The cost of living in Beijing is on par with many of Europe's richest capitals – in fact, Mercer's Cost of Living Survey for 2024 ranked Beijing as 13th out of 226 cities, outranking other major destinations, including Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin.

As the cultural and political centre of China, Beijing is nearly tied with Shanghai when it comes to the high cost of living. In short, although living in China is generally more affordable than in other great economic powers, Beijing is not cheap.

This is especially true for expats who opt for a certain standard of comfort and luxury. Many expats are attracted to work in Beijing by lucrative salary packages, so expenses are not usually a concern.

Foreign residents who can resist getting caught up in the consumerism culture can avoid the grossly inflated prices associated with Western-style goods and services, making it easy to live well and save money in Beijing.

Cost of accommodation in Beijing

Accommodation in Beijing will be an expat’s largest expense. Property prices have seen a general increase over the years, and new arrivals will find that both buying and renting accommodation in Beijing can cost a huge amount of money.

Generally, the closer a home is to the city centre, the pricier it will be. Beijing is organised according to ring roads; the first ring road is closest to the city centre. So if the accommodation in a particular area is proving too expensive, house hunters should move their search towards the periphery.

Expats should also anticipate paying for utilities in Beijing. Although monthly costs vary according to consumption, electricity and water are not exorbitant.

Cost of transport in Beijing

Beijing has a well-established transport network connecting every nook and cranny of the city. Expats living in Beijing have various options to get around the city, including the subway, taxis, buses and shared bicycles. However, the cost of transport in Beijing can vary significantly depending on the mode and destination.

The subway is the most cost-effective way to travel in Beijing, with fares starting at a few yuan. Taxis are readily available, but the cost can be relatively high during rush hour or peak traffic. Buses are also affordable, but they can be overcrowded during peak hours, which can be a less comfortable experience for some expats. Shared bicycles are a popular mode of transport among Beijing's younger expat population, and the cost can be as low as a few cents per ride.

Cost of education in Beijing

Expat parents planning to bring their children to China should anticipate paying hefty school fees. Many foreigners prefer to enrol their children in one of the international schools in Beijing, and tuition at these institutions is famously expensive.

Although international schools are associated with high fees, educational standards and facilities at these schools are often excellent and considered better than in public schools. As such, most parents consider the cost well worth it. 

Expats would do well to try to negotiate an education allowance into their contract. Alternatively, one of the city's private bilingual Chinese schools could be a more affordable option.

Cost of groceries in Beijing

Despite the high cost of housing and education, food is relatively cheap in Beijing – including good quality food. For expats who enjoy making meals in their kitchens, buying groceries in the fresh market and whipping up something special can cost next to nothing.

The cost of food will be significantly higher for expats who rely on Western food and rarely eat local Chinese meals. Many items considered staples in a Western diet are uncommon in Chinese eating, such as cheese and bread. These items will only be available at international supermarkets targetting expats.

Cost of entertainment and eating out in Beijing

The lifestyle in Beijing has plenty to offer all expats, from hiking along the Great Wall of China and diverse shopping experiences to partying the night away at one of the city's many nightlife spots. Depending on an expat's budget, it's easy to have a low-cost day out haggling at one of Beijing's markets and visiting hole-in-the-wall bars. Expats with more room in their budgets can visit Beijing's more touristy areas for more luxury shopping and nightlife experiences. 

It's also possible to enjoy a day out at one of the city's parks at no cost. Expat parents will also find many amusement parks and museums at relatively reasonable prices. 

Eating out on a budget in Beijing is possible, and most expats prefer this over cooking at home. Of course, there are many five-star places that can quickly deplete one's budget, but a meal in a decent restaurant can be quite reasonably priced. For new arrivals who are brave enough, the best and cheapest food often comes from backstreet restaurants.

Cost of healthcare in Beijing

As Beijing is a large metropolis, expats will likely have access to excellent healthcare in the city. Some public hospitals in the city have international wings catering to the expat population. Healthcare services in public facilities will be more affordable than in private hospitals. 

Whether expats choose public or private healthcare, it's essential that they secure private health insurance. While some expat employers may offer this as part of the relocation package, others may not. This will become an additional expense expats must account for in their budgets. Expats can shop around to ensure they receive the most comprehensive coverage at the lowest price possible.

Cost of living in Beijing chart

Prices may vary across China, depending on the product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Beijing in April 2024.

Accommodation (monthly rent)
Three-bedroom apartment in the city centreRMB 16,200
Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centreRMB 8,900
One-bedroom apartment in the city centreRMB 7,000
One-bedroom apartment outside the city centreRMB 4,100
Food and drink
Dozen eggsRMB 13
Milk (1 litre)RMB 14.30
Rice (1kg)RMB 8
Loaf of white breadRMB 11
Chicken breasts (1kg)RMB 75
Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)RMB 26
Eating out
Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurantRMB 200
Big Mac MealRMB 40
Coca-Cola (330ml)RMB 4
CappuccinoRMB 27
Bottle of beer (local)RMB 9
Mobile phone monthly plan with calls and data RMB 73
Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)RMB 101
Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)RMB 449
Taxi rate/kmRMB 2.60
City-centre public transport fareRMB 5
Gasoline (per litre)RMB 8.30

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