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Public Transport and Education 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.
This sign will probably become a critical part of your daily commute!

Public Transportation

Buses in Beijing are not usually the preferred mode of transport among foreigners. They often move rather slowly, with a speed of fewer than ten km/h during a bad traffic jam, and most of the signs are in Chinese only. Often, only the name of the bus stop might be transcribed in pīnyīn.

The sheer number of bus lines may also lead to confusion: 1-132 are routes in the city center (within the 3rd ring road); 200-215 are night buses; 300-499 venture past the 3rd ring to the inner suburbs; 500-799 serve both the center and the suburbs; and 800-999 service those commuting to and from the distant suburbs. Altogether, there are just under 900 bus routes in the Beijing metropolitan area.

Even if you don’t want to use overcrowded buses for your daily commute to work, some are useful in your free time: Lines 1 to 8 are more comfortable double-decker buses suitable for sightseeing trips through the inner city.

The Beijing subway system (dìtiĕ), on the other hand, is fast and reliable, albeit still rather crowded, especially during rush hour. The crowds can also attract gropers who sexually harass female passengers.

Every few minutes, there’s a train on all of its 17 lines: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, Batong, Changping, Daxing, Fangshan. Yizhuang, and the Airport Express. However, the subway closes at midnight and doesn’t reopen until after five am. If you don’t know how to use the ticket machine or how to purchase a pre-paid card, the Beijing City Government has a useful online tutorial.

For shorter distances, riding a bike is a viable alternative. However, do avoid the Ring Roads, major thoroughfares, and busy streets without bicycle lanes.

International Schools

For expat children in Beijing, international schools are often a better fit than the Chinese system of education. Older kids in particular would have to surmount a huge language barrier. Moreover, the Chinese curriculum might not provide them with right kind of preparation for international universities in some subjects.

International schools often unite nursery, kindergarten, primary and secondary school under the same roof. They address the needs of all age groups, and they have lots of previous experience with the educational, psychological, and emotional situation of expat kids. These children may suddenly have to change schools in the middle of term or miss their friends back home.

On the downside, international schools are very expensive. Depending on the school and the age of the child, annual tuition fees can amount to tens of thousands of USD per child. On the other hand, many international schools in Beijing offer an outstanding education in a variety of languages, including English and Chinese for non-native speakers. Furthermore, students often leave school with an international university entrance certificate, such as the International Baccalaureate.

In Beijing, there are international schools catering to the American, British, French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Scandinavian expat communities. Your child might also attend a small embassy school or be admitted to any international school, regardless of your family’s nationality.

Are you looking for a list of international schools in China or additional information on the different types of schools available there? Have a look at our Extended Guide in China.

Shopping

For obvious reasons, smaller grocery stores mainly stock Chinese brands and food products. However, there are a number of department stores and store chains that sell imported (often Western) food products from abroad. Naturally, these are more expensive than local products. Non-Western imports are often found in residential areas popular among a particular expat community. For instance, there are quite a few Korean shops in Wanjing, Beijing’s “Koreatown”.

“Expat-friendly” shops with several branches across the city include Walmart (Wò'ěrmǎ), Carrefour (Jiālèfú), and Jenny Lou. You can furnish your new place at IKEA Beijing in Chaoyang and go shopping for books in the university district of Haidian. Another tip for literature-loving expats in Beijing is The Bookworm in Nan Sanlitun Road, an English-language bookshop, lending library, bar, restaurant, and event venue.

Unlike Beijing’s smaller shops, where cash remains king, bigger stores accept payments by debit card or credit card. At the so-called Friendship Stores, which target tourists and expats, payment methods are flexible. The products, however, are overpriced, and the service is less than stellar. Nevertheless, the stores are invaluable for purchases such as foreign books, magazines, wine, and food.

There are a lot of shopping opportunities in China, from big shopping centers to traditional markets. Find out more from our extended guide article on shopping in China.

 

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."

Global Expat Guide