One of the most popular posts that we wrote last year was the one on how much it costs to live in Beijing in 2010. Well it’s 2011 and it seems like it’s about time that we did an update. Most things haven’t changed all that much, but some things have gotten a bit more expensive. Nothing has gone down in price, that’s for sure.
We have cut our budget down a bit and are working on paying off some student loans and a couple other things, so we definitely live on less than many expats in Beijing, but we’re not the frugalest of the frugal either. The following is based on the cost of living for two people without kids, but there is some info about school and other expenses for children at the end of the post.
I’ll start with the summary and then write about the details below.
Monthly Budget Summary (2 adults no kids):
Household Costs: $45/¥300
Health Insurance: $365/¥2400
Spending Money: $275/¥1800
Stateside Expenses: $380/¥2500
Total: $2365/¥15,500 per month
The Beijing housing market is kind of screwed up. Even though there are new residential complexes going up all the time all over the city rent keeps going up. I wrote more about why that is in this post. If you have a huge rent budget it will be no problem for you to find a nice apartment, but if you’re in the middle like us it can be a challenge to find something nice enough to live in that is also not too expensive.
We’ve been fortunate enough to have a landlord that likes having us and hasn’t raised the rent much in the last couple years. We are paying about 20% more now than when we moved into our current apartment 3 years ago. We live in a 2 bedroom place just outside 4th Ring road in WangJing. It has a small kitchen and one bathroom. The shower drains right onto the floor, but that’s not all that uncommon in Beijing.
If we were looking for a new apartment now I would expect to pay at least ¥5000 per month for an equivalent apartment. If you are looking for something inside 4th ring road it will probably cost at least ¥500 more per month, and inside 3rd ring probably ¥1000 more per month. Rent in the university district near WuDaoKou is ridiculous. Most of our friends there pay more than us for smaller, crappier apartments.
If you’re coming to China to study or teach your school may provide an apartment for you. It probably won’t be very nice, but honestly if you’re not here working rent is going to be your biggest expense so it might be worth it to grit your teeth and deal with it.
For most westerners eating out can actually be cheaper than making meals that you’re used to at home, so even for people on a tight budget eating out will probably be about half of your total food costs.
We budget about ¥1500 a month for food. We don’t really go out drinking and we try to keep our meals at restaurants at about ¥50 per person on average. Most of our favorite Western restaurants have raised their prices in the last year, so it might be better to estimate ¥60-70 for western food, but Chinese food is still usually between ¥20-30 per person. We shop mostly at the wet market near our house for produce and get most of the rest at Jenny Lou’s. We could probably cut our grocery bill a little bit, but the Jenny’s near Lido is very convenient for us.
The biggest factor in determining transportation costs is how close you live to your work place or school and what type of transportation you plan on using.
In the summer time our transportation bill is almost nothing. I ride my scooter most of the time, and Kara takes public transportation and walks a lot. Occasionally we will take a cabs. Each month we budget about ¥200 for transportation, but for most people I would recommend budgeting between ¥300 and ¥400.
Purchasing a car in Beijing has become much more problematic in the last year. In order to get a car 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. You’ll also need to pass the written driver’s license test, since China doesn’t recognize foreign licenses.
The other option is to hire a driver with a car to drive you around. A driver typically costs ¥5000 a month. We could never afford a driver (nor would we ever really need one) and I don’t know how most people find their drivers.
Most foreigners in China hire a domestic helper to assist with cleaning, shopping and sometimes childcare. We have a helper that comes twice a week and we pay her about ¥40 per day that she comes. In addition we obviously need toilet paper, laundry detergent, cat litter, etc. That’s another ¥150 a month or so.
I currently get my health insurance from William Russel through the church that work at (but that will be changing in September), and Kara’s insurance is through Integra. Kara’s insurance is $1500 every 6 months (including maternity coverage) and when I switch to Integra this fall it will be about $900 every six months for me. We’re both in our twenties (late twenties for me) and healthy. Our international health insurance covers us everywhere in the world except the United States because health care is too expensive there for our insurance companies to cover.
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.
We don’t do a whole lot of traveling, and one of our most expensive budget items is our yearly trip home trips home to the states. Typically a round trip ticket during the summer or at Christmas time will cost about $1500 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 $4500 per trip for the two of us.
We also defray some of our costs by engaging in travel hacking. We use Chris Guillebeau’s Frequent Flyer Mile Master eBook and I’m also a member of the Travel Hacking Cartel. I’ll be putting together a series of posts in the next couple weeks with more complete info about travel hacking.
We have a storage unit for our stuff in the States which costs us $50 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 $250 per month. So for us that’s about $380 per month.
We don’t have kids, and when I was living in China during highschool I was homeschooled. Homeschooling is at least $500-700 per kid per year, plus one parent teaching them full-time. There are some online school options that I think would be between $3000 and $5000 per year per kid, but I could be low on that estimate.
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 the Beijing City International School (BICS). BCIS has just decided to become one of the Middle Kingdom blog sponsors, they have a great campus that would rival any school in the states, and are located in downtown Beijing.
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.
So that’s it. Obviously not everyone will have the same budget that we do, but this is a good start for getting an idea of what life in Beijing might cost you. Feel free to write questions in the comments section or if you already live here chime in and give us your two cents.
If you’re moving to Beijing consider getting
The Newcomer’s Guide to Beijing.