House Hunting Process in Beijing

There is no harm to start looking earlier. It would be ideal if your employer can offer you a look-and-see trip, or pre-assignment trip, to Beijing a few months before taking your assignment. This trip takes only 2-3 days, but will give you an overview of life in Beijing. You can take advantage of this trip to identify an international school for your kids, in order to start application process as early as possible, and you can narrow down the housing options as well, allowing for a quicker property search later on.

We would recommend starting your search 4-6 weeks prior to planned move-in date. Earlier than this might result in landlord’s long vacancy period and put yourself in less favorable position of rental negotiation. Many companies offer their expats one month temporary stay in a serviced apartment during their home-finding period. Keep in mind, we can book you into an apartment before your arrival.

Additionally, if you are bringing your own furniture to Beijing, please also consult your moving company and make sure your own furniture arrives when you move into the property, and you have your work permit obtained to get your shippment. If you have a pet to move together, talk to your moving company as well and start preparing the necessary documents.

If we are your relocation agent, it typically takes three steps to find a home in Beijing: Step One You will be given an overview of all the expat residential communities in different areas/district in Beijing. After viewing samples of different layouts in each community, you will be able to shortlist a few communities/properties that you want to revisit and get to know more details. This takes 1-2 days. Step Two You will visit ALL available properties with the preferred layouts in your preferred communities/property. Pay attention to interior condition, facing which direction, which floor, furniture, etc. Typically, this takes another 1 day. You can identify 1-2 options for further negotiation Step Three We will assist you to negotiate with landlord, and satisfy the best of your interest. Once agreement is reached between you and landlord, we will assist you to conclude the contract, making sure all your legal right are well protected.

In order to avoid any potential problems occurring during your lease, pay attention to the following points when you are looking for apartment or house in Beijing:

Downtown Beijing is noisy. Traffic and on-going construction are the main causes. If you’re sensitive to noise and the property is in a busy area, check before you lease the property. Open the window. Listen. Close the window and listen again. Are noise levels acceptable?

Some properties in Beijing do not have good insulation. Also, at some houses, the air-conditioning and heat distribution systems is not very efficient. So, expect utility bills to be high in Beijing’s hot summers and cold winters. However, many properties have been upgraded with better windows and doors; newer properties have better central air-conditioning system. Ask about the average utility costs there before you lease a property.

Because of Beijing's hot summers and cold winters, plus many windy days, most apartments don’t have balconies. Instead, Beijing’s property developers choose to maximize living room sunlight. Don’t let a balcony be your main search criteria. You’ll miss out on a lot of good properties.

Many houses in suburban Shunyi have spacious American-style basements. Despite Beijing’s dry air in most of the months, to prevent mould, it’s important to have 1-2 dehumidifiers (depending on basement size) running, especially in summer.

Land is at a premium in Beijing, so private gardens are usually small. Do not expect agarden like you have in home country.

Builders at some older Beijing properties (built before 2002) didn’t include U-shaped reservoirs in the drainage system. Even in recently developed properties, due to some irresponsible work of contractors, some apartments or houses in Beijing still have drainage smell in bathrooms. Some of the problems take long long time to get fixed, which is definitely annoying. Check yourself before signing the lease for a property.

In most local real estate transactions in Beijing, the broker represents the landlord or owner, especially the local brokers you find along the streets. If the broker has a written agency agreement with the owner, he has a legal obligation to represent the best interest of the owner and negotiate the best deal possible for him. Conversely, a Tenant Representative has a fiduciary duty to negotiate the best possible deal for the Tenant. A Tenant Representative will present you with an array of properties that meet your needs objectives and will help you negotiate favorable terms in your lease.

We will be the Tenant Representative for your home search and even after you move into the house.

Rent a Property in Beijing

In Beijing, normally the Landlord pays the commission to the agent. But rest assured, despite this arrangement, we always negotiate on your behalf. Most of our business is from existing client referrals and long-term corporate clients. We will always represent your best interest.
There are a lot of things affecting the rental of apartment or villa in Beijing: Good quality or design of interior renovations in the property. Better furnishings and imported electric appliances. The individual landlord’s expectation on rental is all different. In Beijing, some landlords, keener to get early rental income, may offer relatively lower rental; some landlords stick to higher rental income and wouldn’t care about waiting for a few months. Some landlords know the market trends very well and adjust their expectation from time to time. Most Beijing property developments are built in phases. A property at a new phase is typically better than an older one and sold at a higher price. So, rent at the newer property is higher. For villas, corner properties with larger gardens rent for more. Properties with well-designed basement rent for more. For apartments, properties on higher floors, with a view or south-facing rent for more.

Developer-owned property usually provides better management services with more efficiency than privately-owned property, thus asking for higher rental as well. Some private landlords are very difficult to deal with, and tend to change their mind easily. Private landlords may also have no knowledge of their house defects, and are usually slower in solving problems. If private landlords hired unqualified contractors to do original renovation, then there might be endless problems during the tenancy term. Some private landlords try to find excuses to only return part or none of the deposit to the tenant’s company. While as other private landlords request tenants to wash the curtains or clean the carpets before moving out. However, you may also be luck to meet private landlords who are more flexible in negotiation and more ready to settle problems for their tenant.

Management Offices of the developer-owned property provides assistance to their tenants for the resident registration in the local police station in accordance with Chinese Law. On the other hand, if you choose to stay in a privately owned property, then it is required to take care of registration in the local police station in person.

In most privately -owned properties, the utility facilities use prepaying system. Your landlord will hand you utility cards for you to pay before you use water, electricity and gas.

Fa-Piao is a tax receipt for rental paid from tenant to landlord. The use of Fa-Piao in China is a means for the tax authorities to ensure that VAT on a transaction has been paid. In many countries, the payee for goods or services issues a receipt to the payer and is responsible for declaring the VAT. In China the tax receipt, a Fa-Piao, must be issued by the tax authorities. It is either pre-paid and printed at the tax bureau, or printed by the payee on offical Fa-Piao paper using a system that’s linked on-line to the tax authorities. To comply with accounting rules, your employer needs a Fa-Piao for all rent payments made. Many multi-national companies require advance provision of Fa-Piao for payment application process. The Fa-Piao should state the names of the payer and payee, and also note that the payment is for rent. The VAT for rent payments is currently 5% of the full amount of rental.

When negotiating the lease, pay attention to the following terms:

Length of the Lease Property
leases are normally for one year. For villa leases, landlords prefer 2 year leases especially if the lease includes custom renovations and furniture purchases. Some landlords accept a break clause for the tenant after the first year, with prior 2-month notice.
Pay the rental and other fees
The rent is paid in RMB by bank transfer to the landlord’s account, usually on a monthly basis. For corporate property leases, your company arranges payment for rental and deposit. For private leases, you need to make sure you will have enough amount of RMB in your bank account in Beijing, so that you can make payment in time according to your agreement with landlord. Landlords rarely accept foreign currency payments, even if paid off-shore. Typically a complete lease agreement should reflect the furniture and appliances provided, management fee, satellite TV fee, telephone and internet fee, heating fee, utility fee, fitness club fee, parking fee, housekeeping cost and tax etc. It’s important that both landlord and tenant understand that who is responsible for paying which fee.
Security Deposit
A security deposit of normally two months rental is payable to the landlord and should be returned without interest at the end of the lease upon completion of all terms and conditions. Typically you pay one months’ rent upon signing the Lease Agreement. Full deposit need to be paid before move-in date.
Break Clause
If you signed a lease with no break clause, you will lose your security deposit upon early termination. Not all the landlord can agree to add a break clause to the lease agreement, but there’s no harm to negotiate for one. If your landlord has agreed to a break option in your lease agreement, you need to strictly follow the conditions of that break clause. For example, it might require 2-months prior notice; or it might only happen after 6-month tenancy; or it might only apply to the situation that you are relocated out of Beijing by your employer.

If the selected property belongs to developer, standard furniture is usually provided with limited flexibility to change; even if tenant only needs an unfurnished house/apartment, there would be almost no difference in rental price.

If the selected property belongs to a private owner and the furniture is already in place, then the landlord usually allows limited flexibility to change. If, for example, the tenant has different tastes from the existing furniture and wants to change lots of the existing furniture, then the rental negotiated will definitely reflect that additional cost to landlord. If the tenant only needs an unfurnished house, then the landlord may have to remove the existing furniture and find storage facilities. Therefore the landlord may not lower the rental price just because it’s an unfurnished apartment or house.

If the selected property is currently empty and belongs to a private owner, the landlord may provides a furniture allowance (equal to 1-2 months rental) to furnish the house, or furnish the house according to your needs. The amount of furniture allowance is usually related to rental amount and length of the lease term. If you ship your own furniture to Beijing, the landlord may consider lowering the rental for leasing a currently unfurnished house.

Not all the landlords will agree to let tenants to select furniture styles. Most landlords would try to make the furnishing process as simple as possible, especially those staying out of Beijing.

It really depends on how negotiation goes. If everything goes smoothly, the contract could be signed within one week by both parties. If it is a personal lease, you are to sign the contract by yourself with landlord directly. Landlords usually request a downpayment for deposit, which normally equals to at least one-month rental. Some landlords may even want cash payment upon signing the contract. Then landlord will start getting the apartment ready for you to move in, which may take about one week, cleaning, reconnecting water, electricity, gas, internet, TV cable, etc.

If it is a corporate lease, it usually takes 1-2 weeks to settle the contract negotiation and signing, and another 1-2 weeks to settle payment by your employer. Usually the realistic move-in date would be around one month later. Landlords would usually prepare the property only after receiving the deposit payment from your employer. If negotiation on your first option is not a success, then negotiations must begin on a second or third option, which will take much longer time.

It is common that Serviced Apartment provide these items together with housekeeping services. However, individual landlords rarely agree to include them in the lease, as they will not be used by a second tenant. If a landlord agrees to include these items, they will be provided at a certain cost and factored into a higher rent.

Most of the problems can be settled by property management office. If you choose Greenpath to assist you with homefinding, you can call us for help during your lease. We are experienced problem solvers.

If you choose Greenpath to assist you with homefinding, we will set it up for you at your house or apartment, and explain how and where you pay the bills on your move-in day.

If Greenpath assisted you to find the property, we will be there for you at the end of your lease to document a proper hand-over of the property back to the landlord. This includes an inventorycheck and reading of all utilities. On the hand-over day, the property should be clean and all your belongings should be removed from the premises. All keys, entry cards, utility cards, remote controls and instruction manuals should be compiled for an smooth hand-over. If you have damaged anything (fair wear and tear excepted) during the lease, please inform us 14 days in advance so we can help you schedule repairs, or find ways to minimize compensation. A proper hand-back of property to landlord is the key to quick refund of security deposit.

Select International Schools in Beijing

Different international schools have different way of assessment system to admit a child. But all international schools in Beijing use English as their medium of instruction, in another word, if your child is fluent in English on both written and spoken, the child will stand a higher chance to be accepted by the school. A good recommendation from the previous school will be handy as it will enhance your application during the review process.
It is extremely important to provide the schools with a complete application form and all supporting documents required. The more popular schools are usually full with long waitlist; your application will be placed on waitlist basing on the date of your submission.
Usually the first tier schools (more popular schools) have long waitlists all year round; most parents would have a priority list in mind after the preliminary visits to all the schools. Parents would then review more in depth when there are responds from the schools applied. Except for ISB, the other schools charge a non-refundable application fee which varies from RMB1500 to RMB2000 per application.
All international schools in Beijing are classified under top 250 international schools in the world, be wise and flexible, they are all good schools with wide selection for the parents.
School buses are popular and widely utilized by the students. There are enough buses and big range of bus routes connecting most developments in both City and Sub-urban areas. There is at least one bus monitor assigned to each school bus. The bus monitor will have the name list of the children who are riding on the bus and ensure all kids are on board before they leave. All parents are given the contact number of their bus monitor for easy communication.
Yes, there are numerous sports activities cater for kids in schools. School will form school teams for various sports i.e. swimming, badminton, table tennis, rugby, tennis, football, basketball, baseball etc. If your child is selected in the school team, your child will require at least twice-a-week training on that particular sport. Team member will have the opportunity to represent school for inter schools competition within Beijing and overseas competition. A wide range of sports and activities cater for different levels/ages students to participate after school. At least two after-school activities for each child a week.

Expact Life in Beijing

Finding a suitable ayi is easier said than done, as letting an absolute stranger become part of your family and routine takes time. The first step in the process is to locate suitable channels to secure potential ayis.

Friend and colleague referral

Referral will be the first option many expatriate families explore. Word of mouth from friends already in Beijing and work colleagues is often a very good source of information. Ayis coming through this channel will tend to be experienced and already have a few years of work with expatriate families, which will ensure that they are familiar with the expatriate lifestyle and expectations. They will be familiar with using a dryer, dishwasher, oven and other appliances that Chinese do not use normally, making the transition period easier.

Supermarket/local shop

Notice boards at expat supermarkets and shops are also a great source of ayis. The ayis who advertise through this channel generally have experience working with expatriates. Therefore, you can contact them directly, set up a meeting and see whether it will work.


If all of the above fail, expatriate families can contact professional agencies to find an ayi. Most reputable agencies have English-speaking staff to ensure clear communication. During your first contact with the agencies, it’s critical to communicate your needs and expectations to help them shrink the pool of possible candidates. Among the information they will certainly need is: your expectation for the ayi’s level of experience, English-language skills, full-time or part-time commitment, types of chores assigned. They will also need to know your location, type of housing, family size and so on, all in order to gauge your needs.

The next step is for the agency to recommend suitable candidates for you to interview. Normally, after the interview you can hire the ayi for one-week (paid) trial period to clear up any doubts and ensure it’s a good fit for both parties. If during the trial period you are not satisfied, it’s standard practice for agencies to introduce a new candidate without charging an additional fee.

Once you and your family have decided on an ayi, you will sign a contract for permanent employment with the help of the agency. The current rate for a full-time ayi ranges from RMB2000-3000 per month, depending on experience, qualification, origin and final negotiation. For agency services, there would be a fee to you, or to ayi in most cases, so always ask the agency before signing any contract.

As a foreigner in Beijing, can I drive with my driving license in home country? The answer is no. But there’s an relatively easy way to obtain a local license. Please follow the steps below:

Step One: Pick Up an Application Form

You can obtain an application form from Foreign Affairs Department, Beijing Traffic Management Bureau. This is where the computer test is administered and licenses are issued. The application form and instructions are written in Chinese, and it must be filled out in Chinese as well. If you don’t read and write Chinese, get help from Chinese friends or colleagues. The test is organized every Tuesday and Wednesday, but you need to make an appointment in advance before taking the test. The test reference book could be purchased at application office. Government fee for the test is RMB50.

Step Two: Get a Health Check Report

Because part of the application form can only be filled out by a doctor, you must go to a provincial-level or higher public hospital (many private and foreign clinics are not authorized to fill out the form). When going to the hospital, be sure to bring: your valid driver’s license from your home country, your passport, 1-inch photo.

Step Three: Turn in All Required Documents

Turn in all the required documents to Foreign Affairs Department, Beijing Traffic Management Bureau:

  • Passport with Resident Permit (original and copy of photo page and visa page) 护照以及护照首页复印件, 居留许可复印件
  • Driving license in home country (original within the valid period) 有效外国驾照
  • Driving license translated 外国驾照翻译件
  • 5 piece ofc olor photos, must be white background, small size 1” (same size with local driving license photo) 5张1寸白底彩色照片
  • Residence certificate issued by local police office 住宿证明
  • Health check report 体检报告
  • Application form 申请表
  • Registration fee (RMB 50)

After turning everything in,you will be scheduled for an exam time in about 2 weeks and given an admission card. The computerized examination involves true/false and multiple-choice questions.

Step Four: Take the Examination

The test focuses on current traffic regulations in China. You must score 90 percent or better in a maximum of two attempts on the challenging 100-question test. Do prepare with the help of reference book. However, if you fail, the test can be taken an unlimited number of times.

There are eight versions of the examination: Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), English, French,German, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean. As the test is taken on computer, your will have the results immediately upon completion.

Step Five: Pick Up Your Chinese Driver’s License

If you passed the exam, you can pick up your new Chinese driver’s license in one week. Congratulations, your Chinese license is valid for six years, but must be re-registered periodically throughout that time. It’s based on a 12-point system, with points deducted for traffic violations. If you lost all your points within a one-year period, you must takea remedial class to’ relearn the rules’ and pass a traffic rules exam again. Then get ready for road rage!


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