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Living in Beijing

Living in Beijing as an expat is an experience best described as both overwhelming and fascinating. If you don’t prepare for the hustle and bustle, the air pollution, and the language barrier, life in Beijing can tire you out quickly. InterNations briefs you on expat life in China’s capital.
The Forbidden City, former home of Chinese emperors, consists of 980 buildings.

Extreme weather conditions can render Beijing unpleasant on occasion, especially if you are not used to that particular climate. It means coping with cold and windy winters, hot and humid summers, and dust or sand storms from the Mongolian steppe in spring – as well as air year-round pollution.

However, most expats living in Beijing feel comparatively safe in this huge metropolis, with its vast urban sprawl, including six inner and eight metropolitan districts, home to millions of people living almost on top of each other. Violent crime against foreigners does occasionally happen, even in fairly busy, tourist-friendly places and more frequently in popular nightlife districts. Nonetheless, it is rarer in Beijing than in other global cities of a comparable size.

Furthermore, particularly in autumn, when temperatures are moderate and the air is relatively clear (tiāngāo qìshuăng – ‘the sky is high, the air is fresh’, as the Chinese say), life in Beijing is quite pleasant and you have the opportunity to explore this fascinating city.

Famous Sights in Beijing

While the traditional hútòng – Beijing’s narrow alleyways with their courtyard houses – often have to give way to contemporary construction projects, the city still offers its expat and local residents a wealth of Chinese cultural riches. When living in Beijing, make sure you take time for sight-seeing, beyond the obligatory trips to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.

Highlights from imperial Beijing, like the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace, with its landscape gardens, stand in stark contrast to recent edifices from Communist China, such as the “Great Hall of the People” and the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao. Various sites of worship are reminders of the city’s erstwhile religious diversity. While living in Beijing, you will come across countless temples: mostly Buddhist, some Taoist, and one dedicated to Confucianism. You can also visit the oldest Catholic church in Beijing and the largest mosque in the city.

On the Road

Of course, to go sightseeing or to commute to the office, you need to get around in Beijing. Due to the high accident rate and often chaotic traffic conditions in Beijing, driving yourself is not particularly recommended.

Some companies even prohibit their expat employees from taking the wheel while living in Beijing. They fear the likelihood of an accident and the resulting claims for damages. Moreover, at last check in 2014, foreign driver’s licenses, including the International Driving Permit, are not recognized in Beijing or anywhere else in mainland China.

So, living in Beijing, you may prefer using your company car (with driver, of course), your compound’s shuttle bus service, or hail a taxi. Expats can easily recognize licensed taxis by their number plate: It starts with a “B”.

Taxis in Beijing are comparatively cheap (ten yuan for the first three kilometers, then two yuan for every additional kilometer). Just make sure that you have a note with your destination written in Chinese characters, that the meter is running properly, and that you ask the taxi driver for a receipt (fāpiào).

Most expats prefer commuting by taxi for the above-mentioned reasons, especially if they are new in the city and not yet at home with the public transportation infrastructure. However, if living in Beijing has made you more adventurous, you could try taking the bus or the subway as another way of exploring the city.

Whether you end up taking a taxi, the bus, or the train, there are a lot of choices when it comes to urban public transportation in China. You can learn more from our Extended Guide.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Ole Jacobsen

"Beijing has so much to offer for expats. InterNations helped me explore the international community and many close friends."

Farrah Thompson

"At one of the InterNations events here in Beijing I eventually met my French boyfriend, who is an expat just like me."

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