How to Get Your ARC in Korea

Disclaimer: This information is based on the process I went through in 2011-2012 and 2016. It is not legal advice. It is quite possibly not up to date. Visa regulations change all the time (as you will see later on in this article). Check with the Korean Embassy for the most up to date information.

2016 Updates in this chic purple colour!

It’s a rite of passage for almost all foreign teachers who decide to teach in Korea. Running the gauntlet to live legally inside Korea’s borders, also known as obtaining one’s Alien Registration Card (ARC). Keep in mind that this process is for an E-2 Visa, one for teaching English in a hagwon or public school when one is not ethnically Korean.

Before I begin with the steps to achieve this feat of bureaucratic maneuvering, let me give you a disclaimer. These instructions are subject to change at any time, for no reason, without warning, and are for guidance ONLY. Please don’t get on my case ten years from now when it isn’t the same.

It took me 118 days to get my visa and another 56 to obtain my ARC. It cost countless hours of legwork and over $800.  Prepare ye. 

First things first. You must obtain a teaching visa in order to live and work in Korea. Before you can apply to the Korean consulate with jurisdiction over your state/area, you must obtain a Visa Issuance Number (VIN).

To get your Visa Issuance Number (before departure), you will need:

  • A photocopy of the face page of your passport
  • Your signed contract with your school and/or all EPIK paperwork
  • A national criminal record check (FBI background check in the United States, website here)

2016 UPDATE: As of this year, the Korean Consulates in the US are accepting FBI checks obtained through channelers. This is a more expensive but totally worth-it option. Instead of taking five months (like my first ones), it took a week. Worth it. 

  • A copy of your actual university degree

You must send all of these documents to Korea, in order for your school to request a VIN from immigration. *Do not* send your original degree, because you may never see it again. Wait about ten days. Once you have the VIN, you need to apply ASAP to your local Korean consulate to get your visa. When I did this, I had less than a month left until departure.

To get your visa, you will need:

  • Your passport
  • The VIN
  • A completed visa application (see here)
  • The full address of your school in Korea
  • One sealed set of official university transcripts (2016 UPDATE: Maybe. Get them and be ready to send them if your consulate requests them)
  • One passport photo

All that for a damn sticker.

You need to make an appointment to visit your consulate immediately, or send the required documents to them via insured overnight mail. Enclose a self-addressed, paid return overnight envelope for them to return your passport.

Once you have the visa in your passport, you can leave for Korea.

2016 UPDATE: We had less than three weeks until departure when we sent everything off this time. My visa in the US came back from the San Francisco Consulate in about five days. Russell’s took a week in London. 

But wait, there’s more! You must register with immigration and obtain an ARC as soon as possible once you arrive. If the impetus of impending deportation isn’t enough to get you in gear, know that you can’t use the Korean National Health service until you get your ARC. If you’re like me and get sick easily, this could pose a problem.

2016 UPDATE: Speaking of health, you must complete a hospital health exam for the ARC once you arrive in Korea. The cost is 90,000-120,000 KRW, and it will be self-paid. You will need:

  • Your passport
  • The address of a hospital certified in giving foreigners health checks
  • Dolla Dolla Bills (I mean copious won), y’all
  • Good health 
  • Clean urine

Your health check includes a chest X-ray for tuberculosis, a drug test, STD/HIV testing via blood draw, an eye test, and  possibly a dental examination (in 2012-2013 this was the case in Suwon, but not in 2016 in Busan). 

No, there is no way around this. No, you should not fake your pee. Be ready to squat if you are a lady. Work it out! You live in Korea now! Squat toilets are cleaner and better for you, anyway. 

On the day of your health check, do not drink. Do not have too much caffeine. Do not take over-the-counter medications (even Advil or Tylenol). Be healthy!

To obtain your ARC, you will need:

  • Your passport with the E-2 visa inside
  • An official letter from your school
  • 10,000-30,000 KRW 2016 UPDATE: Apparently an ARC costs 3x as much these days. Maybe only in Busan. 
  • ARC Application form (get this from your school)
  • Two receipts for a clean health check from a recognized hospital in Korea (the health check costs 120,000 KRW and is often not covered by the school)
  • Yourself
  • A good book, or maybe just lots of soju to pass the time

You must go to the immigration office in your area with these documents and wait to be seen by an official. You cannot have someone from your school go in your place as in the past, as you must provide a digital scan of all five fingerprints on your right hand in person. I waited eight hours over the course of two separate days.

MAKE SURE YOU ASK FOR A RECEIPT from immigration that you have submitted your documents. You can request that the ARC be sent directly to your school and pay 4,000 KRW. Worth it. Do it. Don’t waste more of your life in the immigration office trying to pick it up. It should arrive about two weeks to one month after you submit all the forms.

Stupid piece of expensive plastic!

Once you have your VIN, your visa, and your ARC, you’re done! Just kidding.

You still have to register with the Education Office. You have to duplicate many documents because they aren’t friends with the Immigration Service.

To register with the Education Office, you will need:

  • Your physical, actual university degree (not a copy)
  • A **second** national criminal record check
  • Apostilles for both (they will copy your degree, but you still have to have the original)
  • Your passport with the E-2 visa
  • Your ARC
  • A letter from your school
  • Anything else your school requests

If you manage to make it through all four gauntlets, you should throw a legal residence party!

In all, I spent over $800 in fees and shipping in order to obtain all the necessary records. Your total costs will vary according to how much shipping and fee spending you must do.

These requirements are constantly shifting. I was all set with my VIN and visa when I suddenly had to obtain a second FBI background check and another degree apostille for the Education Office, and without the support of my family in the States I would not have been able to move to Korea.  The bureaucratic process is so complicated that one is almost required to break it somewhere in order to move here. Don’t be surprised if things get a little sketchy.

A couple of final tips:

  • DO have someone whom you could trust with documents inside your home country in case of sudden changes.
  • DO make and keep copies of every single document and carry them with you on your flight.
  • DO ask questions of your school and recruiter.
  • DO consult others who’ve been through the process before you.
  • DON’T try to fake your drug test. It’s just not worth it.
  • DON’T get a national apostille from the State Department in the US. It will take over six weeks. A state one is just fine.
  • DON’T try to get a degree from another country apostilled in the USA. They will reject it if it is from England, Colombia, etc.
  • DON’T wait until the last minute for any of this.
  • DON’T freak out when the requirements change.

Happy hunting! Please post comments if you have any recent changes or if you have questions.

TEFL For Newbs: Punctuation

Basic, Important, But Tricky Topics in TEFL Grammar and Usage (2016 Edition)

by Coleen Monroe-Knight, M.A. Linguistics (UCL)
<–That is the very first time I’ve used my master’s letters! Wheeeee!

In this series for new TEFL teachers abroad who have no previous experience with prescriptive grammar and usage other than that time in Language Arts class in like, 1997:

Phrasal Verbs
Parts of Speech
Verb Agreement

Today’s topic: Punctuation

This one is technically not a grammar topic, but it is nonetheless very important. In fact, punctuation is so important as to have its (note: no apostrophe) own National Day in the USA on September 24th each year.

Let’s (note: an apostrophe!) get started with the very basics. Here are the most common forms of punctuation in English:

  • . = Full stop/period 

  • , = Comma 
  • ‘ = Apostrophe 
  • ” = Quotation Mark 
  • : = Colon 
  • ; = Semi-Colon 
  • – = Dash /Hyphen 
  • ! = Exclamation Point 
  • ? = Question Mark 
  • () = Parentheses 
  • [] = Brackets

These are used in many ways, and I do not claim to be an authority on the finer nuances of usage. I’m not an Oxford Journal copy editor, after all. However, the basics of punctuation should have been emphasised in your schooling. For TEFL students, there may be confusing differences in punctuation between English and their L1. In addition, national and local curricula tend to be inconsistent in how to use punctuation .

My high-level students write an essay for me every week. I see a few problems over and over here in China, some of which were common in Korea as well. For example, the use of commas as full stops:

Then I went home, I found my mother, I went to work after that, My mother is nice.

Then I went home. I found my mother. I went to work after that. My mother is nice.

This is very common. I often find myself writing, ‘Commas are not full stops!’ on the essays. Another one is the use of a comma as a replacement for ‘and’ or another conjunction:

I like to play basketball, baseball. They are nice, easy. 

I like to play basketball and baseball. They are nice and easy.

The one above was fairly common in Korea as well. It seems like it might be that commas are occasionally used this way in East Asian languages, which would explain a lot. An error that is extremely common and pervasive in my experience is the inability to properly set up a quote or part of a dialogue. Observe:

Then my friend said I don’t want to eat that! It’s disgusting!!!

Then my friend said, “I don’t want to eat that! It’s disgusting!”

The important thing is that they show someone else was speaking, by putting a comma before the reported speech and quotation marks on the outsides. This is very important for academic writing as well, since they will need to quote authors of articles and cite sources (or, as some of my students do a lot, copy word for word from an article and attribute nothing!).

Examples of why punctuation is key to good writing and even simple communication abound on the Internet. When I teach punctuation to a high-level class, I sometimes put up examples of the ways it can change the meaning. These are not original to me, but some are pretty funny. See if you can spot the problems!

A notice in the woods: Please use caution when hunting pedestrians using walking trails

A sign on the fridge: NO, Popsicles! (What did the popsicles ever do to you?!) 

A sign on a toilet at a store: Attention! Toilet only for disabled elderly pregnant children!

A headline: Chef finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog

Sales sale: “BRA” $1.99 “UNDERWEAR” $3 per pack 

My personal favourite: Let’s eat grandpa! 

The perennial: The Panda eats, shoots, and leaves. 

It takes repeated practice from a young age to learn how to punctuate properly. This is important to keep in mind, since most students will not grasp the concepts immediately and they may continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.

The best place to start, in my experience, is to make sure that the students actually know what the marks are called. This sounds simple, but it is very confusing to many of them. I make small signs with the Big Six (full stop, comma, exclamation point, question mark, quotation mark, colon) and put them on all the walls of the room. Then I ask a student to stand up and find one of them. Their classmates can help them by pointing.

Eventually, I ask for teams to stand up and move to the punctuation, going faster and faster so that the students have a fun time running between them. I’ve done this with tiny kindergartners and high school students! It works to make them quickly remember which one to use.

Another way to teach punctuation is to require complete sentences at all times in your lessons. Tell students when they are writing in their books that they are not allowed to use only one or two words, but must have a full sentence. Using the parts of speech from last time, you can say my complete sentence mantra:

“You need a subject, a verb, and an object. You need a big letter and a full stop.”

You will find yourself saying this over and over and over again. It will eventually stick in the students’ brains and they will hopefully always remember that a sentence needs a big letter at the start and some kind of punctuation at the end.

If you have essays that the students are writing, you can also do a peer-marking activity. Give them an essay that is not theirs, and a marker. Tell them that they need to put down three punctuation corrections in two minutes. Then change the papers and repeat.

You can either give the corrections back directly to the students afterward, or if you are concerned they will not have made good ones you can take them to correct yourself. This will give you an idea of whether the students know that they are making mistakes, and how to correct them. This is designed to get the students used to reading essays again and editing their own work, a fundamental skill for academic writing.

Additional Resources:

Eats Shoots and Leave by Lynne Truss

Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White 

Next time: Verb Agreement

TEFL For Newbs: Parts Of Speech

This is the second in the series I’ve started for new TEFL teachers. It can be hard to know what will come up in terms of grammar and usage when starting out, and this is meant as a crash course from a now-experienced teacher (with a master’s in Linguistics to boot!).

For the full posts on all subjects, click here. 

For the summary of all topics covered in this guide, best consumed immediately before class when you’re crapping it over how to teach something you weren’t aware was even a thing in your native language, click here (will be live shortly).

Today’s topic: Parts of Speech

Okay, so you’ve realised that grammar is a thing and that your new job as a TEFL teacher requires you to know something about it. Good start! But you won’t get far unless you are able to label the parts of the sentences that you use in daily speech and especially in writing. The parts of speech are a foundation for all the other skills you need as a teacher in an ESL classroom.

I made it a goal to teach my elementary and middle school level students the parts of speech in every lesson. For the past few months, at some point in the lesson I choose a nice colour and write “Parts of Speech” on the board. Under it, I write the following:

  • Noun – a person, a place, or a thing
  • Verb- an action
  • Adjective- describes a noun
  • Adverb – describes a verb (-ly)

That’s basically all you need to know about the parts of speech as well. You don’t need to know about how they interact syntactically or the theoretical implications of a silent pronoun and inflectional interference on theta roles (all that convoluted and largely inaccurate M.A. linguistics jazz) to effectively teach this.

If necessary, you can add more complicated parts of speech:

  • Prepositions: Where?
  • Pronouns – not name (Coleen –> she)
  • Articles – a, an, the

Write each word in a different colour if possible to emphasise that they are not the same. After a few weeks, all but the youngest students should be able to tell you the names of the parts of speech and their basic functions. When eliciting the words, give examples for each.

Teacher: What’s a Noun?

Students: ?

Teacher (pointing to trash can): Oh, look! A noun! (Pointing to a chair) Oh, look! A noun! (Pointing to self) Oh, look! A noun!

Reward them for guessing! Students will be able to give more examples, and often will have a good understanding of the concept in their native language.

Grammar is heavily weighted in Korea, China, and many other parts of the world for the purposes of multiple-choice tests, but most of my students throughout even the highest levels are unable to talk about basic grammar in English.

This is why teaching them the names for the parts of speech in English is so important. Many students end up studying English in a multi-lingual environment at some point in their lives, where the only common language is English. They need to be able to talk about grammar questions using the correct terms, and they cannot and truly should not rely on their L1 in that context. If students are bored or act like this isn’t an important lesson, you can always tell them this.

Once they have a working knowledge of the parts of speech, make sure that you reinforce this knowledge by using them in the lessons. I often put sentences on the board and ask the students a string of questions: “Where is the verb? Where is the adjectives? How many nouns?”

Dont be afraid to do this with relatively low-level students. Even with the youngest, this simple grammar lesson sticks. The key is to be consistent and do it every time you see them. Don’t give a huge amount of details or long-winded explanations of what any of the parts of speech are.

A key skill that most new TEFL teachers lack is the ability to ‘grade’ their language to make things easily understood at any level. A good motto is this: say more in fewer, simpler words.

Look at the examples below:

Low-level, elementary class: “Verb? Hmmmmmmm, oh! Running, jumping, swimming, fighting” Act out the actions and then say, “Oh, okay! Actions!” 

Mid-level, elementary class: “What’s a noun?” Remind them with the trash can point. “A……” And wait for them to answer you with “person.” As they get more comfortable, ask for the full simplified definition (“a person, a place, a thing”). Reward guessing. 

High-level, middle to high school class: “Who can give me an example of a verb? Okay, good…now can your conjugate it in present tense, please?” 

For the love of your sanity, don’t say the last one to most classes! They will give a look like you just transformed into a grammar alien and pointed a death ray between their eyes. The key is not to overwhelm the students with too much information that they don’t need.

Great activities can be found all over the Internet for teaching and cementing parts of speech in English. In my experience, two work the best.

The first is a colouring sheet with a ‘Paint by Numbers’ scheme based on words and their part of speech. This works really well for getting students to work together and makes a nice project to show parents, too! Just be aware that some English words can play many roles in a sentence. For example:


A dream : Noun form 

To dream: verb form 

dream job: adjective form

This is a good opportunity to remind your students that English grammar is not a precise science and that ‘rules’ they learn in their school may or may not actually hold up in real life. The ambiguity may cause their little heads to temporarily explode, but I promise it’s better for them in the long run (“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, THERE ISN’T A RIGHT ANSWER???” Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”).

The sencond activity is to make simple sentences and cut them up. Have the students unscramble them in teams and race to write them correctly on the board. The winning team has to label the words with the parts of speech, or the other team can steal the point.

There you have it. The basics of parts of speech for TEFL. Send me your questions and comments, and let me know what other topics you newb teachers need covered. I’m happy to add more to this crash course!

Next time: Punctuation


So You Need to Go To The Hospital In Shanghai

Going to the hospital in Shanghai is the equivalent of going to see a GP in England or the USA. Russell has had a bad cold for days and we couldn’t get the pharmacist to give us any medicine that actually worked, so we set off for the hospital in the morning on Wednesday. For Emergency care, your experience may be different.

Shanghai Sixth People’s Hospital is bustling. It’s on a major corner, and ambulances are driving up to the entrance regularly with patients in the back, beeping incessantly at the crowds around the door of the outpatient facility. We are across the road, having grabbed a taxi and done the usual embarassing dance of show and tell with a translated address.

We cross over and enter the fray, through the large glass double doors. It’s very intimidating, as most seems to be in China at first glance. There are people evvvvvverywhere.

The nurse’s station is an island in the middle of rivers of people coming and going, yelling and silent, some coughing, but very few spitting on the floor (although I did catch a couple of grand-dads getting the evil phlem out). We begin our Game of Charades by motioning that Russell has a bad cough, although as it turns out this nurse is the one with practically the best English in the place.

“First, register. Then fifth floor.”

“Ok, thank you.”

We register. The line is long but fast-moving. The woman in front of us has her passport and residence permit out. We don’t need our passport, as it turns out. A provisional driver’s lisence is sufficient. That’s good, since our passports are with the immigration office for two more weeks. I feel as if we are walking around naked without them in my bag. This is made up for by the packet of papers that the registration officer gives to us, along with the change she throws my way. A ‘self-keeping’ booklet for medical records. Some receipts. Some unidentifiable papers.

We head to the fifth floor. It’s not immediately apparent which number is ours, nor which room. Respiratory department, I assume. Left, right, then down a hall lined with metal chairs.

124. Called into room 17.

“Can you speak Chinese?”
“Ok, please speak slowly.”

We explain Russell’s symptoms. We produce the evil-smelling syrup that the pharmacy down the road from our apartment gave us, which seemed only to make things worse. We gesture phlem coming out of our mouths. We gesture insomnia (a toughie).

“I want to give you a blood test.”

“Um…for what purpose…?”

“I want to give you an antibiotic.”


We gesture thanks.

We head to the cashier and throw a receipt at them. They throw it back, and gesture for another one of the papers that we’re holding. We hand it over, gesturing apology. We pay 50 RMB for the consultation, and head to the 4th floor.

Where is the blood test station? Where is the number system? Ok, so they just do the blood draw right there? Through a window? What? Oh, our number has been called already. Go, go, go. Ok, hold this cottonball to your arm. Go somewhere. We gesture confusion. Go somewhere. Confusion again. You speak some English, right? Tell them.

“Go straight, then left, then down.”

We read the signs again, and notice ‘Laboratory Results’ on the first floor. We head down there. We gesture confusion to the harassed woman behind the desk. She checks our recipt with paragraphs of Chinese on it, gestures that it isn’t in the computer, and says, “One hour.”

We go across the street to find something to eat, but fail. I get a boba tea instead. It’s bitter and tasty. I haven’t had one in years. Maybe since…college? In Boulder, at that little place that is near the lingerie shop, behind what is now a grocery store but which was once the cheapest movie theatre…is it even there anymore? I look across the crazy road in Shanghai to the hospital that’s buzzing with people. In what other life did I have that last cup of Boba tea?

We go back inside and collect the laboratory report. There are people sleeping on the benches around the escalators. We gesture thanks.

On the escalator, we notice that our life has become Game of Charades since our Chinese is soooo bad. And now we’re singing the Game of Thrones credits on the escalators in the hospital, thousands drifting past. We’re in that quiet and largely impenetrable bubble that a strong language barrier produces. Embarassment isn’t a concern.

Game of Charades continues. We gesture to some random respiratory doctor about where to take the lab report.

“Go to the room 17, please.”

The doctor is there, waiting for us. We give her the results; she checks a result. Still no idea why a blood test is necessary for an antibiotic. We receive the script. We ask for a doctor’s note for work. The doctor takes us out to the nurse’s station and we get an official (bizzarely) blue stamp.

We go downstairs and attempt to get the medicine.

“Pay first.”

We go to the cashier and pay by card. We take the many accumulated pieces of paper to the pharmacist.

“No! Number 9!”

We retreat to window nine. The massive pharmacy is hugely efficient. Thousands and thousands of prescriptions at once. Runners grabbing bags filled with medicines and passing them to the dispensers. Lines and lines of people waving bits of paper at them.

“This one: one pill, one day. This one: three times, 30ml.”

“Thank you.”

We head outside, 2.5 hours after we walked into Shanghai Sixth People’s Hospital.

Simplified Instructions for those too sick to deal with my long narrative above:

WARNING: If you happen to be British, fight your queuing instincts. Abandon them. They will not serve you. If you’ve ever lived in Italy, dust off your fila elbows.

  1. Go to the nurse station on the first floor.
  2.  Go to the registration station. Pay 12 RMB for a hospital card and packet of papers. DON’T LOSE THESE. It’s best to use cash.
  3.  Go to the department you registered for. Check the number on your receipt from registration and go to the consultation room when your number/name comes up.
  4.  Talk to the doctor. Speak slowly, and consider bringing a translation app.
  5. Pay the cashier on that floor for the consultation. You can use cash or card.
  6.  Get tests done if needed (the laboratory is on the 4th Floor for blood tests).
  7.  Wait one hour for the results.
  8.  Go to the first floor and get the results from the ‘Laboratory Results’ desk.
  9. Take the results back to the doctor you spoke to. There is no number to wait for this time, just wait until they are available.
  10. Get a prescription and/or a doctor’s note.
  11. Go to the cashier on the first floor. Pay for your prescription. You can use cash or card.
  12. Go to the pharmacy on the first floor. Get your prescription.
  13. Go home!

Total cost: 178 RMB (50 for consultation, 116 for dispensed medicines, 12 RMB for registration fee)
Address in Chinese:


No. 600 Yishan Road
Nearest metro: Yishan Rd Station, Line 9 (Exit 3)
Nearest busses: 732, 122, 50 (probably more options)

Russell’s One-Line Review

“Henry Ford would be jealous.”

Ten Easy Steps to Find Your Apartment in Shanghai

This guide is based on my experience as a TEFL teacher in China.

Beyond getting a Z visa for legal work, the prospect of trying to find and rent an apartment in Shanghai immediately after arrival was the most stressful part of moving to China.

We had just under two weeks from our arrival to find an apartment and move in. Given the language barrier, our limited knowledge of the sprawling city, and our full training schedule, it was a tough haul. Luckily for you, I’m now in a position to share my experience and help put your mind at ease.

Step 1: Research Before You Arrive

You’ll get an idea where you will be living before you go (ideally!). Check out and Craigslist to get an idea of what you can afford and what the standards generally are in your area. With SmartShanghai there is an option to search by metro station as well. Be aware that photos are often not of the property listed.

Courtesy of Smart Shanghai

Courtesy of Smart Shanghai

Just like at home, be cautious when using Craigslist and don’t trust someone to send you keys via DHL! It’s a scam!

Before you go to China, you need some specific ideas about what you want in your apartment. For example:

  • A well-defined, hard budget (typically between 2000-4000 RMB for a TEFL teacher)
  • Do you want to live in a shared apartment, or your own place?
  • The specific metro stations that you want to live nearby as well as your place of work
  • Is an older apartment acceptable, or only newly-decorated ones?
  • What appliances do you require (be specific: washer, fridge, microwave, AC, TV, Internet, gas or electric stove)?
  • Do you want to be on higher floors or lower floors?
  • Do you require an elevator?

Having specific aims for your search helps the agent to find what you are looking for. This is one area of expat life where you should NOT be flexible.

Shanghai Railway Station

Shanghai Railway Station

Step 2: Visit the Areas You Want to Live In By Yourself

Before you contact a housing agent, get to know the area you plan to live in on your own. This is better than going with someone who has specific aims or a monetary interest. Go to shops, restaurants, and parks near your chosen metro stations. Pay close attention to the buses that run in the area; note them down for commuting.

Make a trial run of your daily commute. Time yourself to see how long it is to get to work, and do it at different times of day if possible. Learn to read the name of the bus stop you want for your commute and look for it on the bus shelters.

Step 3: Find an Agent

You could try to work out the whole system yourself, and I’d encourage you to do so if you speak decent Mandarin and/or have lived in China before. If this is your first time, it’s worth having someone who knows the city to help you. Agents will typically charge a 35% fee for their services, which can include interpretation, drawing up the lease contract, helping get internet set up, registering at the police station, and more.

If you work for a big company, they may have some options for you to get in touch with. Call your agent and work out a time to view some apartments. Most people suggest working with more than one agent, which gives the best chance to you.

Our agent is an absolute gem. Contact me directly on the ‘About’ page if you are moving to Shanghai and want his contact information. 

Our neighbourhood

Our neighbourhood

Step 4: Go See Apartments

The oldest trick in the Shanghai apartment racket: they will take you to see the shitty apartments first.

This serves two purposes. First, it might be possible to offload an apartment that just won’t budge on some unsuspecting greenhorns. Second, it makes all the apartments you see afterward look so much better by contrast. On our first day, we saw an apartment with windows that don’t close fully and a shower that looked ripe to electrocute us. Rust everywhere. Big space, though!

Keep your poker face on. Even if you are impressed by an apartment, don’t look impressed. If you think the apartment is shitty, indicate this. Set a good precedent by obviously taking notes on paper or a smartphone for later reference. Turn on the water in the sinks and shower. Flush the toilet. Light the stove. Check the hood. Open the fridge. Turn on the AC. Open and close the windows. Poke the bed repeatedly.

Check EVERYTHING at least twice.

Step 5: Go See Apartments

“No, really. I don’t want to see shitty apartments this time…”

Too late. They will do the same tactic as before, for the same reasons. Keep in mind that this is repeated for every agent you work with. Take detailed notes. Poke and turn on everything, repeatedly. Check for mold and bugs.

Now is the time to begin negotiating. Keep firm on your rent budget, and don’t allow your agent to take you to places beyond it. Ask for updated appliances. Ask for internet to be included. Ask if you can have it cleaned professionally before you move in.

You may get nowhere with this line of inquiry, but you will show that you are in the know about the Chinese custom of bargaining. If you don’t find something this time, repeat steps 4 and 5. It takes most people at least three outings to find a place in Shanghai.

Our building.

Our building.

Step 6: Put Some Earnest Money Down

Once you decide you like a place well enough, you need to move quickly. Be prepared to put down earnest money in cash.

This is to hold the place for you while you consider it, generally overnight. Don’t put down more than 1000 RMB, because you could lose it. In our case, we gave 500 RMB to our landlord directly and wrote a handwritten receipt for it (totally official). You should get a deduction on your deposit or rent when you sign your contract.

Step 7: Sign Your Lease

Your agent will most likely draw up the contract and ask you when you will move in, and how often you’ll pay the rent. It’s best that the contract be in both English and Mandarin, to prevent misunderstandings. This process is exhausting and will take about an hour. You can put down one month’s rent in cash if you don’t have access to the rest of the funds you will need.

You will also go to the apartment and check off the damage and appliances that it has before you move in, so that you can get your deposit back. Sign and keep a copy for yourself.

Step 8: Pay Your Remaining Rent

Keep in mind that if you are accessing funds from home, you can only take out 500 USD per day at an ATM. Plan to use the ATM a few times in the lead up to your lease signing, over the course of several days. Pay your remaining rent/deposit in cash, and make sure that you count it several times. It can easily be upwards of 10000 RMB that you will have to carry on your person. Don’t keep it all in one place, and use a money belt on the metro.

Optional step: feel like a kingpin with stacks of 100s on your bed.

Optional step: feel like a kingpin with stacks of 100s on your bed.

Step 9: Move In

Your apartment will likely need a deep cleaning. You can hire an ayi to help with that, or you can do it yourself. Check everything again to make sure that it isn’t suddenly broken. You can go to IKEA for household items and it will be relatively cheap.

Set up water delivery service if you can. Water in Shanghai is fine for bathing, cooking, and brushing your teeth with. It’s not ok for drinking, though. Make sure you have bottled water, or at the very least boil the living shit out of it before consumption.

Newly decorated!

Newly decorated!

Step 10: Register With the Local Police

As a foreigner in China, you must register at a local police station within 24 hours of moving to a new address. You will need:

  • Your passport
  • The original lease contract
  • A copy of your landlord’s ID
  • A copy of the property’s official documents (get from your landlord)
  • A pink piece of paper indicating that you stayed legally at a hotel while looking for a place to live (obtain at check out)

Make certain that you go to the correct police station! It’s best to go early in the morning, because you will have to wait a shorter time. Avoid lunchtime at all costs. You will receive a piece of paper with your face on it that indicates you have registered.

NOTE: If you do not register within 24 hours, you face a fine of 500 RMB per day and potential issues with your Residence Permit.

TADA! You live in Shanghai! Contact me directly with your questions!