Renting an Apartment in Shanghai: All You Need to Know
Relocating to a new city or country is daunting as it is, but there’s just something about Shanghai that really takes the cake. Maybe it’s the language, maybe it’s the sheer volume of people, maybe it’s just how the city seems to vibrate with the collective force of everyone’s exhilaration and excitement, whatever the case, it’s crazy, hectic, and honestly very overwhelming for a newbie.
If you’re planning to move to Shanghai, or are already in the process of, here’s a couple of tips and pointers to make settling in smoother and more problem-free.
Do NOT try to secure an apartment abroad. We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve heard horror stories about ‘landlords’ disappearing once you’ve paid the deposit, or people arriving to a hellhole instead of the clean, fully furnished home they were promised.
You’re much better off spending your first week in a hotel or serviced apartment, and starting your ground research there – it’s a little more expensive but better than the nightmare that is a missing landlord or one who refuses to return you your deposit even though they blatantly lied through their teeth.
If you don’t speak any Mandarin and can only depend on expat-catered agents or English websites, resign yourself to the fact that rent will be jacked up.
You can get away with having a whole apartment for only RMB3,000/month in the depths of Minhang and Putuo, but this will barely cover for a decent room in the Former French Concession area. So it’s a toss up between cheap rent and an airy, two-bed apartment with sunny balconies an hour away from the popular neighborhoods, or a little closet within walking distance to all the hipster spots in town. Shared apartments are of course cheaper, but it’ll take you a little more digging on the web, and it’s a bit of a russian roulette with the sort of house mates you’ll be ending up with.
First-floor places nearly always tend to be slightly cheaper because Shanghai has a serious mould problem, and come summer, you’ll find giant slugs slithering across your kitchen floors. In those instances, arm yourself with dehumidifiers and hoard all the salt and insect repellent you can get your hands on. Buildings with lifts will be significantly more expensive than a typical Shanghainese walk-up (normally 6-storeys tall).
In some instances, agents have the keys to the places themselves and will show you around without the presence of the landlord. If you’re satisfied, they will make an appointment for the key handover and contract-signing. Other times, the landlord has to be there to let you in.
Whatever the case, never sign anything without the keys safely within your sight and make sure you’ve seen a copy of the apartment’s property deed (房产证) – we’ve heard problems of people not being able to register their address with the local police station because the place they’ve rented has been registered as commercial property or does not exist in the system.
Rent is typically paid in three-month installments and deposit is normally one month’s rent. Anything that deviates too far from this norm should trigger warning signs. If you don’t read Chinese, either insist on a contract that has English translations, or get someone you trust to read through it thoroughly for you.
It is perfectly acceptable to bargain for a lower rent, or ask landlords to provide missing furniture and household appliances. If the apartment you’ve found is semi-furnished or unfurnished, you can also try asking to be provided a housing allowance that you can use in IKEA, instead of having the landlord lug in the huge, ugly, dark, heavy furnishings the locals seem to prefer.
Almost but Not Quite There
For every other country, that first shower and meal in your new place signifies the end of all your stress and woes, and the start of an exciting new life. Not China, you still have one final hurdle to deal with – registering yourself at the local police station. Take note that this is not a one time thing, you’ll have to do it every time you move to a new place.
Do try to get this done within 24 hours of moving in (sans weekend), though they’re normally lax about this as long as you turn up within a few days. Don’t put off for more than a week or you might find yourself slapped with a fine or worse, stuck at the station hours on end trying to reason with a harried-looking, middle-aged Shanghainese officer shouting “this will affect your future visa application process!”
Paperwork you might or might not need (it differs every time we go back in, best to just bring everything):
Once you’ve handed in all the necessary paperwork, the surly little officer opposite the glass will regurgitate a form known as the Temporary Residence Permit. This is very, very important – you need it for all future visa-related processes as well as when you move to a new place and need to re-register yourself.
Once you’ve gotten your residence permit, then that’s it. You’re all set.
Best of luck! If you have any questions, let us know in the comments section below and we’ll try our best to answer them. Alternatively, if you’ve experienced a horror story of your own whilst in the process of looking for a place, serve them up here as a warning to others.