Beijing, China Report of what it's like to live there - 11/12/19

Personal Experiences from Beijing, China

Beijing, China 11/12/19


1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

We have been with the U.S. State Department for more than 20 years. Have been to hardship and developed posts.

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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?

Central US, roughly 18 hours, no direct flights.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

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.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Everything is available, but western brands are more expensive than the US. I do not trust many local branded household supplies. Shampoo for example is $15, for the same brand and size bottle you pay up to $6 in the US. Beijing has gotten more expensive since we arrived.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

We did not ship anything, but if you have space and weight allowance ship anything you can. You will save money later.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Everything is available. Prices are higher then the US, unless you want to eat only low quality noodles and rice.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Yes, mice sometimes can be found. It's very dry for 6 months at a time so everything dies, but in the summer when it's hot, rainy and humid there are lots of mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO but it goes through Hong Kong, adding an extra week to the process. Three weeks to get things from the US and three weeks for packages to get to the US from Beijing.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Plenty, but most do not speak English. I do not employ help, so cannot comment on price.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Gyms are around but are hot and humid. The Chinese do not believe in A/C while working out.

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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?

Not much, everyone pays with WeChat. Some establishments only accept WeChat or AliPay, no cash.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You need it, without speaking some Chinese you will have a difficult time getting around.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes, they will. Very few ramps and elevators, sidewalks are in bad shape.

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1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes, they are, very cheap. Everyone used Didi: the local Uber.

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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?

We did not bring a car, as traffic is terrible in my opinion. I don't think anyone put themselves into this nightmare of a traffic situation (my opinion, but...)?

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, but one needs a few VPNs to switch between when one stops working. It takes a few days to have internet installed, cannot be done until you have arrived at Post. Have to apply in person, with your passport, they take a few dozen photos of you for the facial recognition cameras that are everywhere.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Get a mobile plan here, bring your phone.

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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?

Sorry, do not have a pet. That said, I understand the import regulations change all the time, making it more and more difficult to bring in and take your pet out of the country. There is a long list of prohibited dog breeds.

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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?

US Embassy spouses are not allowed to work on volunteer on the local economy.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Yes, formal dress is needed.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

None because I feel as though you are always watched, followed or listened to.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical care is great but more expensive than the US. Lots of respiratory and allergy issues. I've heard people regularly break their feet because of the uneven roads and sidewalks.

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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?

Has gotten better in the past 2 years here in Beijing. AQI of 500 are not common, like they used to be. The government has moved some factories out of Beijing and during Communist party events or large visits, it's my understanding they forbid any kind of construction to improve the air quality. As a whole the air quality has been much better than we expected.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Do not come here, sorry.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Feeling like I'm being listened to and watched all the time (even in our apartments I'm sure there are hidden cameras) takes a toll. Personally, I cannot wait to leave.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Two seasons: five months of hot, rainy and humid summer, five months of cold and dry winter, two weeks of spring and two weeks of fall. Not my kind of weather.

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Expat Life:

1. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Cannot socialize with the local people.

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2. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Trips to different parts of the Great Wall and this is pretty much it. Getting out of Beijing takes 2-3 hours, sometimes more, depending on traffic. Traveling around the country is expensive: the local people travel in groups and get group discounts, so the train and plain tickets for individual travelers are very expensive. The same with getting out of the country. Do not even attempt to travel during any national holiday: the prices are very high and the crowds are beyond imagination.

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3. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Yes: furniture, calligraphy, pottery.

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4. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Maybe after a few years I will have an answer. For now I cannot see any.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How difficult it is to feel as though I'm being watched or listened to all the time.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

No, again, I personally cannot wait to leave.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:


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4. But don't forget your:


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