Beijing - Post Report Question and Answers

What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Our apartment is quite near the Embassy and very spacious and clean. We enjoy the large windows that let in lots of natural light. The furniture is a bit nicer than your standard Drexel, and it comes with far more than any person could ever need. Fortunately our building will take furniture items out and put them in storage. The kitchen is small but functional. There's a very nice outdoor space with landscaping, a tennis court, and a playground. There's also a building with a gym and a children's play room, but it's not always clean or in good repair. The building manager is polite and generally responsive when repairs need to be done. - Nov 2021

Three story townhouse with 3 bedrooms and 3.5 baths. Called "Japanese-Style" it's a very narrow house that is located on a housing compound originally built for Japanese diplomats but now open to others. We have a small back yard and are maybe a 10 minute walk from our Embassy. - Nov 2020

Housing is generally clustered around apartments in the city, with one western-style neighborhood available for families. Commutes range from 5 minutes walking to more than an hour driving, or taking the shuttle bus. - Aug 2020

Fantastic. Huge apartment in high-rise with stunning view. Modern amenities, luxurious, comfortable. Some officers with families choose to live in the suburbs of Shunyi. Whether downtown or in Shunyi, most folks seem happy with the housing options. - Jul 2020

Great housing - ranging from apartments to townhomes to larger houses. Commutes can be brutal. If you can walk to work and live in a smaller place, I'd do that. Expat locations tend to be grouped, Chaoyang, some suburbs, etc. - May 2020

Housing is hit and miss. Most is at the mercy of management companies and everything is done according to the Chinese principle of "chabuduo"- or, as it seems to me, poorly, halfway done, will break again in a few months. Some housing is really hot between October-March because A/C is turned off to be replaced with heating. Even with the heat turned off, apartments get very hot: 28 C-30 C. Opening the windows is not an option in a polluted city like Beijing. It is safe to say that this has been our worst housing in all of our 20 years living overseas. Housing can be within walking distance, or 30-60 min. commute. - Nov 2019

Housing is either close to school or downtown. Houses close to school are relatively large. downtown is mainly apartments or small townhouses. Either kids or parents will have the commute, If you live downtown with older kids it is a long and treacherous commute for them especially if they have after school interests. - Oct 2017

Embassy housing is concentrated in Chaoyang, an urban district near the Embassy, where commute times range from 30 seconds walking (Liangmaqiao Apartments) to 15-45 minutes depending on traffic (any of the luxury buildings in Guomao). Larger houses are out in suburban Shunyi; people who live there take a 30-45 minute shuttle in to work. - Dec 2015

Housing types - all. Most American-style single family homes are in the suburbs. While the 'burbs are not far from downtown, when you factor traffic into the picture it can be a daunting commute. To go from Shunyi to 3rd ring road on a typical weekday is about one hour but the distance is only 10-15 miles! - Apr 2015

Post has family homes, apartments, some are government-owned and many are rentals. The LMQ is an apartment building right next door to the U.S. Embassy. (I live in the Fortune Garden and it's only 2 blocks away. People with school aged children tend to live in single homes about 45 minutes commute because there's an international nearby. Where I live, there are Canadian and German schools.) - Aug 2014

Apartments and townhomes in the city allow you to walk to work or take the metro. These commutes can be really short. A 2-3 minute walk or a 10 minute subway ride. If you live anywhere outside the main embassy area though, you will face significant commute times. The traffic is always heavy. We live in the suburbs outside the city where the main schools are located. Our commute is typically 45 minutes to an hour, but can be longer if there are any traffic accidents. - Jul 2014

Lots of different options including spacious apartments in town and big U.S.-style houses about 40 minutes outside. - Jun 2013

The U.S. Embassy leases various apartments in town as well as owning some apartments within town and some larger single-family homes in gated communities in a nearby suburb. Commutes within town range from a walk across the street to 45 minutes in the car during rush hour, depending on your apartment location. The commute from the suburb is 30-60 minutes. Construction standards are much lower than in the U.S. and maintenance is poor. - Aug 2011

Everyone lives in an apartment of sorts. I love the Chaoyang (east third ring road).I refuse regular transport due to the rediculous traffic and opt for a bike or scooter that allows me to break all the rules and avoid the piles ups. - Apr 2011

Let me start by saying housing is a nightmare in Beijing. The real estate market in China is white-hot (think California in 2005) and people are buying to flip. This is beginning to have a major impact on rents. Many landlords would prefer to leave a unit empty for months hoping for an inflated rental rate rather than set a reasonable price and rent their unit right away. So, you'll see a huge amount of overpriced inventory and a limited amount of reasonably priced inventory that disappears almost immediately. Having a good agent is your only hope of finding anything reasonable. My transitional housing allowance ran out and I ended up in a hotel for a couple of weeks before I eventually found a (not perfect) place because the housing situation is just that ridiculous. Start looking early and negotiate for 90 days of transitional housing in your relocation package if you can. So, let's talk prices and areas. Most foreigners live in the Shunyi suburbs or on the east side of Beijing in the Chaoyang district. Shunyi looks like an American suburb, soulless and corporate. Families with small kids and Embassy personnel like it. And that's great for them, and I wish them well. You'll need a car if you live there (although there is a new subway line/park and ride that just opened last month, so commuting on public transportation is now an option for suburbanites). Rental prices start at around USD $3,000 per month and go up from there. Many other foreigners live in a few "international standard" complexes. Seasons Park, Central Park, Park Avenue, and a couple of others. These were built by US, Hong Kong, or European developers, and have international management companies. Corridors are bright and well-lit, elevators always work (and don't have blaring advertisements outside), when something breaks you have an English-speaking management office to call and someone competent will come fix it, and your apartment will be equipped with all the stuff you expect - stove, oven, coffee maker, nice microwave oven, washer and dryer, etc. Of course, this comes at a price. You'll pay upwards of $1,500 for a 2 bedroom. OK, so you can't afford that. You can try a Chinese "international" complex. These are usually Chinese developers and Chinese management companies. The management office may have someone who speaks English, but more likely not. Chinese companies usually have different standards of maintenance than American or European companies, and different ideas of what is acceptable. Be prepared for this. Some of these buildings are quite nice; Boya Garden, for example, has a Chinese management company but was originally built by a French developer, the amenities are good, and the Chinese company has maintained the building reasonably well since (although the paint is peeling). Other buildings, not so much - Phoenix City is visibly falling apart and it's only a couple of years old. You generally cannot expect the same amenities in a Chinese building as you can in an international complex. The kitchen will likely be tiny, and will not have an oven (make sure the thing that looks like an oven isn't actually a dish drying rack). Electric clothes dryer? No way, you'll have a balcony built into your apartment where you can hang your laundry for 3 days in the frigid winter until it dries. In a Chinese building, you'll pay anywhere from somewhat less to considerably less depending how "local" the complex is. I am living in an entirely local, and older, but high-end building in the central Dongcheng district. I choose to live in a more local building and neighborhood since I wanted a better commute and a more historical area to live in. It's away from the "expat bubble" and this limits my social life, but I don't have much of one anyway in between work and Chinese lessons. Customarily, apartments are furnished--but everything is negotiable. I hated my landlord's furniture (it was used and broken) and negotiated for him to get rid of most of it, and I paid lower rent since I'm buying my own furniture (cheap IKEA stuff - I can buy a whole house full of furniture for less than the differential in 3 months' rent vs. comparable alternatives). Generally you will deal with an agent to find an apartment. They will not charge you a commission, but the landlord pays them a commission of an entire month's rent. This in effect builds an automatic rent increase into the second year's rent since they will be charging you as if the commission is bundled, but it will no longer be. So, you may be able to get a better deal if you pay the commission to the agent. Finally, you may need a "fa piao" (official invoice) if you have a housing package and want to claim the expense. Even if you don't have a housing package, your tax situation can benefit by having a "fa piao." You're exempt from income tax on up to 30% of your income upon presentation of a "fa piao" proving rent payment in that amount. This is no small savings - you'll save aminimum of 5% and up to 40% income tax depending on your tax bracket. - Jan 2011

There are nice big houses in Shunyi, on compounds (mostly River Garden for govt employees). Kids can wander freely throughout the compound with no worries. But you'll pay for that with your commute to downtown. Commuting from Shunyi to the US Embassy, for example, is a minimum of 30 minutes, and can take well over an hour. If you choose to live downtown, your housing will likely be in an apartment, and the ones I've seen are quite nice. - Apr 2010

A lot of variety now in housing and plenty of it. - Jan 2010

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