This is a complete guide to renting an apartment or room in a shared flat in Shanghai.
Looking for Shanghai’s apartment on the Internet
If you’ve just landed in China and don’t know anyone, the fastest way to find an apartment is probably to check the English language websites. I recommend Smart Shanghai, Inter Shanghai and City Weekend.
The pros are that you won’t have to look for an agency on the street and hopefully make deals with a landlord (or agent) who can speak decent English.
Also, if you have a tight budget (less than 3000 yuan a month, or about 500 dollars) and don’t want to live too far from the city center, a room in a shared apartment will be your best option.
In this case, since very few agencies manage “rooms” (they usually want to rent the whole flat), the Internet is your best bet.
The drawbacks are that apartments and rooms are generally more expensive (this is logical since the owners know that they are aimed at foreigners, often newcomers who do not speak Chinese) and are rented out very quickly.
Especially for rooms in shared flats, either when you visit the room you take it immediately or someone else will. It is frustrating.
However, if you have a Chinese friend willing to help you or can speak Chinese, you can also check out the Mandarin websites. Some of the most popular are: Sou Fun, Bai Xing (this is the Chinese version of Craigslist) and Hao Zu.
Also on Chinese websites the best rooms and flats are rented out quickly. However, you have many more options and the prices are much cheaper.
Another option to get a room in a shared flat
There are several active Couchsurfing groups focusing on Shanghai. You can sign up and see if there’s anyone looking for a room. In this case, you could propose to meet him/her and look for a flat together. If there is no person who posted a message, you can post a message yourself saying “Hey, I’m looking for a roommate. Anybody interested?”
Why? The reason is that, if you meet one or two people who are also looking for a room, you can rent a whole apartment.
This has 3 advantages:
- You’ll have many more options, because Shanghai is full of empty apartments (while empty rooms in a shared apartment is rare).
- You can deal with an agency (they usually only deal with empty apartments), so you don’t have to rely solely on the internet.
- You will get a better price, as the rent of a whole apartment is usually cheaper (if you find a couple of colleagues willing to share the rent with you).
This is how I found my current room. Only after two weeks of useless calls and emails to people who were renting rooms in shared apartments, I joined two other guys (yes, I met them at Couchsurfing).
We went to an agency in Jing An, asked for an apartment in the center with four bedrooms and a rent under 8,000 RMB (for the whole apartment) and they gave it to us in two days.
Looking for an apartment through an agency
Although some agents can’t speak English, many of them will. Remember that you are in modern Shanghai, not in a small village!
In this case, it is best to choose the area where you want to live (Jing An, for example) and start walking until you find an agency. There are a lot of agencies so you should have no problem finding a couple of them.
Then, ask for an apartment with the features you want (remember to specify your budget at first).
The agent may probably start by showing you a more expensive apartment that does not respect your budget. The reason is that they want to get mroe commission. So if he can convince you to take an apartment that is a little more expensive, he will earn a slightly higher commission. If an agent brings you a really bad apartment, tell him you want something better.
Don’t lose your nerve. Remember you’re in China 🙂
Be polite but uncompromising. Tell him again what your budget is and that you won’t accept anything more expensive than that. However, remember to be realistic as well: finding a decent room in the center for less than 2,000 RMB/month is impossible.
Don’t forget to haggle over the price. This is widely accepted in China and you will usually get a small discount (between 1% and 10% according to your negotiation skills).
What are the expenses besides the rent? (deposit, fees, electricity, etc)
In Shanghai, rent must be paid every month or, in the worst case, every two months. In addition, you’ll have to pay a deposit. Please note that the landlord may ask you for a deposit of two or three months’ rent. However, you should never agree to pay more than one month’s rent as a deposit.
Personally, if someone insists on wanting more than one month’s rent as a deposit, I would leave, as this is the norm.
When you seek out an apartment that you like, you should “lock it up”. This means you have to give a small amount of money. In our case, the landlord asked for 2,000 RMB, but we only gave him 900 RMB (the rent is 7,000 per month). In return, he gave us a signed receipt.
The next day we returned to the house and, after having checked that everything was working (air conditioning, hot water and so on), we signed the contract and paid two months’ rent + one month’s deposit.
We also pay a commission to the agent, which corresponds to 50% of a month’s rent. If the agent asks for more simply tell him that 50% is the standard rate (I suggest you ask the agency fees before you start checking out apartments).
You will usually have to pay the electricity, water, gas and internet bills. The total amount should not exceed 400 RMB / month. If you live in a large building there will be some maintenance costs (which may vary, but normally it is around 100-200 RMB/month). Our owner pays these expenses, but some landlords will ask you to pay this fee as well. Again, this depends on your negotiating skills.
Why do you need a Legal Contract?
There are two reasons.
First of all, as soon as you arrive in China, you are obliged to go to the police station and register your address.
If you are a tourist or live in the student dormitory, there is no need to worry, because the hotel or the manager of the student dormitory will register you at the nearest police station.
However, if you rent an apartment, you have to do it yourself as soon as possible. It only takes five minutes and you don’t need to speak any Chinese. However, you must bring the original of your rental contract and your passport (you must also bring a copy of the contract, the first page of your passport and the visa page in your passport).
Since this year, the police are paying a lot of attention to the address register. If you do not register your address, they will call the number you gave them at customs on the day you entered China. If you don’t answer, they will start looking for you (don’t worry, they just want to make sure you’re safe).
Again, it only takes five minutes. But you need a legal rental agreement. Also, you could ask your agent or landlord where the police station is located, as they can only search you at the station that handles your area.
The second reason you need a contract is that your landlord cannot be fully trusted.
What will you do if, after three months of renting the apartment, the landlord decides to increase the price of your apartment?
If you have a legal contract, you can tell him to shut up or go talk to the police. But if you don’t have a lease, you have no right to be there.
Besides, how will you get your deposit back? This is not your country. So play it safe and ask for a contract.
What should the contract look like?
First of all, the lease must be in English or both in English and Chinese. Do not sign any contract in China if you do not understand the language.
The landlord’s name should be on the contract. You should also ask to see his identity card.
The address of the apartment/room should be on the lease.
The monthly rent, the deposit and when the rent is to be paid (every month or every two months) should be in the contract.
The length of the contract should be specified. By the way, the duration is also something that can be negotiated.
The lease should state that the landlord is responsible for fixing major damage (such as broken refrigerator or air conditioner).
The lease should state that if the landlord asks you to leave the apartment before the end of the lease, you will be compensated (at least one month’s rent).
The most common traps, when you rent an apartment in Shanghai
Read your contract carefully, and check that everything I mentioned above. If it’s not written, it doesn’t exist. Therefore you have no power to enforce the owner’s word.
Ask for a receipt for anything you pay. Yes, I know it seems obvious, but there are many people who forget to ask for them.
Don’t agree to pay more than one month’s rent as a deposit.
If you don’t want to use an agency, avoid signing a contract with a landlord who doesn’t live in the apartment (or next door to it). Also, avoid intermediaries! The problem is that they can simply disappear with your money. Beware, this is not only the case with Chinese intermediaries.
So you either go to an agency (after checking that he is reliable, visiting his office) or you trust the landlord (because he will live with you or next door).
Where to live in Shanghai is important
Many people choose their location in order to be close to their office or university. However, other people prefer to live downtown to have a better social life (remember that Shanghai is huge).
First of all, you should look for an apartment near a subway station. Shanghai’s subway network is overwhelming (the longest in the world), so you can go almost everywhere. Also, it is quite cheap.
In particular, I advise you to live along line 2, which crosses all of Shanghai from east to west. It usually allows you to get to any part of the city with just one or two changes (and often no change at all).
The best places to live are, in my opinion, between East Nanjing Station and Zhong Shan Park Station. Most of the bars and clubs are located in the old French concession, which is south of these stations. But it’s not just about the nightlife, I like this area because it reminds me of a European city, with a lot of alleys, small restaurants and old cafes.
Keep in mind that the apartments within the French concession are either tremendously expensive or very old. If you still want to live in the city centre and get a modern home, but at the same time have a small budget, then I suggest you look at the north side of line 2.
In general, the Zhong Shang Park and Jangsu Street areas are cheaper than Jing An, Nanjing West or People Square (see the map on line 2 if you feel a little lost).
Finally, I hope you can find a satisfactory house very successfully.
Welcome to Shanghai! Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions.