Beijing: Officially Expensive with the World’s Worst Traffic

At first glance, life in Beijing seems pretty cheap – four mao for a bus ride? Three kuai for a bottle of Qingdao? However, Shanghai Daily reports a new study has found that next to many world metropolises, Beijing is actually getting pretty pricey. Even more depressingly, Beijing recently scored the world’s highest rating on the “Commuter Pain Index,” proving that the number of cars is going up even faster than the cost of living.

The Mercer Cost of Living Survey ranked Beijing as the world’s 16th most expensive city for expatriates, out of a list of 124 metropolises. China’s capital was ranked above Shanghai (25th), Guangzhou (38th) and Shenzhen (42nd). The survey factored in “the comparative cost of over 200 items in each location, including housing, transport, food, clothing, household goods and entertainment.” Scores were adjusted using New York City as a reference point, adjusting local currencies relative to the US dollar.

The Shanghai Daily piece notes that the world’s developing cities are actually far more expensive for foreigners than developed cities. At the top of the list is Luanda, the capital of Angola.

But is Beijing really almost as expensive for expatriates as maintaining safe housing and a security escort in poverty-stricken Angola? It probably depends what kind of expat you’re talking about.

If you own a car (and therefore probably also have a driver) and commute into the CBD from a stand-alone house with yard, then you are probably going to pay more for your lifestyle than you might in some more developed cities. Additionally, if you have to pay for your children’s education, plus cover medical insurance for your family, then you’re looking at a pretty high cost of living in Beijing.

Alternatively, if you’re single, live in a local apartment, mainly dine in Chinese eateries and cycle everywhere, then China’s capital is probably a pretty cheap option.

Less debatable is the fact that Beijing’s traffic is really, really bad. And now we have scientific proof – Beijing, along with Mexico City, scored 99 out of 100 on IBM's amusingly titled “Commuter Pain Index,” making local traffic more painful than that in Johannesburg, Moscow and New Delhi. The Global Times article on the study said “Beijing was nearly five times worse than Los Angeles, [which has] the worst traffic of all US cities, scoring 25.”

The study comes on the heels of a Chinese report in early June that found Beijing has the longest commute times in all China, with locals spending an average of 52 minutes reaching their place of work every day.

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