As this country is a major destination for expats around the world, finding an apartment to rent in China in the first place is becoming less of a challenge. In fact, landlords and major hotel chains are getting more and more used to welcoming expats and giving them a home, while multilingual real estate agents are offering their assistance. At the same time, however, the competition is huge and the cost of living, particularly in Shanghai and Beijing, is at an all-time high.
While there are different types of accommodation for every need, most expats who move to China settle down in the big cities where large apartment blocks are the norm. However, there are different types of accommodation you can rent in China:
The list above is designed to help you with your apartment search in China. Keep in mind that most places are furnished and that rental prices also largely depend on amenities and location. The rent in China is usually paid a month in advance. The duration of your stay will also determine which type of accommodation is most suitable for you. Depending on that, there are different ways to conduct your housing search.
Big cities with large expat communities are probably the best place to go if you plan on renting an apartment in China for only a few months (or maybe even less). There are various websites focusing on expats who are ready to move into their home right away and stay only for a short amount of time. Small (sometimes serviced) apartments with daily or weekly rates can be found on Wimdu, for instance. Another source is mayi.com. Unfortunately, this website is only available in Chinese.
Different websites may also point you to expat accommodation that is available for a few months and includes services such as internet, professional cleaning, and an English-speaking agent. Most of them focus on a specific city and cater to the expat community there, such as GoKunming, ShanghaiExpat, or The Beijinger. If there is no such service for the town or city you are about to move to and if your place of work is not willing to help you with the housing search, you need to enlist the help of a real estate agent (or at least of a good friend who speaks Chinese) to find a place to rent in China.
As mentioned above, most “regular” apartments can be rented for at least one year. Thus, finding a place to rent in China, if you plan on staying for a while, is probably easier than finding a short-term rental. However, here too, you might have to rely on the help of your employer, a friend, or an English-speaking real estate agent (more on that below). Regular apartments can seem rather small and run-down (by Western standards) (although there are some exceptions, of course) and landlords are not always honest. This is why it is absolutely essential to research the rental market in your city thoroughly and visit the property you are interested in before signing a contract.
Because of the many expats looking for an apartment to rent in China, there is a lot of competition when it comes to high-quality real estate. Once you see a place that you like, you should pay a deposit to your future landlord to make sure he will hold the apartment for you.
As mentioned above, hiring a real estate agent might be inevitable. This is not necessarily a bad thing as they will be able to find just the right place for you to rent in China, and to negotiate the contract with your prospective landlord. Unfortunately, English-speaking real estate agents are rather rare in China. If you are not confident that your Mandarin is good enough, you should bring an interpreter when meeting up with your real estate agent.
If you want to be on the safe side, ask for some recommendations from other expats. Not every realtor is reliable, after all, and you will want to get a good service for your money. It also helps to know what to expect in rent, so that you know if the apartments your realtor shows you are reasonably priced. Try to make yourself very clear when explaining what you want in terms of area, size, and rent in China. You will not have to pay any commission until you and your landlord have signed the rental agreement. Then, the commission should be about one month’s rent.
Of course, the rent you will finally have to pay depends on a lot of factors and some destinations are just way more expensive than others. But we would still like to try to give you an idea of how much you can expect to pay for one month’s rent in China (for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center):
A furnished apartment will cost you about 10-20% more. When you calculate your budget, don’t forget to factor in the commission, deposit, and utility costs.
Once you have found the apartment of your dreams, you are ready to sign the rental agreement. Most of these contracts are in Chinese. If your Chinese language skills are not up to par yet, you should request to see an English translation from a certified source. After all, it is important for you to understand all the terms and conditions of your rental agreement. However, in a case of a legal dispute the Chinese version will be binding.
The rental agreement should include details concerning the monthly rent, terms of payment, the length of the lease, the amount of the deposit, restrictions, and services included in the rent in China. It should also clearly state whether you are allowed to keep pets. If your new home is furnished, you should also receive an inventory of all furniture and other items included in the lease, stating their general condition. Make sure to check and approve this list beforehand so that you cannot be held accountable for any already existing damage later on. If you rent an apartment for a few months only, you should pay special attention to the terms of payment. In these cases, some landlords request the full rent to be paid in advance. After moving back out, your security deposit should be returned to you within 30 days. If there is a dispute over the rental agreement that you and your landlord fail to settle privately, you can take it to the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission.
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