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Beijing: Residential Areas and Housing

Are you an expat moving to Beijing? If so, you’ll surely need some practical support and information. Let InterNations help you with your move to Beijing. We provide a general introduction to the city, plus some practical tips on visas, housing, and more. Your adventure in Beijing begins here.

Mapping the City

The municipality of Beijing covers a surface of nearly 17,000 km². It is divided into six urban or inner districts, eight metropolitan or outer districts, and two rural counties. Moreover, Beijing’s denizens measure the distance of any place from the city center by describing its location relative to the concentric ring roads.

It might be confusing for strangers that there is no first ring road at all. It is a purely imaginary line that includes the historical core of Beijing, i.e. the Forbidden City and Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace. The 2nd Ring Road circumscribes the city limits of 1949, while Beijing’s urban sprawl is now spilling beyond Ring Road No 6. A 7th Ring Road, official known as the Great Beijing Outer Ring Road, will total almost 1000km in length when (and if) construction is completed in 2017. Mostly, it will connect Beijing to its neighboring provinces.

Residential Areas

According to the most recent official census, in 2010, there were about 92,000 foreign residents living in Beijing. Other sources, however, estimate the number of foreigners in Beijing at closer to 180,000 in 2011/2012, which is actually less than 1% of the city’s population. In comparison, about a third of New York’s residents are foreign, and about a quarter of London’s.

Many expats live somewhere in Chaoyang District. Cháoyángqū covers a large area to the east of the city center, which stretches from the 2nd to the 5th Ring Road. It includes the Central Business District, the embassy area, international schools, the expressway to the international airport, and expat shopping favorites such as Metro, Carrefour, and IKEA. Within Chaoyang, lots of expatriates settle in the CBD, in Sanlitun, or Wanjing, home to Beijing’s sizable South Korean community.

Shunyi, the district to the northeast of Chaoyang and far beyond the 5th Ring Road, is already quite far from the city center. However, it’s close to the airport, and many expats appreciate it for its quiet, suburban atmosphere and its amenities, like villa complexes, international schools, and shopping malls. International students mainly opt for the Wudaokou neighborhood in Heidian District due to its good public transportation links and proximity to many universities and research institutes.

Expat Housing

Unless they are provided with company housing or went house hunting during a prior fact-finding trip, well-to-do expatriates often stay in hotel suites or serviced apartments for the first few weeks. If you have a financial cushion or a generous allowance, this might be a good opportunity to explore the real estate market in Beijing.

Most restrictions on foreigners freely choosing their own accommodation in Beijing have been lifted, though buying property is still quite difficult. Thus, many expats still find it most convenient to rent a place in developments catering to the international community. Diplomats and journalists often reside in officially designated living quarters anyway.

These residential communities or compounds include high-rise buildings, low-rise apartment blocks, or in the more suburban areas of Chaoyang and Shunyi, free-standing family villas. The great advantages of these residential developments, with mellifluous names such as Dragon Villas, River Garden, Beijing Riviera, or Leman Lake, are their numerous amenities: Many offer on-site English-speaking management staff, security, furnished rooms, facilities for shopping, dining, and sports, and a shuttle service to international schools or nearby transport hubs.

Nowadays, some foreign nationals also move into Beijing’s traditional courtyard houses. However, be aware that the property management staff is unlikely to speak English. The standard of living in such a house will also be more modest than in Western-style properties.

You can find more advice on the housing search and rental agreements, as well as information on different types of accommodation in our Extended Guide article on renting in China.

Cost of Accommodation

Expat housing in Beijing may be more expensive than what you expect or are used to. The city didn’t rank 11th in the Mercer International Cost of Living Study 2014 for nothing.

Prices can rise sharply depending on the location, the living standards, and the size of your new place. For instance, a three-bedroom villa in a mid-tier expatriate compound might cost at least 28,000 CNY per month. Also take into consideration that your real estate agent expects a commission of one or two months’ rent.

Alien Registration  

One last reminder: After moving into your new place, don’t forget to re-register with the Beijing police – again! If you previously stayed in a hotel, then the staff will have taken care of this for you beforehand. The building management of an expat compound may also help you with such administrative matters.

As a normal tenant, though, you have to go to the nearest police station within 24 hours of your change of address. Bring along the following:

  • your valid passport and visa
  • your rental agreement
  • your landlord’s proof of ownership

Taking along a bit of patience and a Chinese-speaking friend will also help the process go as smoothly as possible.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Ole Jacobsen

"Beijing has so much to offer for expats. InterNations helped me explore the international community and many close friends."

Farrah Thompson

"At one of the InterNations events here in Beijing I eventually met my French boyfriend, who is an expat just like me."

Global Expat Guide