Saunders 1865 | Moving to Beijing

Moving to Beijing

Are you moving to Beijing? Beijing is the third largest city in the world, capital of the People’s Republic of China and certainly one of the major conurbations of the East. It’s also one of the world’s longest standing seats of power, with an unbroken history that stretches back three thousand years or more—and a future that glints away into the distance. Fascinating. Noisy. Polluted. Dynamic. Contemplative. Crowded… It’s all these things and so much more. Welcome to Beijing!

 To put it simply, with a population of 21 million, Beijing is almost the equivalent of a small country. It has seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is already set to host the Olympics twice this century. It is affectionately known to its inhabitants as Tan Da Bing or ‘spreading pancake’. It’s predicted to continue to grow until the population reaches 100 million.

Our free, in-depth Moving to Beijing report includes info on:

• The best areas to live
• The good schools
• The average monthly rental prices
• The excellent public transport system in the city

Putting Beijing on the Map

At the northern tip of the North China Plain, Beijing is circled by mountains to the north and west of the city, protecting it from the encroaching sands of the steppes beyond. The city itself covers 6,500 square miles and is still spreading, and three major rivers of the Hai River system flow through the municipality. Because of its size, Beijing boasts six concentric ring roads—the second tracing the old city walls, while the sixth links the outer satellite towns that are gradually being absorbed by the city.

The climate is continental—hot, humid summers and cold dry winters—but the major atmospheric issue is pollution. The city lies in the heart of a highly industrialised area and, despite air-cleaning initiatives for the Olympic Games, it remains a serious problem. On days when it’s bad, people stay at home or within the hermetically sealed environments of schools, offices and shopping malls. The main culprit is coal-burning power plants, within Beijing and its neighbouring areas. Dust storms from desert erosion are also a problem, frequently tackled by the government with cloud seeding and artificially-induced rainfall.

As the capital of China, Beijing is obviously a major transport hub for road, rail and air travel.

  • 10 conventional and three high-speed rail lines originate here, offering direct services to most of China’s large cities.
  • The road network features nine expressways and 11 highways.
  • Within the city centre, the streets still retain the checkerboard pattern laid out in the ancient capital.
  • Traffic congestion is a major problem, even outside of the rush hours.
  • To reduce this, the government limits the issue of new license plates.
  • The city’s primary airport, the Beijing Capital International Airport, lies approximately 12 miles northeast of the city centre.
  • It’s the second busiest airport in the world, and its Terminal 3 is one of the largest in the world.
  • A second international airport is being built to serve the city and is expected to open in 2017.
  • The Beijing subway system has 18 lines and 329 stations, and carries the most passengers in the world.
  • The subway is signed in English as well as Chinese.
  • There are nearly 1,000 bus lines in the city.
The Areas

Beijing is certainly China’s most expensive city and the smarter inner areas can be just as dear as European cities. Property prices have been increasing steadily since China’s economic rebirth and renting property of a reasonable expat standard can be costly.

Apart from finding something satisfactory within your budget, the other challenge is knowing where to look in such a vast city. Near to centre, your choice will be restricted to apartments, the majority of which couldn’t be considered spacious. Further out, you should be able to locate houses with western amenities in gated compounds. You’ll find a choice of furnished or unfurnished properties—if you end up with unfurnished, it’s worth knowing there is an IKEA in the city. If you don’t speak Chinese, you will need to use an estate agent to help you find and negotiate your tenancy.

Beijing has 16 county-level administrative districts and 273 townships and sub districts. So where should you look? Most expats live in the eastern part of the city in Chaoyang, Dongcheng or Shunyi.

Chaoyang – Central Business District

This is the equivalent of downtown Beijing, crammed with multinationals and shopping malls. You’ll find smart, serviced apartments here for a sophisticated city lifestyle—probably convenient for work.

Chaoyang Park

One of Beijing’s smartest residential districts, you’ll find plenty of green space and good quality apartments. To the east of the area there are more spacious and less expensive compounds.

Chaoyang – Sanlitun

This dynamic neighbourhood has the buzzing ‘Bar Street‘, with pubs, nightclubs, shopping and restaurants. It’s a popular area with expats and there are some good property options for urban living.

Chaoyang – Lufthansa Area

Along the north-eastern sweep of the third ring road, this area is convenient for the airport and popular with embassies. It’s also a major business area, with good shopping and high end accommodation.

Chaoyang – Lido and Wangjing

Lido is popular with expat families and conveniently located for international schools, while neighbouring Wangjing is a large residential tract that is reasonably priced and popular with Chinese and expats alike.


Once a part of the Imperial City, you’ll get a real sense of Beijing’s history living here.

Dongcheng – Dongzhimen

This thriving district is popular with expats and bustling due to its major transport hub. It’s conveniently central but also has plenty of greenery.

Doncheng – Wangfujing and Dongdan

Two districts, close to Tian’anmen Square, that are rich in history and culture but only offer limited accommodation opportunities.

Shunyi District

Out of town, beyond the fifth ring road, this is an area of smart villas which is convenient for the airport and perfect for families. There’s more outdoor space and less pollution, though a car will be essential here.

Xicheng District

Expats working in the financial sector will find this a convenient area to live, though it’s somewhat expensive.

Who Lives in Beijing and Why?

With a population of 21 million, it might seem as if everyone lives in Beijing!

  • The city’s not ethnically diverse—96 percent of the population are Han Chinese.
  • However, there are more than 100,000 expats in the city who come here to make the most of the burgeoning economic opportunities.
  • Regardless of the country’s turbulent economic future, China is an economic superpower now and international companies will continue to be a permanent presence in its capital.
  • The sectors driving Beijing’s economy include finance, construction, electronics, IT, retail and tourism.
  • There are also a huge number of English language schools as the Chinese want to be able to do business with the west—and these employ plenty of expats as teachers.
  • Overall, Beijing municipality’s GDP was US$314 billion in 2013 and it accounted for 3.43 percent of the country’s total output.
  • It’s the world’s ninth largest financial centre and ranked fourth for the number of billionaire residents.
  • The most prevalent spoken language is Mandarin.
The Best Bits

Beijing boasts an extraordinarily rich historic heritage, not surprising for a city that has been at the centre of one the world’s great cultures for more than 3,000 years.

  • Beijing has seven UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, the Ming Tombs and the Great Wall.
  • Beijing opera is one of the most revered of all Chinese art forms, involving song, spoken dialogue, fights and acrobatics.
  • Beijing cuisine’s best known dish is Peking duck, and the favourite snack food is Fuling Jiabing, a mushroom pancake.
  • Home to the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Forbidden City is a vast palace that now contains the Palace Museum. It’s surrounded by imperial gardens.
  • There are historically important temples and pagodas all over the city, as well as more than 140 museums and galleries.
  • Having hosted the Olympics in 2008, Beijing has a number of spectacular sporting venues, including the Bird’s Nest stadium.
  • The municipality has 20 nature reserves and the nearby mountains are home to leopards, wolves, red foxes, wild boar, civets and a host of other protected animals.
Bringing the Kids

Although at first Beijing might not strike one as particularly child-friendly, it’s actually a great place to bring your children. There are international schools, and the chance to learn Mandarin may well prove very useful in the future. Furthermore, once they get over the culture shock, Beijing offers a fascinating insight into another world. China also ranks highly for child safety and the cost of education and childcare.

Beijing has the best schools in China and expats can choose between public, private and international schools. However, the reality is that the public schools only teach in Mandarin and only a handful of the private schools teach in English. Integrating with local families is not particularly easy.

  • There is one public school in Beijing, Number 55 Middle School, which has an international section.
  • Private schools in Beijing vary widely in quality and some do offer a foreign curriculum.
  • International schools offer home country curricula or the International Baccalaureate.
  • There are approximately 40 international schools within the city.
  • These include English, French, Japanese, Swedish, Russian and German.
  • Most international schools are located in the suburbs.
  • Entry into the best international schools can be difficult.
Relocating to Beijing

Moving to a city as large as Beijing with little or no prior knowledge of it can be daunting prospect. But it can also be exciting. China’s capital has so much to offer. It opens a door onto China’s spectacular past and is leading the way to the superpower’s future. You’ll find a well-established expat community, a good choice of accommodation in both the centre and the suburbs, and approximately 40 international schools. The drawbacks of a posting here are the air pollution and the somewhat cramped apartment sizes in the city centre—but more space may be found further out.

At Saunders 1865, our teams of experts combine local knowledge with first-hand experience to pinpoint the right area and the right property that will tick all your boxes. Do you have children that need to be enrolled in school? Are the transport links convenient for your needs? Does this location fit with your expectations of expat life and is the space configured in a way that suits your requirements? We can bring expertise to all these factors and help to arrange smooth, efficient and stress-free relocations – to Beijing, London and destinations across the world. Our services include home finding assistance, school finding, lease negotiations, temporary accommodation, move management and immigration assistance. Don’t hesitate to contact us to find out how we can help you.


Green space
Average Monthly Rent - Beijing
Apartment (1 bedroom) in city centre ¥5,843
Apartment (1 bedroom) outside of centre ¥3,491
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in city centre ¥13,765
Apartment (3 bedrooms) outside of centre ¥8,250
Contact us for a free initial consultation about your specific situation.
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