For some, home may be just “where you hang your hat;” for others, finding an apartment in Beijing, a city with more than 18 million people and 16 districts, is enough to give some people a panic attack as they agonize over the best location and how to go about renting a place. Depending on your Chinese abilities, you may opt for roaming around with a map responding to classified ads and trying to haggle it out with the landlord, or choose the easier route of using a professional realtor. Many people opt for just finding apartments with other people who are looking for roommates. Indeed, this is a simpler way as long as you don’t mind living with people you don’t know. Beijing is filled with foreigners looking to live with other foreigners as well as many Chinese who are looking for Western roommates to practice their English with; this can obviously be beneficial to both parties who can improve their language skills.
Where to Start:
Finding an apartment in China can seem daunting at first if you don’t know where to start, but in a big city where many people speak English, you can find an apartment in less than two weeks or so if you are willing to go out and look. If you are only coming for a few months, you might find that a serviced apartment with everything included might be your best option. These apartments are usually more expensive and charge by the day, week, or month, but are nicely furnished with good amenities and are conveniently located. They are more like hotels and have house cleaning and airport pick up. If you plan on coming to China for a longer period of time, there are two ways to go about renting apartments: you can use a real estate service, or you can use the classified section and your Chinese language skills.
Western or Chinese Style?
First of all, location, price, and style are interlinked; knowing where you want to live is the first step. In Beijing, deciding where to live based on where you work is critical. Remember that Beijing is a huge city; you could be facing a daily commute of over an hour. Know the different areas of town, research a bit, and decide whether you want a Chinese style apartment or a “Western” style apartment. Essentially, the main two annoyances for foreigners with the Chinese style apartments are: the kitchen and the bathroom. A Chinese bathroom may or may not have a Western style toilet and will not have a bathtub or a shower structure, but instead, a drain in the floor hidden in a corner nowhere in the vicinity of the shower head. The main issue with this is that the entire bathroom gets soaked whenever you take a shower and then you have to mop afterwards. While this is easy to get used to, some people will inevitably have the horrendous feeling that something is missing when they feel like a bath on a cold winter’s evening. In addition, Chinese kitchens typically have two gas burners to cook with instead of the four burners many Westerners are used to. Most kitchens in China, unless it is in a luxury apartment, will be without an oven. Washing machines in China use cold water only for the most part and should only be used on the delicate cycle. Also, the majority of apartments do not come with a tumble dryer but most Chinese apartments instead have some sort of balcony for hang drying clothes. Again, note you are exempt from this rule if you live in a luxury Western style apartment.
In China, it is possible to rent very nicely fully furnished apartments as well. Since most people don’t know exactly how long they will stay in China, this is usually the most convenient option. The apartments include everything from beds, tables, chairs, etc to paintings and even sometimes plants. However, Chinese furnishings and Western furnishings are different as well. Chinese furniture is for aesthetic purposes only and is usually beautiful, wooden, and extremely hard. Western furniture is what you are most likely used to: padded couches, softer beds, etc. Many landlord’s beam with pride and remind you that their furnishings came directly bought from Ikea, which though more expensive, has a nice array of furniture. No matter where you decide to live, many people feel that their beds in China are not as soft as they would like. However, there is a simple remedy for this: for a few hundred RMB you can get a 3 or 4 cm bed cushion to put on top of your mattress which works wonders for your back.