1. The Beijinger is your friend.
The Beijinger website is the main source for foreigners who want to find housing in Beijing. When you are looking for an apartment, check it daily the week before you arrive. Good apartments go quickly in Beijing.
2. You will visit a lot of terrible apartments when you are searching for places. Save yourself for the right apartment.
Agents will take you to a lot of different places before showing you an apartment that is somewhat decent. It is important to see as many as you can before making a decision. You can find a good apartment in Beijing if look around. Be patient.
3. Location is everything in Beijing.
You want to be as close as you can be to the city center. It depends on where you live but you don't want a 50 RMB taxi ride home. Ideally stay within the 2nd ring road or the east side of the 3rd ring road. This is where everything is Beijing is happening and it makes living, working, and going out much more convenient. Unless you are studying abroad in Wudaokou, you don't really want to live outside the third ring road. Proximity to nightlife is more important than proximity to work. While some places might be 20 minutes on the subway to work for 2 RMB, it might be a 50 kuai taxi ride after the subway closes at 11:00 pm. You also want to live somewhere where you can easily bike around.
4. Rent is going to bankrupt you at first. Be prepared
In China, you have to pay three months at time, a deposit fee, and an agent fee. This is five months rent upfront for someone who has not gotten their first paycheck. Consider this in your savings when you are planning to move to Beijing.
5. Try to find a place without an agent fee.
Try to find places where agents are unnecessary. This can be tricky especially if you are fresh off the boat. The Beijinger website is helpful and it can be done. You can also ask your Chinese colleagues or friends to look on Chinese websites for places. Look at the "looking for a roommate" posts on the Beijinger website.
6. Everything is a negotiation
China is not a place where everything has a concrete price. You can negotiate for a lot of different aspects of the apartment. Many foreigners make this rookie mistake and end up paying too much for their apartment. Ask around to see what a fair price for your apartment is and bring a Chinese friend with you.
7. Make sure your house has air conditioning and central heating in the summer and the winter.
It seems like a silly thing to ask until you don't have it. Beijing winter is no joke. It can get really cold and it is important to have a house that can keep you warm in the winter and comfortable in the summer.
8. Know how to pay your electricity bill.
This varies depending on where you live. It could be really easy or annoying and out of the way. At my first apartment in Beijing, we just paid our landlord at the end of each month depending on how much electricity we used. At my second apartment, I just gave my roommate money for utilities with the electricity bill included. The house that I currently live in has an electricity meter. We add money on it at State Grid or a local bank. When it runs out for some reason, our power will go out. During a hot summer afternoon or a dinner party, this is extremely inconvenient. Sometimes, you will have to wait until the next day to turn the power back on because State Grid is closed.
9. Have a Chinese person look over your rental contract.
Most rental agreements are written completely in Chinese. Some contracts have English as well but the Chinese version is the only one that can be used in court. It is important to have someone look over it before
10. Watch out for fake pictures.
DO NOT RENT AN APARTMENT UNTIL YOU SEE IT ESPECIALLY IN BEIJING/CHINA。 If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
11. Hutong life could be the life for you! Check it out.
The hutongs are a really interesting and cool area to live in Beijing. They are in the centre of the city and near many bars, clubs, and restaurants. Sometimes, hutongs are in poor condition, cramped, expensive, buggy, or don't have toilets. It's a personal decision that every expat has to make. Living in the hutongs provides you with a sense of community and a feeling of really being in China. Check it out to see if it's an area that you might like to live in.