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ScottyC Apr 20th, 2009 08:51 PM

Living in Beijing, China for 1 year
If you have lived in Beijing for an extened amount of time please tell me about it! I am nervous but at the same time VERY excited! I am 23 and from the USA...and will be teaching English through Expertise Education for 1 year! Let me know the good and the bad!

SiobhanP Apr 21st, 2009 07:40 AM

Check out and sign up to some of the Expat websites so you can start talking to people already over there. Have you been to China before? I think their is one called Beijing Foreigners group on Yahoo.

ScottyC Apr 21st, 2009 12:34 PM

I have never been to china or Asia for that matter..

Cicerone Apr 23rd, 2009 02:14 AM

I have not lived in Beijing so can’t really provide specifics on life there, but have lived outside the US for most of the last 20 years. It is a great experience. Some advice would be as follows:

Check out the bona fides of the organization you will be working for, for example they should be sponsoring you for a work visa and not expecting you to come on a tourist visa and work illegally. See information on this put together by the US Embassy in China at This site provides a lot of information on teaching in the PRC.

Make sure you have health insurance which will cover you in the PRC. While you are young and presumably healthy, you would want coverage in case you have an accident. You may still be able to be under your parent’s insurance, but make sure it covers you outside the US. You can often buy traveler’s insurance for major medical coverage which is really all you need. Before you go, make sure all your inoculations are up to date, including childhood stuff like polio, and also Tetanus and Hepatitis A and B which you should have no matter where you go. If you need prescription medicines, bring enough with you as you may not be able to find them in China, they may be more expensive or they may be fakes.

Find out how much luggage you can check on the flight over and bring the maximum allowed. If you have mileage points to use for excess baggage this may be a good time to redeem some. You will need heavy winter clothing (gloves, hat, warm winter coat esp) and also summer clothing for a year in Beijing and you won’t have a lot of salary left over to buy stuff when you are there.

You can buy a local phone and sim card when you get to Beijing (assuming you can afford it even at the cheap rates), so I would not buy anything in the US.

Take a look at Overseas Digest ( which has a section on teaching overseas. The site has lots of information, links and contacts about teaching and living overseas. There are many websites that have information and tips on expat life. Try the following titles for searches:

You might also try They have a chatroom where you can read comments from travelers or post questions. The area of the site you need is called "Thorn Tree ". The site is somewhat similar to this Talk section of the Fodors site.

There are an enormous number of good books, including guidebooks, fiction and non-fiction books on China, search here for a list, I think there was a thread on this recently. There is a series of books called "Culture Shock" on virtually every nation, including China. (i.e., “Culture Shock! China”.) They are a very helpful description of culture and customs in each country. They are published by Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company. You can find them on Amazon or your local bookstore may have it or can order it for you. You might want to get a Mandarin CD and learn some basic phrases.

Having looked at the website for Expertise Education, I see that your annual salary is going to be about US$9,000 (5,000 RMB a month). There appears to be a cost for monthly utilities of something like 100RMB per month, so your annual take-home pay before any PRC taxes will be US$8600. While you get free housing, you will have to pay for food, clothing, entertainment, local transportation, internet access, telephone service, books/newspapers, possibly medical insurance, any travel you want to do in-country and all other incidentals out of that (i.e., beer). I don’t know what your PRC income tax liability will be on that amount of salary, you will want to know that before you determine if you really can live on that salary even with free housing. As soon as you live and work in the country for more than six months you are subject to income tax; and I believe, but hope that I am wrong in your case, that your effective income tax rate will be something like 15%, which means that your actual take home will be like US$7300 which believe it or not, is only like US$20 a day. Even living very cheaply, eating locally and taking trains everywhere you travel, that salary seems a little low to me for a city like Beijing. I am quite sure that locals can do it, and in fact many millions live in Beijing on less, but I am not entirely sure that you could (well, the question is whether you really would want to). You’ll have to give up the Starbucks for sure. Of course being 23 and as the job is only for a year, generally you can survive anything, so as long as you are prepared, and the company is legit, it would probably be a fun experience.

PeterN_H Apr 23rd, 2009 01:59 PM

There are very roughly two kinds of foreigner resident in Beijing: expats, and what we used to call 'halfpats'.

Expats live in gated communities, spend years in Beijing without learning a word of Mandarin, haven't a clue about the real price of anything at all, move from one aircon enclosure to another, have never boarded a bus, and believe anything their driver/maid/the ambassador's wife tells them (and which quickly, regardless of its truth or falsity, becomes 'common knowledge' within expatdom). They can always tell you about the latest French restaurant (where a meal costs the equivalent of a month's salary for most Beijingers) but have no idea about Chinese restaurants save a few token places they heard about from other expats. They don't think you can get to the Great Wall for less than ¥500 (some think ¥1000) whereas you'll find you can get there and back for ¥24. The only Chinese they deal with are their maids, their staff, and those who sell things to them at expat ghettos for several times the price elsewhere in Beijing. Their experience is little different from earlier postings in Nairobi, Geneva, and Hong Kong.

There are, of course, many people who are honorable exceptions but those exceptions will know precisely who I'm talking about. There's really little of interest for you in this world, but if you really want to know more you just need to Google 'Beijing' and 'expat' to find sites specific to the local situation and more relevant than those given above. But still not really relevant to your situation. Oh, and the 'Culture Shock! China' title is a joke. Go on-line for real information.

You need a page like this: (this is getting dated but still contains many home truths. Click 'home' to get to the main page with links on many aspects of living in Beijing at a real-world level).

For forums on teaching in China by people who are doing it see:

and for more on the practicalities of teaching there see:

You'll be able to make direct contact with those operating at your half-pat level, and on your kind of budget, paying real Chinese prices for real Beijing experiences. You'll be able to find people working for the same employer here, so you can ask them questions, and you'll read about the scams commonly pulled by teaching institutions of all sorts who employ foreigners, and be better prepared.

Half-pats maintain an interest in local culture, make some attempt at the language, and move with the ebb and flow of local tides, hanging out with local friends as well as other half-pats, paying the same prices as locals, while using their financial muscle to give themselves more pleasures than the average resident can afford.

Your disposable income will be well ahead of that of all but a small proportion of local residents. You'll be able to afford to eat out every night if you wish, and to go out drinking and dancing and seeing live bands (plenty of choice) at weekends, not at expat bars with beer at ¥40 to ¥80, but clubs and bars with beer at ¥10 to ¥20, while being aware you can pick up a bottle at myriad small stores for only ¥2.5 or so. You'll be at bars and clubs in areas such as Wudaokou, with large student crowds, or perhaps the slightly more expensive bar street of Nan Luogu Xiang. You can certainly afford Starbucks, but you'll realise a) that you can get better coffee for less at many a locally run cafe, and b) the price of a Starbucks coffee is more than you pay for a filling lunch in a real local restaurant. But you'll find the wireless Internet available free at most cafes to be useful. You'll find clothing at absurdly cheap prices, a great cheaper than at home, at markets across the city well away from the expat areas.

You'll be able to afford a taxi now and then, but will almost certainly get an Yikatong travel pass which will reduce the price of most bus journeys to ¥0.40. Metro rides of any distance are only ¥2 and avoid the vast traffic jams. If your home or workplace are anywhere near a metro station you'll be using the system a lot. You'll shop for supplies at local shops for much less than at the shiny supermarkets visited by expats, and in street markets.

The biggest danger you'll face will be the atmosphere (Twitter @BeijingAir if you want to get really scared), traffic (but you'll learn to do things that will terrify your friends if you carry on doing them when you get home), and isolation unless you make some friends quickly, and muster enough of the language to deal with simple everyday situations. If you have no previous teaching experience you may find your work very frustrating--but any teachers' discussion site about Beijing will tell you more about that.

The chances are very high you'll have a Chinese girlfriend after a short space of time (almost every foreign male does), which will make life much more pleasant in some ways, and more frustrating in others. If you're not driven insane by China then the chances are you'll sign up for a second year, but not necessarily with the same employer. You'll be able to earn quite a lot of extra income teaching privately if you want to. Many teachers end up starting their own businesses (although that very often ends in tears), and others, especially if they are making progress with the language, end up working for large foreign companies in jobs they would be unlikely to get if they were at home; firstly on a local-style package, but later entering expatdom proper.

For information on what entertainment's available in the city you need to look at the sites for local magazines such as The Beijinger, and City Weekend, and you'll quickly get a whiff of the different worlds of the expat and halfpat.

Good luck.

Peter N-H

SophiaMaple Apr 24th, 2009 05:07 PM

There are many intelligent and capable young women in China, but by virtue of your possession of a foreign passport, the ones who befriend you may just be eying the prize of that potential passport when they manage to get you into marriage. The statistics are alarming in Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen, I am told.

mbk2363 Jul 22nd, 2009 02:15 AM

hey man, how was your experience with the company? im thinking about takin a job with them
[email protected]

SiobhanP Jul 22nd, 2009 05:41 AM

Well there are often many literate educated and nice Chinese gals who genuinely fall in love with a Western guy and vice versa. I have seen both types of relationships so yes as a young fella he will get a lot of attention but then again my brother met his wife when teaching for a year in China and met his intellectual and life match so true love does exist as well. This was early 90's and was not an easy choice for her back then. Its easier now when they return but many people resented or were rude to her in the early years visiting home with her husband from America (my brother).

trishpat Jul 21st, 2012 01:01 PM

Hi scotty, Iv been offered an employment contract by expertise education beijing and wondered how you found them? any good so bad points on them ? I read some bad reviews about them, so its putting me off to the honest... how had your experience with them been ?

JPDeM Jul 24th, 2012 03:20 PM

I have been living in Beijing for three years as an expat. not sure about the definition above. I don't know any expat that fits the description given by this guy Peter. I live in a so-called gated community but I take the bus ans speak mandarin. Most white kids in our complex speak perfect mandarin. 80%+ of the people living in my complex are actually Chinese.
My advise to you is to make sure that you work for a serious organization and that they will sponsor your work visa and not for some cheap language mill. Foreigners working illegally on a tourist visa are being hunted down these days and kicked out of the country.
While you salary may be higher than many people in Beijing, as a teacher you are generally considered poor. Cost of living is rather high in Beijing, certainly higher than most other places except Shanghai and Shenzhen. There is a lot of money in Beijing. Last stats that I read, over 280,00 people were earning over US$1.5million per year.
The comment by SophiaMaple is partly true but Chinese who marry for a passport will prefer an overseas Chinese any day of the year over a white guy. Socially, english teachers rank at the bottom of the totem pole. n some dating sites, certain girls will specifically say "no english teacher". If you are teaching in an actual reputable school and you have teaching experience and a degree in education, then you can get more respectability. Many english teachers have no qualifications and only happen to have english as their native language (although even that is not always required). By the way, I have no issue with english teachers, my daughter taught english in China. Just stating the facts
For your every day living you will find everything you need in Beijing although I usually bring some over-the-counter medication with me such as Tynedol or cough syrop. These are hard to find in Beijing. at Chinese food, much cheaper than western food.
Try to live close to where you work otherwise you will spend forever on the road. Maybe the school is providing you with a room as it is often the case.
Go out and meet people, easy to do. You'll have plenty of friends in no time. Just because you are out of your home country does not give you the right to make an a** of yourself. It makes all foreigners look bad if you do.

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