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Tips for Chinese students on U.S. housing

interviewed by Greg Mischio

· China,Education

What are some of the biggest struggles Chinese student have when they're planning to move to the US?   

Issues such as language and cultural barriers are the obvious challenges, but for undergraduates entering their first year, there are more.   

Many Chinese students grow up without being obligated to perform household chores such as laundry, cooking, and sometimes even cleaning. It is common that parental emphasis is on allocating all available time to studies. To Americans, that exclusive focus seems unusual, but the academic landscape in China is intensively competitive thus most parents prioritize academic achievement. 

So, when on their own for the first time in a country far away, adaptability is essential. A year or two of living on campus in serviced dorms is one thing, but apartment living with roommates is another matter.  

How does renting an apartment differ in China then it does in America?  

In Beijing and other first-tier cities such as Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, the rental payment structure usually goes something like this: Tenants must pay three months' rent upfront plus one month's deposit, and pay every three months' rent upfront thereafter for the remainder of the leasing contract. Often a landlord will employ an agent to handle leasing, and they can charge an extra month's rent just for being the person with a key to show the apartment. 

The object for renters is to negotiate the agents' commission down.

In second- and third-tier Chinese cities, the approach is similar, but the amounts are often decreased.  In the US, an apartment is usually leased for 6 or 12 months, with the student paying first and last month's rent in advance, plus a security deposit. The security deposit is usually refundable if the apartment is left in pristine condition, but it is often not refundable if the landlord has to clean, paint, or repair the apartment because of damage during the tenant's occupancy.

Overall, rental laws in China favor landlords rather than tenants, as opposed to the US where laws tend to protect tenants' interests.   

What are ways Chinese students can overcome the language gap when view and living in an apartment?  

Google Translate is underrated. It has improved over the last couple of years and is helpful to have on hand. It is the best and most accessible online translation tool available and can help when negotiating rent or communicating with non-Chinese roommates.

Also, it's helpful to bring a friend who's native or fluent in both languages. Don't assume you have to do it all yourself. Have questions prewritten for the landlord or agent and present them at the viewing. Have a native speaker there to help, especially if you intend to sign a rental agreement or lease.  

What are some things Chinese students need to watch out for? 

Chinese students need to be aware of the same things as any other student, local or international. Protect your privacy and financial information; avoid suspicious-looking places; don't sign anything until you understand it.    

Second- or third-year international college students moving into independent apartments for the first time should keep these pointers in mind:

  • Quora or Reddit can be great first-hand informational resources. 
  • Crowdsource for information on Facebook; e.g., learn about the landlord's personality, the neighborhood, any quirks in the house, etc. 
  • Google search for former tenants' reviews of the same building complex, if staying in an apartment community. Become familiar with parking and towing policies in an apartment complex, especially when inviting others to visit. 
  • Whether or not the student will drive, learn the traffic patterns, roads, and public transportation options.
  • Find out if the school provides busing or dedicated transportation to or near the apartment. For students who plan to purchase, lease, or drive a car, remember that they'll be required by law to buy car insurance from an authorized agent. 

Parents might want to ask about these details:

  • The location of the nearest hospital.
  • The safety of the neighborhood and surrounding areas.
  • The landlord's policies for changing apartments or switching roommates. 
  • All students studying abroad should make themselves familiar with the market price for apartments in their desired areas so that, if they are dealing with an education agent or another third party, they will be aware of the difference between what the agent suggests and what the landlord is asking. It is expected that an agent will take a commission or fee when helping a student with housing and other arrangements, but the amount of the fee should be reasonable.