Daily Life

Daily Life as Expat in Beijing

In many respects, living as an expat in Beijing is like living anywhere else: you eat, shop, go out and mingle with other people. (Yes, I know, there also is work. I just started to add a new section about working in China – it is work in progress, so please come back and check it out.)

So, while on first glace, everything is the same, of course many things are different and specific to Beijing or to China. You may find it difficult to find or do things you are used to. At the same time, a whole new world opens up.

Where to buy groceries, find Western import food and other things

Beijing veggie street vendorBeijing has local supermarket chains of all sizes, international chains like Walmart and Carrefour, smaller import supermarkets, as well as street markets and shopping malls.

Where to go for shopping depends mostly on what you want to buy. When buying groceries, for example, you won’t find cheese in many Chinese supermarkets. But international supermarkets have packaged cheese and import stores in addition have a cheese counter.

However, everything Western seems very popular here, which leads to more and more Western style products on local grocery store shelves. Just check the label and don’t expect that a Chinese version of cheese or margarine will always look or taste like what you expect.

Buying clothes is fairly easy in Beijing, as most international brands are represented. However, prices for those international brands are usually a bit higher and large sizes are not always available.

Everyone has to eat

Beijing FoodThe opportunity to eat authentic Chinese food is one of the greatest benefits of living in China. Chinese restaurants, ranging from simple to high-end and from living room size to multistory, dot the city. You can find tasty morsels on the street at almost every corner. Every provincial Chinese cuisine is represented in Beijing. The options for eating out are endless.

Just a heads up. The version of Chinese food offered in many Western countries, including the US, Mexico and Europe, has very little resemblance with the real Chinese food you will find here.

In our home countries, many of us had to make due with a small “Asian supermarket” with a limited and pricey selection. Unless you live in a place with a big Asian community, many ingredients are simply not available. No more excuses. Local produce markets and supermarkets make buying ingredients for Chinese home-cooking affordable and accessible. With the right tools and recipes, you can do your own Chinese cooking at home.

Chinese love to eat out and there are options abound. The bigger, fancier places are typically easier to navigate for foreigners because they usually have menus with pictures and English names (even though the translations can be interesting…). However, the real gems are often smaller places frequented by locals. Even with limited Chinese language skills, eating out in a Chinese restaurant is easy with some preparation.

What to do for fun?

Going out or staying in, there are many ways to entertain yourself. The bar and restaurant scene is very active and changes often. Beijing has multiple Expat magazines to keep you on top of what is hot. (Check out the Resource page for their websites.)

Or you can enjoy a nice evening at home watching a movie or your favorite TV show. All you need is a DVD, a Chinese website with International movies and shows, or a VPN to access US or other country specific shows. (Many TV stations limit the online viewing of their program to IP addresses located in their country.)

Want to be more active?

Beijing DancerIf enjoying a quiet afternoon with a coffee or beer on a hutong rooftop terrace sounds too lazy to you (or when it is too cold for that) you have other options. You can learn how to cook at one of the Beijing cooking schools or take other classes (see my Resources page for more info).

Or you could join the local Chinese in their daily exercise of Tai Chi or the many daily dance groups, ranging from traditional Chinese dances with colorful fans to ballroom dancing and even Tango. These usually happen in the mornings or evenings in public parks and places.

Or you can get out of town. Beijing is surrounded by mountains and often by cleaner air. Hiking is perfect way to spend a weekend day away from the city. Beijing Hikers and others (see Resources page) offer well organized trips to more quiet sections of the great wall or other places of interest, usually combined with a meal at a local restaurant. Of course you can organize such trips yourself, but you will need some Mandarin skills to hire a driver and map out the route.

Mingling with like-minded people

Beijing is home to many types of expats and hosts regular networking events. Some seem purely for social purpose (InterNations, INN Beijing), while others have more professional/career objectives (FC Club).  As with everything geared towards expats, these events usually take place in the East of Beijing.

For an easy-to-read compilation of 30+ posts that follow your steps from planning your move to a new culture to settling into your new expat life in Beijing, check out this Expat Guide – Newcomer to Beijing


Daily Life — 17 Comments

  1. Hi

    Great website! I`ll be moving to Beijing before the end of this year and am concerned as to how cold it gets at this time of the year? Do I need to wear many layers? Also, are doctors fees pricey?

    Thanking you in advance for your response!

    • Thanks!
      Yes, it will get cold in winter and layers are a good idea.
      Doctor’s fees depend on the doctor or hospital. They can be very cheap but likely in a basic setting and without any English spoken. International clinics are more expensive.

  2. hello
    I am righting this word not for reply to this comment
    but I need help from how can help me to find wechat dating groupe n Beijing
    because is not esay to find group wecthat
    thank you to all

    • In WeChat you can search for groups by keyword. Go to Contacts, Official Accounts, click the search icon and enter your keyword, e.g. dating. I don’t know of any dating WeChat groups, but this is how you can find official groups in general.

  3. Hi, I just moved to Beijing, and rented an apartment. I need to buy sheets and small electrical appliances. I live next to the Changchun Bridge subway station. Do you have any suggestions on where I could get the things I need? thank you!!

  4. Hello – I am here for two weeks on business, and my Chinese coworkers want me to go to the Wangfujiang Night Food Market with them. Is it safe to eat the food there? I have seen a lot of people online saying you risk certain death (at least a very unhappy stomach) if you eat the food from the street vendors there. What say you?

    • I have eaten at the Wangfujing night market without getting sick, but I prefer other street food in Beijing. In my opinion, the night market is very touristy and a bit overpriced. The Chinese get a kick out of your reaction to fried insects and other things that are uncommon in Western cooking. I guess that’s why your co-workers want to take you there.
      From my experience it is safe to eat street food in China, just make sure the food has not been sitting out for a long time. Freshly prepared things are best and delicious. Try Jianbing, the Chinese style pancake.
      Disclaimer: Some friends say I have an iron stomach 😉

  5. Hi. Very interesting website! My husband and I will be traveling soon to Beijing with our 6 months old baby and we are wondering what to do about air pollution. Is it necessary to wear masks and if so, what kind of mask? Any info will help.


    • You may get lucky and don’t experience much smog if you are coming in spring but it is hard to predict. Masks are good for the really bad days. My post about smog has more info.

    • Yoga classes in Beijing can be expensive, especially in studios with English speaking trainers. Many expats like Yoga Yard but it is not cheap. In general, buying a pass for 10 or more sessions is less expensive than single class passes. You can also try out a Chinese gym, prices there are likely lower. Some offer yoga classes, but instructions will be in Chinese.

    • Thank for your feedback and suggestions, John. Much appreciated!
      Pollution is an ever-present problem, which I address in more general terms here. The health website you mentioned is indeed very helpful.
      The entertainment scene in Beijing is constantly changing, so rather than writing about it myself, I think I will put together more of a resource post for this topic. Stay tuned.

      Update 2/10: I just added a post of how to deal with the air pollution here.

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