Housing for Expatriates
As an expatriate looking for housing in China, you probably attach great importance to several factors: the standard of the property, its closeness to public transport, and – if you have kids – the proximity to a bilingual kindergarten or an international school.
For this reason, a great number of expats in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai tend to congregate in specific neighborhoods, mostly with a middle-class or upper middle-class standard of living. Sometimes expatriates even live in luxurious townhouses or gated residential communities that cater to foreign nationals.
Smaller, provincial cities – with tiny expat populations – may offer little more than apartment suites in international hotel chains as an alternative to “local” accommodation. Foreign diplomats and journalists are still restricted in their choice of housing in China to certain designated living quarters.
Popular Residential Areas
In Beijing, expatriates often settle in the eastern part of the city (which is closer to BICA, the Beijing Capital International Airport), or by the Wenyu River, in close proximity to the Airport Expressway.
Foreign employees moving to Guangzhou often look for housing complexes outside the city center, e.g. on Ersha Island, on Castle Hill, or in compounds like Golden Lake Garden. The business district of Tianhe is more centrally located and includes apartment complexes popular among busy expatriates.
Last but not least, many of Shanghai’s foreign families live in Pudong New Area, especially east of the Huangpu River. Changning District downtown is also a popular spot among expatriates, particularly among the Japanese, Taiwanese, US-American, and Korean communities.
Although the restrictions on foreigners buying property in China have become much looser, renting an apartment or townhouse is still the done thing among expats. When you are looking for a place to rent, a Chinese contact person – e.g. an HR staff member of your company, a personal friend, or a trusted real estate agent – can be of great help to you. Ask them to aid you with talking to the landlord, approving the rental agreement, or looking at houses before you have even arrived.
The best-known Chinese real estate site is www.5i5j.com (website in Chinese), which mainly targets the middle-class Chinese market. Expensive expat housing is usually advertised in English-language city magazines or by specialized real estate agencies. You should start house hunting – at the very least – eight weeks before the move-in date, especially if you are “picky” and want a comfortable place.
For a typical expatriate flat with more than one room in Beijing, you should be willing to pay 10,000 CNY or more per month. Depending on the luxuries you expect, the sky’s the limit! However, in a provincial city such as Kunming in southwestern China, you may be able to get a decent rental for far less. Also, remember that you have to pay your property agent a commission fee of one or two months’ rent.
Big cities have the advantage that there are enough property agencies catering to expatriates. Thus, you will automatically get a bilingual rental agreement (in both Mandarin and English).
A typical lease is often a rental contract for the next one or two years. If you want to go on living in your place, you have to talk to the landlord about renewing the contract. If you are not sure whether you will actually stay in China for that long, make sure that the agreement includes a so-called “break option”. Otherwise, you won’t get your security deposit back.
After moving to your new home, don’t forget to re-register with the local police. If you have previously stayed in a hotel, the staff will have taken care of this for you. Sometimes, your landlord or building manager will also do the registration for you once you have moved into your new home.
Many tenants, though, have to go to the nearest police station or Public Security Bureau within 24 hours of their change of address. Again, it’s easier if you speak Chinese or have a native speaker to help you out. While regional requirements vary, you normally need to bring along the following paperwork:
your valid passport and visa, stay certificate, or residence permit
your rental agreement
your landlord’s proof of ownership
Be prepared to have to make more than one trip due to the police station being closed, you missing a relevant document, etc.
General Q&A about housing in China, how to rent an apartment, sharing experience good & bad.
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