Renting in Shanghai Part 1 – The Prep Work

Renting in Shanghai – Get Prepared with LTL Mandarin School

The dazzling lights of Shanghai - Renting in Shanghai Guide

The dazzling lights of Shanghai – Renting in Shanghai Guide

So you’ve decided to pack all your things and book a one-way ticket to China, more specifically Shanghai. After living in hostels for a while, you concluded that this is the most awesome place on Earth and decided to live here. Or perhaps you chose Shanghai even before you set foot in China. Or maybe you were sent here for work. Whatever the case may be, the next thing on your list – to find a place to live.

It may sound like an impossible task at first, when you can’t even have a conversation with a local without shoving your phone up their face. But worry not; you can do it, as did many expats who came before you. So take a deep breath, and ready, set, go!

A Breakdown of the Shanghai Renting Process

After living in a few different cities, I’ve come to realize that no matter where you are, the renting process is generally the same. It’s no different in China. The language may be different, the houses may look different, and the terms of the contract might be slightly different, but generally speaking, it’s a pretty standardized process.

Here is a break down:

1. Do your homework
2. Define your criteria (AKA figure out what you want)
3. Get in touch with agents (yes, plural. More on why later)
4. Look at houses
5. Negotiate
6. Sign contract

Do Your Homework

Where to Start

The first thing I did when I had to find a place in Shanghai was typing “renting in Shanghai” into the Google search bar. If this sounds like you, you are off to a great start. It never hurts to do your own research ahead of time. Knowledge is power!

You might come across websites like where agents and owners post places for rent. Browsing through listings is helpful at this stage as it gives you a feel for the rent prices and what the apartments look like. Another great resource for rental listings is WeChat groups. I hope by this point, you’ve realized it’s near impossible to live in China without WeChat, which is like a one stop shop for pretty much everything. I mean EVERYTHING; from staying connected with your friends to ordering a Uber, I mean Didi 滴滴, which is the Chinese equivalent. But I digress.

USEFUL TIP – Ask people you know to add you to rental groups on WeChat.

If you haven’t met anyone yet, ask on Facebook groups or Reddit. Once you are in, you will have more listings to look at for comparison.

Location, Location, Location

The Former French Concession (法租界) - a popular spot for expats to rent in Shanghai

The Former French Concession (法租界) – a popular spot for expats to rent in Shanghai

You also want to do some research on which area you might want to live in. The most popular districts for expats are Jing’An(静安), Xuhui(徐汇), Huangpu(黄浦), and Putuo (普陀). All of them are located in city center and the rent prices are therefore the more expensive in these places compare to the rest of Shanghai.

The nicest area among these is probably the Former French Concession (法租界), located in Xuhui and Huangpu districts and close to Changshu Road (常熟路) subway station. It’s the top choice for many expats for its beautiful tree-lined streets and mellow atmosphere. You guessed it – it’s also the most expensive area to live in.

Define Your Criteria – Figure Out What You Want

Now that you have a general idea of the rent prices and what the apartments look like in Shanghai, it’s time to figure out what you want. Don’t panic, I’m not asking you to figure out what you want to do with your life. Finding a place to live is serious business but not THAT serious. This is where you think about what’s important to you for your next place. Do you want to live with roommates or alone? Do you want to live in city center or away? How much do you want to spend on rent? How much space do you need?

Some Helpful Tips
A good rule of thumb is to spend 30% of your monthly income on rent

A good rule of thumb is to spend 30% of your monthly income on rent

Here are some tips to help you out. It becomes much easier to answer the majority of these questions when you know your budget. Here is what I mean.

If you want to live in city center, a short distance away from the train station, and alone with a balcony in an elevator building with a lot of space, you will likely pay more than 10,000 rmb for your place. If you only make 15,000 rmb every month, it wouldn’t really make sense to fork over two-thirds of your monthly pay on rent.

A good rule of thumb on how much you should spend on rent, according to most personal finance gurus, is about 30% of your monthly income, give or take.

I’ll let you do the math from here. But of course you can spend more or less if you so desire. However, this is the limiting factor for a lot of people. It’s not uncommon for people to start with a long list of criteria and realize after seeing a few apartments that they need to cut their list short (Been there)! It’s important to know your non-negotiables. What is most important to you? Is it access to bars and restaurants? Because having an amazing social life is your top priority? Or is it proximity to work because you want to save as much time on commute as possible? Once you’ve figured out your priorities, it’s time to hit up an agent, which we will talk about in part two of our guide to renting in Shanghai … before going through the final negotiation stages in part three

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