A Crash Course on Moving in China

posted in: Beijing | 2

My first project after returning to China was finding a new apartment.  The landlord of my previous apartment sold it, so I couldn’t renew my lease.  Before I left for the U.S., I moved all of my stuff into storage.  I’ve found a new apartment, and I’m settling in.  I’ll share some photos of the apartment once I’ve got the frames off the floor and onto the wall.  Like moving anywhere, there are a number of steps to get to this point.  Here’s my crash course of the necessary steps for moving in China (of course, these steps could change, depending on the situation).



Step One: Find an Apartment

Last time, this was the hardest step.  This time, it went much faster.  I started by doing research online to narrow down the area I wanted to live.  It is relatively near my old apartment, about 7 kilometers (4.3 miles), but closer to the center of the city, and more importantly, closer to more convenient subway lines.  That makes it easier for me to get around the city and easier for others to get to me.  Once I’d found some possibilities in the online database, I sent a message to an agent requesting to see it.

The next day, I met the agent (plus another agent), and we looked at the first apartment I’d identified.  They also showed me several others in the building.  Each apartment had various pros and cons, but I liked the first apartment best.  The agent called the landlord–most apartments are owned by individuals–for us to meet and discuss arrangements.  We did a bit of negotiating and agreed to terms.  While the agents wrote up the contract for us, I went to the bank to get the cash to pay the first six months of rent (it is normal to pay 3-6 months at a time).  We reconvened to sign the contracts, pay the money, take an inventory of what was in the apartment, and make sure all the utilities were turned on.

That all happened in one day.  I was fairly decisive this time, because it was right after Chinese New Year and the agents reported there was a lot of interest in apartments.  I learned the hard way in my last apartment searching experience to not wait too long.  I’m thankful that this step went relatively easily!


Step Two: Schedule All The Coming Steps

Once I knew where I was moving to, I could figure out the other things that needed to happen and start working on scheduling them.  The sometimes awesome and sometimes annoying thing about China is that things can be scheduled quite quickly.  I found the apartment on Saturday and was able to schedule the following steps for that week.


Step Three: Furniture Shopping

Most apartments in China come at least mostly furnished, but this one only came with a few pieces, plus I had bought some furniture for my last apartment.  I needed two important pieces of furniture: a bed and a couch.  A friend went with me and we started by checking out a “furniture plaza” near my new apartment.  It turned out to be much more high end than we expected (we tried out a $3,000USD mattress imported from Japan), so I didn’t buy anything.  Our next stop was the old standby for expats in Beijing (and people around the world): Ikea.  I knew that I would be able to find comfortable pieces in my budget at Ikea.  We quite efficiently picked out a couch, bed, and mattress.  Ikea also delivers for slightly more than $10USD, so I scheduled that for later in the week.  This is really important when you don’t have a car!


Step Four: Have Apartment Cleaned

Apartments do not usually come clean here.  It might look clean in the photo, but everything was covered in a thick layer of dust.  The custom is to hire someone to clean your new place after you rent it (you’re going to see a theme in this post–labor is fairly cheap).  I used an app to hire a team to come and deep clean the apartment.  Three people cleaned for a bit over four hours.  Just the difference in having clean windows made a big difference!


Step Five: Oversee Moving

The next step was to move my stuff out of the storage unit.  It turns out that storage units in China work pretty similarly to in the U.S., but this unit is in the third floor below ground of a large building.  They had a variety of different size units, and everything was clean and temperature controlled.  Nothing went missing or was damaged while I was gone, even the two chairs that didn’t fit in the unit and were in some additional warehouse room.  The storage place also connected me to a moving company.  Two movers and a truck met me at the storage place and they took all my things up and packed them in the truck.


Once everything was packed on the truck, I rode with them in the truck to my new apartment.  Once we were there, they unloaded it into my living room.  The mover in the photo was quite chatty and said I have both a lot of stuff and that my new apartment is too big for one person.  I told him it was American custom.  The movers were pretty efficient, didn’t try to rip me off, and were also not expensive.


Step Six: Start Unpacking

That’s what the living room looked like when the movers left.  At this point, I started the process of sorting through it all, moving boxes and items into the right rooms and eventually opening the boxes and finding new homes for everything.  This was a several day process, and I’m still sorting through some piles I created in the process.

I also discovered things I didn’t have or wanted to upgrade and have been doing plenty of online shopping for things like Command strips, end tables, a throw blanket, throw pillow case, extension cord, and more.


Step Seven: Assemble IKEA Furniture

In the midst of the unpacking, my IKEA furniture was delivered.  That rolled up thing is actually my mattress.  I’m not sure how they do it, but it is an actual mattress with springs that they compress into a roll.  As soon as I removed the outer layer of plastic, it unrolled and popped back up into shape.  It was amazing!  The mattress is also cushy and comfortable.  This is extra amazing because most beds in China are really hard.  Thankfully, friends came over and helped me put the bed and sofa together.  Then the place really started to feel like a home.


Step Eight: Set Up Internet Connection

This step was harder than the real estate agent made it sound.  She described the office of the internet company being in the apartment complex.  There is an office, but when I went there I discovered it was more of a service office than the kind of office where you can set up an account.  They described to me where I had to go, but I didn’t understand very clearly and didn’t think to pull out my phone and have them help me find it on the map.  After I’d left, I looked offices up on the map and picked the one I thought it might be.  After a bit of wandering, I found another office that couldn’t set up internet.  They could tell me exactly where to go.  I didn’t have enough time that day to go over there, but went the next day.  Once I was there, the line wasn’t too long and setting up the account went quickly.  After you go to the office, a service worker has to come to your apartment to connect the wires and such.  In the past, that’s taken a few days, but this time he came within hours.  I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it went!


Step Nine: Learn the New Neighborhood

There are lots of new things to figure out–what’s the best supermarket and where to find things in each supermarket, where to order drinking water, where the little shops are, what subway entrances to use, what the good restaurants nearby are, etc.


Step Ten: Have Friends Over

I haven’t gotten to this step yet, but I’m looking forward to having friends over some day soon!


2 Responses

  1. Lyn

    Love this! So thankful for how smoothly, over all, everything went!
    Excited for you!

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