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

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

  1. Hey Furio,
    Thanks so much for the article, it really really helps. My company is relocating me to Shanghai and they have a budget of about 15,000 RMB/month. I have looked on the SouFun webpage and have seen two general kinds of posts there: one kind with really high quality apartments (sometimes too good to be true), and really nice pictures, and other kind with more home-made pictures of less “luxurious” apartments.
    I have also found, for the first category, pictures of the same apartment advertised in different parts of the city.

    Is this a common scam that I should try to avoid? Thanks so much in advance for your help and, again, thanks for the amazing post.

  2. How to find a home near intel address:
    No. 14-16, Song tao road 647,zhang jiang high-tech park.

    Metro station near by Intel: Line 2
    Zhang jiang high-tech station.

    Indian community:
    Lonngyang 1880, wan bang du
    shi hua yuan (浦东龙阳路1880弄万邦都市花园) you can just copy ‘万邦都市花园’ and paste to map app to search.

    Metro: Line 2
    Long yang station. Pls tll me..

  3. Hi! Sir great article and full of amazing info about get a apartment on rent in sh. Sir i am student and come in sh in december .i have not a big budget i want to get a apartment on rent in sh.. plz give me a good advice my study session is around 1 year… plz helo me

  4. Hey guys,

    First of all: Thank you for this guide. It seems to be a complete and accurate checklist. I’ll move to Shanghai from October 2015 for four months. I have some short questions and it would be awesome if someone knowledgable took the time to answer.

    1) How much time in advance should I arrive in Shanghai to find an apartment? How long does it usually take?

    2) Can I expect to be able to move in immediately, or do landlords in Shanghai usually only rent out their apartments from the beginning of a month?

    3) We are a couple willing to live in a 1 bedroom apartment (no studio) in the French Concession area. Is it gonna be easy to find something and what rent should I expect for a decent apartment (not too big, but furnished and well equipped)?

    Thank you in advance!

    1. Hello,

      1. It depends on your budget! However, if you follow the advices on this guide a week shall be enough.

      2. You don’t need to wait the beginning of the month. As long as you pay, you can move in immediately.

      3. As I said, in the article we outline the tactics for finding a room in an apartment; follow them and you shall be fine. Prices vary greatly according to what you want. I suggest you to check SmartShanghai for the details.

      1. Hey Furio Fu,

        Thanks a lot for the rapid response.
        I was thinking about trying the “agency” way. Also, we don’t want a room but a whole apartment for ourselves. I have checked SmartShanghai and with all my parameters there are just about 5 matches or so. Can I expect to find more comparable apartments through the agencies? I think the article said that there were a lot of vacant places in Shanghai. However, I’m talking about furnished apartments for a short-term rent (4-5 months max). Any insights?


        1. Hello Max,

          Ok, I understood you wanted a room, not the whole apartment! Yeah, for apartments you’re better of going with an agency. Just walk on the neighborhood where you’d like to live and stop at any agency you see (there are plenty). If you don’t speak Chinese, it may be better find someone that can help you with the language as not all agency will offer English speaker sales managers

          1. Hey Furio Fu,

            Thanks again for the answer. I’ll arrive 10 days before my work starts and try to find an apartment by going the agency way you described. I don’t have any friends in Shanghai yet – is a translator essential? Do you have a clue about the share of English speaking agents?

          2. No, it’s not essential, especially within the French Concession. Just walk into real estate agencies and tell them you only speak English. Of course, if you can find a Chinese speaker to help you it will be easier and faster.

          3. Alright thank you so much for all the help!
            This is a great website, I appreciate your work. Have a great day!

  5. Hello! Your website is fantastic and this post alleviated a lot of worries myself and my boyfriend had about finding an apartment in Shanghai! I wonder if you would know, we are on tourist visas (so only one month at the moment) but want to find work and hopefully get a proper visa. Do you think it’s possible for us to rent an apartment on a tourist visa? Or will this raise suspicions when going to the police station to register our address?? Many thanks!!!

    1. Hello Hayley,

      it looks quite risky. You’ll have to sign at least a 6/12 months contract; what if you can’t get a proper VISA? You’ll probably lose the deposit. Same for internet, you’ll probably have to sign up for a 6 months contract at least.

      Not sure how the police may take it, however I think it’s better to avoid it. For the first month I suggest you to settle for AirBNB or an hostel and rent the apartment only later on, when you are sure you can stay.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing these valuable information. It’s really very helpful for people who are new to china and need accommodation.

  7. This article just saved me! I was almost tricked by some bunch of guys into taking an apartment. As soon as they indicated the security deposit was 2 months, this article came to my mind and I started taking things more cautiously! Finally it turned out that the so called ‘Landlords’ were just managers of a service apartment and was trying to illegally evict money from us. Cheers guys, Thanks!!

    My 2 cent advice:
    – Do not accept security deposit of more than 1 month
    – Always ask for reciept (these guys went bonkers when I asked for my fiappio)
    – Do your research online before renting out any place
    – Check with the neighbours

  8. Hey Furio, well written article. I think you should’ve underlined more how rife the real estate websites are with false ads (ex: prices, shared while advertised single and false pics) and apartments that cannot be registered for a residence permit. Usually they shouldn’t be trusted at all unless the English used in the ad isn’t broken or a google-translate copypasta.

    Anyway, I wanted to ask about where expats stand on changing the locks once you move into a new place? It’s a must do in many countries, so does the same apply in China; or would it give me problems with the landlord?


    1. Hello,

      1. I wrote this article awhile ago but if I remember well we recommend to visit all apartments before go ahead with the contract. This is the only way to make sure the photos aren’t fake. And BTW, I saw a lot of fake photos also in London and other cities, I think this is quite normal!

      2. I don’t think the level of English is important: in fact there are many great agencies that don’t care about the “expat” market. The only “catch” is that you need to speak Chinese to deal with them

      3. As for apartments that can’t be registered for a resident permit, I never heard of that. Usually, if you get a contract as the one outlined on the article, it shall be fine. There may be some exceptions, but then again, this is a problem in every country. For instance, in UK you can’t rent a room on a Council House, however many not so honest agencies and landlord play this trick.

      4.I never thought about doing so nor I know anybody that did this. In fact China is safest country where I lived so far. Again, sign a good contract and the landlord will think twice before to try to scam you. Of course, if you don’t have a contract the risks are much higher but again, this is common sense on any country, even yours!

  9. I am so happy I found this before speaking to any agents, It seems most companies ( Especially in my price range ) want to reel you in and THEN tell you about some Fee and cost. Anyway thanks so much, you mention line 2 is where you should love what about line 7? I see many great places near Changshu station. merci :D

  10. Hi, this has been very very helpful, I was wondering does this apply to shenzhen?

    and so how detailed should the contract be? who pays for gas,, electricity, etc。

    I’m afraid that they are very shady you know?

    1. Yes, who pays bill shall be on the contract. There is a section about the contract on the article. Overall, everything I said also apply to Shenzhen

  11. I really liked your article. I have been living in Shanghai for three years and am just about to rent a new apartment. I decided on an apartment near the Changshou Rd subway station in Jingan and it seems to fit your advice on where to get an apartment. I chose it because I could ride my bicycle to anywhere on the west side of the Huangpu in less than 30 minutes. Also if I need to get to Pudong I can take Line 2 from Jingan Temple.

    The only problem I have with your article is that you say do not pay more than one month as a security deposit because you think it is a scam. It isn’t a scam. A place that has a high rent each month will usually ask for one month. A place that is cheaper will usually ask for two months. This is just my personal experience from me and my friends renting apartments. It was never a scam.

    Also I want to say that if anyone wants to rent where it is really cheap but still not too far from the city center, they should look north of Suzhou Creek like in Putuo or Hangkou. You can find a three bedroom apartment there (albeit with no elevator) for only 3000 rmb a month. I also spent a year living up there is a studio apartment that was 2000 rmb a month. It is a little rough around the edges, but doable.

  12. I loved the article great wrk am going to travel late January I hope I will not have problems getting an apartment and ppl to share w

  13. Good article, still pretty accurate one year after! About the best places to live, I recommend North Jing’An where you can still find some not too expensive buildings, just don’t go for one of these with the gym and the pool. I live there now and this is by far the best place I’ve lived in, and I use to live on Wulumuqi Mid Road (one of the best street of the FFC in my opinion). North Jing’An restaurant supply is just sick, there’s everything you need, and you’re still very central.

  14. Thanks so much for this article! It was very helpful. If you don’t mind, I have a couple of questions that I would greatly appreciate if you could answer :)

    I’ve been looking at the Smart Shanghai website, and despite knowing that the prices are probably higher than other places, I’ve been pretty satisfied with what I’ve seen. However, I’m kind of nervous of being scammed and was wondering if you had any advice for renting from the site since they themselves are not the landlords. Tenants are usually not allowed to sublet apartments, so should I ask to speak to the actual landlord? It seems that as long as I meet the landlord and have a copy of the contract and keys to the apartment before paying any money I should be safe, but do you have any other tips? I’ve read of scams where people will pay deposits but when they show up to move in, the apartment will be locked and the contact person will have disappeared.

    Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi, I’ve written all my advices on the article. I’d suggest you to avoid sublets and talk directly with the landlord!

  15. I used this people and so nice and simple … for my study period

    there are so many agents but few understand the western lifestyle and requirements … so if you want to have a haouse with windows to outside or toilets with doors … better you ask before for someone with western experience

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