Single journeys cost 3-8RMB, depending on distance. If you're planning to make several journeys by subway, it's worth getting a refillable IC transport card for a refundable 20RMB deposit. You can also use the card on Beijing’s inner-city buses. You can get an IC card at all stations – no ID required. Trains start at 5am and end around 11pm, though they’re much less frequent after 9pm.
Fares start at 13RMB for the first three kilometres in the day and 14RMB after 10pm. After that the meter charges 2.2RMB per km. Journeys over 3km also incur a fuel surcharge of 1-3RMB depending on petrol prices – this won’t show up on your meter. Look for the driver’s ID that’s on the dashboard of all official Beijing taxis. Get in the habit of asking for a receipt (fāpiào; 发票) after every journey. If you leave something in the cab, you can use it to identify the driver.
There are over 948 bus routes across the city and most journeys are only 1RMB (0.4RMB with an IC card). They’re nowhere near as easy to use as the subway system, however. Unless your Chinese is good enough, or you have an unbridled sense of adventure, give them a miss.
Beijing: it’s off the map!
When naming streets, many English-language maps – including Apple’s – use English, not Chinese, for compass points and types of road (street, alley and so on). Most of Beijing’s signs do not – Apple’s ‘Gulou East Street’ versus Beijing’s ‘Gulou Dong Dajie’ for example. Fortunately for you, we’ve made a handy key. As for the hutongs… well, everyone just calls them hutongs!
北 Běi – North
南 Nán – South
东 Dōng – East
西 Xī – West
巷 Xiàng – Alley
街/大街 Jiē/Dàjiē – Street
内大街 Nèi Dàjiē – Inner Street
外大街 Wài Dàjiē – Outer Street
路 Lù – Road
大道 Dàdào – Avenue
Like anywhere else, the majority of people in Beijing are lovely. A small few are arseholes. Watch out for the following scams.
Unless you have the Chinese language chops to argue over price, best stay away from rickshaws, all of which are unofficial and unlicensed. The drivers’ favourite trick is to reach the end and add a zero to the agreed-upon price at the end of the journey: ‘I didn’t say 20RMB, I said 200RMB!’ Another classic is to say that the agreed-upon price was actually per person. Unless you want the headache, best avoid altogether.
You’re in a tourist-friendly area and a spritely young student approaches you to ask if you’d like to chat so they can improve their English. Invariably they’ll suggest you go to a teahouse so you can continue your engaging discourse – a teahouse with which they have an agreement to stiff tourists. You’ll be left with a ridiculously inflated bill and your new friend will be nowhere to be seen. If you do want to have a language exchange with a stranger on the street, you’d best pick the venue.
As with anywhere in the world, keep an eye out for counterfeit money. The 100RMB note is the largest denomination and also the most frequently faked. You can spot a genuine note by the distinct watermark of Mao’s portrait above the note’s serial number on the left.
The following nuggets of advice will help make your time here as hassle-free as possible. Trust us, we’ve lived here for long enough!
Most small stores still weigh produce by the jīn (斤), a traditional Chinese unit of weight. One jīn roughly equals 500g (1.1lbs).
Most locals and expats don’t say yuan or renminbi when talking casually about money. Instead you’ll hear ‘kuài’ – a term that technically translates as ‘piece’ but is basically the Chinese version of ‘bucks’ or ‘quid’.
Unless you literally never watch the news, you may have heard that Beijing has a little pollution problem. Monitor the daily air quality index (AQI) for Beijing and every other major Chinese city with the inventively named ‘China Air Pollution Index’ app – free from the Apple app store.
Of the many Chinese dictionary apps available, Pleco gets our vote for its clear layout and ease of use. Best of all, it's completely free and its database of words is more than big enough to get by. And, unlike Google Translate, it’s available offline. Perfect if you don’t want to rack up data roaming charges. Available for iPhone and Android.
There are a few political hot potatoes in China. A good rule of thumb to avoid offending people is to not discuss the ‘three Ts’: Tibet, Taiwan and Troubles of the 1960s.
Have a destination in mind but no idea how to get there or direct a taxi? Text address system Guanxi is at hand. Drop it a text (1066 9588 2929) with the name of the business or location and it’ll text back the address and contact number, in English. If you want the Chinese characters to show to a taxi driver, text back ‘C’. It costs 0.15RMB per text; domestic phone networks only.
Speaking of which, if you’re staying in here for a couple of weeks, getting a local Sim card will save you a bunch if you’re calling local numbers. Go to any China Mobile (Zhōngguó Yídòng; 中国移 动) or China Unicom (Zhōngguó Liántōng; 中国联通) store to pick up a Sim card (shǒujī kǎ; 手机卡) cheaply – usually around 50RMB, including some phone credit. Be sure to specify if you want a Sim card that can call and text international, as well as domestic, numbers – ask for a guójì shǒujī kǎ (可以打到国外的手机卡). You can buy phone credit (jiaō huàfēi; 交话费) at most convenience stores and newspaper stands – call the number on the card and follow the instructions, in English, to top up your phone.
Hotels and hostels automatically log travellers’ details with the local police bureau. If you’re staying with friends or using sites such as Couchsurfing or Airbnb, however, you need to register at your local police station. Ask your host where that is. Just flash the police your passport and a copy of the apartment’s lease and you’ll be out of there with the official piece of paper within minutes.