Finding a room in Shanghai: Don’t be homeless.

Finding a room in Shanghai: Don’t be homeless.

It has been about a week since I arrived in Shanghai. It is not my first time, so I know my way around. The only difference this time: I had to find a place to live on my own.

All the last times I have been a student in Shanghai. That meant I could just move into the university dormitory. Such convenience; so easy; no worries… This time, I had the big task of getting a room not too far away of my work place, and not too expensive.

I have been looking on the internet for rooms months before I came to Shanghai, but it is actually impossible to get a good room without being in China. Some of my friends did ‘reserve’ a room prior to their arrival in Shanghai, but it is always a risk as it can happen that you arrive in Shanghai turn on your phone and get a message saying “Sorry to inform you, just rented the room to someone else”, or you get to that room and it turns out it’s more a dump than a room…

I arrived on a Saturday, and started looking for rooms on Sunday. It is possible to find a place in just one day. That’s what I did. But I recommend everyone, if you want the perfect place calculate at least one to two weeks time for the room search.

room in shanghai 2

How do I find a room?

There are hundreds of websites just for Shanghai housing in English and Chinese. I found most of the rooms on SmartShanghai. You can search in a specific area, or limit the rent per month depending on your budget.

RoomInShanghai has some really nice apartments. The only problem they might not have any available room during the period you would need one. Plus the rooms are a bit pricy if you are on a low budget.

ShanghaiExpat has a variety of higher standard rooms. I have not found any room in my price range (about 2000RMB to 3000RMB), but if you, for example, are moving to Shanghai with your family, or you plan to rent a whole apartment with your friends ShanghaiExpat is a good place to start (so is SmartShanghai by the way).

There are also Chinese websites. If you speak good Chinese you could try those. The advantage is the rents are much lower than those advertised on the English websites. You just have to keep in mind, foreigner are not allowed to live in every house (or sometimes hotels). So make sure to ask the landlord about the regulations before you go and see the room.

One of the best Chinese website I have used so far is Ganji 赶集. It has hundreds of rooms, and many of them are really affordable. You can find a room bigger and in a better location, but way cheaper on here, than on English sites like SmartShanghai or ShanghaiExpat. But if you don’t speak Chinese very well it could be quite difficult. There is no English speaking agency who will help you if anything is broken, or you want a new cleaning lady.

Another good website recommended by a friend is 58同城. Like Ganji you have a lot of choice, but you might get a few rejections because you are a foreigner. However, if you are looking for something cheap, and are confident of your Chinese this should be your choice.


What else should I pay attention to?

About the Chinese website and their rooms; one more important thing is that for those Chinese rentals you usually pay three month rent in advance. And sometimes you have to sign a one year contract. But I have also seen the contrary, pay month by month, and just one month deposit. It’s called 一付一押.

On the English websites you might notice that there are adverts by private people and by agencies. Agencies usually have the better rooms, but you have to pay a fee once (which is usually 30% of your monthly rent). For people who are in Shanghai for the first time and don’t speak Chinese very well (and are looking to rent an apartment on their own, not just a room) an agency is actually not a bad choice. The people there speak English and will help you with everything.

I have found out that even room which get advertised on SmartShanghai has having no agency fee, are in fact rooms in apartments rented by agencies. The only difference is that you are not the person renting the apartment but you are more a replacement for someone moving out. For example in my case, our apartment was rented by a Chinese guy, who now rents all the rooms through an agency to foreigners. When I moved in I had to go to the agency together with the guy who stayed in my new room until now. I am his replacement, so I don’t need to pay an agency fee, but just a service fee (usually about 400RMB). The monthly rent is paid to the agency at the end of every month. The deposit (which can be between on to three months of the rent), is paid to the agency as well. Make sure you can move out whenever you want, and don’t bind yourself to a year or two year contract. Usually, you just have to find a replacement and can move out immediately. Plus, finding a replacement in Shanghai is really not that hard (at least that’s what everyone is telling me, I did not have to do it…yet).


How much money for a room in Shanghai?

How much you spent per month on rent in Shanghai really depends on your living standard. You can get everything from 500RMB a month to 300.000RMB a month.

For a single apartment in central Shanghai (one bedroom, one bathroom, one kitchen), you pay between 5000RMB to 10.000RMB. For that price you can get a quite good place. If you want the high-end apartment you have to pay more.

The cheapest way to live in Shanghai is apartment sharing. Most foreigners live in a shared apartment. You can get a good room in central Shanghai (like People Square 人民广场or Jingan 静安区) for 3000RMB to 5000RMB, the higher rent usually being for a Master room (where you have your own bathroom).

You can rent a whole apartment or house for about 15.000RMB onwards. All my friends with families usually live in Shanghai’s outskirts because most expat compounds are outside the centre. I think to be able to rent one of those houses you really need an expat income. Maybe one day I will be able to afford one.



How’s your new room?

For all those who are interested: I like my new room a lot. It is very central. Directly at People Square. I chose this location for a reason. First of all it’s next to metro line 2 which takes me directly to my work, and secondly, as Jin will be leaving tomorrow I am gonna be alone here, so I need some people around me. I could have moved to Pudong, very close to my work, but up there is not much to do, very few shops and people. I am not sure it would be worth feeling so lonely.

I am sharing with five other people which is not ideal. Actually, it is something I have to get used to. So far they are ok, but tend to be very dirty. We do have a cleaning lady coming twice a week, but it seems the second she leaves the house gets dirty again. Well, I can’t be bothered. My room is clean, that’s important.

If you have any more questions or need help with finding a room in Shanghai, feel free to contact me. I will be here for a while.

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Anna Z. is a freelance illustrator and portrait artist in her late 20s, with a passion for Martial Arts and Chinese culture, and is the creator of Lost Panda, a blog to China and Art. Together with her husband, a Chinese national, she writes about daily life in rural China, focusing on cultural and social differences and the joys (and sometimes difficulties) as an intercultural couple. Apart from China related topics, she publishes her artwork, photography, art material reviews and tutorials to help more people discover their creative side. She is fluent in German, English and Mandarin Chinese.

12 thoughts on “Finding a room in Shanghai: Don’t be homeless.

  1. Your lucky, you found an apartment really fast! Chenchen and I are currently trying to find an apartment in Glasgow, but every one that he’s been to is so bad.. Quite frustrating not being able to be there in person to see it, as i’m in Norway. So he’s the only one who gets too see the apartments..

    • Hope you find an apartment soon. But I really think it’s easier to find something outside china. In china half the good places they don’t let foreigners live or they want three times of the normal rent -.-

      • Yeah I know ! It’s crazy .. Haha and the overcharge you like crazy if you don’t speak Chinese ! Haha although in Scotland most of the apartments are quite dodgy….. :(

        • Even if you speak perfect Chinese they will try to rip you off. Most people think foreigners are rich so it’s ok to overcharge -.- unfortunately I am not one if those rich expats :(

          • Yeah I know what you mean! I was an expat for 4 years and then suddenly I became an poor student in Beijing, it’s quite a big difference lol.. Where Chenchen and I lived in Beijing it was super expensive, my foreign friends would pay 8000 rmb a month for a room …..

  2. Seems that it is pretty easy to find an apartment in China. I remember when I tried to find an apartment to rent in Helsinki few years back, after 15 months I gave up and decided to buy one whihc took another 4 months…problem was always that there were around 30-40 people trying to get that apartment for rent so the owner always decided on whomever they liked the most :(

    • Well easy really depends haha everyone’s standard is different. I know people who looked for a decent place for over half a year. My room is nice, the location central, but the rest of the apartment is less than good haha but if you just have one day to look for a place it’s already not bad xD

    • The funny thing is this time I had no jetlag at all. Maybe I was so excited to see my hubby again, find an apartment for the time and start the internship :)

  3. How does it feel being back in China? :)

    And well, that was fast! But to say the truth I also found a room very fast when I was living in Shanghai… in Suzhou I spent a whole week and visited real dumpsters until I found my home!

  4. Does your new apartment have enough rooms for all five of your roommates, or do you have to share your bedroom with another person?

    And that’s a nice photo of the Shanghai skyline. It looks like the new Shanghai Tower is about to be completed soon.

    • You are kidding right? Of course everyone has their own bedroom -.- It’s very commong in China to have an apartment with five or more rooms. Some apartments even have two to three bathrooms, and two kitchens. And usually the Masterroom (which always includes a private bathroom and balcony)is rented by couples. Like in my apartment :)

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