Living in Beijing

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Where to stay

If you are a visitor to iTcs, then iTcs will provide you with accommodation either in an apartment on campus, or in the Wenjin hotel which is a 1 minute walk from campus.

If you are coming to iTcs as a postdoc, then iTcs will also arrange an apartment for you on campus. It is up to you whether you stay there for the rest of your time at iTcs, or whether you choose to find an apartment off campus.

Moving in Beijing

You can get moving boxes from the post office. If you need to move a reasonable amount of stuff, you can get a local mover to help you. Prices start at about 150-200 RMB which gives you a small truck, and 2-3 guys who will do all the carrying work for you. If the place you are moving from has guards, make sure you check in advance what kind of paperwork you need in order to move a truck out of the community.

Registration with the local police

See residence registration

Moving abroad


Food and Restaurants

See the Food and Restaurants section in Information for Visitors.



The staff at iTcs can help you get insurance in China. If you want to get more extensive coverage, there are several companies offering expat insurance that you can find online. These offer you choice of doctors and countries in which to receive treatment (although the U.S. is often excluded, or the price will double). One company that offer such insurance is InterGlobal although none of us have any experience yet with their claims department (fortunately!)

One possible insurance solution for US citizens is the Global Citizen plans from HTH Worldwide. This plan provides coverage in the US as well, just with higher deductible. I am currently looking into this plan and will provide more info if I sign up.

Hospitals & Doctors

Beijing Family United Hospital is an (expensive) hospital (which also has dental care) in the north east of Beijing, near Lido Holiday Inn. In 2010 a consult was about USD 60, a dental checkup and cleaning something similar.

Fresh air

The air quality in Beijing is measured by the Chinese government, as well as by a sensor at the American embassy. These measurements differ because the official Chinese number is an average over multiple locations, and, right now (2010), the Chinese number does not take into account all particles sizes.

Weekend trips around Beijing are great for getting some fresh air. See the Driving section for how to get out of Beijing on your own, and see Day trips and weekend excursions for where to go.


There are several gyms close to the university, see google maps. The closest ones are Nirvana (青鸟) on the second floor of Dongsheng plaza, and a gym located in the basement of a building on Chengfu lu, between the east gate and the Wenjin Hotel. A gym that is quite cheap is Hosa gym on the 4th ring road.

Depending on your Chinese skills, the price you get quoted may vary a lot. So shop around and bargain hard. I am not sure what the right price should be, I believe at Hosa you should be able to get a longer term membership at about 100-200 yuan/month and at Nirvana for about 200-300/month.

At the Beijinger people often sell their memberships and you can get very good deals. Note that some memberships are only valid in one location and others are valid around Beijing. There is usually a 300 yuan fee to transfer the membership, so check whether you or the seller will be paying for that.


Getting a Chinese driver's license

If you have a foreign driver's license, you can get a Chinese license by just taking a theory exam. You can take the test in English, and need to answer 90 out of 100 questions correctly. The company that translated (FESCO) the questions also publishes a book with all the possible questions of the exam. The test can be quite funny sometimes. Although the whole procedure of getting the license is pretty simple, figuring out what exactly should be done can be very tricky. We'd recommend using BeijingEasy; it costs a bit of money but saves a whole lot of hassle. If you insist on trying to do things yourself, here is a (probably out of date) description of how to get a Chinese Driver License with a valid foreign license.

Renting a car

Once you have a license, you can rent a car for about 300 yuan per day. You also need to leave a cash deposit, the amount of which seemingly depends on how much money you have in your wallet (?!?!) The rental company may want to keep your deposit for 2 weeks in case you got any speeding tickets. To rent a car, you (may or may not) need to bring:

  • Passport
  • Chinese driver's license
  • Foreign expert certificate
  • Tsinghua employee ID card
  • between 1500 and 5000 RMB for the deposit.

Getting a driver

If you don't have a Chinese driver's license, it is easy to get a car with driver. You tell the driver your plans for the day/weekend and agree on a price (this includes gas, tolls etc.) You can get the name of dependable drivers from Yuying or one of the postdocs. It should cost about 400-600 RMB for a day, depending on how far you want to go. If you live in a building with many foreigners, there may be unmarked cars waiting in front of your building that you can hire for the day. We don't recommend using these -- use a marked taxi for short drives and get a known driver for longer trips.

Learning Chinese

It is quite possible to survive without speaking Chinese: you'd be surprised how much you can communicate by just using your hands. But if you do want to learn Chinese, here are some tips.

Schools and teachers

There are several Chinese language schools near iTcs. The most basic schools offer courses which take place Monday-Friday for 1.5 hours each day at 30 yuan per day. You have to show up every day (or forfeit your 30 yuan and fall behind). The teachers in these schools are not necessarily experienced and may not be tuned in to your difficulties in learning Chinese. But if you're lucky, you can find a decent class and it is very cheap! One of the best among these schools is Diqiucun School. They can also arrange a private teacher for you (in which case you can set your own schedule) but this is more expensive (120 RMB for 90 minutes) and it may be better to contact a teacher directly (see below).

Alternatively, you can pay a bit more and try That's Mandarin or 1on1 Mandarin which judging by their prices consider themselves to be a lot better.

Finally, you can also use the Classifieds at Cityweekend or The Beijinger to find a tutor or language exchange partner.

Chinese on your cell phone

If you have a mobile phone that runs Windows Mobile, you may note that some SMS messages consist almost entirely of rectangles in China. This is because you don't have installed a Chinese font yet. Here are some options for a Chinese font, a Chinese keyboard (if you have a touch screen) and/or a Chinese dictionary.

A free solution for getting a Chinese font is

A free solution for a keyboard is a4.

If you prefer to pay for a font and Chinese input, you could use CE-Star. (I have no experience with this software, and actually found that lots of people complain about it and prefer the free option.)

Finally, Pleco is a quite good dictionary with lots of features (aimed at people who are trying to learn Chinese) for about $100.

Where to buy


Cheap clothing is not hard to find. Near Tsinghua University, Wudaokou Clothing Market, has extremely cheap clothing. For something a bit more durable, you can try U-Center, which is next to the Wudaokou station. Expensive clothing is also not hard to find. All major clothing brands have stores in Beijing (for example in Wangfujing, Sanlitun, Zhongguancun) but prices tend to be higher than in the U.S. and Europe.


You can buy bicycles in a wide range of prices. Finding a secondhand bicycle seems hard. Cheap bikes (starting around 200-300 RMB) can be found at supermarkets (among others Lotus Supermarket, Carrefour, Walmart) and at local bike shops.

The brand "Giant" is a little more expensive (and their bikes also feel a bit more robust). There are multiple "Giant" stores in Beijing. One close to Tsinghua campus is on Xueyuan Lu, a large one is located on Jiaodaokou East Street (walk east for 5-10 minutes from Beixinqiao station). Giant also sells larger size bikes (which may only be available in the larger stores), this model is called Khan.

Bicycles may also be rented by day, week or month (where the monthly rate is lower than the weekly rate for some unknown reason) right next to FIT building. Apparently much cheaper bikes can be rented from just outside the east gate for just 1 yuan a day. Ask iTcs staff for details.

Spices/ingredients for non-Chinese food

Moving boxes

The post office sells 2 different sizes of good quality cardboard boxes for around 10 RMB each.

Useful web sites

Where to get various services

Getting a Cell Phone

Getting a Bank Account

Tsinghua will setup a bank account for you, but it may take a month or two. Other local banks like Citic Bank can also provide you with a bank account, if you bring your passport.

Getting Money from ATM's

If you walk south from the FIT (ITCS) building, you'll get to the Dongsheng Plaza. There are ATM's located on the first floor of the Dongsheng Plaza, but I don't know what the exchange rate/fees are. There is also an ATM machine located in the Citic Bank office, which on the road between the FIT building and Dongsheng Plaza, although I don't know what the fees are there as well. (The Dongsheng Plaza also sells lots of low quality miscellaneous items, like flip flops, cups, etc., and grocery store food).

Changing USD to RMB

The post-docs at the ITCS are very willing to exchange their RMB for US dollars or other currencies. Ask around and you should be able to find someone that will be willing to exchange other currencies, like US dollars, for RMB. This way you can avoid any outside commissions/fees, which are normally charged for exchanging money.

Getting a phone card to call outside China

I believe they sell phone cards at the small booth next to the Wenjing Hotel, which sells magazines. The people selling stuff there may only speak Chinese, though, so it may be difficult to ask them for phone cards using English. Also, I am not sure how good the rate is.

Visa issues

Getting a visa

If you come to iTcs for a longer period of time, Ying Fan will help you get all the paperwork together to apply for a Z-visa. Once you have the necessary papers, you can go to the Chinese consulate to apply. It may be a good idea to call them before you go because different consuls seem to interpret the regulations differently. For example, in the U.S. you do not need to get a medical check before getting the visa (you do need to get one once you arrive in China) but in the Netherlands, you do.

You'll receive a single entry visa which states the date by which you have to enter China. Once you get here, you need to apply for a foreign expert certificate and a residence permit. This should be completed within 30 days and Ying Fan will help you complete all the formalities. It is probably hard to leave China and come back again during this period, but once you have the residence permit you can leave and enter the country as many times as you wish.

Residence registration

If you live or stay in China, you need to register with the local police within 24 hours. If you stay in a hotel or on campus, this is taken care of automatically when you check in. If you move off-campus, you need to go to the police office with your landlord. The procedure is very simple and takes just a few minutes; you need to bring your passport, contract, landlord's ID and owner's papers. Make sure you keep the little receipt you get, because police officers may come and knock on your door to check if you registered.


Traveling to conferences

See Traveling and Receiving Visitors.

Traveling in China

For information on Day trips, weekend excursions, flights and trains see Traveling in China.

Useful resources

  • The Insider's Guide is "crammed with practical advice on everything from housing and health to transport, work and education. It digs deep into Beijing’s vibrant arts and culture scene, and is simply unmatched in its coverage of nightlife and music."

The closest place to Tsinghua to buy it is 02Sun bookstore (on the southwest corner of the intersection in front of Wudaokou station; there is another branch inside the U-Center).