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


Milk (1 litre)

RMB 13

Dozen eggs

RMB 13

Loaf of white bread 

RMB 14

Rice (1kg)


Packet of cigarettes 

RMB 20

Public transportation

City centre bus/train fare


Taxi rate per km

RMB 2.30

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

RMB 35

Coca-Cola (330ml)   



RMB 31

Bottle of beer

RMB 25

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

RMB 200


Internet (uncapped ADSL per month)

RMB 100

Electricity (average per month for a standard household)

RMB 450

Yun Zhang Our Expat Expert

Yun Zhang left the frenetic pace of Beijing city life for a more leisurely lifestyle alongside Cape Town's sparkling seas and within the bounds of the Mother City's cool, calm character.

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