Beijing vs Shanghai vs Shenzhen: Choosing a City in China

Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen are the top 3 cities in China, they are often picked out by expats for comparison in terms of the environment, cost of living, nightlife, etc..

Depending on your career goals and lifestyle though, you may find you favor one of these more than another. They all have their good points, but how do you know which one is right for you?

Here is more about each of these big Chinese cities to help you choose among Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen.

Beijing: The Glory of China’s Capital City

Beijing vs Shanghai: Beijing-daytime-and-nighttime
Beijing City: Day and Night

Political and innovation center

Of these three cities, Beijing is the furthest north. It’s also China’s capital and the political epicenter of the country.

If you enjoy cold winters, having access to some of the most famous landmarks China is known for, can’t get enough roasted duck, and are fascinated by China’s political climate, you might just find Beijing to be your ideal expat home.

When it comes to innovation, Beijing is leading the way, however, the quality of life due to pollution can be a factor. Masks will become a daily necessity which will allow you to fully enjoy the robust cultural part of this city.


Beijing has incredible fine arts (think Beijing Opera!) and has much of what you’d love to enjoy in your spare time while having abundant opportunities.

The costs tend to be high here though, but it’s the price you pay for having it all within reach.

Shanghai: A Unique Charm

Shanghai vs Beijing: shanghai-day-and-night
Shanghai City: Day and Night

A global city

If you’d prefer something a little less frigid during the winter, Shanghai might just be your place. It is an incredibly cosmopolitan city and the most westernized of them all.

Sometimes, China’s culture can provide a big shock to outsiders and Shanghai does a fantastic job of being very global while still giving you a big taste of the joys of Chinese life.

Great nightlife

The nightlife is incredible, though it lacks the kind of history Beijing has. Day trips to smaller cities nearby like Nanjing and Suzhou though will give you plenty to feast your eyes upon.

As likable as Shanghai is, it’s not infallible to pollution, and it lacks the kind of innovation Beijing has. Still, Shanghai continues to grow and provides an excellent place for expats to thrive.

Shenzhen: Emerging from the South

Shenzhen vs Beijing, Beijing vs Shenzhe, shenzhen-day-and-nigtht
Shenzhen City: Day and Night

The brand new world

And finally, to the south, there’s Shenzhen, ideal for anyone who hates the cold.

The close proximity to Hong Kong makes it an attractive place for investors and those in the tech world. It’s a good place to get a foothold.

It’s also a place with plenty of fun in and out of the city. A short ferry ride away, Macau await for a Vegas-like experience, and much more expensive Hong Kong is only 30 minutes by train.

Fun, much fun

Fun clubs, bars, shopping, and international eats are easy to find in Shenzhen too. It is very expat-friendly and costs less than in Beijing or Shanghai.


Choosing China as your new home provides many fantastic opportunities. Trying to decide on a city for your expat experience is a lot like being a kid in a candy store though.

So which one will you choose? Only you can decide, but the opportunity is awaiting you in each of them!

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