Accommodation in Shanghai

Accommodation in Shanghai is varied, with old and luxurious homes pressing against new high-rise developments and suburban neighbourhoods.

Exploding outwards, much of Shanghai’s growth has taken place in the last two decades, with developments becoming newer the farther one travels from the city centre.

With the Huangpu River running vertically through its centre, Shanghai is split into two regions - Pudong, east of the river, and the older downtown area to the west. Generally, expats find housing in a wide horizontal stretch through the centre of the city in both regions.


Finding accommodation in Shanghai

While many Shanghai properties can be found online, the best deals are often not found on the Internet. Local newspapers or asking friends and colleagues for leads are good ways to find property while potentially avoiding agent fees.

Expats who don’t speak Chinese, however, usually use a real estate agent. Property agencies can be found all over the city and tend to be recognisable by pictures of apartments and prices on the windows.

Agents often work with specific apartment buildings, meaning that they are usually able to show a few properties at the outset. It is important to be specific about what is being searched for in terms of budget, location and proximity to transport routes from the beginning.

Agents sometimes try to overcharge unsuspecting foreigners, or pressure them into moving into properties that they haven’t been able to get off the market. Expats shouldn’t be discouraged if they don’t find something right away, and should make use of several agencies.


Renting accommodation in Shanghai

After finding a suitable property, the tenant, agent and landlord (depending on how it was found) will discuss and agree upon a contract. Sometimes it might be necessary to pay the landlord an amount to reserve the apartment, if the contract is to be signed at a later date.

Landlords will generally ask for at least three months' rent right away, and one month’s rent as a deposit, so be prepared to have a lot of cash on hand. Agents will also charge a commission.

Generally, short-term rentals in Shanghai are more expensive, while leases for longer than a year can be negotiated for less. Bargaining is a widely accepted practice in China, and expats with the necessary skills often get between one and 10 percent off of their lease.

Accommodation in Shanghai may be furnished or unfurnished, and the price should reflect that fact. This is not a guarantee, however, and different landlords will have different definitions of what “furnished” means.


Factors to consider when house-hunting in Shanghai

Living in Shanghai has all the advantages of living in a major Chinese city, including great access to nightlife, restaurants, excitement and a real sense of local culture. The downsides are also familiar: the area can be polluted, loud, crowded and very expensive.

The city’s immense growth has been accompanied by increasingly congested traffic and long commutes. When choosing where to live in Shanghai, it's important for expats to consider the distance to work and school, as well as what their public transport options are.

Shanghai’s city centre has several decadent and old residential neighbourhoods that act as oases within the storm of the city, but these desirable properties come with their own very expensive price tags. That said, even small high-rise apartments in the city centre are often more expensive than renting a large house in the nearby suburbs.

In general, security is not a big issue for expats in Shanghai and common sense measures are usually enough to keep residents safe. Locking doors, keeping valuables in a safe, and avoiding first-floor apartments for women living alone are all recommended.