Cultural & Business Guide

Chinese Flat


For any foreigner who intends to move to China for a longer period, renting a flat is a convenient solution to cope with expenses. First of all, it is fundamental to plan the maximum budget and keep in mind that there are many variables which affect the whole situation such as the choice of the city, the size of the apartment, the location of the the flat and its distance the metro/train station/bus stop, etc.

Do not forget that normally Chinese apartments are tiny and much smaller than what Europeans are used to and the rent for Europeans is higher compared to the rates for Chinese tenants.

Need help in renting?

Unless you are given the apartment by your company, you are supposed to look for a flat by yourself. Of course, you may trust Chinese friends or expats who will give you reliable information about the most suitable area where you should look for it.

If you don’t have such a possibility, then just enlist the services of a Chinese real estate agent: in the major cities you may find some agencies who have English speaking personnel.

Last but not least, the web is full of possibilities and real estate agents who have their own webpages both in English and Chinese. Do not forget that also many foreign real estate companies have established their business in China and offer this type of services.

Remember that in China, if you look for a one bed room apartment, you need to state what you are looking for: you may choose from one-bedroom one-living room apartment “一室一厅” (Yi shi yi ting), two-bedroom one living room apartment (两室一厅 – liang shi yi ting), one-bedroom, one-living room, one-dinning room (一室两厅 yi shi liang ting), or two-bedroom, one-livingroom, one-dinning room (两室两厅 liang shi liang ting).

How much will it cost?

The cost for a flat differs from city to city, and the average commission for real estate agents in China is at least one month’s rent and, generally paid by the tenant. The validity of rental contracts is normally settled for a year and requires a refundable security deposit (normally 2 months’ rent).

As to the utility costs (electricity, water, gas), they normally have to be paid by the tenant and remember that there are different ways of settling the accounts: some apartments base on a system of prepaid smart cards that can be purchased easily where you can charge a certain amount of credits for your needs; another common method is just to have the meters which are inspected regularly by the employee of the building management and afterwards issue a paper invoice.

Got the keys!

There you go: finally you have found your ideal apartment.

A good suggestion is to write down on the contract also the water, electrical and gas meter readings so that you will have a record of the initial situation before settling down in the flat.

You may ask the contract agreement to be written both in Chinese and English, and do double check that the translation corresponds.

Once the contract has been signed and you have moved into the apartment, do not forget to go to the local police office for your residential registration. Provide the signed contract and a copy of your passport and visa to the agency/flat owner for this administrative step.


This is not an expression of pain but to call a female housekeeper in Chinese. Most of foreigners living in China have an ayi who is in charge of many activities concerning the house such as cleaning, cooking, ironing. They are generally cheap unless you intend to hire someone who speaks English who can be more expensive.

Keep in mind that many ayi have normally basic education and are Chinese: this means that sometimes you may find it hard to communicate or let her understand your needs. Be patient and remember that this is a great occasion to get in touch with a Chinese person!


Cao Junjian, “The Chinese Real Estate Market: Development, Regulation and Investment”, Routledge International Real Estate Markets Series, 2015

Wade Shepard, “Ghost Cities of China: The Story of Cities without People in the World's Most Populated Country”, Zed Books , 2015.

External links

Project 2014-1-PL01-KA200-003591