Foreigners who have lived in or visited Beijing and Taipei compare life in the two metropolises

By He Keyao Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/25 16:13:39

Some expats vote for Beijing over Taipei for its richer culture, better career development and brighter future prospect. Photo: IC


A recent release of salary levels in different cities across China has unwittingly pitted Beijing against Taipei. According to the latest statistics on, one of the biggest job-hunting platforms on the Chinese mainland, the average salary in Beijing stood at 9,900 yuan ($1,502) in the third quarter of this year, surpassing that of Taipei.

The figures were then quoted by Taiwan's mainstream media United Daily News, which criticized that the island is consistently stagnant compared with the fast growth on the mainland. The report also spurred heated discussions online with some Net users questioning whether Taipei, once one of the "four Asian tigers," has lost its glory and been overtaken by Beijing.

What about the two cities attract expats in the context of changes and development in the new era? Metropolitan spoke to foreigners from different industries and countries that are familiar with Beijing and Taipei to explore the answers.

Other expats prefer Taipei over Beijing for its better natural environment, lower living expenses and more relaxing lifestyle. Photo: IC


Other expats prefer Taipei over Beijing for its better natural environment, lower living expenses and more relaxing lifestyle. Photo: IC

Quality of life: Taipei in the lead

In terms of quality of life and living conditions, expats show more interest in settling down in Taipei, and the main reasons lie in its natural environment, relaxed lifestyle and lower cost of living.

Jeff, from Switzerland, works in the Internet industry:

I went to Taipei in 2015 and was really impressed with the city's close connection to nature. For example, if I was in Taipei 101 Building, it would only take me around 10 minutes to get to the forest. But in Beijing, it takes hours to drive out of the city to embrace nature in the suburbs. Though there are many parks in Beijing, it feels different from a natural outdoor environment. In Taipei, there are large areas in the city center set aside for nature, whereas in Beijing, the central areas are filled with buildings.

Also, though people in both places are very friendly to foreigners, people in Taipei seem to have a higher level of English in general, and the transportation in the city is a bit better. However, I like life in Beijing more because there is a higher diversity of food in Beijing. I can go out and find restaurants with food from all over China and other regions and countries around the world.

René, from Germany, auto industry:

What attracted me in Taipei is the lifestyle. Compared with Beijing, expats might feel more at home in Taipei because the internationalization of the city is higher. The variety of Western brands in Taipei is higher though there are also many international brands in Beijing as well. The way that people offer service to customers, say in a restaurant, is more like in the US, and the quality of the service is better. Also, from a geographic perspective, the city is near the seaside and closer to nature, which reminds me of Germany. Living in Taipei feels more relaxing, whereas life in Beijing is busier.

However, Beijing is more cultural and historical compared with Taipei. The buildings and architecture are more Chinese, and the environment has improved quickly over the years. For example, this winter I saw blue skies in Beijing almost every day, even without the wind blowing.

Greg, from Canada, lawyer:

Both cities are good, but Beijing is more for work and Taipei for living. The living expenses in Beijing are high, and the environment is a bit polluted. Life in Taipei is much easier. The cost of living is much lower than that of Beijing in every aspect. For example, it only cost me 50-100 yuan for a dental checkup, yet the same service would cost at least 400 to 500 yuan in Beijing. My monthly living expenses in Beijing are double or even triple compared to my expenses in Taipei. It's also easier to get a car in Taipei since you don't need to queue for a plate number like you do in Beijing. However, life in Beijing is more convenient with e-commerce and digital services, and I often make purchase on and call taxis on DiDi, which I cannot do in Taipei. The food in Beijing is also good, and I like Lanzhou stretched noodles and Xinjiang dishes. But overall, I vote for Taipei in terms of quality of life when comparing the two cities.

Jirawat, from Thailand, a scholar:

I would score an eight out of 10 for Taipei for its quality of life. The city is more organized and clean than Beijing and people have more patience. In Beijing, life is busy, and the environment is polluted, but I have a lot of fun with my local friends, and I like to eat Sichuan food in Beijing.

Johanna, from Sweden, marketing and tourism industry:

I lived in Beijing for six years and really enjoyed my stay there. Cultural life in Beijing is very good, and I often went to shows and concerts with my Chinese friends. Making friends in China is easier than in Sweden, and my friends in Beijing are open and welcoming. They were one of the main reasons I stayed in the city for so many years. The shops and restaurants are open late, and the taxis are very cheap, so I could take one to get home after I had fun with my friends late at night. However, I could not think of having a family in Beijing due to the high living costs and pollution, and that's why I left for Taipei. The environment and food safety in Taipei are better, and the city is more welcoming to foreigners. It's easier to get a residence permit, and expats can have the same medical insurance as locals. In Taipei, you have a more balanced, healthy and green life. Another plus of living in Taipei is that its location is more convenient for traveling than Beijing.

Career development: Beijing a better choice

However, Beijing ranks much higher than Taipei when it comes to business opportunities and career development for expats. With higher salary, bigger market and brighter prospects, more expats will choose Beijing over Taipei.

Jeff: In terms of business opportunities and career development, I would say Beijing is definitely a better choice than Taipei. I had six foreign friends who studied Chinese language in Taipei, and all of them left for Beijing for work after their studies. Beijing is developing very quickly, and it has a more promising future. However, the situations differ for different sectors. For the traditional industries, Taipei has an established ground with big companies. However, for new industries, such as Internet and innovation, Beijing has the advantage with faster development and a bigger market.

René: If I can only pick one word to describe what impresses me most about Beijing, I would say change. Changes are happening all the time in the city, and the big market is attracting many investors and companies from different countries. The city is also getting more digitalized with innovations like Alipay and WeChat payments. So, in terms of technology and innovation, Beijing overtakes Taipei. Taipei was once more developed than Beijing, but things have changed now. So, for career development and work, I choose Beijing.

Greg: For work, I will vote for Beijing for sure. As an expat, there are a lot less job opportunities in Taipei. Teaching English is the main way out for foreigners in Taiwan, and the city cannot be ranked as first-tier in terms of its development. Salary in Beijing is much higher than that in Taipei. For example, when I worked for law firms in Taipei, I got a local salary, whereas in Beijing I got an international salary. There are much more business cases in Beijing, and the economic growth is still strong even after its soft-landing. I think the boom of Taiwan in the 1970s and 1980s is over, and there is less new investment there.

Jirawat: From my perspective, Beijing is a better place to do academic research. I am studying quantum physics, and the Chinese government has created a solid foundation for doing studies in my field. The amount of money that China has put into it is comparable with the whole Europe.

Johanna: Beijing has more opportunities for foreigners while it's hard to find a good job in Taipei. E-commerce in Taipei is less developed than Beijing, and salaries are lower compared with Beijing in my industry. Young people in their 20s and 30s speak better English than locals in Taipei. But for the workplace, expats do have glass ceilings in China, and it's harder for foreigners to be promoted after a certain level.

Overall attractiveness: Beijing the winner

For overall attractiveness, Beijing scored higher with more expats choosing the capital over Taipei.

Jeff: I will vote for Beijing for a brighter future and more exciting development.

René: I would score eight out of 10 for Taipei and five for Beijing for their living conditions. But for work, my score is the opposite. Beijing is undergoing so many great changes, and I want to be part of it.

Greg: For my work, I will choose cities like Beijing and Shanghai, the first-tier cities, and if Beijing can thoroughly solve its pollution problems, I would give it nine out of 10.

Jirawat: I would probably choose Beijing over Taipei for my studies.

Johanna: I have to say that the two cities are not comparable, and it all depends on what you value. Beijing is massive, and  like four cites in one, and the population of the city is nearly the entire population of Taiwan island. If I were in my 20s, I would choose Beijing because it's more fun and exciting. But now that I have turned 30, I consider quality of life more, so Taipei may suit my needs better.

Newspaper headline: A battle of two cities


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