If you’re moving to Beijing, read on to get an idea of what to expect, in terms of cost of living. If you’re moving elsewhere in China, read on so that you laugh in the face of us poor bastards here in the capital. And if you’re not planning to come to China at all, read on because you might change your mind afterwards!
We had expectations about the cost of living in Beijing but the countless internet searches I did returned with conflicting information. Some sites claimed that we’d be living like kings for the year and we’d be saving £20,000.
Others played it all down and told us to not accept a salary less than 15,000RMB (£1764) per month else we wouldn’t be able to afford rent. Both have valid arguments so I thought I’d settle it properly here! There are plenty of pros and cons of living in Beijing, but the cost of living here is definitely one of the best things about it!
I’m converting the prices in September 2016 which might mean there are a few small differences if you’re reading this much later but you’ll get the general gist!
The first thing to think about if you’re concerned about the cost of living is rent. Beijing is the capital city so you’re probably going to end up spending more on rent here than anywhere else in the country (bar Shanghai possibly). Saying that, we found a two-bedroomed apartment on the outskirts of Beijing for 4000RMB per month. Four hundred and seventy quid is an amazing deal for our place!
We live in Beijing but we’re not smack bang in the centre of the city. We’re not out in the sticks either, so we have the best of both worlds. A five-minute walk to the subway and you’re zooming away for the most ridiculous prices.
As there’s two of us, it’s a much better deal but even if you’re living on your own you could afford that on a teacher’s salary. We also know a couple living right in the centre and they’re paying 8000RMB (£941 for a one bedroom, which is still miles cheaper than the London equivalent.
Some of our foreign friends share an apartment and so only pay for a room. They’re further in but are paying around 2000RMB just for a room. There are pros and cons of each. If you’re going solo then it might be better to share so that you don’t become a hermit in a new country.
Total cost: 4000RMB/£470
Our bills are laughable. For electricity, we go to State Grid and put money on a card, which updates our meter automatically. It normally costs us 100RMB per month. We’re not exactly careful with switching off lights, it’s just great value!
We also received a 7-month gas bill that we were scared to open – but it was only 70RMB! The landlord pays for the Chinese equivalent of council tax, plus heating.
The phone company we’re with is China Mobile. You top up your phone with the amount of money your contract requires (ours is 80RMB) It then takes the money from the top-up on your phone on a set day every month.
If you go over your monthly allowance, you’re cut off from everything! You can’t receive calls or messages, which is disastrous in my opinion, but it makes sure I put money on my phone every month!
We have 30Mb broadband which is plenty, especially for 700RMB per year. I’m not sure which company we’re with as a Chinese friend sorted it for us but prices don’t vary that much.
This isn’t really a necessary living cost but unless you can understand Mandarin AND enjoy Chinese war-time dramas, you’ll want to subscribe to Netflix or something similar. We did use this in England but it’s become a much bigger part of our lives since moving to China! £5.99 a month and boom, welcome to the world of television!
….Which leads us on to the next important purchase – a VPN! I can’t imagine any foreigner living in China without one. We decided to go with Astrill and it cost us about £100 for the year.
Total: 448RMB/£52 per month
Food in Beijing is fairly priced, depending on your tastes! We do a weekly shop just like we would back home and make lots of meals from scratch. We’ll eat out once or twice a week too. We still have the home-cooked food in the freezer just in case we haven’t counted our pennies properly! Normally we spend between 300 and 400RMB per week which is actually near on similar to English prices.
I think in supermarkets in England there is a lot of competitiveness which drives the prices down massively, and of course, you have the value brands as well. The higher end of the price bracket for our shopping is usually when we need to restock on cleaning products or chuck in a bottle of wine so it’s not every week!
If you’re only buying western food all the time, you can forget about saving money. Sometimes you can’t help yourself and you buy a 250g bag of cheese for a fiver and it’s ridiculous!
The odd treat here and there won’t set you back a great deal but you’ll probably be drawn to western food more than ever before! We usually spend around £30-£40 a month on top of our weekly shop on western bits and bobs.
If you’re eating in a Chinese restaurant, you can expect low prices. Two huge bowls of noodle soup set us back 36RMB last week in a small restaurant. If you’re looking for something more upmarket, then you’ll probably be looking at around 200 RMB for two people – you do get a lot of food though as everyone shares the various dishes in a Chinese restaurant, so you’re getting your money’s worth!
Total cost: (2000RMB/£235 per month
This is the one area where the cost of living in Beijing can get quite high. If we stay local and grab some Chinese beer from a shop to share with a group of friends, then you can spend around 30RMB for a crate, but in a bar, you’d spend that on one pint.
There are often happy hours and deals if you look around, so if you’re looking to live within a budget but still have fun then get planning beforehand!
Total cost: 500RMB/£58
We’re not really huge shoppers but have mooched around a couple of shops to see if it’s worth trying to communicate in Chinglish! In short – the western shops like H&M and Hollister cost very similar to back home. A few of the make-up shops like Benefit and Mac are more expensive, but that’s to be expected really.
If you’re feeling brave you could buy clothes from a local market and test your haggling skills but we haven’t bothered to do this as we’re not confident with the quality of the clothes we’d be purchasing!
You could spend a very minimal amount if you bring everything you’ll ever need with you, but things like toiletries do have to be replaced so be careful (especially ladies – you won’t find tampons here so stock up!)
Total cost: 400RMB/£47
Transport is my favourite thing to mention when talking about the cost of living in Beijing. The day we arrived, we bought a subway card for 80 RMB. This doesn’t actually save you any money as opposed to buying a ticket each time you use it, but it’s just much easier and faster.
A subway journey across the city is usually a standard 3RMB. 35p!! It’s glorious knowing that however far you have to go, you won’t be breaking the bank to sit on these spacious, clean and very regular trains.
Even better than the train prices – taxis! We can easily take a taxi from where we live to Sanlitun, which is roughly about a 25-minute drive without traffic. The driver will put on the meter (if they don’t then get out immediately!) and it’ll cost around 35RMB. That’s less than the standard pickup fare back home!
Sanlitun is the rich, “western” area of the city. The roads leading there do get very busy, especially on the weekend. This can drive the price up as the meter ticks over even if we’re sat in traffic, but we have never paid more than 80RMB for the trip, which is still a good deal.
Tuk-tuks are also a very useful way of getting round the local area. They’re pretty speedy little things, and will generally take you anywhere nearby for less than 10RMB. They’re handy when you’ve got lots of shopping or just can’t be bothered to walk any further!
When we first arrived in Beijing, we were really scared of getting into one. Mainly because they looked, and probably are, very dangerous as they weaved in and out of the cars. To be honest, we’re just used to them now and put just our trust in the driver!
We haven’t used buses that often, because the stops are in Chinese characters! Our Mandarin definitely does not stretch that far. The only time we’ve used them has been when we have been with Chinese speaking friends. Once we learn a route we could probably use them more though.
It’s 1RMB per journey – yes, 1RMB! Even cheaper than the subway, but you still have the traffic to sit through and you” likely have to stand.
Total cost of living in Beijing: This will vary, depending on what we get up to in the month. On average, we’d definitely spend no more than 300RMB/£35 between us on getting around.
Total monthly cost of living in Beijing
So, we spend an average of 7590RMB per month, which is about £893. Between two people, that’s a pretty decent amount of money to be living on. It also allows us to send home the majority of our pay!
Living in Beijing can be expensive if you’re going out to wild parties and hiring a personal driver. But if you’re relatively careful then you can start to save a big old pile of cash. Not bad for a teacher, eh!
Do you live in Beijing? Do we spend too much or should we splash out a little bit more? Let us know what you think of the cost of living in Beijing!
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