Category Archives: Living in China

Renting an Apartment in China

Renting an apartment in China is actually a lot simplier than in a lot of Western countries. Typically, they will not bother with references or proof of employment. It’s as simple as agreeing on a price, signing the contract, then paying the deposit, agent free, and first month of rent. However, complications can occur, so it’s good to have a detailed understanding of the whole process, which I will provide here.

Apartments in China

Apartments in China

Firstly, when you find an apartment to rent, you need to pay 2 month’s deposit, 1 month in advance, and half a month as commission to the agent (the owner pays the other half). That’s a total cost of three and a half month’s rent upfront, so do make sure you have enough money. To live in a nice apartment (60sqm) in a safe, convenient location in a first-tier city (e.g. Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou), you’ll be paying at least 4,000RMB a month. Unfortunately, rents and property prices have skyrocketed in recent times, but salaries have not. If you don’t mind living 20 or 30 minutes from the CBD, you can find a nice enough place for around 2,500RMB in a first tier city. Second and third tier cities are a lot cheaper. You will probably want an apartment with a western style toilet as opposed to the more common squat toilet, this can really retrict your search especially in second and third tier cities where the majority of apartments have squat toilets.


Most new-arrivals use property agents introduced to them by their employer. Some agents will find any excuse to rush you into renting an apartment as quickly as possible and will only show you particular buildings. Continue reading

Tiers of Cities in China

China has three official tiers of cities, which roughly describes their level of development.

Tier 1 (Municipality) – These are big international cities; modern China. They are relatively safe and comfortable. You can get by using English and live as you did at home… well-educated people gravitate towards these cities, and the western influence is strong. They serve as a glimpse into China’s future, but may not give you a completely authentic “living in China” experience. Living costs in these cities are soaring. You’ll need a monthly salary of at least 8,000-10,000RMB to have a reasonable standard of living.

Tier 2 (Prefecture-level city) – Such cities are in a state of rapid development. A mixture of old and new, where you can still take a glimpse into China’s recent past. In these cities, you can get a taste of traditional Chinese culture whilst still seeing some western influence. Living costs are increasing but for the most part, still not that bad (unless you’re buying a house). You’d want a monthly salary of at least 5,000-6,000RMB to live comfortably.

Tier 3 (County-level city) – County-level cities are, for the most part, a window into China’s past. Step out of the city center, and you’re in rural China. You’ll get a powerful dose of traditional Chinese culture – not for the lighthearted! To live in one of these cities, an extremely positive attitude and passion for Chinese culture is an absolute necessity. Living costs are still relatively low in tier 3 cities. 3,000-4000RMB should be enough to live freely.

You can find a list of China’s cities, along with their population and city level on Wikipedia: