When moving to a city the size of Beijing (22 million and counting), it’s overwhelming to process all of the living options available to you. It is also often compared to the city of Los Angeles for its numerous areas spread out across the city. After working out your priorities and a realistic budget (and perhaps enlisting the help of a real estate or relocation agent), options can be broken down based on specific needs. There are many great neighborhoods in Beijing, each with their own charm and family-friendly attractions.
City versus suburbs is the obvious and initial choice to make, one that can immediately cut your options in half. After that, neighborhoods, are best explored to find the best fit for your family.
Positive reasons for choosing city life include being within touching distance of great cultural experiences, from historical sites and restaurants to unique shopping. The subway system, taxis, and city buses make getting around easy, and the commute to work might be significantly shorter if your office is downtown. However, negatives include getting around, especially if you have more than one child or if you simply don’t care to deal with traffic. Air and noise pollution tend to be worse in the city, and only dogs shorter than 35cm at the shoulder can be registered within the Fifth Ring Road.
Considered a major transport hub, Dongzhimen and neighboring Sanlitun offer endless opportunities to taste international cuisine and shop ‘til you drop. Sanlitun is also the most condensed area of bars, something to keep in mind if you have teens you want to keep an eye on. Dongzhimen is home to a long-distance bus station, the start of the airport express, and subway Line 2, making it a breeze to use Beijing’s public transportation. Sanlitun is easy to get to via Tuanjiehu subway stop on Line 10.
Within walking distance to great restaurants
Historical hutongs are a walk or bike ride away
Different cultural experiences around every corner
Lots of transportation options and taxis
Plenty of shopping opportunities: Ginza Mall, Raffles City, Yashow Market, Sanlitun Village, and more
Cost of housing is high
No privacy – lots of people all the time, especially at night and on weekends
Not many places for young children to ride bikes/scooters
Biggest nightlife area
While a bit far from the business district, Gulou is a great place to get in touch with China’s past. Experience the sun setting over the Drum and Bell Tower, and watch people dancing and playing board games in the courtyard. Around Houhai Lake and Qianhai Lake, there is biking, boating, eating, and shopping galore – more than enough to keep everyone entertained.
Proximity to Houhai, Qianhai, and Shichahai Lakes
Lots of Western eating options, especially cafes
History all around: Drum and Bell Towers, Lama Temple, hutongs, and more
Halfway point between east and west Beijing
Biking and walking not practical with kids (narrow streets)
Not conveniently located near a subway station
Central Business District (CBD)
Can’t (or won’t) drive in the CBD area? You can always flag down a taxi, hop on the subway, ride the bus, or even hail a rickshaw to get where you need to go. With an abundance of places to hang out, it’s an obvious choice for living in the city and business networking. Many apartments offer grand views of landmarks like China World Summit or the CCTV tower.
Lots of shopping and entertainment options
Easy to socialize with friends after work and still be home for a family dinner
Conveniently located along subway Line 1 and major bus routes
Not extremely neighborly
Not many places to bike around leisurely; biking only suitable as transportation
Few cultural attractions
High rent prices
Major firms like Microsoft and Siemens have offices in Wangjing, attractiong
a wide variety of shopping and entertainment venues. The area is home to a large Korean community, so expect plenty of good Korean eats. Wangjing is becoming more upscale and will include the new Wangjing SOHO, which is slated for completion in a few years. Located close to Lido, the two neighborhoods complement one another; however, Wangjing’s roads can be confusing even for street-smart taxi drivers.
Less expensive housing (although rent is increasing)
Major office buildings in the area
Western shopping and local markets
Lots of green space
Proximity to airport
Easy access to Fourth and Fifth Ring Roads, as well as the Airport Expressway
Line 15 now goes out to nearby Shunyi area
Large hospitals nearby
Not enough parks for kids
Lots of construction in the neighborhood
Not as much history in the area, since it’s newer
Not as cosmopolitan as nearby neighborhoods
Not a lot of international food choices
Located between Sanlitun/Dongzhimen and Shunyi District, Lido is an ideal location for families who want to be close to schools in Shunyi, but near the heart of the city. Within walking distance of local Chinese culture and Western conveniences, Lido has a cozy feel but offers much in art, shopping, healthcare, schools, and dining.
Nice compromise between living amidst Chinese culture and the greener suburbs
Easy to find international grocery stores
Great trendy restaurants nearby
Good weekend outings: 798 Art District, Si’de Park
Close to international hospitals and clinics
Twenty minutes from the airport
Plenty of good schools (from nursery to high school)
No subway station
Far from historical center of Beijing
New restaurants and stores are popping up all the time in this up-and-coming neighborhood. While some residents that there’s room for improvement, others wish they had invested in property when the area first emerged a few years ago. As noted by one resident, it’s “a great place to live, providing ample comfort and Western creature comforts without feeling [like]we are living in a foreigner bubble.”
“Up-and-coming” vibe with new restaurants and shops
Just a few minutes south of Guomao
Easy access to culture, including 22 International Art Street and Today Art Museum
Reasonable rent rates
Several kindergartens in the area
Several abandoned factory buildings and lots that need work
Traffic is always bad
Subway Line 10 isn’t convenient for all living areas
Fewer Western restaurants and grocery stores
Advantages of living in the suburbs include spacious single family homes and neighborhoods that allow children to safely roam and play. International school and housing options are within close distance from each another and traffic is less of an issue. However, it is easy to forget that there is an entire city to explore once rooted in the Shunyi bubble. Commutes aren’t always easy, due to heavy traffic in Beijing.
Large expat population
Near Beijing Capital International Airport
Many international schools and single family housing choices
Less air and noise pollution; less traffic
Plenty of grassy areas for play
Subway Line 15 makes it easy to travel into the city
Less immersion in Chinese culture and language
Taxis are unfamiliar with Shunyi addresses
Roads are becoming more congested, especially with International Expo Center nearby International hospital emergency facilities not located nearby
Shopping less convenient (fewer markets and Western malls)
Good to Know:
- Landlords typically require a deposit (equivalent to one month of rent) and three months of rent at a time.Apartments in China are usually furnished by the landlord, but if you are adverse to the landlord’s taste in furniture, ask him or her to remove it before you move in. They are generally happy to oblige.
- Landlords of new apartments usually offer lower rent, as they are eager to lease them out as soon as possible. There is also the possibility of choosing the apartment’s furniture as the first tenant. The downside to new housing is the likelihood of ongoing construction noise, dust, and smells.
- Gas, water, and electricity are usually paid for by the tenant. Radiators, if you have one, are usually paid by the landlord.
- Rent tends to increase in July and August. The cheaper months to move are between January and April, when more houses are available and fewer tenants are looking.
- If you speak Chinese, working directly with the compound management or landlord is the best way to go. They are often most willing to negotiate fairly. However, expats should expect to pay 20 to 40 percent more than locals for accommodation.
- While many expats work in Haidian District and Financial Street, few families opt to live in western Beijing.
- Many people suggest never using the “company-preferred” real estate agency, as they know your budget and maximum price. Lease negotiation is exactly that: a negotiation. You should explain what you’re looking for, not what your budget is. Consider using multiple agents and choose several houses that fit your needs – you may need something to fall back on should one agent or apartment fall through.
- Landlords in Shunyi are leaning towards two-year leases. While they do not want to change tenants often, landlords are now either selling their properties, or moving into them themselves. Long-term leases might prove beneficial for both parties: they provide security of occupancy for the landlord, while resulting in more attentiveness to tenant needs and requests.
- Consider finalizing your school choice before finding where you want to live, as schools often have long waiting lists. Bus transportation is generally provided by for their students.
- Find a realtor who understands your needs, and press for flexibility in your lease. Is there a furniture allowance? Can you paint? Can you sign a short-term lease?