Here I will try to explain the first steps to do or suggestions according to my personal experience lived in Shenzhen in case you are planning to move to China or moving very soon for work, and you are completely alone!
1. A place to stay temporarily
The first step once you move to a different city or country is to find a place to stay.
You can easily find hotels at first through Booking.com, Ctrip.com or any other website before your arrival, such as Airbnb. You can find hotels fairly cheap if you are not very picky. Just have to think that will you stay in that hotel/place temporarily and not forever. When you move to a new place you have to make a huge investment from the beginning (no income, rent deposit, first rent payment, etc.). So better find an affordable hotel or rented room while you start looking for a long-term room or apartment.
One of the best options is renting a room through Airbnb and share apartment with more foreigners. This is really the key to start making contacts to survive around and search apartments.
2. Keep yourself connected
Once arrived to your city, the second step you should do is getting a local Sim Card for your phone. China has 3 mobile network operators: China Mobile, China Unicom & China Telecom.
In my case, I chose China Unicom following some online recommendations. This operator has a reasonable prepaid plan which is 200 minutes/month + 1.5GB data + SMS (unknown maximum of SMS but you will never exceed it) at 79RMB/month.
You can easily top up your phone balance and data through WeChat, so it’s really convenient. It’s not necessary to log in to its website or ask into the shop.
3. Time to make contacts
Sometimes when you’re moving to a new country, you keep in mind and proudly thinking that you want to meet locals and not foreigners or people from your same nationality, that the best way to get use to the environment is by not mixing with foreigners and mixing only with locals instead.. This is a big mistake!
Foreigners are the ones who really will provide you reliable information and contacts, besides of recommendations. Some Chinese also will provide a lot of useful information about the place, contacts or recommendations, but we are not living like locals, we have different cultures and different likes. Keep in mind that. The most accurate information in regards of foreigners life will be coming from foreigners for sure.
Some information is better to be taken from foreigners, another information from locals. Meeting people from your same nationality will frankly help you and save a lot of time in all related to documents, embassy, addresses, visas, permits, etc.
Do not complicate your life if you have a chance to live much better. Do not squeeze your brain at doing everything by yourself and ask to foreigners. Everybody has passed before from where are you now, so the people will kindly help you as much as possible.
So now, If you were not able to make friends or contacts before your arrival, now is time to start
Firstly, download Wechat app, since it is the WhatsApp in China. Then you may start having a look to local websites in English version. In my case, Shenzhenparty.com or similar. Start Googling what’s the local website in your city in English version. There is always a website!
If you manage to find such website, put an ad that your are new in the city and you’re currently looking for contacts/friends and leave your Wechat ID. From this source, you’ll get some contacts who may help you certainly in some of your tasks.
DO NOT LOOK FOR REALTORS !!!!
Also start adding contacts that are looking for some activities, hang out, etc. by checking their ads. These first contacts can introduce you some Wechat groups which this is really the main purpose of making contacts at first. Wechat groups is the most important thing in the beginning. You should try to find contacts who may invite you to join to some housing rental groups or any other activities.
DO NOT DATE GIRLS/GUYS !!!
Many people start dating girls/guys at first trying to look for help for their personal matters. Yes, many girls/guys will kindly help you but..nothing is for free! Please note that many of those girls/guys that you are dating are there looking for different purposes than yours! So, be careful and watch your steps. Do step in a wisely manner! Otherwise, you will be in troubles from the beginning and it will take all your time when now is really precious.
Once you find some of these groups, will be the time to find apartment. Otherwise, keep looking and asking. There will be always someone who is in these groups, that’s for sure.
4. Time to be a lodger
Yes, you managed to make contacts, friends, and joined to some groups for housing rental or any other activity within your city.
Now is time to make an ad in those housing rental groups. You are looking for shared apartment, room, mini studio, etc. You should add a reasonable budget and try to don’t exceed it.
Also ask people for some recommendations or contacts. All those so-called agents or contacts may be trustworthy, since those people already had hired them before. Otherwise, they won’t recommend them to you.
Also many people of these groups will be looking for partners to share apartment, or for tenants. Keep an eye on those ads too.
Once you got some agents or contacts who are renting apartments, is time to have a look. Do never trust on the photos that they send to you, since most of those apartments are super photoshopped. Negotiate first, make questions and if it’s meeting your expectations, go ahead.
DO NOT TRUST OR GO THROUGH REALTORS AGAIN. Why? They don’t care about what are you looking for. They care about your wallet. They will show you rubbish and try to convince you that what you are looking for is impossible, just a dream. You can kindly flip him/her off.
As personal experience, I went through these agents before and always showed me all those apartments that nobody wants because are full of dirt, old, dark and the location is terrible. I wasted my precious time on this, so better do not fall on these tricks. You will see that also Chinese locals won’t recommend you to go through realtors, as they are well known as scammers. Obviously, there are good ones, but can count on the fingers of one hand. So as recommendation, avoid realtors.
I’d recommend you to stay longer in a hotel or Airbnb than in the wrong long-term apartment. Be patient and choose wisely. Better keep looking for the correct apartment than choosing a wrong one and eventually regret your decision.
Please note that if you finally went through a realtor and got a room, you gotta pay them only the 50% of one month rent by law. So if they try to charge you more than 50%, run away.
A deposit should be 1-2 months of the rent. This will rely on the owner.
5. Time to think about the food
This is also an important matter to keep in mind.
Once you have found an apartment, you should start looking for reliable restaurants or local food places. Walk around your apartment, have a look to the restaurants cleanliness, check its prices and menus. If the menu has no English translation, take a photo and send it to your colleague or any Chinese friend to help you with the translation. Most people in China are really kind helping others. Obviously, you should help them back too when they need! However, the easiest way at first is to choose those restaurants that have photos in the menu. Try to find them and follow its photos. You will have more time later on to figure out what are you ordering by asking to local friends.
Once you have located some restaurants, time to have a try. At first you should try several restaurants/foods to check whether the food quality is good enough and delicious. Those ones you find good, keep going to them! Many places in China are not famous for its cleanliness and food safety! So better be prudent and repeat from the same places until get bored. You’ll save in stomach problems, especially at first!
Also important is to locate supermarkets or local markets. Something I have found out here is that the food is not as cheap as I expected. Foreign food will cost 2 or 3 times more than local. Get ready for that.
My trick is keep checking these supermarkets often, buy what I need for the next 2-3 days to keep an eye on the sales in the meantime. Quite often you’ll find sales. So once you find any sales, it’s gonna be the time to buy in larger amounts what you couldn’t buy before because its unbelievable price.
Example: imported milk price may round 14-18rmb. On sales you may find it at 9rmb. So is the best time to buy 4, 5, 6 packs and you will slightly save money. You will notice eventually how important is to save money slightly here and there
6. Start to live
So now that more or less you are well connected and settled down, the rest is up to you. You will need some basic phone apps to make your life easier in China.
Last suggestion is.. if you are thinking to stay for a short-term in China, do not bother to learn Chinese by going classes or spending a lot of money and time on that. At least, try to learn the most common words to move around and to communicate in case you need to order food, taxi, etc. You can ask to Chinese people whether they want to exchange language with you. So it has 2 good things, making friends and learning a language for free reciprocally.
Spend your time traveling around, exploring China and overseas instead of learning the hardest language in the world if your stay will be for a short while. You won’t be able to learn Chinese in 1 or 2 years! Learn it wisely and choose sagely your priorities.
Welcome to China!