My guide to renting an apartment in Shanghai

In this post, I will share my experience about finding housing in Shanghai. After a few year in this amazing city and a few apartments rented out, I find this is the right time for me to give you advice and tips for your next accommodation. Whether you are looking for a roommate or an entire place for your family, this article provides you with the keys to a successful home search in Shanghai.

A four-bedroom apartment in Xuhui district, Shanghai

What types of accommodation in Shanghai?

Apartments in Shanghai are usually parts of compounds which may provide facilities such as a gym and a swimming pool. If you wish to experience a more “local” life, you can rent a lane house, this typical Shanghai housing consisting of small 2-storey houses located in small alleys. You can find them mostly in the former French Concession and Jing’an. These accommodations sometimes work as communities, and you may have to share toilets or kitchen with other tenants for instance. For those who have big families and big money, there are also real houses called villas, but they are located in compounds in outskirts of Shanghai (Hongqiao, Qingpu, Jinqiao), not ideal for young people.

Prices

Generally speaking, property prices in Shanghai are overvalued due to the persistent real estate bubble. In the centre of the former French Concession, a 1-bedroom apartment costs on average 6,000 to 10,000 RMB, and two bedrooms from 10 to 20,000 RMB. If you move away from the FFC and go to Jing’an or Xujiahui, you may found cheaper places. Basically, the further you go from the FFC/Jing’an, the cheaper it will be. Also, the longer you plan to rent your apartment, the more you can negotiate the price. If you have kids and live in one of these expat compounds, rentals go as high as 40 or 50,000 RMB per month. In short, despite the low purchasing power of most Chinese, Shanghai remains a very expensive city when it comes to real estate, and you won’t find much difference from the rent you use to pay back home.

Housing quality standards in Shanghai

It really depends on the place you will view or rent, but there are two main situations. In high-end apartments, furniture and amenities are often in very good condition. In more affordable apartments, the quality of amenities might be lower and the flat not very well maintained. One big problem that affects both high-end and standard properties is the lack of insulation. Shanghai is considered as a city of Southern China, which means it does not benefit from central heating like cities from Northern China. To heat your home up in winter, you will have to use air conditioning which all living room and bedrooms are equipped with. It is fairly expensive and not the most efficient way to heat up but you will have to deal with it. Some fancy apartments, nevertheless, have floor heating or radiators, but they are rare.

Flat sharing

This is very widespread in Shanghai, and you will have no trouble finding a room in a shared apartment as fresh ads are posted every day. For a master bedroom (include a large bedroom with private bathroom) in the city centre of Shanghai, expect something around 4500RMB.

Tenancy in Shanghai: passing over your lease

In Shanghai, ads from landlords to tenants do not really exist. When it comes to rent Shanghai apartments, you will in most case either take the lease of a previous tenant and go through a property agency. When you take someone’s lease, you pay the deposit back to the former tenant and, most of the time, you will need to find a replacement when you want to move out too. Otherwise you may never see your deposit again.

Real estate agencies in Shanghai

Most agencies practice the same price: for rentals lower than 10,000 RMB per month, you will need to pay 35% of the rent as a commission to your agent. Above 10,000 RMB, you won’t pay anything as the agency will charge the landlord instead. The number of agencies in Shanghai is spectacular, just take a walk downtown, and you will see dozens of them. Some are very local and barely speak English; others are fully dedicated to foreigners. You can also have a look at some websites with property classified such as SmartShanghai or ShanghaiExpat.

Why using an agency is better?

I would recommend to anyone who is new to Shanghai to use the services of a real estate agent. They will surely make your life easier when problems come, and they happen more than you would like. Any issue regarding internet, gas, electricity, broken equipment and son on, you just need to give your agent a call, and he/she will sort it out for you. For those who speak very well Chinese, however, you may not need agents as you can directly speak to your landlord.

 

Typical “expat” compound with high-end facilities such as swimming pool (Pudong district, Shanghai)

Other tips

The first tip I would give, be patient my friend. The search of a home may be a long quest in Shanghai. You may have the most precise criteria regarding the type of apartment you want, you will still get a lot of irrelevant offers. So be firm with agents showing you properties that don’t match your requirements.

Second tip, do not hesitate to negotiate. China has a huge culture of negotiation and bargaining so you should always give it a try. It doesn’t mean you will succeed as they are fierce negotiator but at least you will have a taste of local culture! If you can’t change the price, maybe you can make your landlord replace a few furniture. Don’t forget to ask him or her to clean the flat before moving in! And twice if needed, as it will most likely be roughly cleaned.

Finally, don’t expect to have the actual size given by the landlord. To get closer to the reality, deduct 20% of the total floor size as Chinese people usually include the common parts of the building such as the elevator and corridor. Do not forget to read (twice) the lease contract, always written in Chinese and English, and note everything that is wrong in the apartment: stain on the wall, hole in the ceiling and so on. This may avoid you inconvenience in the future.

 

I hope this post will give you a clearer idea of the property rental situation in Shanghai, don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you have any question. And remember, stay calm, smiling and patient during your home search!

A brief introduction of Suzhou

As you may or may not know, I use to live in Suzhou as I was studying in Soochow University when I first came to China in 2011 (check this page for info related to studies in Suzhou). Often referred as the “Venice of the East”, Suzhou is a beautiful city just 40 minutes away from Shanghai by train. Here is a brief intro of this gorgeous city, hope it will make you want to visit it.

 

Suzhou is the second largest city in Jiangsu Province with a population of over 10 million. Wu culture originated here with Suzhou’s establishment dating back to 514 BC. After the completion of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal in 618 AD, Suzhou became situated on an important trade route. From 1130 to 1937, Suzhou experienced many invasions and takeovers. Suzhou is now known for its beautiful gardens and silk.

Where is it?

Suzhou is in the Eastern part of China in the Yangtze River Delta. Suzhou is situated on and around a number of lakes, the largest being Lake Tai, Yangcheng Lake, and Chenghu Lake. It is located about 100 km from Shanghai and 200 km from Nanjing. Suzhou has a humid subtropical climate with four distinct seasons: a damp and cold winter, hot and humid summer, and a dry and fair autumn and spring. The weather is comparable to southern states in the US like Georgia or Alabama.

How to get there?

Suzhou is a popular tourist destination creating the need for accessible transportation. Suzhou has two railway stations: Suzhou Railway Station and Suzhou North Railway Station. Both stations offer high speed trains to a number of cities, including a 25 minute trip to Shanghai and an approximately two hour trip to Nanjing. For air travel, Suzhou is served by the Sunan Shuofang Airport, Hongqiao International Airport, and Pudong International Airport. None of the airports are directly situated in Suzhou; Sunan Shuofang Airport is in between Suzhou and Wuxi while Hongqiao and Pudong International Airports are in Shanghai. Both Hongqiao and Sunan Shuofang offer primarily domestic flights, while many international flights are offered at Pudong Airport.

Introducing “The Northern Capital” Beijing

In today’s post, I will introduce Beijing, China’s capital and a city with one of the richest history in world. I have traveled five or six time in Beijing and I think it is the most interesting city in China, due to its heritage.

A museum in Beijing

History

Beijing is the capital of the People’s Republic of China and is the second most populous city in China, behind Shanghai. It is the country’s political, cultural, and educational centre. It is the last of the four great ancient capitals of China – Nanjing, Luoyang, and Chang’an (Xi’an) – and has been the political centre of the country for most of the last 800 years.

Location and Climate

The furthest north of China’s big cities, Beijing is surrounded by mountains which protect it from the encroaching desert steppes. The Great Wall of China also runs through the north of Beijing municipality which was built to prevent invasions from the north. In terms of latitude, Beijing is level with Turkey and Greece as well as Central American states. Beijing has a fairly dry, monsoon-influenced humid continental climate (Köppen climate classification Dwa), characterized by hot, humid summers because of the East Asian monsoon, and generally dry, windy,  cold, winters that reflect the effect of the huge Siberian anticyclone. Spring and autumn are usually short, but dry and hot.

Travel

Beijing’s Capital Int’l Airport is the second busiest airport in the world, with almost 90,000,000 passengers a year; it is only behind the Hartsfield-Jackson International Atlanta airport. It was recently renovated for the 2008 Olympics, with the newly built third terminal being one of the biggest terminals in the world. A second international airport, named Beijing Daxing International Airport, is currently under consturction in Daxing District, and is expected to be ready by 2017. From Beijing you can connect to any Chinese city with regular air passenger service. It takes just about two hours to fly to Shanghai, and just under three to Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Internationally, it takes 10 and a half hours to London, 14 hours to New York and 11 and a half hours to Sydney.

Things You Should Do and Should not Do in China

Chinese business card etiquette

 

Being a tourist can be amazing when you have understood about the custom of the country you have visited. There are many Asian countries you can visit and learn the culture. One of the oldest and most unique countries in Asia is China. Their culture is just amazing, and you should face it when you have come to China. You have to know the culture, language a little bit and tour guide if you don’t have any skill in speaking Chinese. The language barrier is something common, but when it has come to custom, you should understand first. Here are things you should not do and should do when you are in China.

Do’s

  • When you have met an older people, you have to greet them first because the oldest person should be greeted first as a symbol of high respect to the Chinese culture.
  • Tap twice the table when you are drinking a toast.
  • It is necessary to do a handshake because it has been a common thing in non-verbal greeting in China.
  • When you are wrapping gifts in China, use red packages or wrappers and avoid using white or black because it is a symbol of death.
  • Keep calm whenever something weird happens in front of your face.

Don’ts

  • Business cards are a very big deal in China. When someone is giving you his business card with both hands, you must take it using both hands in return.
  • Never spit into the bowl, and when you are going to spit using tissue, you should place it at plate and not your food bowl.
  • If you are offered a toast, you must drink with the person who is inviting you as a mark of respect
  • Never stick your chopsticks in your bowl of rice as it is highly associated with death and funeral.
  • Never open the gifts in front of the giver when you are receiving gift and wait until they take their leave.
  • When you come to Silk Road, you should not bring any non-halal foods to keep it respect.
  • If you meet old people, you have to ask permission first when you want to photograph them.

 

As you can see, the Chinese have their own beliefs and I highly recommend to get informed of what is considered respectful and disrespectful in China before traveling there, this may avoid you big misunderstanding and even trouble !

Have you ever experienced cultural differences that surprised you in China? If you want to share your experience, feel free to leave a comment!

Studying in China (Part 2)

As I mentioned in the first part of my previous post “Studying in China”, I’ve met a fair amount of Western students for whom living in China was nothing but a painful experience. Being homesick when you live thousands of kilometers from your country is not a surprise, but often it takes dramatic proportions. When I was studying in Nanjing, there was some sort of game to predict which foreign student will be the first to go home. It is sad when you think about it, as they had a great opportunity to get to know a new culture and open their mind to new ways of doing and thinking, but will only take bitter memories back home.

So think twice before coming to China!

First of all, don’t be misled by the apparent modernity of major cities such as Shanghai or Beijing. Most of the country is still very poor and rural, and people have a much lower level of education. Hygiene, food poisoning, lack of manners… be prepared to meet another world. Most Chinese don’t speak English so having good mandarin basis is essential in everyday life.

Learn Mandarin in China

I will write an article about learning mandarin and what is the best approach to master this language. Making Chinese friends is the best way to improve quickly because, without practice, you will be stuck on a basic level. It will help you better integrate in the Chinese society. Most foreigners don’t even try to learn Mandarin or make Chinese friends. They usually stay among their own people or at least among westerners.

I am not saying it is essential to avoid western people, but if you came to speak English with Americans or Europeans, maybe China is not the right destination. Don’t mix up travelling and studying one year in China. Even if you have many opportunities to travel while you are living there, you will still spend most of you time in the city you are studying in. A year in China is a long time! Those who are having a good time and enjoy living in China are those integrated and with a genuine interest in the country and Asian culture in general.

Conclusion

I may have been a bit negative in this post, but my intention is really to warn potential students and spare them from what is happening too often in China: disappointment and bad memories.

If you feel this is a challenge for you, don’t hesitate and go! Learn to speak Chinese, make friends, and explore another world! With motivation, we can overcome the culture shock and have incredible experiences.

Studying in China (Part 1)

For my first post, I would like to talk about being a student in China, as it was my first experience with that wonderful country I fell in love with. The number of international students coming to China is increasing each year to the point where the Chinese government is aiming 500,000 students by 2020, compare to 265,000 in 2010.

The purpose of this article is to explain the implications of being an international student in China and how to make the most of your stay there. The views expressed in this post are solely based on my own experience.

Entrance gate of Beijing University
Entrance gate of Beijing University

Why going to China for studies?

There are a few different reasons to study in China:

– To experience another culture, live in a totally different environment. Many foreigners talk about “getting out of their comfort zone”, “challenge yourself” and simply become more open minded. China’s rich culture has a lot to offer to achieve this objective, whether you want to learn traditional arts such as calligraphy or to practice kung fu. More than just an academic background, studies are made to shape your thinking and immersing into another culture can definitely help this.

– As part of your professional project: China has been developing like no other country before for the past 15 years. Despite the recent economic crisis that has hit the country, China’s economy remains strong and work opportunities are still abundant for foreigners. Learning Chinese can, therefore, be a serious asset when doing business with China.

– To travel one of the largest and the most fascinating countries in the world. China has everything you can imag

ine regarding monuments and landscapes: from the world’s highest mountains in Tibet to the tropical beaches in Hainan along with ancient villages and the futuristic megalopolis of Shanghai. The country is home to more than 50 different ethnic groups with their own dialect, traditions and cuisine.

– China is very affordable. Most students are not rich and living in a country like China might allow them to live a life they couldn’t afford back in their home country. Food, accommodations, transportation… pretty much everything is cheap in China. Not cheaper, just CHEAP. You can easily have a meal for $2 to 3. A taxi starts at $1.5 in Shanghai, half this price in a second-tier city.

Terrace in guangxi province, china
A terrace along the river in Guangxi province, Southern China.

Be open minded and adaptable

Living in another country, especially one with a very different culture, is something that any young person should experience, providing that you are adaptable and flexible enough to embrace and enjoy this other culture. Facing a culture shock can only be beneficial as long as you have an open mind and a thirst for discovery. If you manage to overcome the language barrier and cultural differences, you will make the most of your stay in China and come home with a very rewarding experience that will be useful for the rest of your life.

It is important for me to insist on this point, as I have met quite a few students who didn’t manage to overcome this culture shock and did not have a great time in China. I will go into this a bit more in depth in next week’s post.