As our readership at the Middle Kingdom has grown, we’ve discovered that many people find our blog while they are in the midst of trying to decide whether or not to move to Beijing. This past week I’ve received emails from two different people asking for advice or information about Beijing in preparation for possibly moving here.
So what are the questions you should be asking? I’ve outlined some of the bigger ones below, along with my thoughts based on our experience living here for the past three years.
1. Can I afford to live on the salary I’ve been offered?
I wrote a post a while back about the cost of living in Beijing, and most of that information still holds true. The answer to this question is going to be somewhat dependent on your own life-stage and expectations. You can live really cheaply and gain a rich experience on very little (less than 5000 a month), but if you’re wanting to put money into savings, pay off student loans or other debt, do a lot of traveling while you’re here, or start or raise a family, your needs are going to be higher. If you’ve been offered more than ¥25,000 per month (for 2 people), you’re probably going to be fine. If it’s less than that, plan on living a little more cheaply. These days you can expect to pay between 5000-8000 RMB for a pretty decent apartment that isn’t too far outside the city. Food and transportation is pretty similar to what we paid in America (we use taxis and public transportation now). Kara and I live on less ¥25,000, and we do alright, but sometimes it’s a little tight.
2. My husband/wife has been offered a job in Beijing. How easy would it be for me to find work?
This is a tricky one. There are always English teaching opportunities. Sometimes they are great, but most people, after doing that for a while, decide they would like to do something else. Most international companies either hire people and bring them to China or they hire local Chinese; they aren’t usually looking for foreigners in Beijing to hire. There are other jobs available but not a ton. Bottom line: you can definitely find something, but don’t plan on being too picky.
3. What about schools for my kid(s)?
There are a couple options:
- Local Chinese School: I know many people who send their kids (especially younger ones) to local schools. Younger kids (pre-school through 2nd grade) tend to pick up the language pretty easily. The downside is that it might be hard on them socially, especially at first.
- International School: There are some phenomenal international schools in Beijing. There are sports leagues and clubs and most of them have pretty great academic standards. Many are IB accredited. The big ones (ISB, WAB, Dulwich) are wicked expensive (25,000USD per year or more), so if you’re company isn’t going to pay for your kid’s tuition, you might want to pass on those. There are a lot of good smaller schools, too, that are a lot less expensive (IAB, YCIS, BCIS, BWYA, etc.).
- Homeschool: There is a fairly extensive network of homeschooling families in Beijing, too. For some, the parents teach, others do online schooling, and a few hire a private tutor to teach their kids all subjects. There are several homeschool co-ops that meet once a week for some joint classes and social interaction. If you’ve never homeschooled before and are considering that option, do some homework and be prepared to invest time in your kids like it’s your job (because it will be).
4. Will my family hate me if I make them move to Beijing?
Yes… at first. But if you stick it out, I think that they will be very happy for the experience. Most of the people we talk to have a difficult first year in China but really start to enjoy it in their second year. My parents moved our family to China when I was 15 years old and I hated them at first, but now I’m so glad they gave us the opportunity to see the world and experience something so different (and now I’m back, so it must not have been too bad). If you are thinking about moving to China, I’d encourage you to be open to being here for 3 to 4 years; if you leave to quickly, you may never really acclimate and learn to appreciate all the great things about living here.
5. Will I be able to get ______ in Beijing?
Everyone has their own list of things that they consider important life essentials that may or may not be available in Beijing. There is no definitive list of what you can get or where you can get the various food items or products that make you feel at home, but Beijing is a more and more international city every day, and you can pretty much find anything if you’re willing to pay for it. There are still some items that we bring with us from the States, but that list is shorter and shorter every time we go back. Check out the Jenny Lou’s website (Jenny’s is a foreign grocery store) to get an idea of what is available.
6. I don’t speak Chinese. Is that going to be a problem?
Nope, but once you get here you should make an effort to learn some. Many things in Beijing have English and Chinese (it’s not as common outside of the larger cities in China, though). You can really exist quite easily with the barest amount of Chinese language skills.
7. Should I Move to China?
What, were you expecting a more complicated answer?
Are there any other major questions that you have/had when making your decision to move to China? Let us know in the comments.
If you’ve made the decision to move consider getting the
Newcomer’s Guide to Beijing.