Using an agent to help you through the process can avoid some of the common problems. If not, it may be worth working with a relocation specialist who will help you through the process. Bear in mind that even if the Chinese copy of the contract has a translation into English, the Chinese version will be the one used as reference by a court in the event of a dispute. Obviously, it is a good idea to get contracts checked in advance of signing them.
There are short term (<6 months) and long term (>6 months) leasing contracts in China. Usually to rent an apartment you'll need to rent for a period of at least 6 months but preferably a year. Most owners sign a 1year leasing contract. It is possible to have short term leasing contracts but it depends on the owners and the terms are usually different e.g. rents are usually more expensive.
Payment of the rent
Rent is normally paid in RMB, in cash, a month in advance. In some cases, you can do a money transfer but you will need to open a bank account in a Chinese bank. Rental prices do not include utilities. Usually you need to add Management and tax fees.
Rental deposits in China
Owners usually require 2 months deposit and the first months rent in advance when you sign a long term leasing contract. The receipt for the deposit is called shouju and is a written recognition that the landlord has received the money. Deposits are often paid upon signing of the lease to ensure unit occupation, compensation for damages caused by the tenant, or non-performance of lease terms.
Should the property condition be deemed acceptable upon lease expiration, the security deposit will be refunded in full.
Deposits are paid back the last day of your leasing contract after you and the owner have checked the apartment. If you break the leasing contract before the end of the leasing date, the owner will keep your 2 months deposit.
The Management fee is payable monthly to the management company of the estate you rent. It covers the cost of maintenance, security of the building and amenities. The fee depends on the building age and facilities offered to the Tenants.
Before moving in, ensure the space is cleaned and all appliances are in working order. The inventory when you move in should be carefully checked as anywhere in the world. A comprehensive description of any anomalies is made and signed by all parties.
The water, electrical and gas meter readings should be written down on the contract.
The rental tax receipt (and other tax receipts) are called fapiao and the landlord has to pay tax to issue the receipt. You need fapiao for rental payments if you intend to use it in Chinese corporate bookkeeping or for any type of tax deductions in China.
House Insurance in China
In China, you are not required to have property insurance. In fact, all expatriate places are usually insured by the landlord in case of fire, bad weather, war, water damage or any other cause, which is not attributable to the tenant. If you damage the apartment, you will have to pay for it, or it is possible to get private insurance and insure your personal goods and the goods that are in the apartment (Public liability - Property Damage).
The Tenant usually pays gas, water, electricity, and telephone charges. The total cost of these is generally around $65 USD which is the average for one year: expect higher electricity bills during winter and summer.
Those charges can be paid to any convenient stores like Kedi, Lawson or Convenience 21; or also at the post office or the bank. Just bring your bills with you.
Electricity is billed monthly. China uses a standard of 220 volts and 50 cycles. Plugs come in at least four designs: three pronged angled pins (as in Australia), three pronged round pins (as in Hong Kong), two flat pins (US style but without the ground wire) and two narrow round pins (European style). You will be able to buy most kind of adapters in China, but it is a good idea to bring a few with you to start.
Water is billed bimonthly. The tap water is not drinkable or must be boiled before drinking. We recommend that you use water dispensers with water jugs. The base unit can be purchased at any supermarket. Water containers can be delivered as needed.
Gas is billed bimonthly. Most kitchen burners use gas.
Cable or Satellite TV: Most buildings are cable ready, and give you access to Chinese channels (about 50 channels), and only one in English (CCTV 9). Some apartments have satellite TV installed but it is quite rare. However if you do want to install it, installation fees cost from $280-570 USD.
Phone & Internet are billed monthly. There will be a separate bill for the Internet charges. Usually you need to pay $70 USD for the installation of a broadband Internet connection and every month you pay $20 USD for the leasing.
A housekeeper - or ayi in Chinese and as also called by most foreigners - costs about 8RMB per hour depending on the number of working hours. Some of the services offered by an ayi include cleaning, ironing, cooking, taking clothes to the dry cleaners and the paying of utility bills. Some ayis speak English or have experience working for foreigners, however they are generally more expensive. If you are living alone it can be great to return home from work to find all your clothes washed and ironed, and your evening dinner waiting in the microwave. Even better, most ayis are wonderful cooks!
It's important to remember that some ayis may not be used to dealing with foreigners and their cultural habits (laundry baskets are not the norm in China), so be patient with your instructions and expectations. Tipping is not normally expected in China, but if you're satisfied with your ayi's service then a bonus will be more than welcome.