Housing & Transportation

What You Need to Know to Get Settled in Beijing

So you are moving to Beijing? Settling into a new surrounding is always exciting – and at times a bit stressful. In addition to finding a place to live, you have to learn quickly how basic services work in a different country.

If your company is sending you on an expat assignment to Beijing, you may have a relocation specialist helping you to navigate your new world.  You are not that lucky to have a relocation specialist or other local network to answer your many questions? Well, you came to the right place. We were in that same situation and had to find out for ourselves how things work. Now we can provide those answers and resources to you.

Where to live in a sprawling city of over 20 million?

Beijing HousingTo find the best housing for your needs, you first need to make sure you and anyone moving with you is clear on their needs and expectations. Prepare yourself and learn about your new country and culture. Be honest with yourself how much culture shock you might experience, and how much you are willing and able to handle.

Focus on 5 key things when looking for a place: commute, access to western amenities, price, required language skills, and level of immersion. You may not find everything you are looking for in one place. Understanding your options helps to determine your very own priorities and thereby narrow down the area to search in for housing.  (I wish some of that had been clearer to me when we first came. We may not have made a different choice but I would have been better prepared to handle it.)

Exploring different neighborhoods is the next step to get a feel for the specific areas and how they fit you and your family. You will likely need the help of agents to find an apartment to rent in Beijing in an area you like. Depending on the area and your budget, there are compounds with Western amenities and more Chinese style houses.

Getting up and running

Once you have your new place, you can start to make it home. Most apartments come furnished, so you don’t need to bring or buy that many things. With foreigners constantly moving in and out of the city, classifieds in Beijing’s expat magazines (see Resources page) are good sources for buying stuff.

Usually you will be responsible for paying your utilities. The way that works in Beijing is different from the US and many other western countries and can be a bit confusing at first. But with some help it is easy to figure out.

Every foreigner has to register with their local police station. For that you need your passport, rental agreement, and proof of your landlord’s ownership of the place. When you are staying at a hotel, the hotel will take care of the police registration for you for the duration of your stay.

To receive mail from abroad at your new address, the sender may need to use Chinese characters on the mailing label. A good option, if your apartment does not have a concierge service, is have important mail or packages sent to your company.

How to get around in Beijing

Beijing TransportationBeijing offers many different ways to get around, including subway, bus and taxi. The public transportation system is well developed and very cheap. Taking the subway is very easy and requires no language skills as signs and announcements are also in English. Taking buses and taxis are also easy but require just a tad more knowledge.

You don’t really need a car in Beijing, although it is a nice luxury. (I often miss mine and the independence that comes with it.) As a tourist you can rent a car with an international driver license but as a resident you are required to get a Chinese driver license.

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 Practical Guide – Newcomer to Beijing


Housing & Transportation — 11 Comments

  1. hello
    i am considering moving to beijing for a job i was just offered. i live in new york city now. new york is pleasant because it offers dense urban areas like midtown but also has small scale spaces like the west village. ideally, i would prefer to live in a west village like neighborhood as i am not a fan of very tall high rises. is such a neighborhood still in existence in modern beijing?

    thank you

  2. Hi Gina

    I’m moving to Beijing in February. I will be working in Xizhimen right across from the station where subway lines 2, 4 and 13 pass. Do you have any tips for me about housing? I am looking for a compromise between a cheap arrangement (e.g. renting with roommates) while staying in the expat areas (close to Western amenities) like Sanlitun or somewhere there. Do you have any tips for me? Kind regards, Carla (South Africa)

    • Hi Carla, Xizhimen is very central and connected. If you want to be closer to expat areas with a quick commute, consider areas on line 2 to the East/Northeast of Xizhimen. Dongzhimen is only a few stops away, has many expats and rooms in shared apartments, and it is close to the expat amenities. Best of luck with your move!

  3. Hello, very useful information and Beijing Expat is a great starting point. We are already in the stage that we will come next weekend for an exploration trip- we most likely move to Beijing with a 8month old Chinese Mongrel. We have researched and the only comfortable options to live with a dog is in Shunyi district.- any recommendations what could be an alternative closer to the city? And anybody has a good agent to show apartments/small villas? – Thank you so much! Sonja

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