6 tips for expats flat-hunting in China

I lucked out with my apartment. I didn't get much guidance and, at the time, I didn't understand the layout of the city. Where was the best area to live? What neighborhoods have a gym, a metro station, a bus, and a corner shop? It was stressful. Super stressful. After getting a handful of opinions from people with bigger brains than myself {shoutout to the real homies}, I knew which place best fit my needs and my taste, settling on 27th floor studio digs just a short walk from my work place with everything I need just a skip away. 

Here are my tips for flat-hunting in China. And may the odds be ever in your favour. 


1. Join WeChat groups

WeChat is everything in China, including a source of realty information. I was invited to join certain groups where expats look for roommates and flats. Listings include the nearest metro stations and walking distances to city landmarks. Most companies provide assistance to their employees when searching for apartments, but WeChat groups and contact cards make it easy. I found my flat in five short days while working full-time thanks to "flat rent Nanjing." It wasn't stress-free but it would have been made a lot harder without WeChat. In order to join most groups, you'll need to scan a QR Code for the group or get invited by someone who is already a member. 

2. Look around

This one probably comes across like 'duh?!', but it's important. When you first arrive in China, you might be anxious to get into a flat right away so that you can feel more settled but you will have a better idea of what's available in your area if you shop around. I ended up picking the first apartment I was shown anyway, but I felt happier with my decision once I saw other flats in the area close to my work. 

3. Negotiate

Being a foreigner can give you an advantage. Most landlords have a stereotypical belief that foreign tenants take better care of properties {i.e. cleaner kitchen habits that don't involve as much frying with oil, less likely to own a pet, etc.}. Because you have this {super bias} leg to stand on, you can haggle a bit on amenities and such. Things like a better mattress, new microwave, or air purifier can all be added into lease agreements if you can communicate with the property owner before you sign any papers. 

4. Be ready to pay well in advance

You'll need a month's rent as a deposit, which is standard. However, on top of that, it's helpful to know that the Chinese pay rent three months at a time. So the initial move-in to your new digs can be costly. However, it's easy to save money in China and after the initial pay-out you can rest easy. Most companies offer housing stipends either on top of or included in your salary that cover average rent prices. 


5. Have some vision

I'm not a princess when it comes to living situations. I survived long stays in a flat on Ruahine without complaint of the nails sticking out of the bathroom floorboards {sometimes you're just happy being with your boyfriend, aye?}. I dealt with a broken fan in the Lao heat without air conditioning, no washing machine, no kitchen, and a very squeaky bed {all first-world problems in a developing country...}. But some of the accommodation I saw in China before picking my flat were downright scary: one lightbulb to light the whole apartment and let's not forget the place with a squat toilet in the same room as the kitchen. I met two Australian lads looking for a flatmate on my first day in Nanjing. We later became good friends {shout out to you, Russ + James} and they showed me pictures of the house before they settled into it. I. WAS. SHOCKED. It looked nothing like the flat they showed me, but they had fixed it up over time. There's nothing that a day of deep cleaning and a little creativity can't fix when it comes to making a flat more home-y.  For me, it took a potted plant and pictures of me with my people that turned this sunny apartment into space of my own. 

6. Ask questions

I took a cold shower for about 2 weeks in November before I finally made the decision to jump through the communication hoops and ask my land-lady how to turn the pump on {it was in Chinese and my Google translate app was not accurate}. It was a pain in the ass to sort out the nitty gritty details of just how everything worked-- how to set up my AliPay with my Chinese bank on my Chinese phone to pay rent, how to turn on my hot water pump, what switches did what. Once I got use to the steeple chase that is communicating with {the world's sweetest, most patient} my land-lady, I realized I wasn't inconveniencing her, I was just being a foreign tenant and asking questions comes with the territory. It's expected.  


We all know the saying, "home is where my feet are", right? Well, it's true. Whether you're a new expat, a first-time traveller, or a veteran to life abroad, it's important to know that while some places won't be home in your heart, you can make just about anywhere feel more cozy if you have the right perspective. 

And a candle or two never hurt.