Choose your housing carefully. In a city this big, and this sprawling, where you rent will dictate your lifestyle. The best way to get a feel for Shanghai's varied residential worlds before signing a lease is to explore the different neighbourhoods.
While you’re at it, give potential daily journeys to work or school a trial run. Collect information and perspectives by speaking to property agents that specialise in expatriate housing while asking colleagues and friends about the advantages and disadvantages of their areas.
Finding appropriate housing in Shanghai can be frustrating, as there are pros and cons to every option. The converted lane house in the former French Concession may be close to the action, but it may also be noisy and prone to running out of hot water. Conversely, the expansive suburban villa may leave you and your family feeling isolated from city life.
Many expats with school-age children choose to reside in suburban areas close to Shanghai international schools, which include:
Younger foreigners tend to prefer vibrant downtown areas near dining and nightlife such as the former French Concession or Jing’an District. However, for the price of a one- or two-bedroom in the former French Concession you could rent a large villa in the outer areas of the city, where homes are usually located in large self-sufficient gated communities. There are costs and benefits to every option, and it’s very important to do the legwork and research to find a home that suits the needs of you and your family. Think everything through – from your commute, to your proximity to a nice bakery – before making a decision. Factors to consider carefully include:
How much space do you and your family need? Some of the expat villas in the outer areas of Shanghai are extremely spacious, while living in the city centre could mean adapting to a more cramped lifestyle than you’re accustomed to back home.
How long does it take to get to work and school? The importance of this cannot be overstated. Long commutes in Shanghai traffic are time-killers, not to mention mentally and physically exhausting. Don’t attempt to estimate a commute time by studying a map; there are too many variables to calculate. The real thing depends on traffic at the time of the commute, access to a motorway and ongoing or upcoming construction projects. Living near a Metro station is a definite time-saver if your job is near one too. The only way to truly know your commute is to do a few test runs.
Are you near the school your children will attend? Are there other families with children of the same age in your neighbourhood? Are there safe play areas and green spaces?
Does the area have supermarkets selling the kind of food or other household items you need? It’s also nice to have a few restaurants, agreeable cafés and bars, as well as sports facilities, nearby.
Although violent crime is not really an issue anywhere in Shanghai, traffic is. If you have children, you may want to consider living away from a busy thoroughfare.
Lease agreements are typically made for one year (shorter leases are available for serviced apartments) but longer leases often lower the rent. A security deposit of two months’ rent is generally expected upon signing. Rent is generally paid in RMB, in cash, and does not usually include utilities. If you use an agent, expect to pay a commission upon signing the lease.
Assess the demeanour of your landlord carefully and be sure to ask about any decoration modifications you would like to make before you sign the contract. Some landlords have been known to be very generous.