After arriving in Beijing, your first emails home may be all about one thing – how cheap the city is. Record inflation and perhaps a little Olympic gouging haven’t managed to change the city’s phenomenal affordability, not yet at least.
Beijing is still an excellent and affordable city for expats on any budget. Dining out at an average Chinese restaurant usually costs ¥15-20 per person, while dinner at a more upmarket international eatery may run up to ¥200 per person. Local beers are ¥2 in the store and ¥20 in the bar, and ¥60 will usually cover the longest intracity taxi ride, with fall-flag at ¥10 and ¥2 per kilometer beyond. It’s possible to eat comfortably for a week on ¥100 worth of groceries, though import-focused specialty supermarkets like Ole and Jenny Lou’s give less thrifty expats the opportunity to sate their legendary love of cheese (100g wedge of Roquefort: ¥70). Street vendors are the place for produce that is cheaper and fresher than at the supermarket, with eggs at roughly ¥5 per dozen and apples around ¥3 per jin, the imperial unit equaling 600g.
For most newcomers, it takes about a month to wrap their heads around the relative purchasing power of the RMB, a fact that some unscrupulous merchants are happy to take advantage of. Ask a friend when negotiating a purchase, even if it seems cheap when converted to dollars or euros. For people staying long term, and maybe even getting their paychecks in RMB, it’s best to shake the urge to convert as soon as possible, and learn to gripe with your Chinese colleagues about the rising cost of living.