Apartment Hunting in Shanghai, Part 1: Where to Live

When considering a place to live, especially in a foreign country for who knows how long, you don’t want to just settle for any hole in the wall place. There are ways to find an apartment that is perfect for you without using up all your savings. Particularly for living in Shanghai, there are many options- it just depends on where your priorities are.

The Suburbs

Apartments in Shanghai Suburbs - Jiading


Although Shanghai is known to be the most expensive city in Mainland China, there are ways to pay cheap rent. In the outskirts or suburbs of Shanghai (or anywhere other than the downtown areas) you can get a two bedroom or three bedroom apartment for 3000rmb.  If you are looking to live on your own, then you could probably live in a studio for 2000rmb.  This definitely saves you money, especially if you are starting an internship that barely pays and you find yourself having to pay the first three months of rent out of pocket when you sign the contract (a common transaction in China). All in all, living further out from the center of Shanghai will help your budget, and provide some reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the downtown areas with probably better air quality, too.


Although you may be attracted to the budget saving apartment, living in desolate areas further away from the center may become an inconvenience. The metro system in Shanghai is great, however once you get to the outskirts of town you may find yourself nowhere near a convenient metro station, where the only one is a 20 or 30 minute walk away from your apartment. On top of that, you will probably be working somewhere centrally located, so your commute can amount to over an hour.  Back and forth everyday of the week, that’s ten hours of your time on public transportation (and we all know, time equals money!). The metro also closes early, sometime between 10 and 10:45 and does not open again until 6+am.  If you are out late, then your only other option is to take a cab. If you live in Yangpu (all the way north) and you take a cab from Xuhui (central area) then you are looking at a cab that may cost about 200rmb. You could have had a really nice dinner for the price of that cab.  If you lived in the Xuhui area already, you could have walked home or even ridden your bike, if you prefer that mode of transportation.

As I said before, it would be nice to have an apartment to yourself for the same price as a shared apartment downtown, however you would lack the social life and the expansion of your network that would most definitely happen if you lived with other people. Something SmartIntern has discussed before, and most importantly, living downtown will give you access to more opportunities to meet new people and attend social and networking events. You can’t put a price on these, but it’s certainly worth fronting the additional cash to live centrally. Having easy access to the international crowds and events is one of the highlights and huge benefits found in Shanghai that can’t be found anywhere else. By living in the Suburbs, you’re putting yourself at a huge disadvantage and you truly won’t be making the most of your life in Shanghai.

The Burbs: Jiading, Hongqiao, Yangpu, Minhang, Pudong New Area

Downtown & Central Areas

Apartment in Shanghai - Xuhui


Honestly, some of the best areas to live as a foreigner are the Downtown Areas, like Xuhui or Jing’an districts; these areas are close to all the restaurants, bars, nightlife, and most likely where you will work, too. You may find yourself sharing an apartment with people you don’t know for 2500 or 3000 rmb a month, but if you come to Shanghai alone, then you will already have a jump-start on your network just by having roommates. Your new roommates will most likely be a multinational group- giving you insight into other cultures, countries and networks.

Apartments in Shanghai - Jing'an

Another bonus is the quick commute. Your commute will probably be shorter to work, and there will be more metro lines to choose from, so getting around Shanghai will be more convenient. You also may live close to the notorious Avocado Lady. Just visit her little storefront market, and you will understand why she is so popular with all of the foreigners. Plus, if you like to bike, then biking around these areas is much easier than on the big roads that you may find further outside the center of the city. One of the great experiences of Shanghai is riding a bicycle through the tree-lined streets former French Concession. Biking also relieves you of having to take a taxi, and helps you get to know the area better.

As noted further above, being able to quickly meet and make friendships and connections will happen easily downtown. Being around other foreigners will truly give you that global network Shanghai can provide.


You will most likely be spending more money on an apartment and would probably have to share an apartment. If you are set on having your own place, then that could get you paying about 5000 for your own studio.  If you are coming for an internship in Shanghai, then paying those three first months of rent out of pocket could crunch your finances initially. If you want to live cheaply in this area, you may find yourself with an old apartment that has bad plumbing and has not been remodeled for too long. That being said there are plenty of remodeled places and new buildings in the downtown areas where that does not have to be a problem (that is, if you lived with others). Tip: if you get a shared apartment, a high-rise usually does the trick.

Downtown: Xuhui, Jing’an, Huangpu

Apartments in Shanghai - Xuhui Former French Concession


Living downtown is ideal for the intern or young employee looking to kick-start their career and enjoy all Shanghai has to offer. Short commutes, beautiful streets, unique social life, larger network, as well as a happier and more comfortable lifestyle.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

photo credit: bricoleurbanism via photopin cc, Payton Chung via photopin cc, Payton Chung via photopin cc, transitpeople via photopin cc, transitpeople via photopin cc

About the Author
Author: Alicia

Alicia was born and raised in San Francisco, California, attended undergrad at UC Berkeley, has been living in Shanghai for the past year and now has bleach-blue hair. You will probably find her in one of her favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants slurping up some burn-your-mouth xiaolongbao or shui jiao.

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