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Moving to Beijing

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 Shorts".

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.

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 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, make the adjustment successfully and find themselves in a city that is both ancient and modern, and that embodies Chinese culture for a global audience.

Weather in Beijing

Expats who plan on moving to Beijing should prepare themselves for an interesting climate. Falling in the monsoon region, Beijing’s summers are hot and wet, while winters are very cold and dry. The summer months, especially July and August, are prone to sudden evening downpours and 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 sometimes only reaching 25°F (-4°C).

 

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. As a whole, 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. However, 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 cannot 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 Chinese as well. Expats with work visas are often called "Foreign Experts", a phrase which is actually printed on their Alien Registration Card.

In addition, foreigners are allowed to open their own businesses in China, and many do. Most choose to take on a Chinese partner to deal with much of the paperwork, though agencies for setting up businesses are easy to find. There are many foreign-owned restaurants, for instance, but they do face a number of challenges and are encouraged to take on Chinese staff rather than act purely for foreign interests.

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.

Teaching English is the easiest kind of work to find, but wages are relatively low. Expats considering this option are, however, advised to do their research carefully as many foreigners find themselves underpaid or working for less than desirable employers.

There are a number of online resources for expats wanting to find a job in Beijing. It is worth remembering that expats hired from overseas often have a higher salary and more relocation benefits than foreigners hired from within the country.

Cost of Living in Beijing

The cost of living in Beijing is on par with many of Europe's capitals. As the cultural and political centre of China, Beijing is not far behind 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 – especially for expats who demand a certain standard of comfort and luxury.

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

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


Cost of accommodation in Beijing

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

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

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

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


Cost of schooling in Beijing

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

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


Cost of food in Beijing

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

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

Expats do not need to tip in China. Serving staff receive a monthly salary and are often not allowed to take tips.

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

These types of items will only be available at international supermarkets that target expats, such as Jenny Lou's. Cereal, another quintessentially non-Chinese product, can also be very expensive.


Cost of living in Beijing chart

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider and the list below shows average prices for March 2020.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

RMB 7,400

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

RMB 4,400

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

RMB 15,700

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

RMB 10,000

Groceries

Milk (1 litre)

RMB 13

Dozen eggs

RMB 13

Loaf of white bread 

RMB 14

Rice (1kg)

RMB 9

Packet of cigarettes 

RMB 20

Public transportation

City centre bus/train fare

RMB 4

Taxi rate per km

RMB 2.30

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

RMB 35

Coca-Cola (330ml)   

RMB 4

Cappuccino

RMB 31

Bottle of beer

RMB 25

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

RMB 200

Utilities

Internet (uncapped ADSL per month)

RMB 100

Electricity (average per month for a standard household)

RMB 450

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 that can be more than a little difficult at times.


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 many old-style Beijing apartments aren't accommodating in this department.

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

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 to one's accommodation, there are various places across Beijing to buy or have furniture made. Expats should take this into consideration before shipping every item from home.

In general, safety is not a major issue for expats in Beijing. Common sense security measures are generally enough to keep residents relatively safe. Locking doors, using a safe for valuables, and avoiding first-floor apartments for women living alone are all recommended; most expats do not take many extra precautions beyond these.


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 in the complexes they work in. Expats can go to a few of these agencies, but should not get discouraged if something isn't found right away.

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.

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.

From there, the tenant and the landlord will discuss and agree upon a contract. Landlords will generally ask for at least three months' rent up front and one month’s rent as a deposit, so expats should be prepared to have a lot of cash on hand.

Areas and suburbs 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.

Generally speaking, singles or couples prefer living in apartments close to their office, while families with young children may prefer the suburbs as the housing compounds are gated and children have more freedom to ride bikes and play with friends, as well as their proximity to more international schools. 

Expats in Beijing often live in gated residential compounds, as these provide additional communal facilities such as international television channels, high security, professional property management, English-speaking services, gyms and swimming pools, 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 housing budget.


Chaoyang District

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Chaoyang District serves as Beijing's diplomatic district, where most foreign embassies to China are located. With the concentration of international companies and international schools, Chaoyang District is one of the top choices for expats to live.

Central Business District (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 in walking distance or within a 10-minute drive to their offices.

Chaoyang Park 

Chaoyang Park is one of the best residential areas in Beijing, due 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.

Sanlitun

Sanlitun is one of Beijing’s most energetic and enjoyable neighbourhoods. With the famous Sanlitun "Bar Street" providing the best pubs in Beijing, the Village Lifestyle shopping complex, nightclubs and trendy restaurants, Sanlitun is an extremely popular hangout for young and single expats. Quite a few properties have been developed to meet the needs of young expat singles or couples who enjoy the colourful city life.

Lido and Wangjing

Lido was one of Beijing’s earliest expat residential areas and is particularly popular with families. Lido 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, due to its large number of South Korean residents. 


Dongcheng District

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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.

Dongzhimen

Dongzhimen is one of the most vibrant areas in Beijing, with the city’s largest public transportation hub nearby. Neighbouring the Second Embassy Area and Sanlitun, Dongzhimen is one of the most popular living areas for expat families in Beijing. 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.

Wangfujing/Dongdan 

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


Shunyi District 

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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 living 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 needed for daily transportation.


Xicheng District 

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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 serviced apartments and high-end apartments available, making rental fees relatively higher.

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 USA 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

beijing.ufh.com.cn
Address: 2 Jiangtai Road, Chaoyang District

International Medical Center-Beijing

www.imcclinics.com
Address: 50 Liangmaqiao Rd, Chaoyang District

Vista Medical Center

www.vista-china.net
Address: 1 Guanghua Road, 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, since they either have to pay higher public school fees than local families, or the high prices of private and international schools.

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, however, tend to have a much easier time finding and choosing a school in Beijing.


Public schools in Beijing

Many expats find that the transition to the rigorous public schools in Beijing is too much for their children, and themselves, to handle. 

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 it's said that those who do the best in the gaokao often have the least desire to question authority.

The school year in China runs from September to July.


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 due 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 enrol students from four to 18 years old and provide a wide range of sporting and cultural activities, as well as classes taught in English by qualified and experienced teachers, most of whom are from English-speaking countries.

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 are in other languages, including French, Japanese and German. Many international schools are located in suburban areas of Beijing such as Shunyi, however, which can be a long commute from the city centre. Kindergarten and lower educational centres can be found easily in the city centre.

Tuition is similar to international schools around the world and generally becomes more expensive as the student ages.

Placement at international schools is tough. Some companies that regularly relocate expats will reserve spots in 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 in the short-term who are unable to afford private or international schools.

However, expats must 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 has become increasingly vocal about its disapproval of homeschooling in recent years 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.

International Schools in Beijing

With such a large expat population, it follows that there are plenty of international schools in Beijing to choose from. 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 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. This makes the process of moving to a new country that 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

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: English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2 to 18

Beijing Aidi School

Offering several different curricula from around the world, Beijing Aidi School has a robust student body of 3,000 and is one of China's largest international schools. The school is well kitted out for sporting activities, with facilities featuring two swimming pools, two gyms, a basketball court and a golf driving range. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: American, Australian, Chinese, Cambridge IGCSE and A-levels
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: English National Curriculum, 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 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 such as two sports domes, four theatres, six tennis courts, a radio studio and a FIFA two-star-rated football pitch. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 1 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: 2 to 18

Lifestyle in Beijing

The wealth of attractions and activities in Beijing for people of all backgrounds embodies the fact that it is a friendly city brimming with history and culture. As one of the world’s largest metropolitan centres, however, the levels of pollution in Beijing are also a characteristic feature and, in many cases, expats have trouble adjusting to the smog and grime.

Those who overcome the challenges of pollution and overcrowding will find that Beijing offers great shopping opportunities at malls and markets, vibrant nightlife, and highly anticipated annual events at a range of exciting entertainment venues. It also offers delicious local and international dining options, world-class sports facilities and stunning natural beauty.


Shopping in Beijing

There are endless options for good 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 Sanlitun Village.


Nightlife 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 more cultured tastes can also enjoy traditional performances at places like the Beijing Opera as well as venues such as 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.

Another popular attraction is the Beijing World Park. Built with the idea of enabling visitors to see the world without leaving Beijing, the park is situated in the city’s southwest and offers its 1.5 million annual visitors a chance to see replicas of the Statue of Liberty, the Giza Pyramids and the Venus de Milo amid a wealth of shopping, dining and entertainment options.

Kids and Family in Beijing

With its reputation for smog and high-brow culture, people often make the mistake of thinking that there aren’t many activities for kids in Beijing to enjoy.

For many expat families, the differences in culture and surroundings mean that even attractions which aren’t necessarily aimed at children can be appealing.

Children moving to China, like their parents, have major challenges to overcome, especially in terms of the language barrier and culture shock. But parents will be pleased to know that the country ranks especially high when it comes to child safety and the affordability of childcare. 


Activities for kids in Beijing

Thankfully for expat parents, there are a host of attractions in and around Beijing to keep children entertained and interested, 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. Others prefer taking advantage of modern offerings such as the interactive Sony Explora Science 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 riding inside a giant bok choi in the Dream Land section.

The China Science and Technology Museum is a national tourist attraction, with the famous mirror dome that contains its 360-degree cinema attracting thousands of visitors every year. Full of interesting exhibits that educate while entertaining, parents can enjoy the offerings of the main exhibition hall or explore the museum’s scientific amusement park with their children.

Parents wanting their kids to explore nature without heading out of the city have a number of options too. The Beihai Park to the northeast of the Forbidden City is perfect for picnics, paddle boat rides and curious exploration through what is one of the largest and most historic gardens in China. Milu Park is also popular attraction, housing a selection of endangered species in what used to be imperial hunting grounds. The Milu deer is the most popular among these, becoming extinct in China in the 19th century before being reintroduced from Britain in the 1980s.

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. This is only to be expected in a booming city of over 20 million people. Still, it is worth fighting through the crowds to enjoy everything that is available to see and do in Beijing.


Attractions 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.

Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

Obviously a given for anyone visiting Beijing, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City are connected geographically and one of the best sightseeing experiences in Beijing. The square really is enormous, as is the portrait of Mao Zedong at the entrance to the Forbidden 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 1.2 million cultural relics housed in dozens of galleries. There are permanent exhibitions which focus on Ancient China and The Road of Rejuvenation and then a number of thematic and temporary international exhibitions. Most expats find that they'll need more than one visit to truly appreciate this attraction. 

The Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven is located in the southern part of central Beijing, close to the city centre. If going early in the morning, it's possible to see long-time Beijingers out exercising and doing Tai Chi. The temple and altar can get crowded with tourists, but the massive park that surrounds the attractions can be 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.

Hutong areas of Beijing

Visiting a hutong area is a uniquely Chinese cultural experience and a delightful city pastime. These areas are home to a variety of local and Western restaurants, bars and shopping, and can provide the perfect backdrop for a well-spent weekend in Beijing. Visitors can rent bicycles or hire a pedicab to take a nice ride through the backstreets of the area and absorb the ancient, courtyard-based family housing that is being torn down little by little. Two well-loved hutong areas are Houhai Lake and Nanluoguxiang, both of which offer lots of eating, drinking and window shopping options that will surely be unique to the modern expat eager to absorb Ancient China.

Panjiayuan Antiques Market

Located close to the 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 find a whole array of antiques for sale amongst the thousands of stalls. Everything from paintings, calligraphy works, ceramics, jade, furniture, coins and Buddhist artefacts are available. Even people who are not shopping for anything in particular will find wandering around the market to be a great experience. 

798 Art Zone

This is the place for modern art enthusiasts in Beijing. It makes for a great 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 nice restaurants and shops in this district of Beijing. 

Birds Nest and Water Cube

These impressive structures remain from when Beijing hosted the 2008 Olympic Games and are now popular attractions. The Birds Nest, officially known as the National Stadium, houses the main and field venue and gained its nickname because of its innovative grid structure. The Water Cube is the colloquial name given to the Beijing National Aquatics Center which was built just next door to the stadium. 

What's On in Beijing

Known for being the cultural capital of China, Beijing is a modern metropolis built out of ancient foundations. While the Forbidden City and the Great Wall loom large in the landscape, the city’s festival calendar brings together its past and present.

Here are some of the best annual events in Beijing for expats to 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. The Spring Festival is said to set the tone for the year and it is for this reason that people avoid negative topics of conversation and medication. Many celebrate by eating dumplings and seafood or enjoying the festive atmosphere of Beijing’s streets.

Lantern Festival (February/March)

The first significant feast after the Spring Festival, the Lantern Festival is known for being one of the city’s most enjoyable cultural events. During the festival, Beijing is lit up by thousands of paper lanterns as its citizens gather to eat stuffed rice balls called yuanxiao, and marvel at the moon. Fireworks, folk dances, stilt-walking and riddles also feature and keep the whole family entertained.

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 there is guaranteed to be something to suit all tastes.

Great Wall Marathon (May)

Each year two 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. It has been held every year for 2,000 years, commemorating legendary Chinese poet and patriot Qu Yuan. 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, local sticky rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves. Organised races take place all over the city, and revellers are occasionally allowed to take the oars themselves at certain locations.

Beijing Dance Festival (July)

Known as the biggest dance platform in China, the festival started in 2008 and alternates between international and national programmes each year. In 2014, it became a two-week extravaganza of educational activities and performances showcasing some of the best dancers in China and the world.

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, expats who have moved to Beijing will have plenty of time to enjoy the Beijing Music Festival. The classical music celebration 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 generally. It is recommended that expats hire a shipping agency that offers door-to-door service. 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 which 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 buy insurance on shipped goods, which can be damaged in transit.

Frequently Asked Questions about Beijing

Home to close to 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 becomes so stifling that the Chinese government even cautions 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. That said, most healthy people suffer no lasting harm.

The government in China has made recent efforts to reduce pollution, but as the number of privately owned vehicles rises and industry continues to boom, progress seems to be at a minimum.

Expats will find that the air is cleaner farther from the city centre, and running an air purifier at night or 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.

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.

Getting Around in Beijing

Expats will find getting around in Beijing to be cheap and convenient at the best of times and claustrophobic and dangerous at worst.

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 places on foot – or with a combination of walking, riding buses and the subway – is not only possible but is quite common and is generally safe.

Regardless, plenty of public transport options are readily available for those averse to life as a pedestrian, and for the very brave it's also possible to drive a car.

The city is built around five "ring roads" – highways which make basic circles around the city centre, each farther out than the last. Currently, most areas outside of 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 20 million people, heavy traffic is commonplace throughout, but new government regulations have been working to curb 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.

Subway

The subway is quite easy to use, with clear maps (in Chinese) and signs in English and Pinyin (Chinese characters written out phonetically). The biggest difficulty for expats on the subway tends to be the crowded cars, especially during rush hour.

Buses

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 becoming more 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. Buses in Beijing operate on standard fares depending on the distance travelled, but discounted rates are available with a Yikatong card.


Taxis in Beijing

Taxis are also readily available in most areas. There is a base fee charged for a 1.8 mile (3 km) taxi ride and additional charges are incurred for additional distances. Expats should note that rates are inflated after 11pm.

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, unless the passenger happens to be in close proximity to a well-known late-night hotspot.


Peddle cabs in Beijing

Peddle cabs are available at various places around Beijing. These are basically boxes on wheels, sometimes petrol-powered and sometimes simply human-powered, or rickshaws with seats behind a bike. Passengers should be absolutely sure to negotiate their price before riding in these, especially if they happen to be at a tourist venue. In non-tourist areas, these can be as much as half the price of a short-distance cab.


Driving in Beijing

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

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 definitely want to invest in a good lock. Locking one's bike to something immovable is crucial; bicycle theft is rampant in Beijing.