A panarama of the temple of heaven in Beijing

What Is The Real Cost Of Living in Beijing? | 2020

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Beijing is a great place to live. But before you take the plunge of moving to China, you’ll need to consider the cost of living in Beijing. Can you afford to move? Will you be able to rent a decent apartment? How much will you be able to socialise? Find out how much you need to live in Beijing!

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 (£1783) per month else we wouldn’t be able to afford Beijing rental prices.

Both have valid arguments so I thought I’d settle it properly here!

There are plenty of pros and cons of living in Beijing in 2020, but the cost of living here is definitely one of the best things about it!

As ESL teachers in Beijing, we make good money but what’s the point in having a lot of money if you just have to spend it all to be able to survive?!

Luckily, Beijing is a cheap city to live in, in comparison to our home in the UK so we are able to enjoy our salaries.

*As of November 2019 the exchange rate is 1RMB = £0.11 or $0.14. The living cost in Beijing in comparison to home will obviously vary slightly depending on the exchange!

A large group of people skating on ice in Beijing

there are plenty of fun things to do in Beijing on a budget

What Is The Average Living Cost In Beijing?

Before you read into how much it costs to live in Beijing in a month, check out these quick typical price guides to everyday things you might buy. These prices are an average so they’ll just give you an idea of the money you’ll spend regardless of how long you stay in the city.

  • A bottle of water: 2RMB/£0.22/$0.29
  • 500g of chicken: 20RMB/£2.20/$2.90
  • 30 eggs: 18RMB/£2/$2.60
  • A small box of imported cereal: 35RMB/£3.80/$5
  • A local beer in a bar: 30RMB/£3.30/$4.30
  • A Chinese meal (one main dish and a special fried rice): 40RMB/£4.40/$5.80
  • A subway journey travelling up to 6km: 3RMB/£0.33/$0.43 
  • A coffee at Starbucks: 40RMB/£4.40/$5.80
  • A Big Mac meal: 40RMB/£4.40/$5.80
  • Minimum taxi fare: 13RMB/£1.40/$1.90
  • Monthly gym membership: 300RMB/£33/$43

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What Is The Average Rent In Beijing?

When thinking about your living cost in Beijing, you’ll need to plan for 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 (the cost of living in Beijing vs Shanghai is probably lower actually).

Saying that we found a two-bedroomed apartment on the outskirts of Beijing for 4000RMB per month in our first year here. £448 was an amazing deal for our place!

You’ve got to think carefully about where to live in Beijing.

The city is separated by ‘ring roads’ which makes it pretty easy to navigate and select where you want an apartment.

When we first lived in Beijing we decided to live close to where we worked, so we were outside the third ring road. It could take around 40 minutes to get to Sanlitun, Dongzhimen or even Guomao sometimes but our rent was cheap and our commute was short.

The public transport in Beijing is super low-cost and easy to access so if you don’t mind taking your time to get anywhere then I’d recommend saving your money and living outside the third ring road!

If you want to be in the middle of the action, try finding a place within or near to the second ring road. It’s more likely that you’ll be sharing an apartment here unless you don’t feel like saving any of your salary!

A large block of flats in Beijing China

you’ll almost certainly live in a high rise building in Beijing

The average rent in Beijing for a whole apartment ranges from around 3,00RMB to 10,000RMB, unless you are really wanting something super fancy. You can find somewhere to live for 20,000RMB per month – if that’s the case, I want your job!

As there are two of us, we can afford have our own place rather than share with flatmates.

We know lots of people who live in a shared an apartment and so only pay for one room. These prices can be as low as 2000RMB if you look hard enough!

There are pros and cons of each.

If you are moving to Beijing alone, it might actually be better to share as it’s a good way to meet people and you’ll be able to live in a modern apartment without a hefty price tag.

This year, we decided that we wanted to live a lot more central (plus we changed schools so our commute is still only around 10 minutes!).

We sacrificed space for location and now pay 7,500 RMB for a studio flat. It’s not tiny, and the kitchen is separate from the main room so we don’t feel too enclosed.

Thinking about where to live in Beijing and whether to choose a whole flat or a shared hutong building can be daunting. Beijing rent prices depend massively on location too so once you actually get there and can view a couple of places, it’ll all become a lot easier!

Finding a trustworthy rental agency in a new country can be daunting, so our recommendation is 100% Ziroom. We have used them twice and they are probably the best company to talk to.

Download the app (click EN on the right-hand side to view the listings in English) and begin narrowing down your selections before you talk to an agent.

That way, you can show them exactly the type of thing you are looking for so no-one’s time is wasted.

Pro Tip

When you first move to China, you’ll need to bring a good sum of cash to get you through until your first pay day. That’s to cover your rent deposit, your first 3 month’s rent AND the agency fee equal to one month’s rent. Read more about the renting an apartment in China here.

Total Cost Of Rent In Beijing

2000 – 4000RMB for a shared room (£220 – £440/$283/$586)

6000 – 9000 RMB for a well-located private apartment £661 – 992/$849 – $1274)

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Paying Your Bills

Our monthly bills in China are laughable compared to back home in England.

In our first year, for electricity we needed to go to State Grid and put money on a card, which updated our meter automatically. It normally cost us 100RMB/£11/$14 per month.

When we moved into a different apartment, we were actually able to pay our bills via WeChat – another great use for the app!

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 (which is switched on at the same time every year in November, and switched off in March).

The phone company we use is China Unicom, but you also have the option of China Mobile. You top up your phone with the amount of money your contract requires (ours is around 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!

A beijing electricity card

find out how you pay your electricity as soon as you move in

Internet is often pre-installed and included in your rental price.

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! Currently we’re paying £9/$11.50 so that we can keep binging our favourites TV shows.

…. Which leads us on to the next important purchase – a VPN (Virtual Private Network)! I can’t imagine any foreigner living in China without one. We decided to go with Astrill and it costs us about £77/$99 for the year. Make sure you download this BEFORE you move to Beijing because it can be difficult to install once you’re here!

You can’t access western social media in China without using a VPN – so that means no Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok … you name it.

Google is also a huge no-no so if you can’t rely on Gmail or Google Maps in China.

Not only that, but many foreign news sites and websites in general are blocked so life can be hard if you don’t download Astrill or something similar.

Pro Tip

Try out a few VPNs before you commit. We recommend Astrill because we have used it for over 3 years and we feel t’s good value for money. Their customer servie is rpety good, and even when the Firewall blocks usage, they are always working on fixes.

Express VPN offers a 30-day money back guarantee but from what we have heard, it’s not as reliable as Astrill.

Total Monthly Bills

356RMB/£39/$50 per month

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The Cost of Food In Beijing Can Vary

Food prices in Beijing can be cheap, depending on your tastes!

We do a weekly shop just like we would back home and make lots of meals from scratch. In a normal week, we’ll spend around 500RMB on dinner ingredients, cleaning products and toiletries.

Our local supermarket is actually a Carrefour (the French brand) but they have a wide range of imported and local foods.

We’ll eat out once or twice a week too.

If you’re only buying western food all the time, you can forget about saving money.

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 300 – 400RMB a month on top of our weekly shop on western bits and bobs. April Gourmet and Jenny Lou’s are the go-to places to find foreign imports. Carrefour has a good selection but things can often be more expensive here.

A large buffet of chinese food with people sat around eating

our midnight snack was amazing!

If you’re eating in a Chinese restaurant, you can expect low prices. Two huge bowls of noodle soup set us back 36RMB/£4/$5 last week in a small restaurant.

If you’re looking for something more upmarket, then you’ll probably be looking at around 100RMB/£11/$15 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!

If you eat out at non-Chinese restaurants, then you’ll find that you can pay upwards of 80RMB for a meal for one person. You can easily find Mexican, Thai, Indian, French and British cuisine to name a few.

Our favourite chain restaurants here include QMex (get the bean burrito) Blue Frog (2-4-1 cocktails every day from 4pm!), Tube Station (you can get a 32″ Party Monster pizza here).

The best steak and service is found at Bleu Marine (ignore Google’s warning that they have closed down! They’ve just moved to a different location which you can find on their website).

Total Cost of Groceries In Beijing

2250RMB/£247/$318 per month

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Socialising/Drinking Will Increase Your Living Cost in Beijing

This is the one area where the prices 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. 

You can buy a bottle of Smirnoff vodka for around 50RMB from April Gourmet or Carrefour so if you’d rather stay at home and drink then it can be very affordable.

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!

A bottle and glass of cider in beijing china

we found cider in Beijing!

There are lots of fun things to do in Beijing, mostly without spending a lot of money too.

We enjoyed checking out the touristy attractions Beijing has to offer, and many of these like exploring the Forbidden City or the walking streets, we paid a tiny amount in entrance fees or nothing at all.

Bigger excursions like visiting the Great Wall or taking the sleeper train from Beijing to Xi’an obviously cost money but they should be affordable whilst living in Beijing.

Total Cost of Going Out In Beijing

1000RMB/£110/$141

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The Cost of Shopping in Beijing Depends on Your Habits!

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 a little more expensive, but that’s to be expected really.

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 – tampons here are incredibly expensive and not very high quality. Instead, invest in a menstrual cup to look after your body, the environment and your bank balance!)

A small stall of clothes on the side of the street in beijing

there are lots of little stalls all around Beijing

The best thing to do is to get set up with Taobao and JD as soon as you arrive. These sites are the Amazons of China and you can find some amazing deals on here.

They actually sell pretty much everything, from plants to shoes to curry sauce. You might have to do a little bit of searching if you don’t fit into the standard Chinese clothing sizes but we have had some luck and we’re most definitely not standard size here!

International online retailers like Asos also deliver to China so it’s worth keeping a copy of your address in Chinese and English on your computer so you can get things delivered!

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Public Transport In Beijing Is Great

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 15-minute drive without traffic. The driver will put on the meter (if they don’t then get out immediately!) and it’ll cost around 30RMB. That’s less than the standard pickup fare back home!

Pro Tip

You can download Didi which is a Chinese version of Uber – except you can book the city taxis through it which are the same price. The app just makes hailing a cab quicker and easier!

Sanlitun is a 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 you’re sat in traffic, so sometimes it’s better to just get out and walk if you’re close.

A typical subway station in beijing

our local subway station was also never busy!

Tuk-tuks are also a very useful way of getting around 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.

We also bought bicycles to get to work every day. There are lots of markets that sell bikes for really low prices. We paid 250RMB each for our bikes which were in amazing condition, with a basket, bell and lock.

However, now you’re better off downloading another app – Mobike is a popular one – and jump on the bike-sharing bandwagon! You’ll have to give your passport details and they also use face-recognition software to confirm you are who you say you are, but after that it’s really easy to use.

Find a bike, scan the QR code and it will unlock. Ride to wherever you want to go, lock the bike and your account will be chargd! My 1.5km ride to school costs me 1.5RMB each way – not bad for a daily commute!

Total Cost of Transport in Beijing

300RMB/£33/$46

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What Does Living in Beijing Cost?

As a couple, we manage to live on quite a small budget in Beijing.

We eat out regularly, we enjoy wine or beer at the weekends and we have also bought a fair amount of tech for our travels. These include a GoPro, two DSLR cameras and two laptops (check out Jade’s which we think is perfect for using whilst travelling) during our time in China.

We also adopted two cats + flew them home to England which cost us a lot.

Including rent, our average living cost in Beijing is around 13,500RMB. That works out at roughly £1487 or $1912. Between two people, that’s a pretty decent amount of money to be living on.

That equals out to be an average of £743/$956 per person, including ALL bills! It allows us to send home the majority of our pay which is amazing. Living expenses in Beijing in 2020 can be very low, as long as you don’t go crazy!

Living in Beijing in 2020 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!

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is it easy to move to Beijing?

If you have a job lined up and can secure a working visa, then yes. However, long-term it is incredibly difficult to move to China in general, especially if you are not even living in the country yet.

Should you tip in China?

No. It can be considered quite rude if you offer money to someone who has served you, as they might feel like you are implying that they don’t already make enough money. Saying that, don’t be too worried about offending people. If you are in a tuk-tuk, for example, the ride has cost you 9RMB but you only have a 10 and the driver doesn’t have change – that’s different!

Is it expensive to live in Beijing?

In comparison to other places in China, yes, Beijing can seem expensive. Shanghai probably costs more to live in, as there are a lot more foreigners there, and places like Guilin in the south are even more budget friendly. However, Beijing is still a cheap place to visit!

How much money should I bring to Beijing when I start a job?

The upfront costs of living in Beijing can be quite high because of the way the rent system is paid for, as well as the time it can take to be paid for your first month of work. You’ll usually need to pay 3 months rent first, as well as a month’s deposit and a month’s agency fee (remember that although it seems a lot, it means that you won’t pay rent from your first 3 pay cheques, and you should get your deposit back at the end of your tenancy agreement). You also may have to work 6 weeks in advance of your pay because most Chinese companies pay in the middle of the month but their payroll systems begin from the 1st. For example, we began our job on the 1st of September and we weren’t paid until the 10th October.

Is it safe to live in Beijing in 2020?

Beijing seemed pretty safe to us and I can’t recall a time when I felt uncomfortable to the point of thinking something bad was actually going to happen. Of course, I always had my wits about me, just like I would in any city. Don’t walk around busy tourist attractions flashing your expensive phone to everyone, don’t get in unmarked taxis and be careful when you’re out drinking that you don’t leave your glass unattended. These are all pretty common rules to live by wherever you are though!

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Do you live in Beijing? Do we spend too much or should we splash out a little bit more? Let us know if you have any questions about how much it costs to live in Beijing!


Click on the image below to repin this post!

Beijing is a great place to live. But before you take the plunge of moving to China, you'll need to consider the cost of living in Beijing. Can you afford to move? Will you be able to rent a decent apartment? How much will you be able to socialise? Find out how much it costs to live in Beijing! Living in Beijing | Expats in Beijing | Move to China | Cost of Living | Budget Travel | Work Abroad | Asia | #beijing #expatlife #liveabroad #moveworktravellive #twotalltravellers #livingonabudget

Comments

  1. If you are from the West then everything is gonna seem cheaper in Asia. Also China keeps changing its currency value according to the Market. Not sure if that affects the tourists.

    1. Exactly! Was a good shock moving from London to China. Prices stay low for tourists but are even lower for locals/expats who know where to look!

  2. I was really sure that groceries there would be lesse expensive, but I also guess that lots of it depends on what you’re buying, right? And the phone thing looks pretty messy, I’d feel so lost! 😀

    1. Yeah exactly! Sometimes it is just cheaper to eat out 😀

  3. This is such a great resource for anyone moving to Beijing. Knowing what kind of prices to expect so you can set a budget beforehand will relieve a lot of financial stress as I’m sure moving to a new country is already stressful enough! Thanks for adding in details like how to get a phone set up – essential!

    1. Thanks! Yeah we saw so many different guides with completely different and outdated information so we wanted to put it straight!

  4. I’ve never really thought about living in Beijing. I hear the wifi is horrible. How do you pay for that? And living there, do you have problems with it?

    1. It’s actually a really cool place to live – plenty of traditional culture to see but also always a McDonalds nearby for when you just really need a burger 😉

      The wifi is great actually, it’s just that you need a VPN to access so many websites! This year our wifi is included in our rent which is good but last year we paid for a year upfront so it was easy!

    1. Beijing is definitely more expensive than most other cities, except Shanghai, but it’s also so much cheaper than any Western country we have been to!

    1. Yes I would say so, only if you’re smart about planning your trip though! Hotels and tour companies assume everyone coming to China has loads of money so often hike up their prices!

  5. Great information. Never considered living in this part of the world, but quite interesting to get an idea about living costs. It’s true that living like a local always makes an expat life a lot more affordable!

    1. It was quite daunting moving here but now we are so used to it and have an easy life here!

  6. Wow, what a fantastic price for that apartment! This is really helpful. My friend might be moving to Beijing for a teaching job so I’ll definitely send this to her. Thanks for sharing, happy travels 🙂

    1. Oh amazing, if she needs any more help tell her to give us a shout!

  7. We are moving to Beijing in August for the next 4-5 years and I have soooooo many questions!!!!! Would you be willing to let me email you or you email me with some of my questions? I am so nervous!!!

  8. Beijing housing is much more expensive now!!! I have rented a 3 bedrooms apartment with a walking distance to GUOMAO CBD. Rent is about 13,500 RMB per month – very expensive!

    1. Yeah we didn’t live a walking district to one of the most expensive places in China haha. We were outside the 3rd ringroad in a one bed apartment. You have to decide if you want to be able to walk out your house and be amongst the inner city or have to get a 30 minute train ride. The difference in rental price is huge.

  9. I found this article immensely helpful! I am moving to Beijing in July and as you can imagine…it’s daunting! Looking forward to future posts.

    1. If you need any help or advice on what to do in Beijing to do with absolutely anything give us an email and we will try to help. Good Luck!

    1. Good luck and let us know if you need any more information! We were there for 2 years and will be returning in February so have plenty to share!

  10. After arriving in Beijing one of the most important thing is to find a nice place to stay, however the overwhelming nature of the environment and the unfamiliar language can initially be super stressful. High rental prices aimed for unsuspecting foreigners (just like me) are hard to miss. These are the problems many expats face after arriving in Beijing or anywhere else in China.
    Best thing is to look on some housing platforms and contact different real estate agents.

    For Beijing:
    https://www.thebeijinger.com
    https://www.flatinchina.com/

    For Shanghai:
    http://www.smartshanghai.com/

    Always have a contract and never give any money to an agent or a landlord without receipt.

    1. Agreed! We used http://www.ziroom.com/ to find our apartments once we were in Beijing but it’s always helpful to have a look around on different sites to get an idea of what you really want and need!

  11. Fantasic informational. I lived in Nanchang for a year teaching as a adjunct professor. Amazing experience.

    Beijing will be quite different. However I am considering a job there and now looking forward to the adjustment based on your post.

    Thanks,
    Smith

    1. No problem at all! Beijing will be quite different from Nanchang. If you need any help once you’re here then get in touch!

  12. Really helpful! Thanks a lot.
    I am from China but have lived in Canada for many years. And now I am moving to Beijing for my work. The cost of living in Beijing has changed a lot since I left, even as a Chinese I need to do a little bit of research before I move back.

    1. yeah i can imagine it has changed! still an awesome place though 🙂

  13. Thank you so much for this!

    i was wondering if you have any tips to share about insurance? I will be moving to Beijing. My job will cover 80 % of all health costs, so wonder if I need something more!

    1. Good question, we have only ever used the insurance that is provided by our company. It definitely won’t include things like repatriation if something terrible happens so I recommend having a look at World Nomads.

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