How to rent an apartment in China as an ESL teacher

It’s understandable that young people today dream of having a good lifestyle.  But many recent graduates are struggling to get by with student loan debt, and entry-level jobs with only satisfactory pay.  Not only that, living in a fun neighborhood in a cool city can be expensive. But imagine being able to afford to live in a major city, full of life and entertainment, and earning a salary that enables you to go out frequently, travel, and indulge in luxuries like massages and even a housekeeper for your apartment?  Luckily, that lifestyle is possible by working as an ESL teacher in China.

Before you move to a new country and work there, one thing most people care about is the comparison of the money they make there and the cost of living there. Today let's talk about the cost of renting an apartment in China. Most ESL teachers come from UK, USA, Canada, and other English speaking countries. Cities in America will be used as an example since many of you live there, have been there or at least know there. I grew up in Shanghai and I’ve lived in NYC and San Francisco for serval months. I will make an objective comparison of the rent between China and the USA and show you how to rent an apartment when you decide to work in China as an ESL teacher. Since Shanghai and Beijing is already the most expensive cities in China, if you go to other cities the cost will only be 20% -50% lower.

*Data from NUMBEO

When you got an offer from a school in China. Normally HR will talk with you and help you with your accommodation. If you go to a metropolis like Beijing or Shanghai, around $300 - $600 accommodation allowance per month will be provided for you. A furnished one-bedroom apartment will cost $200 - $600 per month in such cities depends on the location while the same quality apartment will cost you $1200-$2200 in NYC. One big difference between China and the USA is that the price of buying an apartment in big cities in China is really expensive like $20000 per square-meter in downtown Shanghai, but the price of renting one is pretty cheap. Because every Chinese want to have their own real estate instead of renting one. If you go to second-tier cities like Suzhou or Nanjing, normally the school will provide you an apartment with one bedroom and one living room. Of course, you can ask the school for allowance instead of the apartment they provided if you want to rent one together with your friends.

The situation of apartment-provided-by-school is pretty simple. When you arrive at the city your school located, your colleague from the school will pick you from the airport and drive you to the apartment waiting for you. Mission accomplished.

Let’s talk about what you gonna do if the school provides an accommodation allowance for you or you want to choose and rent an apartment by yourself. Once you arrive, the school will provide you a free hotel room for at least serval days to make you have enough time to rent your apartment. When you have enough money to pay the rent and deposit, you could search for an apartment immediately. If you decide to rent after you got your first-month salary and accommodation allowance, Airbnb is a good choice for you in the first month.

*Picture from Airbnb Shanghai

This two Airbnb I showed you are both located in the downtown of Shanghai. The First one is located in Xujiahui, one of the best trading area in Shanghai. It’s a one-bedroom apartment for your own with a kitchen and a restroom, equipped with WIFI, TV, air conditioner, washer, and all the basic amenities, cost $35 per day. The second one is located in my favorite area Huaihai Road ( A fusion of old town and fancy shopping mall) and cost $43 per day. There are thousands of nice decorated Airbnb in every city in China. If you stay in a not-so-downtown area in Shanghai or downtown area in a second-tier city, the price will be even lower like $15 - $25 per day. You can stay in a cozy Airbnb for a month, walking around, discover the city, and take your time to choose your apartment to rent.

You got serval ways to rent an apartment, online or offline. Since China’s internet companies develop fast. I would recommend you to do it online. There are many choices like , or . The disadvantage of them is that there're too many pieces of information on each website and you need to translate by google translator. You could ask your Chinese colleague to help you with that but it will some time.

*Screenshot from ZIROOM

So I will recommend two nice websites our ESL teachers have already used before: ZIROOM ( ) & DANKE ( ). They are internet housing companies mainly serve the young. Provided furnished apartment in most cities with plenty of choices. They decorate the room by themselves so they all look the same. No need to worry about getting an old and dirty room from a personal landlord. WIFI, air conditioner, and all the basic amenities will be provided. And if there’s anything wrong with any type of equipment, the staff from the company will come and fix it. If you wanna have your own bedroom and share your living room with your roommate, it will cost $200 - $400 per month. The advantage of sharing an apartment is that many of our teachers made good friends with their roommates and often have dinner together. They may be the first friends you make besides your colleges. If you want to take the whole apartment, it will also just cost $400 - $600. The deposit is one month’s rent, and you could pay the rent by month. So if you rent a $300 apartment, you need to pay $300 rent + $300 deposit in the beginning and then $300 every month.

You could see the picture and all the information about the apartment and book it online, then the staff of ZIROOM / DANKE will take you to the apartment so you can check it by yourself. If you feel like “ Yeah that’s what I want” then you could sign the contract and pay the rent immediately on your phone. You can move to your apartment right after that. You know, we do everything on the phone now in China. If you don’t like the apartment. No worry, just check others, no fee will be charged.

Of course, you could rent an apartment from a personal landlord as well if you find a nice one by local agency. The biggest difference is that normally the deposit will be 3-month rent and the agency fee will be 0.5-month rent. No matter you wanna find your apartment online or offline, your colleagues from school will help you with that. You could show them the website I recommend, they will show you how to use it.

Hope this guide could be useful for you!