Beijing, China Report of what it's like to live there - 06/19/13
Personal Experiences from Beijing, China
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No; I've lived in London and Nairobi.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
DC. 14 hour direct flight.
3. How long have you lived here?
I moved here seven months ago.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I work for the U.S. Government.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Lots of different options including spacious apartments in town and big U.S.-style houses about 40 minutes outside.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
If you shop at international grocery stores, expensive, since it's all imported. Cheaper if you go to local markets.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Everything from cheap as chips noodles to fancy European-style restaurants (with European prices.)
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None. Very little nature survives in Beijing.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Though the embassy
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Widely available, about 600-1000USD monthly for full time depending on what you need done.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. Most apartment complexes have one.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Easy to use credit cards and ATMs.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
English language Chinese newspapers widely available and cheap.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
The more the better
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I've noticed most of the new metro stops have elevators, as do the newer shopping malls. But the older parts of the city are not designed for people with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes and yes
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Brought my car. Roads are good, no special concerns.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is a big frustration. You'll need a VPN to access gmail and facebook.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Easy to find a provider -- China mobile and Unicom are what most people use.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Haven't explored it
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
At my workplace, business attire
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No, pretty safe.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
As I mentioned, the air is the biggest one. My colleagues get constant colds, sinus infections, bronchitis, bronchiolitis, bronchial spasms... And because of the pollution, once you have something, it's hard to get rid of.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Completely toxic. Greenpeace recently did a study that found it full of lead, arsenic and heavy metals. Before I came here I was told, "some days you can't go outside," but honestly, it's a big deal any time the air quality is good enough actually to be outside (and not just quickly commute to where you need to be.) Even on those "blue sky days" pollutions levels are so high it'd warrant a state of emergency in the U.S.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Freezing winters, hot summers. Lovely spring that lasted two weeks.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Excellent international schools but expect to pay New York City private school prices.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I've heard the bigger schools like WAB and ISB can accomodate special needs kids.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Yes but again, extremely expensive. I looked into a program for my one-year-old, and it would have cost $16,000!
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, good soccer program run by Brits. Lots of opportunity for Kung Fu. I've heard of kids taking ballet.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Low when the pollution is bad. Over the moon happy when the sky is blue.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Yes, tons of expats, good restaurants and bars.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Because of the pollution, this is not a good city for families with small kids. Because they are so active and their lungs are still growing, children face special and potentially irreversible risks. I have a five-year-old and one-year-old and regret bringing them here. They rarely can go outside. If you take the warnings about the air seriously, and I recommend you should, than quality of life for your children in Beijing will be poor.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
For expats, not that I've heard.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Awesome restaurants in Beijing
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The Great Wall is a day trip. There are lovely parks. Hutongs fulls of hipster shops and restaurants.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Antique furniture, fake handbags, pirated DVDs
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
China gets a lot of attention as the rising world super power, and I think the best part of living here is seeing what that looks like on the ground -- total chaos of over a billion people fighting for space and resources. Lots to see and do in this massive country.
11. Can you save money?
Sure, if that's your goal. But Beijing will tempt you with ways to spend it...
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Because of the air, absolutely not
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
own high powered air purifiers, like IQ Air, and masks. Also stock up on cold medicine.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Party by Richard McGregor
5. Do you have any other comments?
Beijing is an exciting city, and whatever your job, the work you do here will be interesting. But the air makes the city unlivable with small kids.