Complete guide to rent an apartment in Shanghai – Part I

How to rent a flat or a room in Shanghai
How to rent a flat or a room in Shanghai

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Part I- How to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai?

You’ll be competing to rent an apartment in Shanghai!

Have you ever competed to rent an apartment? You will in Shanghai, especially for a room in a shared flat!

Renting an apartment in Shanghai is a “big deal”.  It’s harder to rent a room in a shared apartment and even harder than finding a place in New York. Why do I think like that? Let’s keep going and hear the whole story and learn the complete guide on how to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai.

After signing the contract with my school, I was told that I had to find my own apartment.  I was like  “ How can I rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai without knowing anyone…Ohh my God” cause I was living with my parents, which is normal in Turkey, so I had no idea how to do it, where to begin and what to look for. But as this was going to be my life, I had to start from somewhere as soon as possible. So, I did quite a lot of google search about “how to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai” before coming to town. I didn’t know anyone in Shanghai back in then, so I asked to some expat groups that are in Shanghai and used the web sites designed for expats.


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TIP 1 on how to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai: The best web sites that you can use to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai:






The apartments and the rooms in Shanghai listed in these websites are more expensive than the ones in Chinese websites cause the agents and the landlords know that these websites are for foreigners and they know that you want to get this done as soon as possible.

But if you want to go cheaper and try Chinese websites, you need to speak at least a little Chinese (Google Translator may help a little as well) or have a Chinese friend. You can find the chinese web sites below. I haven’t tried them, so I can’t tell you which one is better but as this is a complete guide of rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai, I should at least mention about these websites and if you use them, let us know about your experiences.

TIP 2 on how to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai: The web sites that you can use to rent an apartment or room in Shanghai in Chinese:



I started to look at those English websites I mentioned above to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai at least one month earlier before coming to town as I had only six days( couple of hours after work to search) to stay in the hotel that my school arranged for me. I sent almost 100 emails to the landlords and real estate agencies. At some point, my inbox was full of emails saying that the rooms had been booked/taken. I was thinking of  “Hey, what is going on over there? What is your hurry?” Eventhough it’s been only a couple of minutes since an ad of a room comes alive, it can be booked immediately.  In spite of all the “ sorry, the room has been taken “ emails, I kept searching to rent an anaprtment or a room in Shanghai.

Especially, I used a lot. The best thing about of this web site is, you can select the district you want to live in, the type of the house(an apartment or a room in a shared apartment) and your budget as well. It also shows the location of the house on the map. It can still show you some apartments/rooms that are not relevant with your criterias but if you refresh the page, you shouldn’t be seeing them again.

My budget was 4000RMB (as of 2013 August, 653USD, 1310 TL) to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai and I prefered to be close to my school in order to avoid using the sub way during the rush hours, but still I needed to live close to the sub way to reach other places as fast as I can as Shanghai is a really huge city and the subway is the main transportation.

Do you know that Shanghai has the longest subway system in the world?

Subway System in Shanghai

Subway System in Shanghai

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In which districts should you rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai?

TIP 3 on how to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai: Living along the subway Line 2( the green line above) will be definitely better for your social life because as you can see from the map above, it crosses Shanghai from West to East which enables you to reach pretty much everywhere and as Shanghai is really huge, you don’t want to spend too much time in metro, even though it is the fastest means of transportation, there is a whole big world under the ground, so you can often find yourself walking for 15 minutes from one line to another and to find the right exit that is nearest to where you wanna go, considering one metro station can have 20 exits.  Line 2 will save you from most of the trouble with no change or with one or two changes in lines. Lıne 2 is your line when you rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai.

One of the best districts to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai is Jing’an District, especially if you rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai close to Jing’an Temple, West Nanjing Road, People’s Square or East Nanjing Road, it will be a big advantage. You can rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai, in Jing’an District starting from 2800RMB (really the smallest room-like a cellar) to 5,500RMB(master bedroom which has its own bathroom). Apartments are, of course, far more expensive than a single room. You can look at Jiangsu Road and Zhong Shang Park as well to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai and you can still stay on the Line 2 and the apartments and the rooms would be cheaper than the ones in Jing’an Temple.

Districts in Shanghai

Districts in Shanghai

Do you really need a real estate agent to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai? If you think so, you need to consider the followings…

I personally don’t think that you need one cause you can rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai directly from the landlords from the websites above. On the ads, you can see whether you’re going to deal with an agency or a landlord. Some landlords can’t speak English and so you may need a real estate agent, or you can even ask one of your Chinese friends or someone from your work/office/school to come with you to translate. If you don’t know any one yet and you’re sure that you’re going to work with an agency, then you can even find them on the streets with their mobile white-boards written ads on it.

Mobile Real Estate Agents in Shanghai

Mobile Real Estate Agents in Shanghai

TIP 4 on how to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai : While agencies helping you out to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai, you need to consider the followings:

  • Agencies charge you 30% of one month’s rent after signing the rent contract.  If any agency asks you to pay more, I would personally walk away.
  • If you see that the ad says free of agency charge, eventough you’re working with an agent,  it’s better for you to have a print screen of this ad in case of any unprofessional conversations and demands.

As there are, of course, some reliable real estate agencies, there are also some unreliable real estate agencies too when you want to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai. The followings can help you to see the difference between them:

  • Understand their strategy first: Most of the agencies can start to take you to places that are not well maintained, these houses can even make you question like  “when was the last time a person lived in this house?”. This is actually one of their strategies to stop the potential bargainer within you. You remember right that I told you that to rent an apartment or a rrom in Shanghai is a big deal. They know that you will want to see other houses too. After three of four houses, when you arrived to an average place, you will immediately take it without bargaining. But once you know their strategy, you can set game when you rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai based on your own rules.
  • Bargain, bargain and bargain: Besides, eventhough you leave the place to look for other houses, the landlord of that house can give a call to your agent and can tell him that they can give you the house at the price you want. Don’t forget that your agent may or may not let you know about this update as this will affect his commission too.
  • Money or YOU: What is it have to do with how to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai. Ohh it is everything! The answer of the real agents and the land owners will be “money”. If they tell you that they are keeping the room only for you, this can also be one of their strategies. If someone else comes with the money first, they would give the room to this person. Just don’t let them to put you under pressure by making you hurry and book a room that you’re not fully sure about it.
  • Make sure that they actually have everything mentioned in the ad and make sure that they work. If something is missing like a TV or even a swimming pool within the compound eventough it is mentioned in the ad, be careful with this agent. Besides, if they tell you that if you book the room, they will buy everything (TV, fridge, washing machine, etc)for you, never ever accept it.
  • Translation of one sentence is vital: If you decide to take the room and you have to go to the bank, just make sure that your agent can tell/translate exactly that you’re going to the bank to get the money and will be back soon(specific time frame would look better) to the landlord. This is really important, stay with me and you’re gonna see why it is so important.
  • What if I need a legal receipt when I rent an apartment or a rrom in Shanghai?:After signing the contract, you may need to have a legal receipt (there are two kinds of receipt that’s why I said legal) in order to give it to your work. In this case, your real estate agent can come forward and offer you to issue the receipt for you with great pleasure if you pay 10% of the rent to him. Never accept this! Because the tax rate is 5% and in this case, if you say yes, you’ll be charged double and this is not even legal. We’ll talk about it more in the contract part below.

One side note, not all the agents speak good English, so if you ever receive an email from your agent saying that “ mind your own business and trust us” they probably try to say that “you should spend your time with your family and friends before coming to town and don’t worry about the room/house, we’re taking care of it”. At least it was my case.

Back to my story…

On the internet, I found a place which was 2 minutes away from my school and even better on the ad it was written as “no agency commission”, eventhough an agency was running the ad. I wanted to see the house and meet my roommates, so I got in touch with the agent guy and asked for a Skype call. He told me that I was the first to ask for that. Actually, Skype call couldn’t help much. It was nice meeting my roommates but I couldn’t see anything as the resolution of their camera was not that good. I was still wandering to see the living room and the kitchen because the pictures on the ad weren’t clear too. I tried to pay a deposit to book the room based on the pressure I was put into by the agent guy with the emails he was sending me, but somehow it didn’t work and I am happy now that it didn’t work. They told me that they would still keep the room for me.

 In fact, you shouldn’t pay anything in advance eventhough they ask you to do so.

Finally, I arrived in Shanghai but it was so hard to breath because of the humid during this time of the year. So, it was obvious that living close to where I work was really important.  When I visited the apartment I skyped for, I saw that there weren’t an actual kitchen and a living room. Besides, the bathroom was really old but I had to make a decision whether to live really close to my school and not to suffer from the heat which humid made it worse or to live a little bit far away and sweat a lot but live in a nicer place. I chose to live closer and I thought that I could live without a shared social area. Besides, there weren’t a TV in the house and a swimming pool in the compound eventhough it was mentioned on the ad, but again 2 minutes away from school was still looking better for me.

What about the contract when you rent an apartment in Shanghai?

You definitely need a contract to rent an apartment or a rrom in Shanghai, both to make sure of your stay on the agreed terms and to go to police and register your address. We’re gonna talk about registering your address in the 2nd part of this article.

Most contracts are both in English and in Chinese and you’re going to see that there is an article saying that “in any kind of dispute, Chinese version is valid.”. This can make you feel a little bit concerned, but if you have a chance to read it through with one of your Chinese friends/collegues, that would possibly save you any kind of troubles in the future.

TIP 5 on how to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai: You need to make sure that you have the following details in your contract when you rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai:

  • The address of the apartment should be on the contract, of course, and should be matched with the Chinese version.
  • The name of the landlord and the number of his/her passport.  Please ask to take a look at his/her passport or ID Card as well.
  • The monthly rent and the rent Schedule (especially the next payment date). Plus, the deposit and total rent you paid with the deposit.
  • Names of the expenses [gas, water, electricity, internet, TV package, cleaning (a cleaning lady who is called “AYI” comes to clean), security…]
  • Duration of the contract.
  • Some contracts include terms such as you need to find someone before you leave the room even after the expiration of the contract to get your deposit back. Never accept this term and ask for a revision in the contract.
  • Make sure to put an article about the responsibility of fixing any kind of major damages belongs to the landlord.
  • Your contract should also protect you against the possible situation of your landlord asking you to leave the place before the expiration of your contract by making him pay a penalty at least one month of rent.
  • Make sure that your contract will cover the official receipt as well. If you need to get an official receipt of your rent in order to give it your school/work, there is an extra 5% tax that needs to be paid by your landlord not by you. In spite of all your insistence, your landlord or your agent can still want YOU to pay for the receipt, then you shouldn’t be paying more than 5%.

In order to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai, you need to pay at least one month deposit and 2 months rent, but most of the landlords require 3 months rent and 2 months deposit.  This means that you may need to have at least 14.000RMB in your account or even in your pocket or bag.

Back to my story….

As I was signing the contract, I got an email from the real estate agency asking me to pay the agency fee, although on the ad it was saying that no agency fee. I was really surprised and disappointed as I was on a tight budget. I went out to have my dinner and to figure out what to do. I went into a restaurant and I met a Chinese girl by chance and while we were talking, I mentioned what happened with the agent and she immediately asked me for his number and then she called him and took care of everything in Chinese. Appreciate the help a lot!  Afterwards I had to send a couple of emails and the issue was solved.

I moved into my room the next day and I was really excited to start my expat life in Shanghai but this was just the beginning. Do you think that this is the whole story on how to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai? Check out Part II and enjoy the real action and the rest of the guide on how to rent an apartment or a room in Shanghai.


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