Jim and I both value high-quality living, and we want to make the best out our expat experience in Shanghai. Thus, choosing an ideal location for ourselves became our priority. When I moved to Shanghai alone in August 2016, I was lucky that my boss offered me to stay in her tiny 40-square-metre fifth-floor walk-up studio apartment for as long as I needed. Her apartment was in a quiet neighbourhood in the French Concession of Xuhui District. As much as I appreciated her help, with all my belongings, we barely had any spaces to walk. I quickly began to look for a place of my own. I found myself a small apartment on near the famous Wukang Road within a week. A year and two months later, Jim finally moved to Shanghai, too, but my studio apartment was too small for both of us. Therefore, we went on my second apartment hunt.
After viewing more than 30 apartments in different styles and various districts and listening to several friends’ apartment hunting stories, I can proudly say that I have a pretty good picture when it comes to apartment hunting in Shanghai.
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Choosing the location base on the commute to work
Choosing an apartment based on the commute is usually how people decide where they want to live. Make sure your commute to your work is no more than one metro transfer. Trust me, taking the metro in Shanghai during rush hour is hell, and you want the travel to be as efficient as possible.
Consisting more than 20 million people, Shanghai is a humongous city. The Metro Line 4 (the dark purple line) goes around in a circle and the area within is considered as the centre of Shanghai. Like every city in the world, the rent in the centre is always more expensive. Ask yourself: What’s your priority? I personally hate living close to work because that would make me feel like I’m never home. I don’t mind paying a bit more to live in the centre, so I am close to where’s happening.
How Close is “Living Close to the Metro?”
Anywhere within 10 minutes walk to a metro station is “VERY close to the metro” in Shanghai standard. Keep in mind that Shanghai is bigger than it looks on the map. The distance between two stations could sometimes take more than 30 minutes by foot walking from one to the other.
Shanghai’s Most Central Districts
The Huangpu River divides Shanghai into Pudong and Puxi. The name Pu-Dong and Pu-Xi literally mean east (Dong) and west (Xi) of the Huang-Pu River. Puxi is Shanghai’s historical old city and where the foreign settlements were. Pudong was mostly farmland and did not begin to develop until the end of the 20th century. In Pudong, only the Pudong New Area is considered as a part of today’s central Shanghai. The other districts mentioned below are all in Puxi.
The summary of the districts focuses on central Shanghai and its surrounding areas. Some of the districts are so vast that it extends very far out. The area outside of the ring is not a part of the discussion.
Xuhui District 徐汇区
Xuhui was my first home. The northern part of the district is the former French Concession. Walking in the area would make you forget that you are in China. I love the quaintness and the beautiful historical European style architectures. There are less hustle and bustle in parts of Xuhui, and the streets around Hunan Road are extremely quiet in the evening. Yet, living in such an environment comes with a price. It’s impossible to find a decent studio apartment that includes a kitchen and a bathroom for under 5,000RMB. I viewed one below 5k and the interior was old, moulded, tedious and smelled like damped water. A small, acceptable one-bedroom apartment is at least 6,400RMB.
Jin’an District 静安区
Jing’an is a popular district among expats. Most of the apartments we viewed in Jing’an are big elevator buildings. The north of Jing’an is Zhabei (闸北) District. It is now a part of Jing’an and has a more reasonable price on real estates since it was where the working class resided. We saw a 10,000RMB 2 bedrooms apartment right next to the Jing’an Temple Station, but the size was less than 60-square-metre. In contrast, for the same price, the size of another 2 bedrooms apartment in northern Jing’an was larger than 90-square-metre.
Changning District 长宁区
It’s truly amazing how quickly Chinese built their constructions because half of Changning was empty just a few years ago. Most of the apartment buildings are probably no more than 15 years old, and it’s scary. (Only God knows how safe those buildings are.) Gubei (古北), a residential area in Changning, is popular among expats from Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Macau. Hence, the area is sometimes referred as “Little Tokyo”, “Little Taipei”, or “Korean Town.” There are many international schools, so many European and North American expat families also choose to anchor in the area. The rent in Changning District is generally cheaper than Xuhui or Jing’an (except in Gubei, for obvious reasons.)
Huangpu District 黄浦区
Huangpu is in the east of Shanghai and has many key tourist attractions such as The Bund, Yu Garden (豫园), Tianzifang (田子坊), and Xintiandi (新天地). The popular shopping streets like Nanjing Road and Huaihai Road are also a part of Huangpu. The district used to be Shanghai’s commercial centre and continues to be the most flourished district in the city today. According to a broker, Huangpu has more old lane houses, so it’s possible to find cheaper newly renovated rentals. Finding a charming, spacious 1 bedroom apartment for around 9k isn’t a dream in this area.
Pudong New Area 浦东新区
The entire Pudongis HUGE and extends all the way out to the East China Sea. However, only Pudong New Area is considered as a part of central Shanghai. According to our broker, the rent in the area around the Lujiazui (陆家嘴) and Century Park (世纪公园) has skyrocketed in the past few years. It’s not a surprise since Lujiazui is Shanghai’s Finance and Trade Zone and where all the new skyscrapers are. Outside of the Zone is the abandoned Expo Park, the Hi-Tech Park, residential areas, and Disneyland. The air quality in Pudong is known to be worse than Puxi since it’s where most of the factories are. I wouldn’t consider living in Pudong at all because there really isn’t much going on.
Aside from choosing an ideal location to live while you’re on your Shanghai apartment hunting journey, there are many other things you need to consider. I will update with new articles soon!