Unlike in Korea, where your apartment is provided by the school, in China you will be provided with a housing allowance and be able to chose your own apartment. Schools will initially provide you with up to 1 week hotel accommodations when you first arrive, to allow you time to find suitable housing. This is usually plenty of time to look at available options. If you find yourself rushed, you can always extend your hotel stay or look at Airbnb as a short term rental.
The majority of schools in China do not provide any accommodations, so it is up to the teacher to find their own apartment within their own budget. Your contract will include a housing allowance, which is usually sufficient to rent a basic, bachelor apartment. Teachers have the option of paying more and getting something a bit nicer. Your housing allowance will be determined based on your city placement, as some cities are more expensive to rent in than others.
Homes come furnished with the basics, including a bed, couch, table, TV, fridge, microwave, washer (no driers in China either!), etc.
Some schools to offer free shared housing, which might be a better option for first year teachers.
Rent deposit & agent fee:
The most challenging part of renting an apartment in China, is the requirement to pay 3 months rent in advance. This include the first and last month's rent and a deposit. In addition, if you use an agent (which is what most people do), you will also have to pay an agent fee equal to half month's rent. So, if your rent is 3,000 RMB per month (approx. $430 USD), you can expect to pay around 10,500 RMB (approx. $1500 USD) during that first month. While this might sound steep, the actual rent each month is very reasonable and the only money you will not get back is the agent fee. Some schools are able to provide loans to teachers if they are finding it challenging to collect this amount prior to moving to China. Please discuss this with your Teacher Representative if it is a concern.
Ways to find an apartment:
The most common is to use an agent, since they will help you narrow down your search and help with negotiation. As mentioned above, agents receive a fee equal to 50% of a month's rent, due at the time the contract is signed. There may be some room for negotiation and it helps to have a Chinese speaker along to help if possible. Someone from the school is generally assigned as a translator and will go with you and the agent to help. Things can happen rather quickly in China and it is possible to find an apartment, sign a lease, and move in within a couple of days.
Another way to search for an apartment is by looking online. Various websites will have listings of apartments for rent, sometimes directly through the owner. The advantage to renting this way, is that you won't have to pay the agent fee and can negotiate with the owner directly.
Lastly, it pays to join local Facebook & WeChat groups for your city and speak to teachers already in China. There are often other teachers looking for roommates. This can work out really well and make it possible to rent a high end apartment while sharing the cost.
One way to save up for the inevitable rent deposit is to consider teaching online prior to arriving in China. Not only is it a great way to save some money, but it will also help you brush up on your teaching skills!
Here is a tour of our apartment in Shenzhen, China. We were renting a 2 bedroom in the popular Nanshan area, near Coastal city and paying 7,200 RMB per month. This was a bit steeper than the average teacher pays, but we needed a larger space for our family. The apartment was newly renovated and all appliances were brand new and still in boxes.