After you've decided to teach English in China, one of the first things you'll want to know is where you're going to live! Finding an apartment in a foreign country can sound a little daunting, but don't worry - we've broken down the basics for you here on how to find an apartment, the costs associated with renting an apartment, and the kinds of furnishings that come with it. We've also partnered with several teachers in China to give you video tours of a few typical Chinese apartments. Let's get to it!
There are a few different ways you can find an apartment to rent in China.
There are rental agencies all over China - in fact, if you walk around commercial areas in China you will often see rental agencies and posted flyers with apartments available.Once you find an agency, they'll connect you with an agent to talk to about your rental requirements. You can also find agents from friends and coworkers who will send you their Wechat contacts.
Note: If the agent doesn’t speak English, don’t worry! You can have a Chinese friend or coworker help, or many people communicate entirely through WeChat: just hold the message down and press 'translate.'
Once you’ve connected with an agent and told them your requirements, they’ll take you to check out some apartments in the area. Depending on how much time you have and where you're looking, you might see one or two, or half a dozen. You may find yourself on the motorbike of the agents motor taxi zooming around the city to look at them, which is very convenient!
Tip: If you're communicating with an agent on Wechat and they have some apartments to show you, ask them to send you photos of the apartment. Then you can get an idea of the apartment first and if you know you don't like the look of it you don't waste your time going to look at it.
In bigger cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Nanjing, there are lots of apartment rental groups. People who are looking for an apartment a roommate can find lots of options here. Many times this is a great option because the usual agency fee will be waived.
Once again, friends and coworkers are always great for helping with apartment rentals, especially if they've been in the city for awhile! Expats are always talking with each other about open apartments and looking for roommates, so your friends and coworkers may hear about something great.
Since great apartments can go fast, you will want to jump on a good one if you really like it. Luckily the application process is simple; however, there's a few things to know about the upfront costs:
You may be required to pay this all upfront in cash - but usually landlords accept (and probably prefer) being paid through Wechat. Because of these upfront costs you need to pay, we advise that new teachers moving to China bring enough money with them so that they can cover these fees and get into their new apartment in China.
Overall, the cost of renting an apartment in China is much less than what most expats would pay in their home countries. The price of an apartment in China will definitely depend on the size and amenities, the city where it's located, and the district of town. In large cities like Beijing, having an apartment in the center of the city near the popular expat areas could cost at least 5,000 - 6,000 RMB per month ($750 - $870) - and this might be for only a studio apartment or small one bedroom. Of course, you could get more for your money if you choose to live in a different area of town.
In second tier cities, prices for the same kind of apartment in an apartment will drop a couple thousand RMB per month. And if you chose a more rural town or suburban area of a city, then you could easily get a great 1 or even a 2 bedroom apartment for just 2000 - 2500 RMB monthly ($290 - $360).
Emma lives in Nanjing, a tier 2 city, and shows her apartment living room. Watch her full apartment video tour below!
Since the cost of living in China relatively low, and the salary for English teachers in China is quite decent, most teachers can afford to have a pretty great apartment. And if teachers are willing to live outside the city center or have a roommate, they may even be able to afford a great apartment and still save good money while they are living in China.
1. Most Apartments in China Come Fully Furnished
Most apartments in China will typically come furnished with basic furniture, a refrigerator, a microwave, mattresses, and possibly a washing machine. This makes it very easy to move apartments and rent in China as an expat!
Apartments in China are different than apartments in your own country. It's not common to find a dryer - most people will hang their clothes up to dry. Chinese kitchens are often narrow and long, like this kitchen in Amelia's apartment - check out her apartment tour video at the end of this post.
For more differences, check out this list of 7 Similarities and Differences Between Western and Chinese Apartments
Once you decide on an apartment you like, make sure you check everything in the apartment before you sign the contract: check the air conditioning, appliances, furniture, etc. Most apartments nowadays should come with Western toilets, but if a place hasn't been renovated it might not.
If for some reason you don't like a piece of furniture, something is not to your liking, or you'd like something removed, you can usually negotiate with your landlord. This is common to do in China.
If you rent an apartment that doesn't come furnished, or you'd like to decorate it more to your taste, don't worry! In China you can buy everything from Taobao, which is China's version of Amazon. The website is fully in Chinese, but you can use Google Chrome to translate the web pages or have a Chinese friend help.
In bigger cities you can also find Ikea, Walmart, and Carrefour which offer more selections for apartment furnishings.
Emma is a First Leap Teacher in Nanjing and shows you a tour of what her apartment in Nanjing looks like. Her and her partner, Johnny have been in this stylish apartment for nearly 2 years now. She will give you a tour of her apartment and also go over with you some tips for when yourself go apartment hunting in China.
Amelia, a First Leap teacher adviser in Chongqing, shows us around her new apartment in her city of Chongqing. Check out this updated apartment made for expats living and working in China. Have a look inside a Chinese apartment in Chongqing.
The hutongs are a traditional kind of housing style found in Beijing - Eleanor gives us a tour of her hutong apartment and what you can usually expect from living there.