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Cost of Living Beijing, 2013

With China changing so quickly the cost of living changes every year, so every 12 to 18 months we post an update. First thing is to calibrate based on your standard of living. We’re a married couple, no kids. Kara works full-time as a teacher and I’m doing freelance web development and other entrepreneurial endeavors. Our budget is more than a typical Chinese language student or ESL teacher, but much less than the typical expat-package family. 

Monthly Budget Summary  (2 adults no kids):
1. Housing: $800/¥5000
2. Food: $300/¥1900
3. Transportation: $60/¥400
4. Household Costs: $60/¥400
5. Health Insurance: $450/¥2850
6. Spending Money: $300/¥1900
7. Travel: $380/¥2500 
8. Stateside Expenses: $400/¥2850

Total: $2750/¥17,800 per month

Housing/Rent
Housing in Beijing is expensive. We recently found a new apartment for ¥6000 a month (2 bedrooms, 130 sq. meters). Check out this post to see why we ended up where we are. I’d say ¥5000 is doable, but you’re going to have to sacrifice size, or number of bedrooms, or something else. 

Prices are often very location dependent. Everything is cheaper the further outside the city center. A rule of thumb is add ¥1000 a month for anything inside 4th rind road, ¥1500 inside 3rd Ring. Rent in the university district is also really high, and most of the places are pretty crappy and small. If you’re coming to study or teach your school might provide an apartment for you. They aren’t usually that great, but it might be worth it to avoid the extra cost. 

Food
It’s often cheaper to eat out than to cook western food for yourself, so plan on eating out for about half your meals, even if you’re on a pretty tight budget. We usually shoot for ¥25-30 per person for Chinese food and ¥60 a meal for western food. That’s not including drinks other than soda or Chinese beer. We don’t go out drinking so alcohol isn’t a huge expense for us. 

We do most of out grocery shopping at Chinese vegetable markets and Carrefour (large supermarket), but we purchase some things at a Western import store (Jenny Lou’s). We used to shop mostly at Jenny’s, but it’s less convenient from our new place so we’re there nearly as much, it’s also cut our grocery bill a bit. Our total food budget is usually between ¥1500 and ¥1800 a month. 

Transportation
Transportation in Beijing can be almost nothing, or it can be quite expensive. These days we are able to keep our transportation costs very low. We primarily use the subway and buses for longer distances all year round. March to October Kara rides a pedal bike to/from work and I ride a scooter all over the city. In the cold months Kara will take a cab to work in the morning and public transportation home. 

The biggest factor to keep in mind is how close you live to your workplace and/or how easy it is to get there by subway. Taxis are very reasonably priced in Beijing, but it’s harder and harder to catch one. We’ve often been stuck waiting in the cold or rain for a half-hour or more trying to find  a cab. If you don’t live on a subway line I’d make sure to add taxi money to your budget. Our suggestion is ¥400 a month. 

Some expat packages will include a car and driver as part of the deal. It’s difficult to purchase a car as you will need to win the license plate lottery (about 1 in 5 chance), then you can purchase a car for about 2-3 times the cost of what you would pay in America. Getting a license is not too hard, I’ve written an eBook guide on how to get your Chinese license. If you’d like to hire a driver with a car to drive you around a driver typically costs about ¥5000 a month.

Household Costs
Most foreigners in China hire a domestic helper (Ayi) to assist with cleaning, shopping and sometimes childcare. An ayi will probably be between ¥20-¥30 per hour. You’ll also need toilet paper, laundry detergent, cat litter, etc. That’s another ¥150 a month or so.

Health Insurance
We purchase our health insurance on our own. For the two of us it’s about $500 a month. I’m 30 and Kara is 27 and healthy. Our insurance includes maternity and covers us 90% here after the deductible (70% after deductible in the US). 

Spending Money
We budget an additional ¥15 per day for personal spending money. We’re on a pretty tight budget and most people will want to budget more than that. I’d suggest something like ¥30-¥50 per day.

Travel
We don’t travel much (in part because of a pretty tight budget), but we try to take a trip home once a year. A round trip ticket during the summer or at Christmas time will cost about $1700 per person. We also end up spending much more per week while we’re in the States, so a two week trip usually comes in at about $5000 per trip for the two of us.

We limit our travel costs by doing some travel hacking. Chris Guillebeau’s Frequent Flyer Mile Master eBook is a good intro to travel hacking, or check out our intro here

Stateside Expenses
We subscribe to Hulu Plus (needs VPN) for $8 a month, we also sponsor two kids through Compassion International, and we have a Skype phone number which costs us about $10 a month. We also have minimum student loan payments of $450 per month. In total we have about $550 per month in stateside expenses. 

School/Daycare
We don’t have kids, and when I was living in China during highschool I was homeschooled. Homeschooling is at least $500-1000 per kid per year, plus one parent teaching them full-time.  There are some online school options that are between $3000 and $5000 per year per kid.

Kara worked as a private tutor for three kids for a couple years for ¥15,000 ($2,300) a month, and that’s about what I would expect to pay if you hired a private teacher.

International schools are pretty expensive, most of the good ones are over $20,000 (that’s USD) per year. If you’re looking for an international school, check out YCIS. They are a great school with a good bi-lingual program. They are also a sponsor of this blog, and we only promote things that we can personally vouch for. 

And also some families choose to put their kids in local school when they are young in order to help them learn Chinese. A local school will cost about ¥6000 per month.


Everyone is going to have a somewhat different budget and level of living, but hopefully this gives you a pretty good starting point. If you have specific questions or comments let us know in the comments below. 

Banner photo credit: upton via photopin cc

  • Shlomo January 14, 2013, 8:33 PM

    Hey Matt,
    My wife and I are on the same status as yours. We did a rough monthly expenses calculation a few days ago.

    We live right our of 4th ring road on Lido area and pay 4000 RMB for ~60/m2 1 bedroom apartment.

    Adding up all expenses excluding our trip home once a year, it’s about 7000-8000 RMB a month.

    Hope this helps,
    Thanks ,
    Shlomo

  • George March 4, 2013, 10:11 PM

    Hey Matt,
    Thanks for your very informative blog. I’m an African who has lived in China for more than 12 years (worked as a Network Engineer) and have since relocated to Malaysia with a bump in pay.

    Before i worked as an Engineer, i used to teach English in smaller Chinese cities, and got paid 5000~8000RMB/Month….but that was a long time ago, i’m curious what are the current typical pay ranges for foreign teachers?

    I currently get much better pay now as an Engineer in Malaysia, and have accumulated enough savings over the years to worry so much about monthly budgets…i do however miss China. Being incredible fluent in Chinese Mandarine, i really enjoyed my time in China and i actually plan to go back someday.

    My question is, how much savings would i need to accumulate to ensure that i can return to China and live comfortably without having to work (for at least a few years)….i’m a single guy, 29 yrs old, doesnt mind living a ‘typical chinese lifestyle’ (since i’m fluent in mandarine), and, well, a little bit of a playboy.

  • Elizabeth June 20, 2013, 2:22 PM

    Excellent round-up of costs for Beijing.

    We live on Dongzhimen Wai in a ‘local’ apartment building. Our small, 50sqm 1-bed flat’s been renovated to a high standard. It’s 5200/month, and we’re happy with it.

    NB: I work at YCIS and agree it’s a great school for kids ;)

  • Shana October 8, 2013, 3:34 AM

    Hi, Matt -

    Thanks so much for the post. It’s incredibly useful. My question concerns housing: what would you budget for water, gas and electricity?

    Thanks again!

  • Danielle October 8, 2013, 4:12 PM

    Hi there Matt,
    My partner and I are leaving for Beijing in 8 days. We both come from South Africa, and are really looking forward to the new adventure. As we will both be teaching, I’ve been doing lots of research on the costs of living as we’ll also have a pretty tight budget for a couple months.

    I want to try and do as much of my shopping as possible on the local side to save on cash and there are no serious Western food stuffs we really need so is there anywhere you would recommend?

    Thanks for all the help!
    Danielle

  • Fiona November 29, 2013, 12:36 AM

    Hi there!
    I am currently trying to make a budget to determine if it is possible for me to study in Tianjin for one year. What does your $150 monthly spending money budget allow you to do?
    Thank you very much!
    Sincerely,
    Fiona

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