Posted by: thelocaldialect | July 12, 2009

Sticker Shock

Beijing is expensive. It is not as expensive as say, New York or London (although if you wanted to, you could certainly make it so), but it is definitely more expensive than second tier Chinese cities like Kunming, and probably rivals smaller American towns for certain expenses.

The expense doesn’t bother me most of the time, afterall, my salary is higher here, and although I spend more due to the fact that certain things — like English language books — are more available, I do save more than I did in Kunming. However, the prices of some things occasionally manage to surprise me — like when we spent 500RMB taking my mom and dad out for Mexican food, or how getting my son immunizations routinely costs about 200RMB (and immunizations are FREE for Chinese kids!). However, the cake was not just taken but snatched straight from my hands when I went to the OBGYN yesterday.

I suppose it serves me right for choosing a private hospital for baby #2, on the recommendation of some other online moms. Beijing has a plethora of hospital options and I’d already ruled out expat staples like Beijing United Family Hospital and Peking Union as too expensive. Beijing United lists their price for the birth alone as 50,000RMB, but they’re an international hospital with foreign doctors and most, if not all of their patients are using overseas insurance policie provided by their cushy expat packages. That kind of hospital is clearly out of my budget, but I chose a good private Chinese hospital, one that offered water births and was open to allowing my husband in the room. It seemed like a good compromise. I’d been twice already before yesterday’s appointment, and each time had set me back a couple hundred RMB. Expensive, compared to Kunming, where my routine checkups would run about 20RMB apiece, but not unheard of.

But then yesterday I showed up, on an empty stomach because I’d been told I needed to do some sort of blood test requiring no food be in my body, where they’d screen for all sorts of diseases. I obligingly sent my husband off to pay while I had my blood pressure taken. He comes back about 5 minutes later and says he doesn’t have enough money. That can’t be right, I think. We’ve just hit the bank, we have at least 1000RMB on us. The test costs more than 1000RMB? Indeed it does, 1200RMB to be exact, for a blood test.

To put things into perspective, in Kunming it cost 1300RMB to give birth to my son, and that included a private room and this “kit” the hospital makes all parents buy that includes a baby blanket and pillow and some other stuff. I think my husband half expected me to insist on going through with the test, so I could see his relief when I just told the doctors straight out no, no way could we afford to spend 1200RMB on a blood test. That it was ridiculous, no way was I going to pay the same amount on one blood test that I spent having a child. The doctors tried to convince me that every hospital in Beijing was like this. That’s just the difference between Beijing and Kunming, they said. Well, I said to my husband, if that’s the case I guess we’ll have no choice but to go back to Kunming to have our second!

I would have expected something like this from an international hospital catering to expats or overseas returnees. That’s why I didn’t choose such a hospital. This was a Chinese hospital, no foreign doctors, hell, no English speaking Chinese doctors even — although they seemed to have treated some foreigners before, it was clearly aimed at a Chinese market. Anyhow, I guess no fancy hospital with waterbirths for me, it’ll have to be a full on Chinese hospital again for #2, because we just can’t afford those sorts of prices. 1300RMB for a blood test is scary, not because I can’t afford it, but because it means the cost of the birth (which you never know exactly ahead of time, but with some digging you can usually get a ballpark figure), which they had estimated at about 10,000RMB, would probably end up being more like 20-30,000 given the hidden costs, etc. So tomorrow we’re going to check out some Beijing maternity hospitals which, according to Chinese people on the internet, are more in line with what we spent in Kunming and have good reputations just the same. Wish me luck!

In other, related news, we purchased tickets to Kunming for July 16th, and will stay in Yunnan until August 1st or so. We had originally planned on Thailand, but that plan was stopped by red-tape involving my son’s passport, then we planned on Xinjiang, but we all know what happened there … so Yunnan it is. My husband has never visited Lugu Lake so that’s the plan, after a short visit with in-laws and friends in and around Kunming. I got myself a new camera, bit the bullet and got a used DSLR, so I’m looking forward to taking it on a real test drive somewhere with nice scenery (and really bummed that place won’t be Xinjiang, but oh well). I’ll be sure to post pictures when I return!


  1. Here too, I was just reading Forbes and hear that Tokyo, second Osaka are two of the most expensive cities in the world.

    My mother once asked me so what do you do if you have a family here– my reply was marry rich and make more money. (that is half joking of course) but it is just that EXPENSIVE, in one month I’ve paid over $400 in toll, makes visiting friends expensive right?

    I am surprised to hear how expensive Beijing is though.

    I’m not sure about the situation in China in terms of health care but would your provisions cover these?

  2. Wow that would be a shock.. for us not in the know what is that the equivilent to in dollars? The birth at my clinic should come to between $4000- $4500 total maybe a bit more depending on how long I have a private room for – which is about an extra $50 a night..

    However since the population in Japan is shrinking MOST of the costs should be returned via health insurance/social insurance program. Which means def. cheaper to have a baby in Japan than back at home despite all the crap crap crap I had to put up with.

    Thats so disappointing you’ll have to find another place – I was so interested to hear how your water birth experience would go. Please keep us updated on the situation…

    BTW – will you be “finding out” soon about the sex of the baby?? I know you go told last time – I wonder if your Beijing birthing center will be willing to tell you?

  3. April — I’ve actually never needed health insurance here before. It seems nuts, but healthcare is generally really affordable here. and most Chinese people don’t have any unless they work for the government. Like I mentioned, giving birth to my son cost about 1200RMB, which is really nothing, around $200. If I wanted to get insurance I’d have to get private coverage, which we’re looking into now that we’re living in big expensive Beijing. Beijing is very expensive for a Chinese city — basically it can be as expensive as you make it. I know some expats who rent places for 30,000RMB a month, which is way more than what I would pay for rent in the States, 30,000RMB being close to $4500. They also pay about 150,000RMB a year for international school, which is more than most private schools back home cost. Cars are also expensive, since there is practically no used car market here, it is all new, and gas costs are high, not to mention you have to pay for a parking space, which can be like renting another small apartment. So Beijing CAN be very expensive, especially if you are a foreign used to a certain lifestyle.

    Sarah — I love that Japan has all those incentives and actually pays money for you to have kids. China does the opposite, lol. People who don’t have kids, or couples in the countryside who are entitled to have more than one kid, but choose to have only one, get financial incentives.

    If I go with a normal Chinese hospital it should be only a couple hundred dollars. You have to keep in mind, even in Beijing the “average” Chinese person still only makes about $500 a month, and that’s being being pretty generous. So you can imagine births costing $4000 – $5000 dollars (what the birth probably would have cost, all out of pocket for us, at the water birth place) are targetted towards a distinctly above average set of the Chinese population. When I was living in Kunming I was making just about, for the exchange rate at the time, $1000 USD a month (which was an excellent salary in Kunming, way above average), so having the birth cost about $200 USD did not really put a huge dent in our finances. I make more than that in Beijing, but not so much more that I could afford the birth costs to increase x20. 😦

  4. Whoa… the only time I paid near that much was in Tokyo…. but you hit the nail on the proverbial head.

    “esp if you are used to a certain lifestyle” (sometimes typical of back home), they you get it in the rear eh?


  5. WOW! While the price is similar to what I will be paying I am more shocked by the difference in costs

    It seems that the price is pretty standard across the country- I am in the city and it will cost us, at the most for the birth, $5000 Australian dollars (um, 3500 American maybe?)- that does not include the blood tests and scan prices and on average I pay about 60 dollars American each time I visit.

    We will get about $4000 Australian dollars back from the Japanese government.

    However, for non “baby” related blood tests or x-rays health insurance here would pretty much cover it all (the national insurance) and it would cost like $20 at the most. I wish the insurance covered more baby related costs.

    When I visited China our tour guide had two children- but when we first asked her she said she had one daughter. It wasn`t until later that she said actually she had an extra “secret” daughter but that it was okay because neither her, or her husband worked for the government. I could not really comprehend it.

    Since I am so close to Tokyo, the cost of living is pretty high! Definitely higher than Brisbane, where I am from.

  6. Sorry to be uninformed and rely on secondhand massmedia stereotypes but you’ve got me confused:

    Your son’s dad is Chinese and yet you get charged foreigner rates for immunisations?

    Is everything more expensive because you’ve gone over the one child limit? (Does that apply to foreigners?)

    And good on you for standing up to the hospital. I would have been too timid I think…

  7. Lulu — here the city makes a big difference, but to be honest the biggest difference is between private and public. Not that public means you get anything for free or provided for you (ironic, isn’t it, that there’s no universal healthcare, or any kind of healthcare, in a communist country!), but the hospitals are cheaper. For comparison, a private hospital in Kunming would have cost about 6000RMB for the birth, so still about 5x what we paid, but nothing compared to the 20,000RMB or so for a private birth in BJ.

    Interesting about your guide’s private kid. Actually, at my school, which is a ritzy “international” private boarding school for rich Chinese kids, the majority of my kids are not only children. I have one student who has FIVE younger siblings! The reason? They’re rich and they can afford to pay the fines for going over the limit. Other people just don’t register the child (not on the residence book), which sounds like what your guide did. Hospitals themselves don’t tend to get in your business about it though, just the offices that issue the residence books and ID cards.

    fuka — Actually, the immunization thing is sort of complicated. First off, China doesn’t recognize dual citizenship, so since my kid has an American passport, he’s American (well, he will be “officially” American once he first uses his American passport). He doesn’t have Chinese citizenship. However, that doesn’t really mean we pay foreign prices. We could get him immunized for free at the Chinese clinic (and actually, my son’s first shots when he was an infant in Kunming were done at the public clinic there), however, problem is that we were told that if we ever plan on moving back to the States we want his immunization card to be from a recognized CDC hospital. Apparently, a Chinese immunization card from some small clinic might cause problems back home, or at least, so the clinic told us. They said we could get the shots, but they’d be useless back home. Who knows if that’s true or not, but we decided not to chance it and cough up the money.

    As for the one-child policy, that doesn’t apply to us, since I’m a foreigner and our kids are foreigners too, so basically we can have as many as we want. Say, however, that I was Chinese — my husband is actually able to have 2 kids since he’s from a rural area. And if we went over the birth limit and had 3 or 4 kids, we would be fined by the government (if we reported the child, or if we were government employees. Actually, if we were government employees we could lose our jobs), but the hospital itself wouldn’t charge us any more than normal. So the added expense here in Beijing is due basically to the fact that the cost of living is higher, and to the difference between private and public hospitals. When we switch back to a public hospital the cost should be more in line with what we can afford.

    Confusing, isn’t it?

  8. Hi,
    I am also raising my child bilingual and I’m writing to ask whether you would like to join a blogging carnival on bilingualism.

    You’ll find more info here:

    Hope to talk to you soon,


    • Thanks! I’d love to check it out!

  9. is Beijong moe expensive than Shanghai?

    i guess first-tier big cities will always be expensive…

    thanks for sharing


  10. Hi, it is my first time to your blog, but I cant believe the price to have a baby and for one blood test, that is ridiculous isnt it?

    I hope you find a cheaper hospital!

  11. […] she kept me waiting, but after that I found it kind of funny. This is what we’re paying the big money for! And speaking of that, we did finally decide to go with the more expensive public hospital, […]

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