Most people top up their electricity with an electricity card. In newer buildings, it’s one card per meter and one meter per apartment; in hutong homes, there may be several meters per household. Electricity meters can usually be found in a utility closet on your floor, just outside your apartment, or outside your courtyard in the case of hutong homes. Each meter displays how much money is left. When in doubt, ask your building management or landlord.
For newer apartments with electricity cards, you can top up at an ATM machine or bank counter. The ATM process takes a bit of getting used to since the interface is all in Chinese, but it’s pretty simple once you memorize all the steps. You have to specify how many units of electricity in kilowatt hour you want to buy (more on this below). The new generation of “smart” electricity cards can be topped up directly through Alipay (the Chinese equivalent of PayPal). Here, you’d specify how much money you want to add, not kWh.
Some older hutong homes use a clunkier system where you have to write down the electricity meter number, go to a branch of China Postal Savings Bank, and tell the clerk how much money you want to put on it. Note that you can only pay in cash. (Why this bank? We have no clue.)
The electricity bill can vary significantly every month depending on the season and type of housing. For example, old and badly-insulated hutong houses with electric radiators can eat up a lot of energy in the winter. However, most electric radiators are set to crank up the heat late at night, when the utility costs the least. The price per kWh varies roughly between RMB 0.50 and RMB 0.80 depending on how much electricity you use every month. Get into the habit of tracking your monthly consumption; over time, you’ll be able to gauge how many units you need.
Paying for Electricity
at the Bank
1. You can either pay at the counter or use an ATM. For the first option, take a number and wait. Once you get to the window, give the clerk your electricity card and some money; it’ll be obvious what you’re here for.
2. To top up your card at the ATM, you’ll need to go through a Chinese-language menu. Every bank is a bit different, and not all banks have this option. At China Merchants Bank, for example, you access the menu by selecting “No-Card Option.” You’ll be prompted to enter your China Merchants Bank debit card number and insert your electricity card. Specify how many units of electricity you want to buy. The machine will calculate the cost and you’ll be prompted for your debit card PIN.
3. Keep the receipt in case you ever need to show proof of payment. Generally, this is a good habit to get into in China.
4. Should you lose your card, call the Beijing Electricity Corporation hotline at 95588. Service is available in English.
At the beginning of each month, the gas company usually leaves a discreet note on the notice board of each building reminding residents to pay their gas bill. In some compounds, the management office takes care of this. The most common way to top up is also with a card; you can use a special machine at any Bank of Beijing branch. Then, insert it in the gas meter and hold it for a few seconds; you’ll hear a “beep” when it’s done syncing. Store the card in a safe place, away from magnetic objects. If you lose or damage it, call Beijing Gas at 96777 (Chinese-only).
Gas currently costs RMB 2.28 per sqm or RMB 3.23 per sqm in fancier compounds. That’s because high-end complexes often use “commercial gas” – the same used in shops and restaurants. Some hutong homes have propane tanks in the kitchen that need to be replaced when they’re empty. A tank costs around RMB 120 and can last a couple of months with normal use. Don’t worry; the process is much simpler than you think.
How to Order a Propane Tank
1. Call Beijing Gas at 96777.
2. An automated menu will play. Press 2.
3. There will be an agent at the end of the line. They don’t speak English, so you’ll have to ask a Chinese-speaking friend to help or learn to say the following: 要一罐燃气，送上门 (yao yi guan ranqi, song shang men). That means, “I need a propane tank delivered to my house.”
4. The agent will ask for your account number, which your landlord should’ve given you.
5. They may or may not ask you what time you want the tank delivered. Specify a time, otherwise you might end up waiting a few hours.
There are three state-owned network providers in Beijing: China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom. Each company has its pros and cons. For example, China Mobile is considered to have better coverage nationwide while China Unicom has the most comprehensive Internet and 3G/4G packages. China Telecom isn’t particularly popular among private users.
China Unicom has several broadband Internet packages: Internet alone, Internet plus landline, and Internet plus 3G. The most common is Internet plus landline. Packages range from RMB 168 to RMB 348 per month depending on speed. To be honest, you’ll be lucky to reach speeds of 20MB in Beijing – especially since most residential compounds have a cap – so don’t pay for a service that won’t deliver. In our experience, a 4MB Internet package is perfectly fine for streaming movies and downloading music. Get 12 months for the price of ten if you pay upfront for a year. For more information, visit a China Unicom branch with a Chinese-speaking friend or call the company’s hotline at 10010 (press 9 for service in English).
To install Wi-Fi, purchase a wireless router at any electronics market or online at websites like Amazon or Jingdong (JD.com). For some reason, they aren’t sold at China Unicom. Reliable brands include TP-Link, Net-Core, Net-Gear, TENDA, and Buffalo. Follow the instructions on the box to configure the router; if they’re in Chinese, just Google the instructions in English for your specific model. Because it wasn’t bought from China Unicom, you’ll have to call the seller or a third-party company if the router malfunctions. Be sure to choose a vendor with good after-sales service; for instance, JD.com will often replace rather than repair a router for free if it breaks within the warranty period.
Satellite TV and IPTV
A word of caution for anyone looking to install satellite TV or IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) at home: both services are illegal in China. Though that hasn’t stopped a growing “gray market” from developing across the country, it’s a risky proposition. A quick Baidu search reveals plenty of freelance installers who charge as little as RMB 1,500 per year for a satellite bundle with foreign channels, but there is no recourse if your service suddenly stops working.
This article originally appeared in the 2015 beijingkids Home and Relocation Guide. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email email@example.com.