Beijing is a global business hub and one of the most ancient cities in the world. Beijing is perfect at bridging the Chinese traditionalism and modern economic power since the same city gives you 1,000 year-old temples as well as towering skyscrapers. Moving to Beijing is especially exciting for expats considering its long-standing role at the center of Chinese culture and politics, and its prominent position in the international business, as it occupies space between the distant past and the exciting future. Beijing is China’s first post-industrial city, taking pride in being home to dozens of Fortune 500 companies and corporate heavyweights. But how is expat life in Beijing? If you are considering a move to Beijing, read on to learn about this great Cosmopolitan city.
China’s Financial Sector Today
Beijing’s financial sector plays a major role in the Chinese economy while pharmaceuticals, real estate, and information technology make their contributions to the city’s domestic product. Currently, the size of this city is staggering being the capital city of the world’s second largest economy and accommodating more than 20 million people. This sheer magnitude implies that there are already smaller city-like districts within Beijing ranging from expat suburb communities to shapeless expansive developments.
Expat Living is Not Always Easy
Beijing is not as accommodating as you would expect and just like other international cities like London and New York; foreigners have to overcome the challenges of becoming familiar with a foreign language as well as a culture entirely different from their own. The growth has also brought other problems to life in Beijing with hazardous levels of pollution being commonplace and a consistently congested traffic. However, many expats successfully make adjustments and find themselves in a city that is both modern and ancient and embodies Chinese culture for a global audience.
Expatriate life in such a thriving capital city is anything but dull. Beijing’s rich history and colorful past imply that there is a seemingly limitless wealth of discovery for expats to explore and experience. From the fascinating inner courtyards of the Forbidden City and empty vastness of Tiananmen Square to the iconic stadiums of the Beijing Olympic Park, the remains of the years gone by coupled with the futuristic urban development creates a living environment packed with full eye-opening contradictions and mesmerizing sights.
The Cost of Expat Living
Salaries are typically lower than they would be in the west but so is the cost of living. The exact amount depends on the demand, the candidate’s expertise, and sector. Additionally, there is ample room for negotiation on total compensation package: School fees, housing allowance, and flight home. Salaries do rise in line with inflation roughly 6% to 10% each year.
There is inexpensive food available going for a $1 or $2 and also clothing and goods if you venture outside the Western areas and tag along someone who knows how to bargain. But in the Western areas and restaurants and shops catering to the non-Chinese, the prices are almost the same as in the West.
Where Expats Stay
First, one must figure out what part of the city they would like to be living in and with such a large city, location is very important. Most expats chose to stay close to downtown, in Chaoyang District in areas such as Guomao(he business district), Sanlitun (the embassy area and also shopping, restaurant, and nightlife center) or Shuangjin( a residential area near Guomao). Most of the international students at a Chinese University or studying Chinese usually settle in Wudaokuo near the schools. You will have to be certain about the place you need to be in since travel between certain area might substantially take longer especially on a busier part of the day.
The People in Beijing
Many of the Chinese people you meet in Beijing are not from there but rather are transplants who moved there in search for new opportunities and new life which is mainly the scenario in most cosmopolitan cities such as London. The people do not often smile due to the cultural turmoil that China has undergone losing many of its ancient cultures customs and traditional mannerisms. The first impression might be deceiving since Chinese people are the shrewdest and savvy individuals you will ever meet who are big on hard work, loyalty, and personal respect. It is also refreshing how Chinese people are always direct and will always state what they think.
The Diverse Food
They have varied Cuisine a similar case to any other nation’s cuisines. There isn’t orange chicken or cookies here, and the menu ranges from pork, dumplings, noodles and rice to goat blood soup, chicken feet, and ox tongue. For the less adventurous, Western food is also served all over the city, and fast food restaurants can be found outside the 6th Ring(the outer bounds of Beijing).They range from steak houses and sandwich shops to Arabic dining halls. There is also delivery from Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, KFC and McDonald.
Expat Places for Shopping
There is the possibility of finding less expensive watches, handbags, clothing and all manner of things as long as you focus on the non-western areas. There are also a lot of western shops such as Zara and Apple with prices similar to the West. Although the clothing styles are different in Beijing, there is the availability of stylish items on display with the only major challenge being the difficulty of finding plus-sized clothes.
The rule of thumb when you are a foreigner out there shopping, assume the price you should pay for the goods is somewhere around 10 to 15% of the asking price and bargain from that understanding.
This is of tremendous concern especially if you are planning on relocating to Beijing with family in town. Unless your children are fluent in spoken and written Mandarin, the only option you have is to enroll them in an international school. There are so many of them, and if registration is done early enough, you will be just fine. Some of the most popular English-language schools include International school of Beijing(ISB), The British School of Beijing and Harrow International School Beijing.
Commuting in Beijing
Beijing had the honor of being top in the IBM’s survey of cities with the worst traffic in the world in 2012 although the condition is improving. Traffic can last for hours especially during the rush hours. You can not entirely rely on the car as driving id even more challenging than in the West. The public transportation system in Beijing is great with very efficient buses and subways with trains running frequently. Despite the crowds in the subway during rush hour, it is a more predictable commute compared to your car.
The Expat Scene
There are a manner of activities to enjoy in a city as large as Beijing. The available options include:
The culture of dining in large gatherings of people is so popular among both Chinese and the expatriates in Beijing than it is in many Western cities.
The city has a wide selection of nightclubs, lounges, and bars many of which are up to the western standards. Most of them are located in Sanlitum although they are also found elsewhere in the city.
There are all kind of things to do in Beijing ranging from attractions to visit, gyms and fitness centers to join, classes in almost everything including languages, tennis, and martial arts. Plus, there are several Western-style movie theaters in Beijing complete with Hollywood movies, soda, and popcorn. Also, there are more networking events, economic forums and chamber of commerce meetings.
Ideally, for any expat to be happy in Beijing, all it takes is constantly reminding you of what you like about the city and not obsessing over the things that annoy you. Try focusing on the positive and see how an interesting experience will not only grow you as a person but also at least increase your patience and tolerance with different approaches and cultures. As one foreigner once said, “It never gets boring in Beijing”.