to the $2,000. Look at the cost of living comparison below of a medium-cost US city (Portland) to one of the most expensive cities in China (Beijing).
These are the top 4 essential expenses in the US: housing, food, transportation, and healthcare. These 4 expenses make up 68% of the average costs in a major city.
Total Average Per Month
Save 65% on Major Monthly Expenses
Your money can still go far in Beijing once you get past the cost of apartments. Chinese food, markets, transportation, and personal services are still very affordable with expat money.
Even in one of the most expensive cities in China, an expat living in Beijing can save over $10,000 per year.
Let's look at the standard of living $2000 per month buys you in Beijing.
What Kind of Lifestyle Can I Afford On $2000 Per Month?
Ghost Street (Gui Jie), with six football fields of restaurants open 24/7, is the ultimate late-night snack destination.
Why Is Beijing An Expensive City?
The cost of living in Beijing wouldn't be as high if it weren't for rent. House prices in Beijing have skyrocketed since the Olympics in 2008. Buying a house in Beijing is little more than a dream for many citizens. As a result, more people have resorted to renting. It is important to note that the cost of rent in first-tier cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, & Shenzhen) goes up every year. Prepare for housing expense to be your largest cost.
EDITOR'S NOTE : Real Estate in Beijing- Beijing recently was awarded the honor of the most unaffordable city in the world for housing. Housing prices in Chinese cities have increased by close to 40% in the last 5-years. Expats thinking about cashing in on this housing boom for additional income should know that the government has strict ownership laws prohibiting foreigners from owning rental property. Sorry expats, you will need to earn extra spending money elsewhere.
Which Beijing District Is Best For Expats?
Real estate prices vary depending on where in town you want to live. Beijing is separated into six rings, almost like a tree. Rent becomes cheaper the further away you get from the city center (CBD or Central Business District). Most of the expat community (including myself) lives within the eastern second and third rings.
Dongzhimen District For Expats
I live in Dongzhimen, the border area that connects the CBD to the more traditional hutongs (residential alley districts). You will find most of the Embassies and consulates located in this district. There are quite a few shopping malls and parks here and a famous Food Street called Gui Jie, famous for spicy food.
INSIDER TIP : Dongzhimen is incredibly convenient for expats working as independent English teachers who need easy access to different districts in Beijing to meet students for classes.
Three subway lines passing through Dongzhimen: Line 2, Line 13, and the Airport Express. There is also a bus station terminal nearby. Dongzhimen is one of Beijing's many transportation hubs, which means that you can easily reach anywhere else in the city.
Living in Dongzhimen offers plenty of opportunities to socialize. Most of daily life's necessities are within walking distance or about 10 minutes away by cab. I've been living in Dongzhimen since I finished up my university days, and I recommend this area to anyone who cherishes convenience and having a healthy social life.
How Much Is Apartment Rent In Beijing?
My husband and I currently rent a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. Our current rent is about 9000 RMB (about $1400) each month. On the upside, most of the apartments for rent come fully furnished. Usually, there is an air conditioning unit in each bedroom. A public heating system deals with the winter cold. Heat, along with the property management costs, is paid for by the landlord.
Our rent does not include other utilities, but these are inexpensive bills. We pay about 300 RMB (approx. $50) each month for electricity, 100 RMB (approx. $15) for water per month, and about 100 RMB a year for gas.
EDITOR'S NOTE : "Fully-Furnished" Doesn't Mean Move-In Ready- Agents and websites advertise apartments in Beijing as "fully furnished." Don't assume this description means you will be walking into an Airbnb-style apartment. Furnished usually means major furniture (bed, couch, chairs, etc.) and major appliances (refrigerator, stove, etc.).
You may still need to supply your bedding, small appliances (kettle, toaster, coffee maker), and potentially cooking and eating supplies (pots, pans, plates, etc.). The good news is this is Beijing; those items don't cost much money. Just be prepared for some additional costs and go shopping your first couple of days after moving.
If you are looking to save money on rent, you can downsize to one-bedroom apartments. But know that rent for a one-bedroom or even studio apartments in Dongzhimen is never falls below 7000 CNY /1000 USD per month
If you are looking to trim your budget further, many expats rent a house in the “hutongs” (the allies) around Gulou (still in Dongcheng area, not far from where I live) which provides an “authentic” life in China experience. However, older hutong houses do not come with heating. Renting a hutong house can be slightly cheaper (about 6000 CNY / 900 USD) depending on the size and type of amenities (Chinese or modern).
Most foreigners find housing through "The Beijinger," a popular website among the expat community (you may need a VPN to access the site). Agents frequently post ads and share their Wechat contact information there. If you already know which area you would like to live in, you can easily connect with an agent and find an apartment within a week.
Another option I've rented through and recommend is "Home Link" (链家 in Chinese). They offer suitable apartments at market price.
As a rule of thumb, do your research before you sign anything and ask to meet the landlord when possible.
Key Things To Know About Real Estate In Beijing
INSIDER TIP : WeChat Mobile App- This dynamic application can be used to navigate almost every aspect of life in China. It’s used for work communication, financial transactions, utility payments, phone, other bill payments, as well as last-minute top-ups. You can also use it to get a taxi, book train or plane tickets, order food, get groceries, book a hotel, buy movie or show tickets, or even rent an apartment.
What is an Estimated Food Budget For Beijing?
From street stalls to Michelin star restaurants, Beijing can fit any food budget.
Beijing is a multicultural city with a lot of food options. Not only do you have a chance to try famous world cuisines, but there are also eight famous Chinese regional cuisines: Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan, and Zhejiang.
The sheer amount of time that Beijingers spend working has profoundly impacted the city's food culture. Most people have little time to cook, so a cornucopia of restaurants to eat out at or order in from has grown to meet the demand.
With the rapid development of food delivery platforms, people can now order from anywhere in town and have it at the door within an hour. Compared to other costs of living in Beijing, delivery costs are so cheap (about 5-7 RMB/$1), you could do this every day of the week if you wanted to.
I'm no exception. Entrepreneurship is busy work, so ordering in is a lifesaver for me. Often, I find myself ordering twice a day for my only two meals, usually breakfast and lunch. In recent years I've been trying to follow a low carb and healthy diet. Healthy meals are not hard to find, though restaurants catering to dietary restrictions are pricier than ordering Chinese food.
Even though Chinese food is delicious, not all expats like it. Those who aren't keen on Chinese food either have to spend time cooking or order western food. Doing this can be a significant blow to your food budget, especially if you're ordering more than you're cooking.
On average, I try to cook about two times a week; the rest I order in or eat out. During warmer months, I usually go out to eat two days or more each week.
INSIDER TIP : In the mood to cook but don't have time to run to the market? Don't worry. Delivery companies can pick up your groceries too!
People from my part of the world aren't famous for their adventurous palates. China has challenged mine. During my stay in China, I've tried to incorporate more variety in my diet. Every time I eat out, I always try to go for different cuisine. Whether it is Mexican, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, or Thai, being here turned out to be a blessing for me. During the lengthy lockdown, I was cooking my favorite international dishes when we couldn't eat out.
When it comes to food costs, Beijing has to offer something for every budget.
Dining on Little Money
Naturally, the cheapest thing to eat in Beijing is Chinese food. Ordering in or eating out, breakfast might come to 20 RMB (about $3), while lunch and dinner could fall between 30 – 120 RMB ($5-$19). Another thing about China is that most meals are shared. As a rule of thumb, people order at least 2-3 more dishes than the total number of people at the table. The price will vary based on the number of people at your table.
Dining with Some Money
Beijing has nearly every world cuisine represented. Foreign restaurants are typically priced mid-range. Expect to pay anywhere from 60-150 RMB ($10-$23) per dish and about 50 RMB ($8) for a glass of wine or Chinese beer. Japanese restaurants tend to run a bit more expensive compared to other foreign restaurants.
Dining with a LOT of money
Beijing is one of the biggest cities in the world. Once you escape the mid-price restaurant range, meal prices vary widely between high-end restaurants. There are almost 30 Michelin Starred Restaurants in town, two of which have 3-stars. Buffet breakfast or dinner at a five-star hotel usually starts at about 300 RMB/person ($50). Lunch or dinner at one of these places can run anywhere between 500 -1200 RMB ($77 - $200)
How Much Money Do You Spend For Entertainment In Beijing?
In a city of 21 million people, you will always find something to do. The city remains a hive of activity even late at night.
Entertainment and Sports
Workday or weekend, Beijing offers a wide selection of entertainment options. Depending on my free time, I try to go out at least two-three times a week.
Weekends offer more choices for social activities. Going for hikes outside of town with friends, visiting scenic spots and galleries, having a picnic in Chaoyang park, or trying to find your way out of an escape room are frequent options. Many of these places do not cost money. Those that require tickets are usually cheap, ranging from 5-50 RMB ($0.75 - $7.50).
My average cost for entertainment is between 500 – 2000 RMB ($77-$308) /month since my interests vary from month to month.
INSIDER TIP : Real Cost of Monthly Memberships- Physical activities such as sports or dancing usually don't have an hourly rate option in China. If they do, it's usually expensive. Instead, clubs offer a membership card. Fees depend on the duration of the membership and the venue location.
Be careful trying to save money on memberships (gyms, sports clubs, dance classes) in Beijing. The cheaper something is, the more crowded it will be. Chances are you will find it challenging to use jam-packed facilities.
Beijing offers a lot more. There are scenic spots located in and outside the city, many with cultural and historical significance. These include three different parts of the Great Wall (Ba Da Ling, Mu Tian Yu, Si Ma Tai), The Summer Palace, Gulou, and the Houhai and Beihai area. Also on the list are The Olympic Park, Chaoyang Park, temples such as Di Tan, Ri Tan, & Tian Tan; museums (like the Watermelon Museum), the 798 Art galleries, and many notable places hidden among the hutongs.
On the city's periphery, there are a few amusement parks. Universal Studios Beijing is currently being built and is slated to open in May of 2021.
Other casual activities include dance classes, karaoke (KTV), massage, hot springs, go-karting, ice skating, and horseback riding. Prices for these activities generally fall in the 100 – 200+ RMB ($15-$30) range. Most of these places sell membership cards that often offer discounts based on frequency.
Millionaire Teachers In China- Did you know some foreign teachers in Beijing SAVE $50,000 A YEAR teaching at international schools? Sign up below for updates on our next post, where we interview international primary school teachers with salaries and benefits over $90,000.
What Does Transportation Cost?
Subways and buses in Beijing are comically cheap compared to the West
The best thing about living in Beijing is that transportation costs are super cheap. You won't need a car or a motorbike when you can ride a bike or use Beijing's convenient and economical public transportation system.
Car rental prices can be about 220 to 700 RMB ($34 - $107) / per day for a standard car. Buying a car is an option but between purchasing the car, waiting for a license plate, and all the hassle compared to using public transport, it simply isn't worth it. Owning a motorbike or electric scooter is more feasible, and those start at about 3000 RMB ($462).
INSIDER TIP : Commuting during rush hours always risks getting stuck in a heavy traffic jam. To avoid rush hour, I'll bike home instead of getting a cab. Biking is another excellent way to get around Beijing. In recent years shared bicycles have become a popular transport option. I've had my bike since I first arrived in China. That hasn't stopped me from using shared bikes when the need arises. With pricing as low as 1.5 RMB ($0.23) per 15-minute ride, shared bikes are a great option.
For traveling abroad, the city has two international airports Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) and Beijing Daxing International Airport (PKX).
High Speed Rails
Beijing is also a major hub for China's famous high speed rail system. The ticket price to ride the World's Fastest Passenger Train, a 350 km/h (217 mph) is comparable to flying.
Other Miscellaneous Costs
Other living costs in Beijing are small fractions compared to the cost of the rent.
What are "affordable luxuries" For Expats in Beijing?
Here are some indulgences that don't cost much money in Beijing
INSIDER TIP : Chatty Chinese Taxi Drivers- As mentioned before, the Chinese answer to Uber, Didi is relatively cheap. Sometimes I like to use Didi's luxury car service since they only cost about 30 % more than their regular cars. Ordinary taxi drivers are usually bored with their job can get pretty chatty.
When they see a foreigner, they like to ask the same questions. These include such great hits as "Where are you from?", "Do you like China? " and "Do you like Chinese food?"
Having been here for 13 years, I've grown weary of repetitive conversation. To avoid being rude and to buy some additional quiet time, I sometimes choose to use professional drivers. They get trained not to chat with customers!
Important Information About Moving To China
The government does not provide Universal Healthcare in China, but most international health insurance providers are accepted. Unless you develop a serious health condition, medical costs in China are low compared to what you'd pay in the US.
I have self-finance my medical care for several years in China. My doctor visits are relatively cheap.
- At Chinese hospitals, you pay about 20-30 RMB ($3-$4.70) to get a number.
- Then you pay for each medical examination (100 -300 RMB / $15-$46 depending on the test) as well as any medication.
- Chinese-made medicine is cheaper (RMB 10-50/ $1.50-$7.75) compared to Western countries (RMB 50-200/ $7.75-$31).
EDITOR'S NOTE : Medical insurance for Foreigners- While the cost of routine medical care is less than the United States, accidents and serious medical conditions can and do occur. The cost of one night in a Beijing private hospital costs 4,000 - 6,000 CNY / $600 - $930.
Regardless if you are looking to live in Beijing or another Chinese city, if you are a US citizen, you need coverage from unforeseen medical expenses.
My travel medical insurance costs $50 per month and gives me access to doctors and hospitals anywhere in the world outside of the US.
Will I Have To Pay Taxes Living In China?
If you are a 'China-domiciled individuals" or have been in China for 183 days or more in a tax year, you can be considered a tax resident for Individual Income Tax (IIT) purposes.
Residents are generally subject to IIT on their worldwide income.
Get A Free Tax Consultation and $25 off your US Expat Tax return
What Is Not Included In The Monthly Budget? Taxes!
While China has a double taxation treaty with the US, their tax laws are notoriously complicated. To understand how to minimize your expat tax liability, speak with a tax accountant for details. Nomadic FIRE has partnered with Expat Tax Specialists offering a FREE 30-minute consultation.
Full Disclosure, this is an affiliate link. If you use the link, I earn a commission from the company at no additional cost to you. You get the benefit of $25 off your return and a FREE 30-minute consultation with a Tax Advisor.
What Are The Visa Requirements For China?
The procedures, requirements, and costs for coming to China will never be the same after the pandemic. As of the publish date of this article, no foreign travelers are allowed to China. Even expats holding residence permits need to re-apply to enter the country. Often their applications are rejected.
Anyone accepted, even those vaccinated, still goes through China's strict quarantine procedures at their own expense. Currently, Beijing enforces a 14+7-day quarantine protocol: 14-days at a government-designated hotel, plus an additional 7-days at home.
Quarantine policies vary slightly from region to region. Consult your nearest Chinese embassy if you plan to visit China in the near future.
For other nationalities, you can look up specific visa requirements here.
EDITOR'S NOTE : How can I stay long-term in China? - Under normal travel conditions, US citizens are eligible for a 10-year multiple-entry tourist visa with a maximum stay of 60 days per entry.
China does not have a retirement visa. Some expats use an F-class (business) permanent residence visa, but the investment requirements require several million dollars to qualify. China is not an easy choice for expats looking to retire abroad.
List of countries with easier retirement visa requirements
Still researching the best cities for retirement? Check out our extensive Cost of Living collection for the best expat destinations. Get insider information and real examples of expat life from people who have spent years living abroad. I've compiled all the information you need: cost breakdowns, insider tips to save money, and detailed examples of the quality of lifestyle you can enjoy.
Final Thoughts: Living in Beijing
Even after 13 years, Beijing never stops surprising me. Things change all the time, including the cost of living. Beijing challenges you and pushes you to keep up and grow. That's what has kept me here so long. Hopefully, when semi-normal travel starts up again, you have a chance to visit experience the nuances of this fantastic city.
I have traveled to over 40 countries to give you the best ways to save, invest, and live overseas for less cost than in the US. After five years of traveling, my list of places to live keeps getting longer. To give you more information on the best places to live abroad, I partner with experts from the expat community.
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EXPAT CONTRIBUTION BY: Katerina
Katerina is an expat that has lived in Beijing for the past 13 years. During her time in The Big Dumpling, she has been a student, backpacker, office worker, entrepreneur, and digital nomad.
After completing her studies, during her first job in Beijing, she met her husband, Vali. Shortly after they quit the 9-5 race to become entrepreneurs. Their knowledge of Chinese culture, and his talent for art, resulted in a comic series, "Mort in China," which Chinese and foreign fans love dearly. Featuring Death as an expat working in China, the comic is an effort to demystify Chinese culture to foreigners in a fun way.
Trying to navigate business in China as a westerner has been one of her biggest challenges. But it has also been a fulfilling experience through which she learned a lot. However, after 13 years well spent in this country, Katerina has decided it's time to move on and leave China. As a digital nomad, she founded her blog "The Hobbit Hold," where she shares her China adventures, love of Chinese tea and will be exploring the concept of making a home after living abroad.