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 2023 ranked Beijing as 13th out of 227 cities, outranking other major destinations including London and Dubai.

As the cultural and political centre of China, Beijing is nearly tied with 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. 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 and, therefore, expenses are not usually a concern.

If foreign residents can resist 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.


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 buying and even 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 the accommodation in a particular area is proving too pricey, house hunters should move their search towards the periphery.

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 transport in Beijing

Beijing has a well-established transport network that connects 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 of transport and the 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 times. 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 schooling in Beijing

Expat parents who plan on bringing 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.

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


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 one's budget, but a meal in a decent restaurant can be quite reasonably priced.

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.

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


Cost of living in Beijing chart

Prices may vary across China, depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Beijing in March 2023.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre

RMB 19,400

Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

RMB 10,000

One-bedroom apartment in the city centre

RMB 7,900

One-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

RMB 4,400

Food and drink

Dozen eggs

RMB 15

Milk (1 litre)

RMB 12

Rice (1kg)

RMB 8.86

Loaf of white bread

RMB 14.52

Chicken breasts (1kg)

RMB 24

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

RMB 19

Eating out

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

RMB 220

Big Mac meal

RMB 42

Coca-Cola (330ml)

RMB 3.55

Cappuccino

RMB 32

Bottle of beer (local)

RMB 5.93

Utilities/household

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

RMB 0.21

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

RMB 100

Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)

RMB 310

Transportation

Taxi rate/km

RMB 3

City-centre public transport fare

RMB 5

Gasoline (per litre)

RMB 8

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