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Moving to Beijing

Northeast China is home to the country's capital city, Beijing, also referred to as Peking. An economic powerhouse and thriving metropolis, the megacity sprawls out from several ring roads. Beijing is, in some ways, like a time capsule. Walking through sites such as the Forbidden City and the nearby Great Wall of China evokes images of ancient dynasties. Tiananmen Square remains a stark reminder of unrest and repression but is also the site where Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China.

There are also more recent symbols of China’s ascent on the world stage, such as the iconic venues built for the 2008 Summer Olympics, the titanium-domed National Centre for the Performing Arts, and the oddly shaped headquarters for Chinese Central Television, known to locals as “Big Pants".

Moving to Beijing is especially exciting for expats given its long-standing role at the centre of Chinese culture and politics, and its prominent position in the international business sphere, as it occupies a space between the distant past and an exciting future.

China’s first post-industrial city, Beijing is home to dozens of Fortune 500 companies and corporate heavyweights. The city’s financial sector plays a major role in the Chinese economy, while real estate, information technology and pharmaceuticals make their own contributions to the city’s domestic product.

Bearing this in mind, it's easy to understand the high cost of living. Expats will have to budget accordingly, although finding accommodation that is modern and comfortable should not be too difficult for expats lured by the promise of a lucrative employment contract.

Affectionately called Tan Da Bing or “spreading pancake", Beijing’s growth is expected to continue, absorbing the surrounding areas and becoming a 100 million-strong megacity. This process is well underway, with the city’s public transport network progressively serving more people living further from the city centre.

As it stands, the city's size is staggering; it is home to more than 20 million people. The sheer magnitude means that there are already smaller city-like districts within Beijing, from expat suburb communities to expansive, shapeless developments.

Beijing is not always as accommodating as other international cities, and foreign residents likely have to overcome the challenges of becoming familiar with a language and culture entirely different from their own. As isolated from the local populace as expats sometimes feel, the density of Beijing’s burgeoning population can feel stifling and claustrophobic.

Growth has brought other challenges to life in Beijing. Hazardous levels of pollution are commonplace, and traffic is consistently congested. Many do, however, adjust successfully and find themselves in a city that is both ancient and modern, and that embodies Chinese culture for a global audience. Come with an open mind, ready to learn and ready to work – a positive attitude is the best way to embrace expat life in the Chinese capital.

Weather in Beijing

Expats who plan on moving to Beijing should prepare themselves for an interesting and varied climate. Falling in the monsoon region, Beijing’s summers are hot and wet, while winters are bitterly cold and dry. The summer months, especially July and August, are prone to sudden evening downpours, so keeping an umbrella nearby is handy.

July is the hottest month, with an average temperature of 81°F (27°C). Spring and autumn tend to be mild and pleasant, with the autumn foliage being a major highlight. January is the coldest month of the year, with maximum temperatures only reaching 25°F (-4°C) on some days.


Pros and Cons of Moving to Beijing

Though Beijing is a megacity of high-tech infrastructure and showpiece modern buildings, its dynastic past is very much a part of its identity. Dramatic temples add pockets of colour to the grey urban landscape, and winding alleys connect one place to another as they’ve done since the Mongols invaded centuries ago. To live in the capital is to see where China comes from, and what it has become.

As with any city, though, living in Beijing has its advantages and disadvantages, and expats should think carefully before making the move. Below we’ve listed some pros and cons of expat life in Beijing.

Cost of living in Beijing

Unlike most cities in China, Beijing is about as expensive as many European capitals, particularly for expats who are accustomed to a high degree of comfort and insist on purchasing imported produce. Fortunately, expats tend to earn quite well in Beijing, which usually nullifies the high cost of living.

+ PRO: Inexpensive groceries

Grocery bills are gentler in Beijing than in many major cities around the world. Shoppers in New York, for instance, may pay up to 50 percent more, while groceries in Shanghai are also noticeably more expensive.

Most furnished apartments in Beijing come with a rice cooker, hot plate and wok, so expats who plan to cook their own meals will begin their stay in the capital at least with the basic necessities. Chinese staples such as rice, noodles and vegetables are cheaper than imported produce such as pasta, cereal, cheese and coffee, while basic household items such as soap, toothpaste, detergent and cleaning products often prove slightly cheaper than in the US.

- CON: High rent

Beijing's rent is expensive when compared to other cities in China and expats can expect to pay a fair chunk of their salary for apartments in and around the city centre. Accommodation on the outskirts of the city is substantially cheaper, especially if residents live with roommates to bring costs down even further.  

Landlords usually expect a month's deposit before allowing tenants to move in, as well as the first one to three months’ rent in advance. This can be a fair amount of money to shell out upon an expat's arrival, and we recommend they budget accordingly before relocating, or negotiate a housing allowance with their prospective employer.

Healthcare in Beijing

Navigating healthcare in Beijing can be tricky. From finding good quality treatment in English to handling some of the more irksome aspects of insurance and administration, expats may find that the process of acquiring good healthcare can be rather complicated.

+ PRO: Doctors speak English at private clinics

There shouldn't be major language barriers in private healthcare centres. Doctors at private clinics generally speak English well, so expats can rely on being able to communicate clearly with the person treating them, which might not be the case at public facilities.

- CON: Expats may struggle at public hospitals

Public hospitals are less expensive than private clinics, but expats may be better off avoiding them as waiting times are long and the quality of treatment is inconsistent. Along with that, doctors rarely speak English and some doctors may use elements of traditional medicine, which some Western patients may not be used to.

- CON: Payment is expected upfront

Patients are often required to pay for medical services upfront and out of their own pocket in China. Their health insurance provider will reimburse them later on but, to avoid nasty and expensive surprises, expats should carefully familiarise themselves with exactly which costs are covered by their insurance, as not all hospital costs are always provided for.

- CON: Gaps in public health cover

Expats interested in public healthcare cover should note that there are gaps in the public health system. These include its lack of cover for emergency transport, and that all access to private facilities is denied.

Working in Beijing

While Beijing is perhaps better known as China’s cultural and political centre, it has more recently established a reputation for nurturing tech start-ups. In fact, we recommend that expats who work in this space consider Beijing over Hong Kong and Shanghai.

+ PRO: Competitive job market

Beijing has a number of thriving industries and qualified expats may find attractive job opportunities in the capital. The retail, financial and tourism sectors are good places to begin looking. The technology space is particularly strong in the city, with the Haidian district in northwest Beijing ranking among the world’s top incubators of ideas.

Beijing’s many English-language schools are a by-product of its appetite for international business, and these institutions are often among the easiest places to find work in the city for qualified individuals.

- CON: Work culture and structure is hierarchal

Some expats may struggle with certain aspects of the work culture in Beijing, which reflect the Chinese workplace in general. For one, management is hierarchical, meaning that bosses are not accustomed to fielding questions from junior employees. Making suggestions or sharing opinions should be done skilfully and respectfully in this context, to avoid the appearance of criticism. Often, team members may even choose not to reveal problems to clients or managers, so as not to lose face.

This extreme hierarchy, and lack of open lines of communication, may come as a bit of a shock to Westerners.

Getting around in Beijing

Beijing is a large city, and initially it may seem overwhelming to navigate. There are many ways to get around: options range from the subway and commuter trains to buses, trolleybuses, taxis or simply walking. There are both pros and cons to Beijing's transport network.

+ PRO: Excellent public transport

The quality of Beijing’s public transport is a major plus and expats can easily manage to get around without their own cars. Subways are cheap and reliable, bus routes cover just about every area and taxis are affordable.

- CON: Crowded rush hours

Beijing's subway is said to be one of the world's busiest metro systems, as well as one of the longest. It can be confusing for a new arrival to find their way around in the rush-hour chaos – but it's important to stay calm and note that signs, maps and announcements are in both Standard Chinese and English.

Lifestyle in Beijing

Beijing’s wealth of history and culture is fascinating, pleasing to the eye and easily accessible. That said, there are some unpleasant facts about day-to-day life in China’s capital. 

+ PRO: Impressive architecture and attractions

Beijing is home to magnificent cultural landmarks that date back hundreds of years. The Forbidden City is situated in the heart of the capital and is perhaps the best-preserved imperial palace in the world. Set amid serene lakes and lush gardens, the Summer Palace is another must-see attraction. The National Stadium is a masterpiece of modern-day architecture and resembles its nickname, the Bird’s Nest, and the Great Wall is only an hour or so outside the city. 

+ PRO: Personal safety is not a major concern

The risk of crime is minimal in Beijing, thanks to the widespread presence of police and security personnel. Petty crimes such as pickpocketing occur at a low rate and residents can feel safe navigating the city by themselves – even at night. 

- CON: Pollution is an unfortunate reality

Pollution is one of the biggest challenges expats will face in Beijing, and they will have to purchase air filters and 3M masks from convenience stores to get by.

- CON: Cultural shock

Expats often find it difficult to adjust to some commonplace practices in Beijing. Among them, overcrowding, lack of personal space on public transport, what might seem like strange eating habits to Westerners, and the local tendency of smoking almost everywhere are perhaps most challenging.

Working in Beijing

As a whole, China is considered a great economic success story, with the last 30 years seeing the country transform itself from traditional communism to a buoyant market economy. As a result of rapid industrialisation, China’s consumer market has flourished. The country is increasingly open to foreign investment, and foreigners who consider it to be a land of opportunity have flocked to China.

Both Hong Kong and Shanghai are better known for being economic centres, while Beijing has traditionally been China’s cultural and political centre. That said, Beijing has asserted itself as a fertile ground for start-up businesses and innovative entrepreneurs. Expats interested in working in this sort of environment, rather than a strictly corporate atmosphere, should consider working in Beijing.

Job market in Beijing

As the local economy continues to develop, the open consumption of consumer and luxury goods is surging, attracting international investment to fill in the gaps left by Chinese businesses.

At the same time, the construction industry continues to boom throughout the country as the Chinese government pushes for continued major improvements to infrastructure, especially in the interior. In addition, agriculture remains the backbone of the country and will be for the foreseeable future. With rapid urbanisation, a manpower shortage has emerged in certain sectors of the economy, meaning that employees with the right skills are in high demand.

Traditionally, a large financial sector has driven much of Beijing's economy, including many foreign banks with offices in the city. Beijing also has large electronics and computer industries, as well as retail and tourism industries. 

One indication of China’s desire to do business with the world is the number of English-language schools in the country. These institutions employ a large community of expat English teachers and are among the easiest places to find employment in Beijing. Teaching wages are, however, often lower than salaries for expat jobs in other sectors.

Finding a job in Beijing

The test for whether an expat will be able to find a job in Beijing is to ask whether they have something to offer that Chinese people in Beijing can't do as well. There are thousands of jobs for language teachers of all languages, although the highest demand is for English teachers, as well as in industries where a foreign language is necessary, such as broadcasting. Many jobs do, however, require a rudimentary knowledge of Mandarin.

Expats with work visas are often called 'Foreign Experts', a phrase printed on their Alien Registration Card.

There is no problem with job mobility – it is relatively easy to switch jobs while living in Beijing. However, the employee has to have their visa renewed with the support of their new employer – an expat cannot get a job, then resign and still keep their Foreign Expert status.

There are many online resources for expats wanting to find a job in Beijing. Online job and employment platforms such as Glassdoor and LinkedIn are common starting points for job seekers, and expats interested in a particular organisation may find postings on the respective website. Recruitment agencies are also beneficial.

Work culture in Beijing

When moving to Beijing for work, new arrivals may need some time to adjust to the business culture. Working hours are usually long and there is a high demand for good quality work, which may put a lot of pressure on expats.

Of course, each company or organisation may favour a unique work culture, but there are several aspects of doing business that are ubiquitous in China. This includes networking and guanxi (face), which emphasises the role of building strong and trustworthy relationships with business associates.

Cost of Living in Beijing

The cost of living in Beijing is on par with many of Europe's richest capitals – in fact, Mercer's Cost of Living Survey for 2023 ranked Beijing as 13th out of 227 cities, outranking other major destinations including London and Dubai.

As the cultural and political centre of China, Beijing is nearly tied with Shanghai when it comes to a high cost of living. In short, even though living in China is generally more affordable than in other great economic powers, Beijing is not cheap. This is especially true for expats who opt for a certain standard of comfort and luxury. Many expats are attracted to work in Beijing by lucrative salary packages and, therefore, expenses are not usually a concern.

If foreign residents can resist 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.

Cost of accommodation in Beijing

Accommodation in Beijing will be an expat’s largest expense. Property prices have seen a general increase over the years, and new arrivals will find that buying and even 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 the accommodation in a particular area is proving too pricey, house hunters should move their search towards the periphery.

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 transport in Beijing

Beijing has a well-established transport network that connects every nook and cranny of the city. Expats living in Beijing have various options to get around the city, including the subway, taxis, buses and shared bicycles. However, the cost of transport in Beijing can vary significantly depending on the mode of transport and the destination.

The subway is the most cost-effective way to travel in Beijing, with fares starting at a few yuan. Taxis are readily available, but the cost can be relatively high during rush hour or peak traffic times. Buses are also affordable, but they can be overcrowded during peak hours, which can be a less comfortable experience for some expats. Shared bicycles are a popular mode of transport among Beijing's younger expat population, and the cost can be as low as a few cents per ride.

Cost of schooling in Beijing

Expat parents who plan on bringing children to China should anticipate paying hefty school fees. Many foreigners prefer to enrol their children in one of the international schools in Beijing, and tuition at these institutions is famously expensive.

Expats would do well to try to negotiate some sort of education allowance into their contract. Alternatively, one of the city's private bilingual Chinese schools could be a more affordable option.

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 one's budget, but a meal in a decent restaurant can be quite reasonably priced.

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.

The cost of food will be significantly higher for expats who rely on Western food and rarely eat local Chinese meals. Many items that are considered staples in a Western diet are uncommon in Chinese eating, such as cheese and bread. These types of items will only be available at international supermarkets that target expats.

Cost of living in Beijing chart

Prices may vary across China, depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Beijing in March 2023.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre

RMB 19,400

Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

RMB 10,000

One-bedroom apartment in the city centre

RMB 7,900

One-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

RMB 4,400

Food and drink

Dozen eggs

RMB 15

Milk (1 litre)

RMB 12

Rice (1kg)

RMB 8.86

Loaf of white bread

RMB 14.52

Chicken breasts (1kg)

RMB 24

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

RMB 19

Eating out

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

RMB 220

Big Mac meal

RMB 42

Coca-Cola (330ml)

RMB 3.55


RMB 32

Bottle of beer (local)

RMB 5.93


Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

RMB 0.21

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

RMB 100

Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)

RMB 310


Taxi rate/km


City-centre public transport fare


Gasoline (per litre)


Accommodation in Beijing

Accommodation in Beijing can range from fantastic to abysmal, but there are good options for expats in almost every neighbourhood. The trick for expats is to find a neighbourhood that meets their needs, but this, of course, is easier said than done.

Types of accommodation in Beijing

Almost all of the housing available in the Beijing city centre is in apartment form, and most of these are not particularly spacious. Some expats put high priority on having an apartment with a modern kitchen (with counters, refrigerator and storage, along with the standard sink and a stovetop), and serviced apartments are a popular option for expats and locals alike. However, old-style Beijing apartments may be less accommodating in this department.

There are houses available further outside of the city, and these have more amenities, including yards, ovens and possibly a swimming pool.

Beijing also offers apartment compounds which offer shared facilities and amenities, such as gyms and playgrounds – which is great for expat families with kids. Young and single expats on a budget in Beijing may alternatively search for house and flat shares to save on money.

Accommodation in Beijing may be furnished or unfurnished, and the price should reflect that fact. It’s not guaranteed either way, however, and even less guaranteed is the style in which a place may be furnished. If needing to add decor and furnishings to one's accommodation, there are various places across Beijing to buy or have furniture made. Expats should take this into consideration before shipping items from home.

Finding accommodation in Beijing

Most expats use a real-estate agent of some sort, especially if they don’t speak Chinese. In all likelihood, agents will be able to show some apartments right away, but expats should not get discouraged if something isn't found immediately. Note that agency fees can be quite high, and are known to equate to one month's rent in Beijing, while rent itself contributes to the cost of living.

The classifieds sections of local newspapers can also be searched for places to rent, or new arrivals could ask friends and colleagues for leads. In both of these cases, potential tenants may be able to sidestep the agent and get a better price, so either is worth a try.

House hunters who use online platforms, such as FlatInChina and, and conduct their search from outside of Beijing, are urged to have someone visit the property on their behalf before negotiating and signing a lease, and conducting any financial transaction.

Renting accommodation in Beijing

Once a suitable apartment has been found, expats should talk to the landlord (through a translator if need be), and make sure that they are the type of person who can be worked with. Most problems arise from difficulties with landlords, not from the accommodation itself. Some things to look out for when renting in Beijing are ensuring the landlord can provide documents as proof of ownership and that the place is registered as a rental property.

From there, the tenant and the landlord will discuss and agree upon a contract.


Leases in Beijing are normally valid for one year. Note that when moving in, expats must register their address at the local Public Service Bureau (PSB) as soon as they move in.


Landlords will generally ask for one or two months' rent up front and one month’s rent as a deposit, so expats should be prepared for this initial sum.


Tenants will, most likely, be responsible for paying utilities in Beijing. This includes water, electricity and gas. Most properties have prepaid electricity meters, and a meter reader may visit and measure water and gas usage. Be sure to check with the real-estate agent and landlord on the method of paying utilities. In most cases, paying bills is done through top-up cards and at banks, post offices and convenience stores.

Areas and suburbs in Beijing

The best places to live in Beijing

Expat housing can be found in most areas of Beijing, but the focus is still in the eastern part of the city, including the Chaoyang, Dongcheng and Shunyi districts.

City-centre apartments are popular with young, single professionals, while families generally prefer the spacious freestanding houses in the suburbs.

Expats in Beijing often live in gated residential compounds, as these provide additional facilities such as gyms, swimming pools, high security and professional property management, depending on the community.

There are several factors expats should consider when looking for housing in Beijing, including proximity to their children's school and places of work, individual lifestyle and their budget.

Chaoyang District


Chaoyang District serves as Beijing's diplomatic district, where most foreign embassies to China are located. With the high concentration of international schools and companies in this area, Chaoyang District is one of the top expat areas in Beijing.

City centre

Five-star hotels, office skyscrapers and international shopping malls are concentrated in the city centre of Beijing. Expats can find a wide selection of serviced and non-serviced high-end apartments offering exciting city living. The city centre is an ideal choice for expats who prefer to live within walking distance or a 10-minute drive to their offices.

Chaoyang Park 

Chaoyang Park is one of the most attractive residential areas in Beijing, thanks to its large green areas and open spaces. High-quality properties have been developed with a 'park view' concept, and it is a perfect setting for expat families who prefer living in the city but away from the office crowds. Compounds to the east of Chaoyang Park are less expensive, yet more spacious – a high price tag is normally attached to this, so it's important to consider the cost of living.


One of Beijing’s most energetic and enjoyable neighbourhoods, Sanlitun boasts a 'Bar Street' that is home to the best pubs in Beijing, the Taikoo Li Sanlitun shopping complex, nightclubs and trendy restaurants. The area is especially popular among young and single expats.

Lido and Wangjing

Lido was one of Beijing’s earliest expat residential areas and is a favourite of expat families. It is conveniently located near parks, entertainment, art galleries and international schools. The neighbouring area, Wangjing, is a massive residential zone, where expats can find more reasonably priced accommodation and a sense of integration with the local population. It’s also known as Beijing’s Koreatown, owing to its large number of South Korean residents. The local eateries and pedestrianised areas make it the perfect place for families as well as young adults.

Dongcheng District


As part of the Central Imperial City, Dongcheng District is laced with history from eras throughout Beijing's history. Although dotted with many museums, relics and landmarks, a growing number of modern shopping malls and office buildings have brought a more businesslike atmosphere to the district.


One of the most vibrant areas in Beijing, Dongzhimen is beloved among expat families living in Beijing. The area is conveniently situated, with the city’s largest public transport hub nearby.  Despite its central location, there is an abundance of trees and the newly renovated canal system is a wonderful place for romantic evening strolls under the willows. The rent here is also cheaper compared to the city centre, making it accessible for young working professionals on a budget.

Wangfujing and Dongdan 

Wangfujing and Dongdan are located in the heart of Beijing, next to the pedestrian Wangfujing Street. This neighbourhood is a short walk to Tiananmen Square. There are limited accommodation options available for expats in this area, but those who do reside here love being surrounded by historical sites and a cultural atmosphere, and enjoy the short walking distance to their workplaces as well as convenient shopping and dining out.

Shunyi District 


Located just outside 5th Ring Road to the northeast, about 18 miles (30km) out of downtown, this spacious suburban district has been developed as a high-end villa district. Most popular high-end villa compounds are nestled in the west of the Beijing Airport Expressway, along Jingshun Road and Wenyu River.

Shunyi District offers an excellent living environment for families with children and people who prefer a lifestyle of leisure, outdoor space, and want to escape the pollution of Beijing. Expats can easily find amenities like restaurants, supermarkets, coffee shops, banks, grocery stores, pet shops, beauty salons and flower markets. However, a car is likely needed for daily transport.

Xicheng District 


Expats living in Xicheng District usually work in Financial Street, which is home to multinational companies, particularly in the banking and insurance sectors. The expat residential market continues to take shape here, with only a limited selection of high-end and serviced apartments available, making rental fees relatively higher. Young expat working professionals looking for accommodation are likely to find flatshares, which is easier on the budget. 

There is much to see and do in this area, whether expats find a home and work here or want to visit the popular hutong alleys and enjoy a night out at a trendy cocktail bar.

Healthcare in Beijing

Most expats needing healthcare in Beijing go to the city's private hospitals and medical centres. Public hospitals are cheap, but waiting times are often long and the quality of treatment can vary greatly.

Private medical centres are also preferred by expats for non-emergency visits. Beijing locals generally don't use separate general practitioner clinics, but queue at the public hospitals for non-emergency treatments and advice. This often creates enormous and frustrating waits that can be avoided at private centres.

Doctors at private clinics generally speak English and are often expats from Europe or the US themselves. Some Chinese doctors use elements of traditional medicine in their practice, although in general, the two fields have little overlap in Beijing medical centres.

Hospitals in Beijing

Beijing United Family Hospital

Address: 2 Jiangtai Road, Chaoyang District

International Medical Center Beijing

Address: 50 Liangmaqiao Rd, Chaoyang District

Beijing Vista Medical Center

Address: 1 Guanghua Road, Guo Mao, Chaoyang District

Education and Schools in Beijing

Schools in Beijing are among the best in China, offering expat parents options at public, private and international institutions. An education in Beijing can, however, be expensive for foreign students, as expat parents often prefer to send them to international schools, which can be expensive.

The best option for expats is to try and negotiate an education allowance as part of their relocation package, although this is not a guarantee. Those who do manage to get this benefit tend to have a much easier time finding and choosing a school in Beijing.

Public schools in Beijing

The basic public education system consists of preschool, primary and secondary school. Primary school typically begins at age six and lasts six years, followed by junior and senior secondary school, where students either follow an academic or vocational programme.

The primary concern for Beijing’s public schools is to prepare students for the gaokao, the National Higher Education Entrance Examination, which plays a large role in how successful Chinese children become in their adult lives as it is the means through which they gain entry into a Chinese university.

Unfortunately for many expats, creativity and individual thinking come second to logical thinking and analytical skills in Chinese public schools, and teaching styles and content may not be the best fit for everyone. Many expats find that the transition to the rigorous public schools in Beijing is too much for their children, and themselves, to handle, and prefer to enrol their kids at private or international schools.

Private schools in Beijing

Local private schools in Beijing generally cater to wealthy locals, even though the academic standards at public schools are often considered to be better. This might partially be owing to the lack of government funding and involvement, which can also mean that school standards vary in quality and approach.

Some schools do provide different academic tracks for local and international students. An English track may be based on a foreign curriculum with a Chinese requirement, while the Chinese track is based on the national curriculum, although the best of these will often have a strong emphasis on English as well.

International schools in Beijing

English-language international schools in Beijing generally offer classes taught in English by qualified and experienced teachers, most of whom are from English-speaking countries. There is also usually a wide range of sporting and cultural extra-curricular activities to choose from.

Depending on the school, expat students will either be able to continue with their home country’s curriculum or pursue an International Baccalaureate programme.

Although most international schools teach in English, many offer other foreign curricula and teach in the language of the school's country of origin, such French, Japanese and German. 

Placement at international schools is tough. Some companies that regularly relocate expats will reserve spots in select top schools, and expat employees should discuss their education options and the admissions process with their employer well before arriving.

Homeschooling in Beijing

With Chinese parents increasingly becoming tired of the rote nature of the Chinese public education system, more have turned to homeschooling as an alternative. This might also be an option for expats staying short term who are unable to afford private or international schools.

Expats should be aware that homeschooling is essentially illegal in China, and is largely practised based on a legal oversight despite the law explicitly stating that children have to attend a school for at least nine years. The government is vocal about its disapproval of homeschooling and has released numerous statements to this effect. Homeschooled children in China are prevented from writing the gaokao, which essentially means they are unable to attend a Chinese university.

Special-needs education in Beijing

As the level of support for special education needs in Beijing schools is variable, we recommend that expat parents contact schools directly for the most accurate information.

Special-needs education may be best at international schools that integrate students with disabilities and learning disorders and difficulties into mainstream classes. These schools will provide extra support sessions, assistant teachers and counsellors, and many cover a range of physical, psychological and behavioural challenges. This is not consistently the case, though, and parents to children with disabilities are advised to begin their school search as early as possible.

When moving to Beijing, expats can find relocation companies to be helpful and assist in finding schools which provide the best fit.

Tutors in Beijing

Tutors can be found easily in Beijing, for both adults and children. Hiring a tutor is common among parents of  children who need some extra help in particular subject areas or around exam time. Parents can find tutors through word of mouth, by asking at their school or by searching through online tutor portals and companies, such as Apprentus.

International Schools in Beijing

With such a large expat population, it's no wonder that there is an abundance of international schools to choose from in Beijing. Popular options include the curriculum of the UK (including the Cambridge IGCSE and A-levels), the curriculum of the US (including SATs and AP subjects), and the International Baccalaureate. For English-speaking expats, this is the ideal alternative to the Chinese public school system. There are also international schools teaching their home country's curricula in other languages, such as French and German.

Expat parents can expect a high quality of education from international schools in Beijing. Most schools have modern, purpose-built facilities, and teachers are usually well qualified with many years of experience. Another advantage of international schools is the opportunity they provide for children to continue with a familiar and easily transferable curriculum, which makes the process of moving to a new country much less stressful.

International schools usually have rolling admissions policies, so new students can join any time of the year. While there are many options to choose from, international schools in Beijing do fill up quickly, so it's usually well worth it to apply as far in advance as possible.

Below is a list of reputable international schools in Beijing.

International schools in Beijing

International School of Beijing

Established more than 40 years ago, the International School of Beijing (ISB) continues to leverage its experience and passion for educational innovation to drive academic success and personal development for its students. With a dual-language programme from Early Years to Grade 5, students at ISB get the opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture while still preparing to graduate into a globalised world. ISB has also developed Strategic Focus Areas, which include a deep focus on quality programming, particularly in STEAM subjects. Additionally, the staff and faculty at ISB place importance on community and life-long peer relationships. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate and American
Ages: 3 to 18

Beijing City International School

Beijing City International School is an International Baccalaureate World School that also offers its own fully accredited curriculum known as the IDEATE programme. The student body is made up of close to 1,000 pupils from 40 different countries around the world. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate and IDEATE (own curriculum)
Ages: 2 to 18

British School of Beijing, Shunyi

British School of Beijing, Shunyi is a Nord Anglia school situated close to the Beijing Capital Airport. This modern school utilises technology as a teaching tool. Information Computer Technology (ICT) is taught as a subject from Grade 1, and every classroom is equipped with interactive whiteboards, projectors and smart TVs. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: British (English National Curriculum and Cambridge IGCSE), International Baccalaureate and German
Ages: 1.5 to 18

Canadian International School of Beijing

Founded in 2005, the Canadian International School of Beijing offers the full range of International Baccalaureate programmes as well as the curriculum of the Canadian province of New Brunswick. The school has fantastic facilities, including specialised areas and equipment for learning, play, sports and the arts. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: Canadian (New Brunswick) and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 1.5 to 18 

Dulwich College Beijing

With links to the original Dulwich College in London, Dulwich College Beijing offers a quintessentially British experience in the heart of China. Facilities are top-notch and include bright, airy and modern classrooms as well as other exciting resources, including several sports domes, theatres and tennis courts, as well as a radio studio and a FIFA two-star-rated football pitch. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: British (English National Curriculum and Cambridge IGCSE) and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2 to 18

Lycée Français International Charles de Gaulle de Pékin

The Lycée Français International Charles de Gaulle de Pékin has a number of language options. Students can opt to join the French (with English and Chinese taught as additional languages) section, the British section (bilingual French/English) or the Chinese section (bilingual French/Chinese). Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: French
Ages: 3 to 18

Yew Chung International School

Since its pioneering start as one of the first international schools in Beijing in 1995, Yew Chung International School of Beijing has been providing outstanding education to expat students for nearly 25 years. The school's bilingual English/Mandarin programme combines the best of Eastern and Western educational philosophies. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: British (English National Curriculum and Cambridge IGCSE) and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2 to 18

Lifestyle in Beijing

A friendly city brimming with history and culture, Beijing boasts a wealth of attractions and activities for people of all backgrounds. Expats have plenty to look forward to, with great shopping opportunities, vibrant nightlife and highly anticipated events at a range of exciting entertainment venues. The city also offers delicious local and international dining options, world-class sports facilities and stunning natural beauty.

Shopping in Beijing

There are endless options for shopping in Beijing, whether one is on the prowl for high-end products or cheap market items. Large malls and department stores are dotted around the city, while markets are ever-popular attractions throughout Beijing’s suburbs.

Wangfujing is arguably the most famous shopping street in Beijing, and expats are likely to find almost anything they’re looking for there, from international fashion brands to local Chinese trinkets and electronic goods. Other prominent shopping districts include Xidan Commercial Street and Taikoo Li Sanlitun.

Nightlife and entertainment in Beijing

The nightlife scene in Beijing is vibrant and extensive, offering a wide selection of clubs, karaoke bars and cocktail lounges catering to a variety of tastes. Many expats in Beijing are drawn to the lakeside Houhai area, as well as the foreigner-friendly establishments in Sanlitun. Gathering some friends and taking part in some good old Chinese karaoke always makes for an interesting and humorous night out, and is an obligatory initiation for many new arrivals.

Expats with cultured tastes can also enjoy traditional performances at places such as the Beijing Opera as well as venues like the Lao She Teahouse, which provides foreigners with an opportunity to enjoy traditional Chinese tea culture in a relaxed setting.

Outdoor activities in Beijing

Although the government occasionally issues warnings to limit the amount of time spent outside on days with high levels of air pollution, expats will have access to a variety of outdoor activities in Beijing. Hiking along the Great Wall is a popular pastime, with different sections offering distinct surroundings and a unique experience.

Beijing also enjoys a selection of traditional leisure activities, often centred on the city’s parks, such as kite flying, mahjong and tai chi. There are parks all over the city, with some of the most popular including the Beihai Park’s ornamental gardens and lake, the vast lawns and rollercoaster at Chaoyang Park, as well as the Ditan Park’s old-world charm.

Kids and family in Beijing

Thankfully for expat parents, there are a host of attractions in and around Beijing to keep children entertained, with the added benefit of helping them integrate into their new surroundings.

Popular activities for expat kids include field trips to major attractions such as the Great Wall of China, the Underground City and the Forbidden City, not forgetting modern offerings such as the interactive Sony ExploraScience Museum.

A day out at the Shijingshan Amusement Park is another popular activity for families. Themed after Grimms' Fairy Tales, parents will enjoy spotting where many of the park’s characters get their inspiration from, while kids can enjoy a range of attractions, such as rafting, the Ferris wheel and the Shenzou Coaster.

See and do in Beijing

Beijing is a city full of possibilities, and whether visiting as a tourist or settling down as an expat, there’s no lack of great food, culture and fun to be had. Be warned though, no matter where one goes, there will probably be crowds, especially on public transport and at tourist hotspots.

Still, it is worth fighting through the crowds to enjoy everything to see and do in Beijing.

Great Wall of China

There are various sites for expats to visit along China’s legendary Great Wall, but one of the best is Mutianyu. The site has a cable car that takes visitors up onto the wall and offers a toboggan slide down for those willing to walk far enough. As with most of the sites, getting there is the tricky part. The best bet would arguably be to hire a car for the day, although there are bus options available from inside the city.

National Museum of China

This is one of the largest museums in the world, boasting first-class facilities. Visitors can view a collection of over one million cultural relics housed in dozens of galleries. There are permanent exhibitions which focus on Ancient China and The Road of Rejuvenation, and a number of thematic and temporary international exhibitions. Most expats will need more than one visit to truly appreciate this attraction. 

Panjiayuan Antiques Market

Located close to Panjiayuan Bridge, expats will find Beijing's most famous antique market, which has grown considerably from its humble beginnings as a flea market in the early 1990s. Shoppers will discover a whole array of paintings, calligraphy works, ceramics, jade, furniture, coins and Buddhist artefacts for sale among the thousands of stalls. Even people who are not shopping for anything in particular will enjoy wandering around the market. 

The Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven is located in the southern part of central Beijing. If going early in the morning, expats will see locals out exercising and practising tai chi. The temple and altar can get crowded with tourists, but the massive park that surrounds the attractions is just as interesting. Visitors making their way to the east gate of the park will find themselves right across the street from the Pearl Market, where they can bargain to their heart’s content.

Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

A given for anyone visiting Beijing, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City are connected geographically and offer one of the best sightseeing experiences in Beijing. The square is enormous, as is the portrait of Mao Zedong at the entrance to the Forbidden City. 

798 Art Zone

This is the place for modern art enthusiasts in Beijing. It makes for a refreshing change of pace and is a place where expats can avoid the throngs of tourists as they view some excellent modern art installations and exhibits. There are also plenty of elegant restaurants and shops in this district of Beijing.

What's on in Beijing

Known for being the cultural hub of China, Beijing is a modern metropolis built on ancient foundations, and the city's annual calendar is reflective of this. While exact dates are subject to change, here are some of the best events expats in Beijing can look forward to.

Spring Festival (January/February)

Also known as Chinese New Year, the Spring Festival is the most important traditional event of the year for most residents. The Spring Festival bursts with colour and activity, celebrating family across ethnic boundaries. Locals start cleaning their houses and stocking their pantries a week in advance as preparations for the festival begin. Many celebrate by eating dumplings and seafood or enjoying the festive atmosphere of Beijing’s streets.

Meet in Beijing Arts Festival (April/May)

Each year, the Meet in Beijing Arts Festival takes on a different theme. Thousands of artists from all over the world come together to perform to an ever-growing audience. Exhibitions and performances last for almost a month, and feature art, dance, music and drama from the classical to modern. The festival is a unique platform for cultural exchange from all over the world, and expats are guaranteed to find something to suit their tastes.

Great Wall Marathon (May)

Two annual races take place on the Great Wall of China, one of the longest man-made structures in the world. Beijing residents often head to the wall to cheer the runners on in either the 3-mile (5km) or 6-mile (10km) races, which are held on some of the steepest sections of the wall.

Dragon Boat Festival (May/June)

One of the most popular festivals in China, the Dragon Boat Festival is also one of the most significant. Said to date back over 2,000 years, the festival commemorates legendary Chinese poet and patriot Qu Yuan.

According to the best-known story, unable to bear the prospect of his state being taken over by the Qin Dynasty, he drowned himself in a nearby river. Residents were said to throw food in the river, as fishermen sailing in search of his body let off fireworks, to prevent the body being eaten by fish. This is re-enacted every year through dragon boat racing and eating zongzi, sticky rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves.

Mid-Autumn Festival (September/October)

A traditional harvest festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival was originally used for moon worship and offerings. Today, residents in Beijing exchange gifts, bake mooncakes and gaze at the moon from places such as the Summer Palace, or the reflective surface of the Beihai Park lake. The Wanping Town temple fair close to the Lugou Bridge is especially popular and features all kinds of local arts and crafts.

Beijing Music Festival (October)

Lasting almost the entire month of October, the Beijing Music Festival is a celebration of classical music, and features performances from orchestras, soloists and opera companies from around the world.

Shipping and Removals in Beijing

Shipping to Beijing should be a straightforward process, much like shipping and removals to China in general. That said, the low cost of buying furniture along with the fact that much accommodation in Beijing is available fully furnished means that it may not be with shipping over goods. However, expats who would prefer to do so should do their research on customs regulations.

Shipping goods to Beijing

We recommend that expats hire a shipping agency that offers door-to-door service, and before settling on a company, explore various options by getting quotes and checking reviews.

Depending on where the cargo is originally from, the transportation should take between four and eight weeks.
For smaller and lighter items, the fastest means of shipping to Beijing is with air transport, although there are size and weight limitations that can incur large costs. It is often cheaper to buy new furnishings in Beijing rather than pay for long-distance shipping.

It is a good idea to take out an insurance policy on shipped goods in case they are damaged in transit.

Bear in mind the taxes levied when importing goods such as electronic products. Expats should also note restrictions on bringing medicine into Beijing and carry the necessary documentation recording all their personal items.

Shipping pets to Beijing

As with all other shipments, extensive documentation is required when bringing pets into China. Cats and dogs require rabies vaccinations and associated health certificates as documented proof of this. Pets typically require quarantine and should arrive through specific ports of entry. Dogs must generally be registered with the local police in Beijing within one month of arrival.

Frequently Asked Questions about Beijing

Home to over 20 million people, Beijing is a massive concrete jungle and expats may take time to adjust to life here. They're sure to have many questions before they move. Here are answers to some of the most common questions expats have about life in Beijing.

How bad is the pollution in Beijing?

International organisations, including the United Nations, have consistently ranked Beijing as having one of the world's worst levels of air pollution. On some days, the smog in Beijing has become so stifling that the Chinese government has cautioned people against venturing outdoors. This can be unhealthy for children who can develop respiratory problems, and even those expats who've managed to live their whole lives without allergies may find sinus congestion and a runny nose unavoidable side effects.

The government in China has made efforts to reduce pollution and much progress has been made. But, given the high number of privately owned vehicles and the thriving coal industry, air pollution remains a concern in the city.

Expats will find that the air is cleaner further from the city centre, and running an air purifier at night and exercising are good ways to counter any ill effects.

Will the communist government in Beijing affect me?

Not really. For most foreigners living in Beijing, the communist government just means a bit more red tape to deal with. Certain internet sites may be blocked and certain books and films banned, which can be frustrating, but the government is unlikely to feel repressive to non-citizens. The culture is every bit as consumer-oriented as the West. Still, it's important to be aware of the political situation as well as the sensitivities of openly discussing it. We also recommend that expats download VPN software to access blocked websites in China.

What is the weather like in Beijing?

Beijing has four distinct seasons with the most extreme weather in July and January. The summers in Beijing are hot with rain and humidity making the city more uncomfortable by increasing the effect of pollution. The winters are dry with temperatures often below freezing. Autumn and spring are mostly pleasant with occasional showers.

Is Beijing expensive?

Yes. Do not be fooled into thinking Beijing is a cheap place to live – Mercer's Cost of Living Survey consistently ranks it as one of the world's most expensive cities. The cost of living is high, and accommodation is likely to be the largest expense. Expats with children must also account for school fees. However, there are always discounts to be found and ways to save money, such as by eating out at local Chinese restaurants rather than those that serve international food.

Getting Around in Beijing

Expats will discover that getting around in Beijing is cheap and convenient at the best of times, and claustrophobic and dangerous at the worst. Plenty of public transport options are readily available for those averse to life as a pedestrian, and for the brave it's also possible to drive a car.

The city is built around five main 'ring roads' – highways that make basic circles around the city centre, each further out than the last. Most areas outside 5th Ring Road are considered quite far from the actual centre, though they are technically still a part of Beijing. As expected in a city of more than 21 million people, heavy traffic is commonplace throughout, but new government regulations have been working to reduce congestion.

Public transport in Beijing

Subway and bus lines are the primary modes of public transport and run throughout the city and into the outskirts of town. The standard of these systems is high, and they are constantly being improved. A prepaid, rechargeable Yikatong card can be purchased for regular travel on the subway and buses. Card holders have access to discounted fares.


The Beijing Subway is quite easy to use, with clear maps in Standard Chinese and signs in English and Pinyin (Chinese characters written out phonetically). The subway is an economical means of transport in Beijing, but the biggest difficulty tends to be crowded cars, especially during rush hour.

Suburban Railway

Expats who want to travel outside the main ring roads can commute by the rail service, known as BCR (Beijing City Rail) or Beijing Suburban Railway. This service is operated separately from the city's subway system, and while there are currently only four main lines in operation, the railway network is expanding.

Buses and trolleybuses

Passengers can travel by Beijing's bus rapid transit system, and multiple lines connect different areas and suburbs. Trolleybuses also operate in the city, particularly within the Third Ring Road.

Buses can be slightly intimidating since the routes are more complicated and less clearly marked, but signs in Pinyin as well as in Chinese characters are common. Learning the bus system will involve a bit more trial and error than learning the subway or taxi systems, but the price makes it a worthwhile adventure.

Taxis in Beijing

Taxis are readily available in most areas. There is a base fee charged for a 1.86 mile (3 km) taxi ride and additional charges are incurred for further distances. Expats should note that rates are inflated after 11pm. Taxis are a cheap way of getting around, but can prove to be more expensive when stuck in traffic.

Taxis are quite easy to use as long as passengers know where they are going or have it written down, although some drivers will occasionally try to con seemingly unsuspecting foreign passengers.

Cabs are also the only form of public transport available at any time of the day or night in Beijing, but commuters should be aware that the number of cabs on duty decreases at night. Ride-hailing apps, such as DiDi, are convenient, allow drivers to be tracked and provide details of the price of the trip in advance.

Driving in Beijing

It is recommended that expats take a bit of time to learn the traffic patterns before deciding to drive in Beijing themselves. Those who do decide to pursue a Chinese driving licence will need to navigate through a fair bit of bureaucracy and pass a relatively simple test, but one that can be confusing in translation.

Most expats do not require a car, but some choose to get one for more independence and the ease of transporting groceries and travelling with children.

Cycling in Beijing

Cycling is a common way of travelling around Beijing and is often faster than being stuck in a taxi during peak traffic. However, the city's air pollution is a deterrent to riding bikes, and initially navigating cycle lanes can be confusing.

Many expats choose to own bikes, be it a pedal bicycle, electric bike or a petrol-powered scooter. There is a great variety and many do not require a licence, but new riders will want to invest in a good lock. Locking one's bike to something immovable is crucial; bicycle theft is rampant in Beijing.

It's easy to find a bike to rent for a short trip during the day. Several companies operate services for renting e-bikes, which can be picked up and dropped off at various locations around the city.

Walking in Beijing

Many find that their definition of what is within 'walking distance' changes dramatically upon moving to Beijing. Suddenly, a few kilometres is not a long walk. Getting to places on foot – or with a combination of walking, riding buses and the subway – is not only possible, but is quite common and generally safe.

Beijing is a large city, which means it's not particularly walkable, but some areas are more pedestrian friendly than others, and new arrivals can certainly explore the city's main attractions on foot.