- Shunyi (out near the airport): Great for expat amenities, but more expensive and long commute time into the city. Also difficult if you don’t have a car.
- ChaoYang Park/Central Business District: Good for expat amenities, good for commuting, more expensive, not very close to most of the international schools.
- WangJing (northeast of 4th ring road): Split the difference. Not quite as expensive for housing, pretty good for commuting, pretty good for expat amenities. (We live in WangJing).
If you just want someone to tell you a good place to live I would recommend The Seasons apartment complex in WangJing. They have a nice playground in the complex, and a gym, the apartments are nice, it’s close to a subway, and there are a lot of other expat families that live there. Rent will be in the range of 8000-12000RMB per month. It’s also reasonably convenient if your kids end up attending an international school in Shunyi, there are school buses that go to all the major schools.
- West Side or North Side: Cheaper housing, ok for commuting (depending on where you primarily work), not great for expat amenities, except they have a great homeschooling network (if you are thinking about homeschooling).
Is there a particular rental agency you would recommend?
Do you recommend hiring a live in nanny/housekeeper? If so, do you know what it costs?
I will need to travel around to different areas of Beijing all day, every day of the work week. Would you recommend getting a car or taking public transportation?
Getting a car is probably not the best option for a couple reasons. 1) You will also need to get a Chinese drivers license if you want to drive here, 2) there is a new regulation that says you must be a resident in Beijing for 1 year before getting a car and 3) even if you meet the resident requirement you will then enter a lottery to try to get a license plate. Your chances are about 1 in 5 at best.
Is it safe and convenient to ride a bike in Beijing?
Traffic in Beijing is very different from the states. More chaotic and potentially frightening. I have ridden/driven bikes, electric scooters and now a motorized scooter and I find it very convenient (especially in the spring and summer), but I would be careful about where/when my kids ride bikes.
I plan to learn Mandarin, but can’t speak it fluently now. Is it relatively easy to get by in Beijing without bring able to speak the language?
It’s very easy to get a long in Beijing with limited Mandarin language skills. It gets easier the more you know, but we are by no means fluent and we are fine. It usually takes about 3 months to start feeling pretty comfortable.
It really depends on how you decide to live. You can move to Beijing and increase you living costs dramatically if you put your kids in expensive international schools, get a car, eat and only western restaurants and shop at foreign grocery stores. You can also cut your cost of living by shopping at outdoor markets for produce, using public transportation and learning to love chinese food.
If you want to take a couple years to really save up money, moving overseas is a great way to do it. The best part is that since everything is so different you can really change the way you live and what you spend money on, and it’s all part of the adventure.
Have you found it relatively easy to make friends in Beijing?
Do you have any basic tips that you have learned from your experience about moving to Beijing or about living in Beijing that you could pass on to me?
If you are coming to Beijing with your spouse the transition is usually hardest for the spouse who is not working full time, so once you get here I would definitely suggest finding something really fulfilling to put some of your time and energy into. It might be studying Chinese or maybe working with one of the many non-profits here in Beijing, but it seems that a lot of families leave because the non-working spouse is bored, lonely or burnt out.
One of the most important moments for my wife Kara was when someone called her asking for advice about where to buy wheat germ. When she became a resource to other people here and really felt like she had something to give.
Many people move to China and simply try to recreate their life from back home, and try to avoid too much ‘real China’. That can be very frustrating, because many things will be different, and there will be a lot of culture shock no matter what. The best attitude to have is that you are moving to China to experience something entirely new. Plan on learning to thrive in China, learn to enjoy the public transportation, and hole in the wall Chinese restaurants. Shop at markets and Chinese stores. Explore your neighborhood and try new things. Travel by overnight train. If you do things like that, I don’t think you’ll regret moving to China.
Transitioning to life in Beijing can be difficult, but it can also be really enjoyable. We are working on finishing up the “Newcomer’s Guide to Beijing,” which will be a free eBook available here at The Middle Kingdom designed to help people navigate the first couple weeks in Beijing.
Kara will also be launching a Beijing Transition Accomplice service in May. She will be available to help newcomers who want an actual person to guide them through their first encounters with markets, cheap Chinese restaurants, public transportation, and more. If you read the Newcomer’s Guide and find yourself wishing you could have another expat present as you learn all of this, consider making Kara your Transition Accomplice . UPDATE: Kara is working full time this year and won’t be doing the Transition Accomplice program anymore. Sorry