Accommodation in Beijing

Accommodation in Beijing can range from fantastic to abysmal, but there are good options for expats in almost every neighbourhood. The trick for expatriates is to find a neighbourhood that meets their needs, but that can be more than a little difficult at times.

Types of housing in Beijing

Almost all of the housing available in the Beijing city centre is in apartment form, and most of these are not particularly spacious. Some expats put high priority on having an apartment with a modern kitchen (with counters, refrigerator and storage, along with the standard sink and a stove top), and many old-style Beijing apartments aren't exactly accommodating in this department.

There are houses available further outside of the city, and these have far more Western amenities, including yards, ovens, and possibly even a pool or a dryer.

Accommodation in Beijing may be furnished or unfurnished, and the price should reflect that fact. It’s not guaranteed either way, however, and even less guaranteed is the style (or lack thereof) with which a place may be furnished. If needing to add to one's accommodation, there are various places across Beijing to buy or have furniture made, including markets and IKEA. Expats should take this into consideration before shipping every item from home.

In general, safety is not a major issue for expats in Beijing. Common sense security measures are generally enough to keep residents relatively safe. Locking doors, using a safe for valuables, and avoiding first-floor apartments for women living alone are all recommended; most expats do not take many extra precautions beyond these.

Finding accommodation in Beijing

Most expats use a real estate agent of some sort, especially if they don’t speak Chinese. Agencies are set up all over — just look for a small shop with pictures of various apartment complexes and prices, and someone who will be more than willing to help foreigners look in their area should be found.

In all likelihood, they will be able to show some apartments right away in the complexes they work in. Go to a few of these agencies, but don’t get discouraged if something isn't found right away.

The classifieds sections of local newspapers can also be searched for places to rent, or new arrivals could ask friends and colleagues for leads. In both of these cases, potential tenants may be able to side-step the agent and get a better price, so either is worth a try.

Once a suitable apartment has been found, talk to the landlord (through a translator if need be), and make sure that they are the type of person that can be worked with. Most problems arise from difficulties with landlords, not from the place itself.

From there, the tenant and the landlord (and the agent, if that’s how the place was found) will discuss and agree upon a contract. Landlords will generally ask for at least three months' rent upfront, and one month’s rent as a deposit, so be prepared to have a lot of cash on hand.