Accommodation in China

housing in China
Updated 2022-09-24 22:21

One of the first things you will need to do once you've arrived in China is to find a place to live. Renting an apartment in China is not difficult. But it's best to come prepared and know what to expect. The housing market in China is quite different from that of many western countries. And there will definitely be things that will require some adjustment on your part.  

The article below will explain how to look for accommodation to rent in China, introduce you to the available accommodation types and prepare you for some unique features of Chinese apartments.

How to search for accommodation in China?

As an expat in China, you might face certain difficulties when searching for an apartment. This may be due to cultural differences, language barriers, lack of experience in navigating the local housing market, etc.

The process is significantly easier in first-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or Shenzhen, while smaller towns may not have the necessary real estate search infrastructure for expatriates.

New residential neighborhoods have recently been built in most cities in China with a significant international population. These new residences usually have a number of western amenities within walking distance: international supermarkets, gyms, leisure facilities, and so on.


Upon arrival in China, you will need to register your address at the local police station — this may be a hotel or temporary residence. Once you find a permanent residence, you will need to re-register. Make sure to bring your rental contract and a copy of the ID of the landlord.

The quickest and easiest way to go about apartment hunting in China is through a real estate agency. There are many real estate agencies in China and quite a few agencies that are accredited to rent accommodations to foreigners. There are also several large international real estate companies like Century 21, Regus, and others.

You can start the search by reaching out to them for a consultation — most real estate agencies in big cities will have English-speaking staff ready to help you.

Another way to go about your apartment hunt is to first visit neighborhoods and residential areas where you would like to live and then see if you can find a real estate agency nearby. This may be the best way to find an apartment in a particular neighborhood or residential complex. A more informal way to go about your apartment search is to visit the residential complex that you like and talk to the “baoan” (security guard). They will often have information about who is renting out an apartment, and you may even be able to sign the lease directly with the apartment owner without a real estate agent.


Note that signing a lease without the help of a real estate agent may not be the best option for an expat. While you will be saving money on agency fees, you will miss out on the protection that comes with using a real estate agency. A real estate agent will ensure the lease contract is in order and your rights as a tenant are protected.

Bargaining is not uncommon when it comes to renting accommodation in China, and prices can be adjusted within reasonable limits. You can ask your real estate agent to negotiate on your part.

Note that when you rent an apartment through a real estate agent, you will be required to pay a finder's fee — usually 50% of one month's rent.

If you don't want to search for a place through a real estate agency, there are other ways to look for accommodation in China. First, you can read through classified ads in newspapers and websites from your city in China — you may find apartments rented out directly by owners, which will help you save on agent fees.

Good to know:

Make sure to verify that you are talking to the apartment owner. Sometimes, third parties and real estate agents may pose as apartment owners online and end up charging you agent fees.

Apartment sharing is becoming increasingly common, especially in big cities with really high rent prices. Most expat websites or specialized apartment hunting websites will have an apartment-sharing section. Many expats choose this option as it allows them to live in nicer areas without paying exorbitant rent.

You can also find a place through the expatriate network — scan forums and international groups for apartment ads and ask your contacts for help in the search.

Lease contracts in China

When renting an apartment in China, you will need to sign a lease. It's not a good idea to move into an apartment without an official lease. Make sure you have signed a legal rental contract before you transfer any payment to your landlord or the real estate agency.

Apartment contracts are typically signed for one year with an option to renew. If interested, you can consider signing a lease for a longer term — but make sure to indicate whether you will be paying the same amount in rent. Rent prices in China tend to fluctuate a lot, and signing a longer-term rent contract makes sense if you get to lease the apartment at the same price.

Some landlords might also agree to shorter rentals, but this will need to be negotiated.

A two-month deposit is standard when renting an apartment in China. However, in some cases, you may be able to negotiate a one-month deposit.

Before you sign the lease, your landlord or real estate agent will provide you with an inventory of all the items in the apartment: furniture, appliances, etc. Make sure to do a proper walk through the apartment and check if all the furniture and appliances mentioned in the list are actually there.

It's also up to you to verify the general state of your housing and to notify the owner or real estate agent of any possible damages left unlisted. Check all the appliances and make sure they are usable. Electricity, water, heating and telephone are to be separately paid by the tenant.

If you want to make any modifications to the apartment you are renting, make sure to check with your landlord first. In fact, it's a good idea to get their agreement to the changes in writing — just to make sure there are no disputes in the future.

If you do have a disagreement with your landlord, it may be best to reach out to the real estate agent who helped you rent the apartment to resolve the conflict.

Most rental agreements are written in Chinese, but if you work with a real estate agent, they should be able to provide you with a copy of the rental agreement in English. If you don't read Chinese and there is no English translation available for your rental contract, hire a translator or ask a Chinese friend or colleague to assist you.


Do not sign a lease agreement in Chinese if you don't know what it says. It's essential that you understand each clause of the contract before you put your signature on it.

What types of accommodation are available in China?

In most cities in China, you will find various accommodation options: from simple, minimalistic apartments to luxury townhouses. It all depends on your budget and the type of lifestyle you are looking for.

If you are single and traveling to China for the first time, you may be interested in renting a studio. Studios are very popular in big cities in China, where many young people come to look for work opportunities. Studios in China are generally well-equipped and come with all the basic appliances. Note that you will also find quite a few small studios in China — some measuring as little as 20sqm. These miniature apartments are particularly popular in large cities where rent prices are high. They are a good way to save money while still having your privacy and are a workable alternative to shared accommodation.

If you are looking for a larger apartment, you will have a wide selection of options as well. Most two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments in smaller towns are Chinese-styled. This means that the rooms may be quite small, and you will find a lot of wooden furniture in the apartment. That said, most big cities in China also have a lot of newly-built modern residential complexes with more “familiar” designs.

One of the things that may take some adjustment is that a lot of apartments in China, especially in smaller towns, come with squat toilets. A squat toilet is a toilet installed at ground level. So, you will find yourself squatting rather than sitting. This is something to consider when renting an apartment in China, as a lot of expats find squat toilets to be a difficult adjustment.

Most apartments in China won't have bathtubs or ovens. These are considered luxury, and apartments with a bathtub or an oven will typically be on the expensive side.

Most apartments in China have balconies or large windows. In some older buildings, you will see bars on the windows — these are meant as a protection measure but are no longer used in newer buildings.

How to buy property in China

It is legally possible to buy property in China as an expat. However, in addition to having a hefty sum in the bank, there are also quite a few hoops to jump through.

Here are some of the key conditions for buying property in China as a foreigner:

You need to have resided in the country legally for at least a year. This will typically involve providing proof that you have been working or doing business in China.

You will be required to produce tax receipts for most of the duration of your stay — the exact period differs depending on which region you plan to buy property in.

You will also need to prove that you will be using the purchased property for residential purposes only. You are not permitted to rent it out or keep it as an investment. Note that the right to buy refers only to residential property, and you won't be able to purchase commercial property unless you own a company in China.

The most important legal aspect of buying residential property in China is that, technically, you will actually be leasing the land that the building stands on for a period of 70 years. Theoretically, upon the expiry of this period, the lease will be renewed. However, the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Construction retains the right to void your lease and pay you compensation (which can be significantly lower than the said property's market value).

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.