How to Rent an Apartment in Shanghai: The guide for Expats

rent apartment in shanghai

This is a complete guide to rent an apartment, or just a room in a shared flat, in Shanghai.

Looking for an apartment on the internet

If you are just landed to China and you don’t know anybody, the fastest way to find an apartment is probably to check the websites in English language. I recommend Flat in China, Smart Shanghai, Craigs List and Inter Shanghai.

The pros are that you won’t have to hunt for an agency on the street and most luckily you will deal with a landlord (or an agent) that can speak decent English.

Also, if you are in a tight budget (less than 3,000 RMB per month, that is about 500 USD) and you don’t want to live too far away from downtown, getting a room in a shared flat will be your only choice.

In this case, since very few agencies deal with “rooms” (they usually want you to rent the whole apartment), internet is your best bet.

The cons are that the apartments and rooms are usually more expensive (this is logical because the landlord knows that he’s addressing foreigners, often newcomers that can’t speak Chinese) and they get rented fast.

Especially for rooms in shared apartment, you either visit and take the room straight away or someone else will. It’s frustrating.

However, if you can speak Chinese or have a Chinese friend that is willing to help you, you can also check on the websites in Mandarin. Here the most popular: Sou Fun, Bai Xing (that is Chinese’s Craigs List) and Hao Zu.

Also on the Chinese websites the best rooms and flats get rented fast. However you will have much more choice and the prices will be way cheaper.

Another option for getting a room in a shared apartment

There are several active Couchsurfing groups that focus on Shanghai. You could sign up and see if there is anybody looking for a room.

In this case you could propose to him/her to join you and look together for a flat. If there isn’t any people that already posted a message, you can still post a message yourself saying “Hey, I’m looking for a roommate. Anybody interested?”

Why? The reason is that, if you team up with one or two other guys that are also looking for a room, you guys can rent a whole apartment.

This has three advantages:

  • You will have much more choice because Shanghai is full of empty apartments (while empty room in a shared apartment are rare).
  • You can address an agency (they usually only deals with empty apartments) so that you don’t have to rely solely on the internet.
  • You will get a better deal as renting a whole apartment is usually cheaper (if you find a couple of roommates willing to share the rent with you).

This is how I found my current room. After two weeks of worthless calls and emails to people that were renting rooms in shared apartments, I teamed up with two other guys (yup, I met then on Couchsurfing).

We walked to an agency in Jing An, asked for an apartment in downtown with three bedrooms and a rent under 7,000 RMB (for the whole apartment) and got it in two days.

rent in shanghai

Looking for an apartment through an agency

Even if some agents can’t speak English, many of them will. Remember that you are in Shanghai, not in a small Tibetan village!

In this case your best bet is to choose the zone where you want to live (Jing An for instance) and start to walk around till you find an agency. There are plenty of agencies so you shouldn’t have problems to find a couple of them.

Then ask for an apartment with the characteristics you want (remember to specify your budget).

The agent will probably start by showing you an apartment that doesn’t respect your budget. The reason is that they work on commission. So if he can convince you to get an apartment a bit more expensive, he will earn a slightly higher commission.

Don’t freak out. Remember that you are in China : )

Be polite but inflexible. Tell him again what’s your budget and that you won’t accept anything more expensive than that. However remember to be realistic: find a decent room in downtown for less than 2,000 RMB/month is impossible.

Don’t forget to bargain the price. This is widely accepted in China and usually you will get some small discount (within 1% and 10% according to your bargain skills).

Another tactic pretty common used by the agents is to start by bringing you to a very shitty apartment. They know you won’t take it. They are just trying to scare you so that, after you see two or three flats that look disgusting, you will be happy to rent an apartment that is just so so. Don’t fall for it.

If an agent brings you to a very bad apartment, tell him that you want something better. If the second flat is like the first, just tell him to fuck off and walk away.

There are plenty of honest agencies so there is no reason to deal with someone that is trying to rip you off.

What are the expenses beside the monthly rent (security deposit, agency fee, electricity and so on)

In Shanghai you should pay the rent every month or, at worst, every two months. Also, you will have to pay a security deposit. Be aware that the landlord may ask you for a two or three months rent deposit. However you shouldn’t accept to pay an amount of money higher than one month of rent as a deposit.

Personally I would walk away if someone insists to want more than one month deposit as this is the standard.

When you find an apartment that you like, you must “block” it. This means that you have to anticipate a small amount of money. Our landlord asked 2,000 RMB to us but we only gave him 900 RMB (our rent is 7,000 per month). In exchange, he gave us a signed receipt.

The day after we came back to the apartment and, after we checked that everything was working (air cons, hot water and so on), we signed the contract and paid two months rent + one month deposit (all in cash, welcome to China!).

We also paid a commission to the agent, which corresponded to 35% of one month rent. If the agent ask for more just tell him that 35% is the standard fee (I suggest you to ask what the agency’s fee is before you start to check apartments).

Usually you will have to pay the electricity, water, gas and internet bills. The total amount shouldn’t be more than 400 RMB/month. So if you are three people it’s about 130 RMB/month each.

If you live in a big building there will be some maintenance fees (which may vary but usually it’s around 100-200 RMB/month). Our landlord pays it by himself, but some landlord will ask you to also pay this fee. Again, it’s up to you to bargain.

apartament in shanghai

Why you need a regular contract

There are two reasons.

First at all, as soon as you arrive in China you are required to go to police station and register your address.

If you are a tourist or you are living in a students’ dorm you don’t need to worry about it because the hotel’s or the dorm’s manager will register you at the nearest police station.

However, if you rent an apartment, you need to do it yourself. It only takes five minutes and you don’t need to speak any Chinese. However you need to bring the original copy of your house contract and your passport (you also need to bring a copy of the contract, of the passport’s first page and of passport’s Visa page).

In the past years this wasn’t that important. However since this year the police is putting a lot of attention on address registration. If you don’t register your address, they will call the number that you gave at the customs the day you entered China. If you don’t answer, they will just start to look for you.

Again, it just takes five minutes. But you do need a regular house contract. Also, you should ask to your agent or landlord where is the police station because you only can register at the station that is responsible for your zone.

The second reason for which you need a contract is that you can’t fully trust your landlord. What are you going to do if, after three months that you rented the apartment, your landlord decides to rise the price of your flat?

If you have a regular contract, you just tell him to shut up or you will go to talk with the police. But if you don’t have any contract you don’t own any right to stay there.

Also, how are you going to get back your security deposit? This isn’t your country. So just play it safe and ask for a contract.

How should the contract looks like?

  • First at all, the house contract should be in English or both in English and Chinese languages. Don’t sign any contract in Chinese if you don’t speak the language.
  • The name of the landlord should be in the contract. I would also ask to see his ID card and get a copy of it.
  • The address of the apartment should be on the contract.
  • The monthly rent fee, the deposit fee and the rent scheduling (every month or every two months) should be on the contract.
  • The duration of the contract should be specified. And by the way, the duration is also something that you can bargain.
  • The contract should states that the landlord is responsible to fix major damages (like a broken fridge or air con).
  • The contract should state that, in the case the landlord asks you to live before the end of the contract, he should pay a penalty (at least one month rent).

The most common scams while renting an apartment in China

  • Read your contract and check that everything I mentioned is written there. If it’s not written, it doesn’t exist. And you have no power to enforce the landlord to respect his word.
  • Get a receipt for anything you pay. I know it seems obvious, but there are still people that forget to ask for it.
  • Don’t accept to pay more than a month rent deposit. Anything higher than that sounds like a scam to me.
  • If you don’t want to use an agency, avoid to sign a contract with a landlord that doesn’t live in the apartment (or next door). Also, avoid intermediaries! The problem is that they could just run away with your money. And this doesn’t only happen with Chinese intermediaries.

    In late 2011 eighty people were scammed by Ryan Fedoruk, a Canadian guy that sublet thirty apartments in Shanghai and then flew away with the money (300,000 RMB).

    So, either you go with an agency (and check if the agency is legit by visiting its office) or trust the landlord (because he will live with you or next door).

how to rent a flat in shanghai

Where to live in Shanghai if you care about your social life

Many people will choose their location in order to be close to their office or university. However other people prefer to live in downtown so they can have a better social life (remember that Shanghai is huge). I’m one of the latter.

First at all, you should look for an apartment close to a subway station. Shanghai subway system is massive (the longest in the world) so you can go pretty much everywhere with it (here you find an interactive map). Also, it’s quite cheap.

In particular, I advice you to live along the subway line 2 (the green one), which crosses all Shanghai from East to West. This will usually allows you to reach any part of the city with only one of two changes (and often without changes at all).

The best places to live are, in my opinion, between Nanjing East Station and Zhong Shan Park Station. Most of bars & clubs are located on the old French concession, that is on the South of these stations. But it’s not only about nightlife, I like this zone because it remembers me of an European town, with a lot of tiny alleys, small restaurants and old cafés.

Be aware that the apartments inside the French concession are either bloody expensive or pretty old. If you still want to live downtown and get a modern flat but, at the same time, you have a small budget, then I suggest you to look at the North side of the line 2.

In general Zhong Shan Park and Jangsu Road are cheaper than Jing An, Nanjing West or People Square (check the map of the line 2 if you feel a bit lost).

Frequently asked questions

What’s the average apartment rent in Shanghai?
Rents have increased a lot in Shanghai over the past 5-10 years. According to Expatistan and Numbeo, the average monthly rent for a 3-bedroom apartment in the central (expensive) areas is 15,000 ~ 16,000 RMB (2,235 ~ 2,384 US dollars) per month. You’ll save 30 ~ 50% if you chose to live in “normal” units/outside of the city center.

The average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in the city center is around 6,800 RMB (1,000 US dollars), while you can find apartments for half that price outside of the city center.

How much does an apartment cost in Shanghai?
Shanghai’s real estate market is in a bubbly phase, but has started to cool down. From 2013 – 2016, the average price per square meter increased by almost 40% from 16,192 RMB to 25,910 RMB, which is kind of insane.

Nowadays, you’ll find many apartments that fetch for as much as 80,000 – 130,000 RMB (12,000 – 18,000 US dollars) per square meter in the central areas, and even close to surrounding districts, like Minhang. Shanghai is not your cup of tea if you look for investment properties and high yields, but mainly if you want to buy out of personal reasons.

What is housing like in Shanghai?
Shanghai has a population of 26 million people and has a land area that’s several times bigger than New York City. As such, you can find everything from shabby units in the outskirts that costs 1,000 RMB per month, to clean luxury units that costs tens of thousands of RMB.

Having travelled around Europe, I can just say that the overall standard is lower compared to Western countries. Apartments are smaller and the quality of facilities often worse. If you plan to share a regular unit, you need to get accustomed to see a couple of cockroaches from time to time.

Mold issues aren’t rarely heard of (even in expat accommodations) and you shouldn’t take for granted that the landlord will help you to solve these kind of issues.

How can I rent a luxury apartment in Shanghai?
You can find luxury units on websites like Smartshanghai, Flat In China, and Craigslist. Yet, there are other websites that specialize in renting out luxury units. Some of the websites you should have a look at are:

If you move as an expat, your company might work with agents in China (like my old company) and can provide you with the right contacts.

Photo Credits: Creative Commons License A Shanghai skyline by David Almeida

141 thoughts on “How to Rent an Apartment in Shanghai: The guide for Expats”

  1. Thank you for such informative article.
    I am travelling to shanghai soon to join Shanghai Jiao Tong University and I want to rent an apartment which will cost me around 4000RMB per month.
    Any advice/suggestion

  2. Family Vacations Manuel Antonio

    The best way to find the apartment in shanghai is by hiring the real estate agent which you can easily by looking in the different websites and approach them to find out the apartment which are available for the rental purpose.

  3. do you think it’s possible to find a private apartment in minhang district ,furnished with a/c,washing machine for 5000rmb?

    1. Hello George,

      I suggest you to check the real estate website we cited in this article, and see if you can find something you like, within your budget

  4. Hello if my workplace is in people square, but I do not mind taking the subway what would you recommend for a budget of 5k to 8.5k?
    One person btw full place for me alone hahaha.

    Aside this I notice building in shangai normally don’t have lobby security is there a reason for this? And in case there is, how much would the apartment cost?

  5. I enjoyed reading your article Furio :) I have a 2 bedroom apartment located in Central Downtown LuWan/HuangPu District, one of the top three most popular and desirable districts and neighbourhoods in Shanghai. The apartment is ideal for professional couple or person who works in Xin Tian Di, Bund area, Fuxing/Sinan Rd area or former French Concession area. I’m the landlord myself so no agency cost. :) I have been leasing my place out since 2012 and my current tenants are a couple and they are moving back to their home country at the end of the lease. If you are expat professionals working in Shanghai and are interested you can contact me at [email protected] Cheers!

  6. Hey Furio,

    I’ll be traveling to Shanghai next week, and you’re article was incredibly useful.

    Also, if anyone in the comment section is looking for a flatmate, comment here :). I’ll be looking to rent a flat in the Huangpu area (had to double check if I got that spelling right, lol)


      1. Hi! Thanks for the info. I need to know whether I can find an apartment in the xuhui district. With a budget between 3500 and 4500 RMB. Thanks

    1. Hi Joel,

      I am currently looking for flatmates to rent a flat in Shanghai. If you are still interested, my wechat is dostarizfalo.

      Also, thanks to Furio for the post, it was really good.

  7. Hey Furio Fu!

    First of all, thank you for the informations!
    I am looking for an apartment in the Hongqiao area. Do you think heating is necessary? What do people do without a heating do? Wear jackets or do they use electic heating or something like that?

    What are your experiences?


    1. Hi there,

      I always used the air con, which can be usually be used to make the rooms either cold and hot.

      So yeah, it was electrical heating!

  8. Treasure found! It’s hard to spot a really informative site in China. Thank you for taking the time. I am really worried and lost which place we should get an apartment for myself, husband and our dog. We are moving to Shanghai next month, my work place would be in World Financial Centre, Budget wise not more than 10,000RMB, any reco which area we should be looking at if we wanted more space? Appreciate your help!


    1. Hello Rah,

      if you want more space, then stay in Pudong, along the Green Line, so that it’s easy for you to get to your office. Budget shall be more than enough!

  9. Good article using personal experience. As an real estate agency in Shanghai, we deal with dozen of clients each months, and it is true that not all agencies are fully honest with the services they provide. The competition is very high these days so the least scrupulous agencies won’t last long if they don’t increase the quality of their services. Actually, a good third of these agencies are dying due to their poor performances directly related to their lack of professionalism. Many of them only saw a quick way to make cash on foreigners but this can’t work in the long run.

    By the way, be careful when spelling Chinese name, not Zhong shang park, but Zhongshan!

  10. Hi there…thank you for your time in writing all this much needed information as well as reading my little question:)

    to fa’piao or not to fa’piao…can you explain this…seems the price differs if I choose yes or no with this thing…can’t find a good explanation of what it is exactly and if I need it or not

    thank you for any info!

  11. Hi there,
    I am relocating in SH in September and need a flat downtown which is preferably unfurnished cause I am bringing all my staff with me. In smartshanghai i saw that most flats are furnished and prices are almost same with unfurnished. Is this correct? If I find something furnished that I like do you think I could ask the landlord to empty the place for me? In that case could I also ask for a better price?
    Thanks a lot in advance for your help and congrats for all the super helpful info

    1. Hello Rani,

      Chinese are flexible, so you can certainly ask… however I dont think the price will better if you ask them to empty the place as you are asking them to do more work!

  12. Hi Furio,

    I really appreciate the time and energy you put in creating this article. I am staying for about two and half months in Shanghai beginning in September. I have also been checking Air bnb website. What are your thoughts about using that for accommodations? Do know anyone that has used that for a short term solution?


    1. Hi Alashea, the problem with AirBnB is that often the owners don’t register you at the police, and this is illegal.

      You must always be registered at the police while you are in China. The hotels that have the permission to host foreigners to so by default, and thus there are no no pb.

      However AirBnB is handled by private citizens, who often don’t guarantee the registration. So, before you go ahead with the booking, you shall talk with the owners and make sure they register you.

      Personally I think it’s easier to go for hotels (or cheap hostels, if you re on a budget)

  13. Hi Furio,

    Thanks for a great post. I have a problem with my agency. I signed a contract for 1 year but have to move out early as I communicated with them when signing the contract. To get my deposit back (2 months rent) I have to find a new person to rent my room. They said in March that the replacement needs to pay 4100 per month, and have clarified to me now when I have already found a person to take over my lease that they raised the price to 4500 (three weeks before I need to move out). Could you please let me know if it’s legal for the agency to increase prices like that on a monthly basis? I’m afraid that they did it to keep my deposit because even 4100 is a lot of money and most of my friends pay significantly less for a shared room in Jing’an.
    Best regards,

    1. Hello Ayrat,

      In my opinion it depends on what the contract says:

      If the contract says that if you find a replacement you shall get the deposit back, than I think what they are trying to do is illegal.

      If the contract doesn’t mention the possibility for you to leave earlier and getting the deposit back (provided that you find a replacement) then I’m afraid they can do whatever they want

  14. Hi Furio

    I have a question for you. I am working through an agency to find an apartment/house in Wuxi. After a few months, I have found a very nice one, but in all this time there was no mention of agents fee (wherever I have been in the world, landlord pays the agent a commission). Suddenly today, as I am about to sign the contract and pay the deposit and first month rental, the agent tells me I have to pay 100% of a month rent. Is this common?

    1. Hello Craig,

      yes, it’s normal to pay a commission in China (I also always paid a commission in Europe). However, at least in Shanghai the standard commission is 35%, not 100%. If you dont want to pay 100%, I suggest to check more agencies and ask for the commission rate right away

  15. Mohammad Shahriar Rahman

    I must say that it is a great site for anyone who wish to stay at Shahghai. I am planning to stay at Xuhui for 3 months training in the Sixth people’s hospital.Your web page really helped me to plan my living at there.

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