Accommodation in China What you need to know
Whether or not your job comes with an apartment will depend on what type of job you take.
If you’re taking a public/private school or university job then it’ll most likely to come with an apartment, either near the school or on campus accommodation.
If you’re taking a teaching job with a private language school then it’s far less likely to. This is usually obvious in the salary difference (if housing isn't mentioned in the advert), if you’re getting paid 10,000 – 15,000 for an entry level position, you’re unlikely to get an apartment.
So we have two options:
- We have to find an apartment
- We're being given an apartment
How to find an apartment in China?
Unless you’ve got personal landlord connections, you’ll probably end up hunting for an apartment with property agents, as you would anywhere else in the world.
You really want your school or other teachers to point you towards some reputable agents, as searching for them yourself will be very hit and miss. If possible you also want someone to accompany you, when you go to look at apartments. Having someone from your school who speaks fluent Mandarin with you, will make sure the right questions are asked and help you with China’s notoriously good haggling!
Most of China’s apartments are in tower blocks, however this doesn’t mean they’re the same. To paraphrase part of an excellent article on Tonga Time, apartments are a major source of investment for Chinese people and they’ll usually be refurbished and renovated. Don’t look at one apartment and assume all the others will be identical.
Before you go out to see properties, be firm with property agent. Set your price, say how many places you’d like to see and set a time limit. Adding these limits are useful to make sure you do end up seeing multiple properties and getting a good idea of what’s on offer.
Unlike the people being given houses you get a chance to see yours and walk around it, so things like the lack of a western oven or tiny cramped bedrooms you’ll be able to see.
Once you’ve chosen a place it’s time to get down to negotiations and fees. (Did you manage to get your school to accompany you? It’s going to help now.)
Virtually every apartment in China is furnished and so you’ll need to negotiate on your utilities (water, gas, internet etc.) and upkeep fees (apartment maintenance etc.). The other fee you’ll probably have to pay is the real estate tax (housing rental fapiao), which you'll want your landlord to pay (although you’ll probably have to reimburse him). This is quite a long side tangent and the previous link will take you to the tax section of the knowledge base where we discuss it in full.
Once you’ve finished the negotiations you’ll need to pick through the contract. Hopefully you managed to get a property agent who deals with foreigners regularly and so their contract is in both Chinese and English.
You’ll have to put down a deposit and you’ll also go through the house taking down the current state of it. Make sure you agree on all the wear and tear and note the condition of everything.
Once you’ve signed your contract you’ll need to register at your local police station within 24 hours.
Congratulations. You’ve got an apartment!
Being Given an Apartment in China
Chinese homes have some idiosyncrasies that you might not expect. Unlike the people who have to find their own apartments, you won’t get a chance to see your apartment before choosing it.
This means asking as many questions as possible before hand to make sure you get given a place you’re satisfied with.
Bear in mind you might not be able to solve all these problems. For example finding a western oven in a Chinese apartment may not be physically possible. But this way you will find out any possible deal breaker before arriving.
- Get photos, the more the better. Self-explanatory.
- What are the kitchen facilities? What do you get? A rice cooker? Microwave? Fridge? Gas hobs?
- Does it come with any kitchen utensils? (Dishes, pans, etc.)
- What are the bathroom and shower facilities like? How much space does the shower have?
- Is there a curfew and are overnight visitors allowed? (Less common but occasionally a rule on campus.)
- Are you in an apartment block (there’s a good chance you are)? What floor are you on, is there an elevator?
- Do you have to share anything like, washer, driers, toilets etc.
- How are the utilities dealt with? Are they paid for as an apartment block?
- Do you have air conditioning?
- When was the apartment last used? Has it been cleaned in-between tenants?
Especially with living arrangements the devil’s in the details. Your apartment might have air conditioning, but does this mean a single unit in a single room, or multiple ones to cool the whole apartment? You might have a cooker, but is it a western oven or is just a cooking hob? Is there a single ring or are there multiple ones?
Images of Chinese Apartments
To give you an idea of what your apartment might look like, here are a collection of blog posts and videos which show teacher's apartments.
Apartment Photo's & Videos
Miss Adventure Travel has an excellent post older post showing off her Chinese apartment. It's full of good quality pictures and the only shower toilet I've ever seen. Click here to read it.
Seth from Spartan Wanderer gives a video tour of his apartment. Not only do we get to see it, but he gives a great running commentary about what is good, the problems etc. Click here to read it.
Coolblueice hasn't been updated in a while but this is another great older post detailing an apartment for Xi'an Jiaotong University. Plenty of pictures and nice little notes to add context to the photos. Click here to read it.
This is a video tour of a teacher's apartment in Zhengzhou, China, provided by No. 1 Middle/High School in Zhengzhou. She provides a nice commentary over the video. Click here to watch it.
This is a video tour of an apartment in Taiyuan, Shanxi, China. The tour is nice and long but it is in Spanish. It's still useful if you're English, I imagine even better if you can speak Spanish Click here to watch it.