Cost of Living in Beijing

The cost of living in Beijing is on par with many of Europe's capitals. As the cultural and political centre of China, Beijing is not far behind Shanghai when it comes to a high cost of living.

In short, despite the fact that living in China is generally more affordable than in other great economic powers, Beijing is not cheap – especially for expats who demand a certain standard of comfort and luxury.

With so many opportunities for exploration and entertainment, it can often feel like there is never "enough" money to live the life expats may imagine for themselves in the city.

If foreign residents can avoid getting too caught up in consumer culture and can avoid paying the grossly inflated prices associated with Western-style goods and services, it's easy to live well and to save money in Beijing. 

Many expats are attracted to Beijing by lucrative salary packages and, if this is the case, expenses are not usually a concern.

Cost of accommodation in Beijing

Housing in Beijing will be an expat’s largest expense. Property prices have been increasing steadily over the past decade, and foreigners will find that both buying and renting accommodation in Beijing can cost a huge amount of money.

As a general rule, the closer a home is to the city centre, the more expensive it will be. Beijing is organised according to ring roads, where the first ring road is closest to the city centre. So, if someone finds the housing in an area is proving too pricey, they move toward the periphery. 

Both furnished and unfurnished accommodation is available, and the former will be more expensive. Most apartments in Beijing are not incredibly spacious, however, regardless of how much furniture they have.

Expats should also anticipate paying for utilities in Beijing. Electricity and water are not exorbitant, although monthly costs obviously vary according to consumption.

Cost of schooling in Beijing

Expat parents who plan on bringing children to China should anticipate paying hefty school fees. Most foreigners prefer to enrol their children in one of the international schools in Beijing, and tuition in these institutions can rival that of a college back home.

Expats would do well to try and negotiate some sort of education allowance into their contract. Otherwise, one of the private bilingual Chinese schools could be a more affordable alternative.

Cost of food in Beijing

Despite the high cost of housing and education, food is relatively cheap in Beijing – including good quality food. Of course, there are a lot of five-star places that can quickly deplete a person’s funds, but a meal in a decent restaurant for four people can be quite reasonable.

For new arrivals that are brave enough, the best and cheapest food often comes from backstreet restaurants; and often eating out can be less expensive than cooking at home. That said, for expats who enjoy making meals in their own kitchen, buying groceries in the fresh market and whipping up something special can cost next to nothing. 

Expats do not need to tip in China. Serving staff receive a monthly salary and are not allowed to take tips.

The cost of food will be significantly higher for expats who rely on Western food and rarely eat Chinese. Many items that are considered staples in a Western diet are uncommon in Chinese eating, like cheese and bread. 

These types of items will only be available at international supermarkets that target expats, such as Jenny Lou's. Cereal, another quintessentially non-Chinese product, can also be very expensive.

Cost of living in Beijing chart

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider and the list below shows average prices for June 2017.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Furnished two-bedroom apartment

RMB 11,000

Unfurnished two-bedroom apartment

RMB 7,000


Milk (1 litre)

RMB 12

Dozen eggs

RMB 13

Loaf of white bread 

RMB 17

Rice (1kg)


Packet of cigarettes (Marlboro)

RMB 21


City centre bus/train fare


Taxi rate per km

RMB 2.30

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

RMB 30

Coca Cola (330ml)   



RMB 35

Bottle of local beer


Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

RMB 300


Internet (uncapped ADSL per month)

RMB 140

Electricity (average per month for standard household)

RMB 330

Yun Zhang Our Expat Expert

Yun Zhang left the frenetic pace of Beijing city life for a more leisurely lifestyle alongside Cape Town's sparkling seas and within the bounds of the Mother City's cool, calm character.