I am Gina. My husband and I are Beijing Expats and moved here in 2011 for his new job. Beijing Expat Guide provides hands-on practical information, how-to guides and real insights, all based on our personal experiences as Beijing Expats.
Lately, accessing the internet in China through VPN has been increasingly frustrating. VPNs don’t connect at all or drop after a short time. In addition, WhatsApp seems to be blocked now and is not accessible without VPN.
(Updated November 2017)
Starting this summer, the government has been trying to shut down international VPNs. At least one company already pulled out of the Chinese market entirely. This leaves many expats and international businesses scrambling. If you can’t live without Facebook, Instagram, Google and Twitter, and now even WhatsApp, you need a reliable VPN.
Best VPN in China
Right now the most stable services are VyprVPN and ExpressVPN. (Please note that some links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you buy a VPN service using the link I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Using this VyprVPN link you will even receive a 25% discount on an annual account. Thank you for supporting the Beijing Expat Guide website this way! )
Even though all VPN services currently face issues, VyprVPN and Express seem to be able to cope the best and get services restored the quickest if they go down.
As you may know I am a big fan of Vypr and have been using it for years. The Vypr Chameleon protocol does what the name suggests, it evades attacks by blending in.
The company behind Vypr is committed to keeping their service in China going and interruptions to a minimum. With the current aggressive attack on personal VPNs, you probably won’t be able to avoid interruptions altogether but at least the issues don’t last long with a reliable provider.
You can try Vypr 3 days for free and get 3 months free on a new annual account. Make sure to test the Premium as you need the Chameleon protocol.
Although the Google Store is blocked and VPNs have been removed from app stores in China, you can download the apps for your phone with a little workaround. Android users can download the APK file directly from the Vypr website by clicking on the link right below Google Play.
In this FAQ I try to answer the most common questions about expat banking in China, covering Chinese bank accounts, accessing and transferring money across borders, and more. I tried to make this comprehensive but I’m sure I missed a few things. Drop me a note in the comments for other items that I should cover.
And of course, I have to give the disclaimer that I’m not a banker or financial professional. I may not have fully or correctly represented everything below. Keep also in mind that regulations are constantly changing in China. What is correct today may be outdated tomorrow. (Check my Site Policies for more info.)
This post originally published in 2013, last update May 2017.
Cash or Plastic?
In China cash used to rule for everyday life. However, in recent years WeChat Wallet has been taking over. More and more people use this mobile payment feature of the hugely popular Chinese messaging app to pay by simply scanning a QR code. Some places don’t even accept cash or card payments anymore.
Bank cards, similar to American debit cards, can still often be used, e.g. in supermarkets and many restaurants.
International credit cards are often accepted but not as widely as local Chinese credit cards. Your chances are higher with Visa/MasterCard than with AmEx. Chinese credit cards are more difficult to get as a foreigner but it is not impossible.
For cash, the biggest bill is 100 RMB, about 15 USD or 13 EUR (as of May 2017). RMB is short for Renminbi, the name of the Chinese currency. One unit is called yuán 元 or, in more colloquial terms, kuài. Other notes are 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 RMB. Units smaller than 1 kuai are called máo 毛 and fēn 分 and can be small notes or coins.
Can you access money from a foreign account?
You can use your US/foreign debit card at a Chinese ATM to withdraw RMB. Sometimes you have to try ATMs from different banks to find one that lets you withdraw.
Fees vary, depending on the ATM and the bank your card originates from. For example China Construction Bank (CCB) is member of the Global ATM Alliance, just like Bank of America, Deutsche Bank and a handful of other banks from different countries. Using a BofA card to withdraw cash at a CCB ATM would save you the International ATM access fee but not other fees, like foreign currency fees.
Do you really need a Chinese bank account?
Most likely, yes.
If you receive your salary from a Chinese company, then you likely need a Chinese account. Paying rent and some utilities is also easier with a local account.
Another big reason is the increase of apps and in-app features for mobile payment, like WeChat Wallet or Didi Dache for taxis. To use those apps you need a local bank account.
Can foreigners easily open a bank account in China?
The formalities to open a bank account in China used to be very easy. You only had to bring your passport and make a minimal required deposit. However, earlier this year the rules changed.
Banks now require that you have a one year visa in order to open an account. If your visa is for a shorter time period than one full year, the bank will likely deny your application. Currently it still seems possible to shop around different banks and find one to open an account with a shorter visa but this may change.
What banks are in China?
Chinese Banks are mostly owned by the central or a local government. Big and common central banks include China Construction Bank (CCB), China CITIC Bank, Bank of China (BOC), Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC). Bank of Beijing is a big local bank. You will find ATM’s and branches for these all over the city.
You can also find international banks in China, for example Citibank and HSBC.
Which Chinese bank should I chose?
There are so many different banks – so which one to choose? Here are some points to consider:
Bigger banks have a better network across the country, important if you plan to travel
ATM and branch locations convenient to your work or home
Online banking capabilities (not all banks offer this in English)
Other convenience factors, e.g. ability to pay utilities, English speaking staff
Potential relationship with your domestic bank to reduce fees
How do I open a Chinese bank account?
You have to bring your passport with a valid visa of at least 1 full year and an initial deposit.
The bank employee will help you fill out the needed forms. But keep in mind that not all branches have employees that speak English. You may want to bring a Chinese friend to help if you don’t speak Mandarin.
You will receive your bank card right away and can set your PIN. In China a PIN is a 6 digit number, not only 4 digits as in the US or Europe. You will only get one bank card for a regular account. Joint accounts for couples uncommon and often impossible.
The bank card is also a debit/ATM card and should have a Union Pay logo. You can use this card in many countries outside of China to withdraw money from your Chinese account at ATMs with the China Union Pay (CUP) logo. For example Citibank in the US, Sparkasse in Germany, even some stores accept payment with this card.
In most cases, you can keep both RMB and foreign currency in your account. This is called a dual currency account and available for USD, EUR and other foreign currencies. But you cannot access the foreign currency in your account via ATM. You must go to the teller and probably pay a small fee.
How much can you withdraw?
The maximum you can withdraw at an ATM it 20,000 RMB per day. The typical ATM withdrawal fee in China with a Chinese bank card is 2 RMB, no matter if you fetch 500 RMB or 10,000 RMB.
Other fees, e.g. for text message service, vary by bank and account type. If you have enough money, you may qualify for a VIP account, where some fees are waived.
There seems to be no minimum amount for using a Chinese bank card at places that accept those. There is also no general maximum spending limit per day/week/month in China. The maximum spending depends on your account status with your bank.
Can you do online banking?
Do you hate waiting in line at a bank? (And trust me, there always is a line in China.) Some banks have internet banking available but the English interface is usually somewhat limited, although this has been improving. You may need a certain type of account – not every account type is eligible for online banking. Be sure to mention internet banking when opening your new bank account.
Supposedly many retail banks offer telephone banking with an English service option. I have never tried that but still wanted to mention it. Often times, fees for services done through e-banking or mobile banking are lower than at the bank counter.
How do I make payments?
A popular method to make a payment is an account-to-account transfer. Many people use it to pay rent to the landlord. You need the name, branch name, bank account number and name of the recipient.
There is usually no charge for account-to-account transfers if both parties use the same bank in the same city, and a small charge otherwise. You can even make recurring payments via text message once you set it up.
How to transfer money into and out of China?
When you just start life in China, you may want to get some money wired into the country. You can do a wire transfer of foreign currency from your home bank into your new Chinese account without restrictions or limits.
The foreign currency will remain as foreign currency in your Chinese account until you go to the bank and convert it to RMB. There is a limit on how much you can convert into RMB per person each year but it is rather high. The main fees for this will likely be at your home bank as Chinese banks typically don’t charge for incoming wires.
To transfer money out of China is a bit more tricky. You can transfer out as much money as you want, as long as you can prove that it is earned income and you paid all taxes on it, or it is part of funds that your originally transferred into China from overseas.
You can’t transfer out RMB directly, you first need to convert into US dollars or whatever foreign currency you need. In order to do that you need some paperwork, and you will probably get at least three red stamps on every paper by the time you finish the process.
Here is what you probably need (I say probably because these requirements may change. Best to confirm with your bank ahead of time):
Official income documentation from your employer
Certificate of your tax payment for that income (learn more about income taxes)
Original employment contract
Can you convert RMB to foreign currency without all this paperwork? Just with your passport, you may be able to convert up to 500 USD from RMB per day, but this rule can be interpreted differently by different banks or tellers. So you may not be able to convert any money without documentation.
But, as I mentioned earlier, you can use your Chinese bank card to withdraw foreign currency from your Chinese account when traveling to other countries.
There are many different ways to get around in Beijing, most are easy to use and inexpensive. This post gives you an overview over Beijing transportation. For more specifics follow the links within.
Public Transportation: Beijing Subway and Bus
Car ownership is still in its infancy in China. I know, it’s hard to believe when you witness the choking traffic in Beijing and many other places in China. But because not many people own a car, Beijing has excellent public transportation with an extensive network of subways and buses. Read my posts on how to use subway and buses in Beijing.
There is no monthly pass or multi-day ticket. If you plan to use public transportation regularly you can buy a rechargeable IC card, the so-called Yikatong 一卡通, which you can use for both subway and buses. You can buy it at many of the bigger subway stations. Look for the blue sign that says IC Card.
Again, because not many people have cars, taxis are a very common and cheap form of transportation in Beijing. Read more on taking a Beijing taxi.
Sanlunche and Pedicabs
Sanlunche, literally “Three-wheel-car”, usually is a shiny silver colored “box” powered by a moped. Some Chinese also call it BoingBoing as the ride can be a bit bumpy. A Sanlunche is the Chinese version of a TukTuk or Moto rickshaw well known all over Southeast Asia.
The fare is similar to regular taxis and should be agreed upon upfront. They can be faster in rush hour as they squeeze through in between cars, use the sidewalk, opposite lanes, etc., which also makes them more dangerous than taxis.
Pedicabs or bicycle rickshaws are common In the downtown tourist areas and in the expat areas. They are great for short distances and through back streets but can feel a bit scary on bigger streets. You should negotiate the fare upfront and ideally have exact change ready. There have been a few reports about dishonest pedicab drivers.
In busy areas, like the bar street, all drivers seem to have agreed on a fixed fare for the vicinity, taking advantage of the fact that many women in high heels don’t want to do too much walking…
Tip: Everything Western has a Chinese name and is known to most Chinese only by the Chinese name, for example Starbucks is Xīn bā kè星巴克 , Walmart is Wò ěr mǎ 沃尔玛, … This holds true for everything that has a Western name including hotels, stores and sights. When telling a cab driver your destination or asking for directions, make sure you know the Chinese name and its proper pronunciation or show it to him written in characters. A good phone app like TrainChinese or Hanping (only available for Android) can help with that.
The easiest way, but not always the fastest and not the cheapest way, to get around is by car if your company (or financial means) provide you with a car and driver. Driving yourself with your own car is not an immediate option for newcomers. China requires foreigners residing in China to get a Chinese driver’s license, which is not that difficult. Obtaining the license plates for owning a car is the challenge but you could still rent one or maybe get one through your company. I would advise to experience traffic in Beijing for a while before considering driving here yourself.
Two-Wheelers like Bike and Scooter
In the last year, bikes seem to have taken over the sidewalks and street, thanks to the new bike sharing craze. Mobike, OFO, and other bike share companies make it easy to rent a bike anywhere in the city. (Coming soon: Post on bike sharing)
In addition to the old-fashioned human-propelled version, people use electric bikes, small scooters that look like a small moped but are usually battery-run, and more regular-size scooters that can be electrical or gas powered. Real motorcycles are not common.
From what I understand, you don’t need a license for a scooter, making them a favorite choice among foreigners. Wearing a helmet is not required and you won’t see many people taking that safety precaution.
Many neighborhoods have bike lanes, but those must be shared with motorized small vehicles including Sanlunches, pedestrians venturing into the street and the occasional parked car, so watch out.
Last but not least, the most common form of “transportation”: your own feet. Be prepared to walk a lot, especially if you rely on public transportation. Distances are often huge, even changing subway lines at some intersections requires several minutes of walking.
While many Chinese women manage to do that in high heels, I found my nice heels gathering dust in the closet. Comfortable shoes are a must in Beijing. Also keep in mind that the city often is very dusty and in some areas not very clean, so not really a place for Manolos (in case you have any).
Working in China as an expat can be exciting and rewarding, but it also means that you have to deal with Chinese income tax.
Here’s a primer on the Individual Income Tax (IIT) in China.
(But first a DISCLAIMER: I am not a tax or financial professional. While I did my best to understand the information available from different sources (PWC, KPMG, ECOVIS, China-Briefing) and present it in an easy to read format, I cannot guarantee that everything is presented correctly. In addition, tax laws and their implementation may change over time. This primer is meant to be informational only. Please consult a tax professional for advice. For more, please read my Site Policies.)
Who has to pay income tax in China?
If you have to pay income tax in China depends on two key factors:
How long you stay in China
The source of your income
The combination of time in China and source of income determines what income is taxable in China:
Length of stay in China
As you would image, the longer you stay, the more of your income is taxable in China. There are three time-frames that trigger different tax rules: The 90 day rule (which becomes the 183 day rule if a tax treaty is in place), 1 year rule, and 5 year rule. More on that below.
Source of Income
Where the work is performed and who pays for the income also affects the Chinese income tax. Income sourced within China vs sourced outside China, as well as income paid by a Chinese entity vs foreign entity are treated differently under the tax rules.
The 90 day rule
This rule applies if you spend less than 90 days in a tax year in China. If there is a tax treaty between China and your home country, this threshold is usually extended to 183 days.
Under this rule you only have to pay IIT on income for work that was done in China and paid for by a Chinese entity or individual. Income paid by an overseas employer is exempt from Chinese income tax, even if the work is done in China.
However, Senior Managers may still have to pay IIT on income paid by a Chinese company, even if the work is performed outside of China.
The 1 year rule
If you stay more than 90 days (or 183 days with a treaty) but less than 1 year during the tax year, you have to pay IIT on all income for work performed in China, no matter if the income is paid by a Chinese or an overseas entity.
If you stay more than 1 year but less than 5 years, then all income received from Chinese or foreign employers for work performed in China is taxable. In addition, income paid by a Chinese employer for temporary work outside of China is also taxable. Only income from a foreign employer for temporary work outside of China is exempt from Chinese income tax.
The 5 year rule
Once you stay in China for more than 5 consecutive years, the dreaded 5 year rule applies. After this time-frame all income sources within and outside of China, so basically your worldwide income, is taxable in China.
The rule states that the relevant period is “five full consecutive years”, so the tax rule applies from the sixth year onward spent in China. A full year is defined as the Chinese fiscal year from January 1 to December 31. So for instance, if you arrived in China during February 2011 the full years will be counted from January 1, 2012.
Any year that you didn’t leave China for more than 30 full consecutive days or for more 90 cumulative days counts as a full year.
This means that to break the 5 year rule and reset the clock back to zero, you need to leave China for a period of more than 30 full days consecutively or 90 days cumulatively within a calendar year. Please note that the rules says “more than”, not “at least”. Furthermore, travel days in and out of China don’t count as full days outside of China.
Be aware of the 5 year rule!
How much income tax do you have to pay in China
China has progressive income tax rates, so the more you earn, the higher a tax rate applies. Non-residents pay the same tax rate as residents.
Individual income tax rates in China are rather high for higher earners. For employed expats, the tax rate starts at 3% and goes up in seven steps to 45% for taxable monthly income over 80,000 RMB.
The first 4,800 RMB of income are tax exempt for expats. In addition, each tax rate also has a Quick Deduction. So your tax calculates as follows:
(monthly taxable income x tax rate) – quick deduction
For freelancers (labor services), the tax rate starts at 20% and goes up to 40% for monthly income over 50,000 RMB.
Business income tax rates start at 5% and go up to 35% for annual taxable income over 100,000.
Other types of personal income, like interest, dividends, or rental income, are typically taxed at a flat rate of 20%. However, there are exemptions. For example interest on a bank savings account deposit income is exempt from tax.
Taxable income includes the base salary, incentive compensations like commissions and bonuses, cash allowances and employer contributions to overseas insurance like social security.
In addition to the standard deduction of 4,800 RMB and quick deduction, there are a number of allowances that can be deducted. Talk to your HR department or a tax professional about the details, as these allowances have to meet certain criteria.
Annual individual income tax returns are due by 31 March of the following year.
If you are employed by a company, your employer must file monthly tax withholdings and a year-end tax return. If you don’t have an employer, it is your legal obligation to file tax returns.
You will receive an official document with red stamps that shows the amount of tax you paid in China. Keep this document. You will need it when transferring money out of China to prove that you paid all your Chinese income taxes. Depending on your home country’s tax system, you may also need the tax document to claim a credit for the foreign tax (Foreign Tax Credit FTC in the US).
Thank you for bearing with me through this long post on a dry topic. If you found this helpful, please share.
Wherever you live, buying clothes will eventually be on your agenda, either for fun or as a necessity. You have many options for clothes shopping as a Westerner in Beijing, from foreign brands to domestic labels and specialty clothes. Learn also what you need to know about sizes, sales and bargaining.
This post published first in November 2013 and was last updated in October 2016.
Shop where you used to shop
Globalization has made it easier to stay true to your style and loyal to your brands, even if you move half-way around the world. No matter if mainstream or higher end brands, almost all the big International clothing chains have stores in Beijing. You can find GAP, H&M, Zara, Vero Moda, Mango, Guess, Esprit, Uniqlo, Promod, Calvin Klein, and many more, in most big shopping malls all over the city. (To see if your favorite brand has a store in Beijing, check the store locator on their website.)
Flagship stores are often located on Wangfujing Street in the downtown area and in Sanlitun. But even the malls on the outskirts of Beijing often have a couple foreign brand stores. Department stores also usually carry many different brands.
Just a note of caution, prices of those foreign chain stores are often higher than in the US or Europe. This premium can be 15% all the way up to 50% or more over the price you would pay in the US.
Explore Chinese labels
Many people may think that Chinese labels are only offering cheap clothing for the masses. And you can find those cheap clothes in shops lining neighborhood streets, or sometimes sold right out on the street. But China also has its own designer labels.
I’m not quite the fashionista with a big budget (as you probably guessed from the listing of some stores above). But I did some research on Chinese designers. What I learned, and much more, is included in my new Beijing Shopping Guide.
For sports and the great outdoors
Chinese consumers seem very interested in the sport and outdoor segment. Besides the usual foreign sport brands, like Nike and Adidas, you find a great selection of sport clothes and shoes of Chinese brands, for example Li-Ning and 361°. The same holds true for outdoor clothing and accessories. Located next to a NorthFace store is often a store of the Chinese brand Toread. The quality between foreign and domestic sports and outdoor brands seem comparable, in my (subjective, non-expert) opinion.
Buying cheap clothes
Markets like the zoo market (read more about the zoo market and other markets), many small stores, as well as street markets sell clothing at bargain prices. Sometimes however you need to bargain hard to actually get the low price.
Quality and style vary, brand names are often fake, and larger sizes are not available. Some stores may not have a fitting room so you can’t always try on the clothes. But for a pair of jeans under 10 US dollars, that may be a risk worth taking.
International size charts are commonly used, so it is easy to find your size. Find as in Recognize. In international chains, actually finding the size that fits should not be a problem, even if you are not petite. However, sometimes there are not many items in larger sizes available.
Chinese and other Asian brands often do not have large sizes available. I’m not talking XXXL supersize but just an XL size, or long sizes for tall people. Even if clothing is labeled as L, it may be smaller or shorter than you expect. You really can’t rely on the size label info but need to try it on.
Where to bargain
In markets, haggling for the price is expected and often necessary. For example at the Silk Market, which is geared towards foreign tourists, prices are quite inflated. At the zoo clothing market haggling is often not possible. Even if you can negotiate, it will be not to the extend as at the Silk Market.
In stores, you can always ask if the clothing item you are interested in has a discount (zhè jiàn yīfu dǎ zhé ma? 这件衣服打折吗?). Sometimes there is room for negotiation. In bigger stores and department stores, those extra discounts are usually not available – but it never hurts to ask. You may be surprised.
Often stores may have a store sale going on or specific items marked for sale. A sign saying 打7 折 means 30% off, 8.5 折 means 15% off. Salespeople are quick to help with the math, if the discounted price is not already shown on the price tag.
Get used to salespeople following you around
In many stores the sales person will follow you around in the store, often standing right behind you. While that may feel like you are under suspicion of planning to steal something, they just want to be close by to help and to get any commission if you end up buying something.
Chinese don’t seem to be bothered by this practice, but many Westerners like a bit more personal space. You can either ignore the sales person or tell them you only want to look around but they will likely continue to follow you closely.
If you want to read more about Shopping in Beijing, check out my brand new Beijing Shopping Guide. The ebook is the ultimate guide to shopping in Beijing, with the latest insider information from foreigners living in Beijing.
Remember when you first arrived in Beijing, how exciting it was in the beginning? How the excitement then gave way to frustration, when you couldn’t communicate, or the air quality index hit 300 again? With frustration probably also came annoyance, at the pushing and shoving, the spitting, those weird Chinese habits.
You experienced culture shock.
But eventually you settled in, felt comfortable and started to enjoy life. Living in Beijing became familiar.
How does reverse culture shock happen?
Going back home, even if only for a summer vacation, may bring the same U-shape curve of culture shock, only in reverse.
You enjoy blue skies and clean air at home like never before. People, habits and food are familiar. Public toilets are clean and don’t smell. You finally blend in again, even if tall and blond, or black.
But … (and this is of course biased by my experiences – you probably have your own pet peeves when you visit your old country…)
The variety of choices quickly becomes an overwhelming abundance. How to choose between 100 different cereals, which fill an entire aisle in the supermarket? The 10 or so varieties at Jenny Lou made that job much easier. Sticker shock sets in as well. Everything seems so expensive, especially eating out and transportation.
Fat people everywhere. Life is dominated by cars (well, in the US it usually is). There’s no cheap and good public transportation, so you always have to borrow or rent a car or ask for a ride.
And then this feeling you can’t quite put your finger on. Compared to Beijing, life seems so boring. Everyone seems so settled.
At first people are curios about your strange life in a country far away but they quickly lose interest in something that’s important to you. The same way as you have missed many important things in their lives. Their lives have gone without you, and you seem to have little left in common.
It seems nothing has changed at home, except for you. And now you don’t feel like you fit in anymore.
So how do you deal with reverse culture shock?
I think it helps to keep trips back short and sweet and filled with activities. That way, time will fly and reverse culture shock has not time to hit you that hard.
Moving back entirely however is a different story. I can’t comment on that yet. But I hear from friends how hard it is to settle back into the old live, no matter if that new old life is in Paris, Frankfurt, or Connecticut.
Patience, flexibility and an open mind, the same things you had to cultivate to settle into life in Beijing, will probably pay off eventually when you move back. Be prepared to see your old country with different eyes and set out to explore it again, like a new expat.
Or you could just move on to the next exciting place …
This automated message often greets you when getting into a Beijing taxi. It was part of the 2008 Olympics preparation. Don’t expect any more English than that though.
This post first published in 2013, updated August 2016
Qu nar? – Where are you going?
To communicate with the driver, you need to be able to properly pronounce your destination (that is the Chinese name of it, not the English name) or have it written down in characters.
Tip: Everything Western has a Chinese name and is known to most Chinese only by the Chinese name. This holds true for everything that has a Western name including hotels, stores, sights, even actors (although for people it is usually phonetically very similar).
So make sure you know the Chinese name and its proper pronunciation including the right tones or have it written down in characters. Don’t expect a taxi driver or most Chinese on the street to know what you mean when you ask for the Forbidden City or the Holiday Inn. Luckily, a good phone app like TrainChinese can help.
Not every cab driver knows every area of Beijing well (remember, it’s huge!) so they may request additional directions. If you don’t know or don’t speak enough Chinese, sometimes they will call a colleague, or you can call a friend who speaks Chinese and hand the phone to the driver. So once you know your way around a bit, it really pays off to learn giving basic direction instructions in Chinese.
Official Beijing taxis
Beijing taxis sport a sign on the roof and the characteristic yellow band from bumper to bumper with the rest being blue (picture), green, or brown. The little red illuminated sign near the rear-view mirror indicates they are available for hire.
The majority of Beijing taxis are Hyundai Elantra sedans, to give you a sense for the size of the car. The trunks are rather small and sometimes half full with the cab drivers stuff.
Most drivers are mellow but by no means slow. In typical Chinese fashion they don’t get upset easily but they also like to get to your destination and to the next paying passenger quickly.
If you want to use a seat belt, which seems not required, you should sit in the front. In the backseat the very common seat covers usually obstruct the seat belts.
Finding a taxi in Beijing is not always easy. Especially on rainy days taxis are really hard to come by. To flag one down, simply stand at the side of the street or a corner, where they can pull over, and wave.
Taxis in Beijing are cheap
The base fare for the first 3 km is 13 RMB, and to 2.3 RMB for every km after that. Keep in mind that traffic gridlock can raise the fare, as every five minutes of waiting will be charged equivalent to 2 km.
From and to the airport, it will cost 100 RMB and more, depending on where in the city you go. The expressway toll is added to the bill and is paid by the customer.
Usually Beijing taxi drivers follow the law to charge by the meter. However, in some busy locations, e.g. at the side exit of the summer palace, where passengers may not have many choices, some drivers try to “negotiate” a price that is certainly higher than the metered fare. Taxis do not accept credit cards but you can pay with WeChat.
Alternatives to Beijing taxis
Uber used to be very popular with foreigners. Unfortunately, it is not available anymore after the local Chinese ride-hailing app Didi Dache acquired Uber China in 2016. Unlike Uber, the Didi app does not have an English interface. Furthermore, you need a Chinese bank card to use the app.
You can order Didi and pay through WeChat.
Beware of black cabs
In addition to the official taxis with the yellow stripe, there are many unlicensed “black taxis”. These are basically private cars where the owners try to make some extra money. Usually they are more expensive and require haggling for the price before you get in. They are not insured (although I’m not sure what difference that makes) and you won’t get a receipt, so tracking down any items forgotten in the car will be close to impossible.
The dreaded US tax season … I used to do our taxes myself, using TurboTax, IRS regulations for expats, and any other legit info I could find. And I spent hours on it.
But this year I made a change. I let experts do our taxes. I looked at a couple of the expat tax firms and their services, read reviews from users – basically I did my homework.
This is when I came across a smaller tax firm called “Online Taxman”, an online CPA firm specializing in taxes for US expats and foreign nationals working or investing in the US. They had great reviews.
The Online Taxman offered secured document transfers and all electronic communication, which seems standard in that industry. They also had a flat fee for federal tax returns, like some of the other providers. But what they offered for that flat fee seemed beyond just filling out the forms and filing the return. So I decided to give them a try.
I had the opportunity to meet the managing partner Vincenzo and one of the CPAs, Conrad, for lunch. We had a great discussion, and I felt they really understood my tax situation. I liked them and their approach. (For me taxes are something personal. After all, you share a lot of personal info with your CPA, so being comfortable with the person, even though everything can be done online, was important to me.)
How my online tax return worked
1. Prep work
After an initial (free) consultation with Conrad and Vincenzo I received an email with the invitation to collaborate on Box.com, a secure online file sharing platform, where all documents are uploaded securely.
I also received a welcome email with links to:
an onboarding document,
an initial tax preparation questionnaire, and
a notification to click when done uploading my documents, so they knew when to get started.
While their website may look a bit outdated in some areas, their onboarding document for new clients is excellent. It explains step-by-step what you need to do, complete with flowcharts and screenshots.
After accepting the Box.com collaboration, the next step is to fill out the tax questionnaire. This questionnaire covers your personal info that is needed for the tax return and also any income and expenses that are not reported on the typical tax forms like W-2 and 1099.
2. Running the numbers
After I uploaded all our info, the Online Taxman did his magic. My CPA checked in with me to clarify something and ask for missing pieces of info. They were thorough and ran two different scenarios on how we could file our taxes. One approach yielded in a lower tax payment but required more paperwork. They described everything and helped us make a decision.
Just as I had uploaded all my tax documents earlier, the Online Taxman also uploaded all the documents to the Box.com account, including a document comparing the scenarios, draft tax returns for my review, and the final tax return. I could review everything right there and download to my computer what I needed.
3. Signing, filing and paying
Signing my US expat tax return was easy. I received an email with a link for e-signing the documents. All I had to do was click on the link, select my e-signature and click “sign”. Your e-signature can be selected from your name written in a couple different fonts, or you can upload your scanned signature.
After everyone signed, I received another email with a link to the final signed tax return, which I downloaded for my own records.
Paying for the service was equally easy. Again, you receive an email with a link to a secure payment platform, where you enter your credit card information and receive an instant payment confirmation.
The verdict for filing my US expat taxes with the Online Taxman
Communication with the Online Taxman was straightforward, efficient and responsive. I had the chance to meet with my CPA in person to review a draft. Usually this meeting would have happened via Skype, because the CPAs and tax clients are usually not in the same location.
All official correspondence was via email. Documents were shared via the secure Box.com account.
We filed our tax returns just in time for the expat tax filing deadline last month. As this was the busy season for US expat taxes, I followed up with the tax guys a few times to check on the status. But that could just be my control freak nature. They worked long hours to ensure that all returns were filed before the deadline.
I was very happy with the overall process – as happy as you can be if you owe taxes. I think I know quite a bit about individual income taxes and have done our tax returns myself in the past. I found the Online Taxman very knowledgeable, responsive, and thorough. As I said, they ran two different scenarios for us rather than just going the quick and easy route. They also gave me valuable tips for the next tax year. I would definitely recommend the Online Taxman to other US expats.
For full disclosure, Vincenzo gave me a greatly reduced fee in exchange for me sharing my experience with the Online Taxman on the Beijing Expat Guide. Independent of that, I was very happy with the work and I will use his firm for my US expat taxes again next year, even if I have to pay the full fee (which at $500 for a federal return is still very affordable).
I would suggest starting the process early, as they get very busy as the tax deadlines near.
Also keep in mind the time difference. The Online Taxman has accountants all over the world but the main offices are in New York City and in Medellin, Colombia.
For China, this time difference means that you may lose half a day or more in communication because it’s night in China during most of the working day for your taxes.
Another thing to be aware of is that you need VPN to open the links for signing and downloading your tax returns in China. VPN is needed for many non-Chinese website, so this is not a tax-specific issue but I wanted to mention it here.
Are you dreading the tax season? The deadline for US expat tax returns was June 15th. If you haven’t filed yet, or want to get ahead of taxes for next year, check out the Online Taxman.
What if you have an accident at home or on the street? Or sudden chest pain?
How to call an ambulance if you don’t speak Chinese? Where do you find an emergency room where they speak English? Or where to go for urgent care?
We don’t really want to think about a medical emergency happening to us in Beijing. We all hope that we will never need an ambulance. Or an emergency room.
But we should be prepared.
How to call an ambulance in Beijing
There are two numbers you can call:
120 – Beijing Emergency Medical Center (local service)
999 – Beijing Red Cross
The Beijing Red Cross has an English-speaking service, which makes it the better number to call if you don’t speak fluent Mandarin. Ambulances are operated by the Beijing Emergency Medical Center, but are also affiliated with the Beijing Red Cross. So no matter, which number you call, you’ll likely get the same type of ambulance.
Since May 2016 ambulances are metered in Beijing, like taxis, to standardize the ambulance fees.
Another option is to call the Beijing United Family Hospital directly by calling their 24 hour emergency numbers Beijing +86 (10) 5927-7120 and speak to English speaking staff that will get an ambulance dispatched to you.
Depending on the circumstances, it may be quicker to get to a hospital by taxi than calling for an ambulance. You might want to call the emergency number of your hospital first to get medical advice on the condition. This way you can also let them know that you are coming and what the condition is.
Going to an emergency room in Beijing
There are a number of International hospitals and clinics in Beijing. While expensive, they offer a high standard of care and English speaking staff. But only hospitals have emergency rooms, while clinics provide outpatient services and may have an urgent care facility.
If the next International emergency room is too far away or you want to avoid the high cost, there are some Chinese hospitals with excellent reputation. Some have English speaking doctors on staff.
Here is a list of hospitals you can consider. Of course this list is not complete and no endorsement of any specific hospital. Also, please double-check any addresses and phone numbers, as I can’t guarantee that the info given below is always correct.
Beijing United Family Hospital
Address: 2 Jiang Tai Lu, Chaoyang District, Beijing, 100016
Tel: +86 010-6433-2345 (24-hour Emergency Hotline)
Biggest international hospital in Beijing. The main hospital with an emergency room and urgent care facilities is located in the Lido area.
Peking Union Medical College Hospital, International Medical Services
53 Dong Dan North Road, Dong Cheng District, Beijing 100730
Tel: +86 010-65294088, 010-65295283/4 (At Night)
Large general practice hospital with a clinic for foreigners, with some of the country’s most advanced facilities on-par with international standards, located in Wangfujing.
China-Japan Friendship Hospital International Medical Center
Address: 2 Yinghua East Street, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100029
Tel: +86 010-64223209
This was the primary hospital to serve athletes, coaches and other officials during the 2008 Olympics.
Peking University Third Hospital Address: 49 Huayuan N Rd, Haidian, Beijing
Tel: +86 10 8226 6699
Modern, first-class hospital with 22 clinical departments and 945 beds, known for gynecology and obstetrics, sport’s medicine, cardiovascular and orthopedic departments, and reconstructive surgery.
In Chinese hospitals and emergency rooms you usually have to pay first before receiving any tests or treatment. In International hospitals you pay when you are checking out.
If you need to see a doctor for an urgent medical issue that doesn’t warrant a trip to the emergency room, consider urgent care.
Raffles Medical, formerly known as International SOS Address: Suite 105, Wing 1, Kunsha Building,16 Xinyuanli, Chaoyang District
Tel: +86 (0)10 6462 9112
Open 7 days a week, currently from 8.00am to 8.00pm. They can stabilize a patient and perform minor procedures.
Find out what the best hospitals are close to where you live and work. Ask other expats, neighbors or co-workers. This may be a different hospital to where you go for routine care. If time is of the essence you do not want to be stuck in traffic but get to the nearest qualified hospital possible.
Always have the phone numbers and addresses for hospitals handy, for example saved in your phone. Make sure to have the name and address of the hospital written in Chinese characters available for the taxi driver.
Have the number of at least one Chinese speaking friend available, in case you have to go to a Chinese hospital without an English speaking doctor.
Knowing CPR and first aid is always a good idea. Take a class at an international clinic or hospital.
Let’s all hope we will never have a medical emergency in Beijing – or anywhere. But we should be prepared! Please add your experiences and tips in the comments and share this post with others.
Going out in a new city and making new friends can be a bit daunting. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
There are expat events in Beijing that make meeting people easy and fun. I actually met one of my best friends in Beijing at an InterNations event.
InterNations is the largest expat network worldwide with a big and very active community in Beijing.
They have four (!) regular events every month, as well as different activity groups. InterNations events are a great way for new Beijing expats to meet people and to check out different venues in Beijing.
InterNations, or more specifically my friend Gundula, organizes not only one but two monthly events that are perfect for newcomers:
Beijing Newcomers Event
The Beijing Newcomers Event is a monthly get-together at changing venues. Gundula manages to get the best venues for the events, so besides meeting new people you can also check out cool new places.
The Newcomers Event is meant for conversation and the music is kept at a lower volume. This makes for a relaxed atmosphere, where people are very open to meeting and mingling with other members and newcomers.
It usually attracts between 30 and 40 people. Not all of them are new Beijing expats. Because the event is so good, many people keep coming even after they are already settled.
Unlike other InterNations events, there is no cover charge for the Newcomers Event. It is pay-as-you-go, usually with special discounts on specific drinks.
The Mid-Week Mixer is a rather new monthly event, also at changing venues. As the name says, it takes place during the week, usually on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, starting at 7pm.
The purpose is after-work networking with other expats. So again, Gundula keeps the music at a comfortable volume to make conversations easier.
This event usually attracts 50-70 attendees, including many folks who prefer not to go out much on the weekend.
The Mid Week Mixer is a ticketed event, like most InterNations events. You have to sign up online to get the member pricing and then pay at the door. It includes a free drink and discounts on other beverages.
The events Gundula organizes are extremely well done. Nice venues, excellent directions to get there – both in English and Chinese, super welcoming host, relaxed atmosphere with the focus on mingling, conversation and meeting people.
The Newcomer events are open for everyone, but you have to sign up for the events. To sign up, you have to be an InterNations member. You can select a free membership, which gives you access to all the official events, usually for a small cover charge. They also have a premium membership. As a premium member you pay reduced cover charges and can join activity groups.
PS: The links here are affiliate links, so if you sign up I may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. I would not recommend InterNations if I were not convinced that it is worthwhile for new Beijing expats. I attended InterNations events in 5 cities abroad and always met interesting new people.