How to rent an apartment in China

Adjusting to life in China is tricky and asking a random confused local about housing one hour after stepping off the plane is a common but unnecessary process. There are many ways to find the right apartment successfully.

What not to do

Don’t assume you will find an apartment on the day of your arrival. It’ll lead to a mess of negative outcomes such as being stuck with a flat for longer than you wanted. Beware of being taken advantage of and being cheated, as you aren’t aware of the prices for the type of apartment you are buying.

Many foreigners believe they are getting a great deal when they are being overcharged, as they are stuck in Western prices. Everything in China is cheaper than the West; prices can seem fantastic even when you are paying 200% more than the market rate.

The biggest issue when employing this foolhardy tactic is miscommunication. The Chinese estate agent may only speak Chinese, and unless you are fluent, there will be many misunderstandings. After ineffective attempts at communication, you will inevitably result to furiously pointing at prices and pictures of apartments, just to get out of the horrible situation of your making.

The best way to rent an apartment


The fool proof and smart way to rent an apartment are to make arrangements before you fly out to China, by either contacting your employer or friends already living in China. Ask if they know any good websites to visit, or just simply search the internet yourself for apartments in your desired location. Then all the questions you have can be asked in advance of your arrival on Chinese soil.

You can also use a taxi to take you there straight from the airport. Ask for an address when ordering the apartment online in English and Chinese to show your taxi driver. This method is fail-safe and will help you avoid any situations which will ruin the start to your stay in China.

What prices to expect

The prices of the apartments will change depending on where you are staying. Prices of a small apartment in rural areas of China will be incredibly cheap, but the quality and hygiene of the flat will be poor compared to the previous accommodations you are used to.

Unless of course you are accustomed to a three or four room apartment with mosquitoes peppered across your unplastered walls, and a shower that runs out of hot water after five minutes of a lukewarm dribble.

In cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, for a one to two room Western-style apartment, will cost you anywhere between $1000 to $2500 a month. For a typical Chinese apartment which is less furnished and polished would set you back between $300-$900.


Student renting

Apart from the distinct format of individual renting which will cost you about $1000 a month, you can always share an apartment with students (not everyone’s idea of tranquil living but a cost effective option), this offers a different lifestyle which includes drinking, partying and meeting many new people. It is an enjoyable experience for those who enjoy nightlife and company.

This way of renting is often advertised by students looking to share rent costs and are trying to find a replacement for a former renter who has moved out of China or into a new apartment. Renting with a roommate will be cheaper than the prices mentioned above but requires a particular personality that places much more emphasis on fun than work and rest. It not advisable for older individuals even if they are young at heart.

Teacher renting

An option for English speaking foreigners looking for an apartment on the lower end of the market may consider a teaching agreement which is rent-free or at most $100-$500. The most common scenario of this method of renting is that a family would like you to teach their child some basic English skills (you don’t even have to be qualified).
It is a little trickier to find and requires one or two hours a day of teaching. This form of renting can be beneficial if you think that you may need some help adjusting to the Chinese way of life as the family will be able to answer questions and provide assistance if required.

Renting in China

If you are not able to get an apartment in place before you arrive in China, then it won’t be hard to find a shop which offers apartments. There are some professional looking estate agents dotted around in the cities, and this would be the preferable place to look for an apartment. If you can only find the word down tiny estate shops, stay clear headed and try not to get ripped off.  Don’t pay your rent in advance as you may find a new better apartment to stay in after a few weeks.

Another useful tip is never to buy the cheapest apartments as they are so cheap for a reason; such as being situated right by the subway or the apartment has a major insect problem.

Spend time checking the apartment you are thinking of renting; you will be living there for a while. And having to deal with a dodgy landlord or broken facilities on top of adjusting to Chinese customs can be a real issue that will cause many to board the first plane out of China. Be smart and plan!

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