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Moving to Shenzhen

Lying on China's southeastern coast, Shenzhen is one of the country’s wealthiest and fastest-growing cities. What was once a small fishing village has transformed into a global technology hub and major megacity. Shenzhen’s impressive skyscrapers may astonish new arrivals who relocate here, while the array of lush gardens and nature trails are equally inviting.

This vast metropolis has grown out of the Pearl River Delta, a geographic landmark that has made Shenzhen one of the world’s busiest container ports while being well connected to neighbouring Hong Kong.

Its status as a Special Economic Zone has also allowed the city to become a key manufacturing and tech centre with a clean, extensive and efficient public transport network. Shenzhen and its surrounding areas host the headquarters of numerous multinational companies including Tencent, ZTE and Huawei.

Finding work in this city’s strong economic climate, therefore, may not be a major hurdle. The same goes for settling and integrating into life here.

Although perhaps less spoken about than other Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, Shenzhen draws in its fair share of foreigners. This influx has led to a growing number of services and facilities that meet the needs and desires of expats.

Shenzhen boasts everything from top international schools which welcome expat families with children to a diverse selection of nightclubs, bars, restaurants and shopping centres that suit any lifestyle. The mild climate and beautiful natural surrounds also offer nature lovers an easy escape from the frantic pace of the bustling city life.

Bear in mind that moving to this megacity can come at a high financial cost. Shenzhen is one of the most expensive cities in China. So, while renting accommodation in a modern apartment complex may seem alluring, be sure to budget appropriately – and explore the popular neighbourhoods.

As with anything, there are both pros and cons to moving to Shenzhen. Expats who are open to the move may find magic and charm hidden in every area of the city and truly enjoy their expat experience.

Accommodation in Shenzhen

As one of China’s megacities and a hub for multinational companies, Shenzhen has a high demand for housing. Shenzhen therefore frequently ranks among the most expensive cities not only in China but in the world. The city's cost of living and rent prices, though lower than those of cities such as Hong Kong and New York, could prove higher than in London and Dubai.

Accommodation in Shenzhen will likely take up a significant percentage of an expat's budget. It’s best to look into a range of options when renting in Shenzhen.


Types of accommodation in Shenzhen

Shenzhen is one of China’s wealthiest cities and, as such, a great number of luxury accommodation options are available.

Expats arriving in Shenzhen will find that most accommodation comes in the form of apartments, including regular and serviced apartments, and compounds.

Apartments

Regular apartments are usually partially furnished and come with basic amenities such as televisions, kitchen appliances and washing machines.

Flatshares are a popular way of renting an apartment in Shenzhen. Given the high cost of accommodation, it is not uncommon for young or single expats in Shenzhen to seek out roommates. Having roommates divides up rental expenses and makes Shenzhen's popular areas and suburbs more accessible. 

Apartment compounds

Expat families may prefer a home in a gated apartment complex. Apartment compounds offer shared facilities, including gardens and swimming pools – great for families with kids.

Serviced apartments

Serviced apartments offer a whole spectrum of amenities and facilities, much like a hotel, and come at a premium. Expats staying in Shenzhen for a short period may afford to stay in one of these fully furnished flats. Tenants will be able to enjoy a lavish lifestyle, potentially with access to a gym and swimming pool, housekeeping services and on-site restaurants.


Finding accommodation in Shenzhen

Some companies may include furnished accommodation in an expat contract for employees who are working in China.

Individuals who do not have this benefit are advised to use a local real-estate agent who specialises in expat rentals. Fees can be up to one month’s rent. However, estate agents are an expat's best bet at successfully navigating the language and cultural barriers that may hamper their apartment search in Shenzhen.

Online property portals also make for a useful starting point. Online advertisements looking for roommates in Shenzhen are another common way for expats to find a home and establish connections in the city. 


Renting accommodation in Shenzhen

Renting accommodation in Shenzhen can be a complicated process full of hidden costs and lengthy processes. We recommend reading through lease agreements and asking landlords and estate agents about any and all pressing questions before signing.

Leases

Expats doing business in China frequently come and go, so there is a demand for transient and short-term accommodation. Expats can rent property short term on a weekly or monthly basis. Short-term rental agreements are also available in Shenzhen for three months, half a year or a full year.

Long-term lets in Shenzhen are hard to come by. Tenants who want to rent a property for longer than a year are strongly advised to seek out a real-estate agent.

Deposits

To secure a property, prospective tenants will likely be required to make a down payment, as well as a deposit of at least one month's rent. Tenants may need to pay at least one or two months' rent upfront.

Utilities

Expats should be aware that most monthly rental prices do not include utilities such as water and electricity or property management fees. 

Modern apartment complexes with amenities such as gyms and swimming pools are likely to come with additional monthly maintenance fees which could add significantly to the advertised rental costs.

Areas and suburbs in Shenzhen

The best places to live in Shenzhen

Shenzhen is one of China’s fastest-growing expat destinations. Rapid growth and urbanisation have resulted in rent prices skyrocketing, so expats hoping to live close to the city centre should expect to pay for the privilege.

Shenzhen is home to one of China’s Special Economic Zones (SEZ). Thanks to its more liberal economic policies and practices, this megacity has become a hub for multinational companies. As such, many areas of the city are commercial and business-oriented but equally promote a positive work-life balance.

When looking for accommodation in Shenzhen, we advise expats look in areas that are convenient for getting to work and school. Commutes between certain parts of the city can be as long as 90 minutes during morning and evening peak hours.

Shenzhen is formally split into nine administrative districts offering residential space for families as well as expats who have relocated on their own. Some of the most popular expat areas in Shenzhen are explored below.


Family-friendly areas in Shenzhen

Photo by Zean Wu on Unsplash, Shenzhen

Among the preferred areas for expat families are Nanshan and its sub-district, Shekou. Yantian is a more peaceful option for families and offers easy access to the beach, but is further away from the city than expats may like.

Nanshan

Nanshan is one of Shenzhen’s most popular areas. Sometimes referred to as the city’s ‘garden district’, a significant percentage of Shenzhen’s expat population call Nanshan their home. 

Nanshan is known for being clean and giving residents easy access to some of Shenzhen's best green spaces. The area is particularly popular with expat families, who enjoy the proximity to a strong selection of international schools.

Apartments in Nanshan are generally of a high standard, and luxury serviced apartments can also be found here.

Nanshan's accessible metro, bus and taxi services mean that getting around in Shenzhen is simple, albeit busy during rush hour. The ferry terminal also offers residents a quick and easy way of visiting nearby Hong Kong.

Shekou

Shekou is part of Nanshan district but deserves special mention thanks to its extreme popularity among expats. This small neighbourhood has one of the highest populations of expats in Shenzhen. New arrivals should have no difficulty finding accommodation in one of the area's many residential complexes, most of which offer amenities including gardens, swimming pools and exercise facilities. 

Shekou boasts a high concentration of international schools, a factor that draws the attention of many expat families. For those looking for a night on the town, an array of excellent restaurants, pubs and bars will meet their needs. 

While Shekou seems to have everything an expat will need, many new arrivals confess that they feel isolated from the rest of the city. Those who prefer to avoid the infamous 'expat bubble' could look to areas such as Futian and Luohu for a more authentic experience of the local culture. 


Buzzing areas in Shenzhen

Photo by Vincent Chan on Unsplash, Shenzhen

Young and outgoing expats who move to Shenzhen to pursue work or education may be drawn to the buzzing atmosphere and social lifestyle in areas such as Futian and Luohu.

Futian

Futian is Shenzhen’s main business and administrative centre. This busy and modern district houses city landmarks including the Shenzhen Stock Exchange building as well as the Shenzhen Library and Concert Hall. Some of China’s tallest buildings dominate the Futian skyline, adding to its urban feel.

Futian is also one of the most expensive and exclusive districts in Shenzhen. Its pricey and modern apartments are particularly popular with young and single working professionals. 

Despite a handful of international schools, family-sized apartments in Futian can be exorbitant. And while it may lack green spaces, its vibrant nightlife makes up for it with bars, cafes and restaurants, as well as shopping centres such as COCO Park, to keep city residents entertained. 

Futian’s rush hour traffic is infamous, so it’s best to find accommodation as close to the workplace as possible. Thankfully, Futian is well connected to the city’s public transport network.

Luohu

Luohu is Shenzhen’s trading and financial centre and a former fishing village. The district is one of the oldest in Shenzhen. Expats who live here will get a feel for how the city’s history and culture meet with modern living.

Luohu offers residents a shopper’s paradise, where luxury designer clothing and pricy antiques – as well as cheap fake goods – will be at their fingertips. There is no shortage of entertainment options either, thanks to a diverse range of bars, karaoke lounges and nightclubs.

Nature lovers will find many beautiful natural landmarks in Luohu, including Wutong Mountain and several rivers.

Accommodation in Luohu is not nearly as excessively priced as some other areas in Shenzhen. However, many apartments are notably smaller and older than those in areas such as Nanshan and Futian.

Education and Schools in Shenzhen

Expat families moving to Shenzhen face the challenge of finding the right school for their children. Parents may need to weigh up the affordability of international schools and compare it to the feasibility and fit of public schools.


Public schools in Shenzhen

Following the education system in China, public primary education begins at age six. Six years of primary school are then followed by six years of secondary school. Shenzhen offers both academic and vocational high schools.

While expats can access public schools in Shenzhen, generally few parents choose them. The language barrier poses a problem, particularly for older children. Additionally, the pace of state schools is rigorous and there is heavy emphasis on rote learning. Chinese parents care deeply about the academic performance of their children. 

However, expat families may find the academic pressure excessive. As such, state schools may not be the best fit for families who prefer a more relaxed educational philosophy.


Private schools in Shenzhen

Private schools are another option for families with children moving to Shenzhen. These schools usually follow the Chinese national curriculum and have the same high academic expectations as public schools. 

Some private schools in the city offer a bilingual curriculum. Expat parents considering this option are recommended to read through any potential school's language policy carefully to ensure that their children will have the support they need. 


International schools in Shenzhen

International schools are by far the most popular option for expats in Shenzhen. These schools offer a diverse range of curricula and language options for foreign children. 

Most international schools in Shenzhen teach the acclaimed International Baccalaureate curriculum. Expat families will also find schools that offer country-specific curricula, such as the education systems of Japan, Canada, the UK and the US.

Places in international schools are often limited, and expats are advised to apply to schools well in advance, if possible.


Nurseries in Shenzhen

Preschool is not compulsory in China, but many daycare, nursery and kindergarten options are available. Young infants who can generally pick up language easier than older children may have little problem in a Chinese preschool or a kindergarten with a bilingual programme.

Early education that follows programmes such as Montessori can also be found, while some preschools are part of larger international schools.


Homeschooling in Shenzhen

Some expat families may prefer to homeschool their children. However, parents should bear in mind that homeschooling is not formally recognised in China. Children who are educated in this way may not be eligible to attend Chinese universities.

Expat parents who plan to homeschool their children are strongly advised to consider the schooling options carefully.


Special needs education in Shenzhen

While special education needs are identified as an area for development in schools, support is often limited. Most support for students with severe difficulties is separate to mainstream schools. 

International schools may offer specialised services, though the extent varies. Educational psychologists, support teachers and counselling may be available. However, schools may lack resources for students who need significant support.

We recommend consulting each potential school individually. This process can be tiresome but will offer the most accurate information. 


Tutors in Shenzhen

Hiring a tutor helps expat children integrate into a new schooling system and home environment in Shenzhen. Tutoring provides students with extra support outside the classroom – both online and in person. Adults, too, can hire a tutor to learn Mandarin or Cantonese, for example.

There are many resources online and platforms to search for tutors, including TeacherOn and Preply. Quick searches on these portals can identify tutors who specialise in a specific curriculum or subject area.

International schools in Shenzhen

With a rapidly growing expat population, many international schools are beginning to appear in Shenzhen. Parents in the city will likely find no shortage of schools offering modern facilities and innovative international curricula. Many of these schools are structured to allow students to continue their education in the language and curriculum of their home country, and expat families are sure to find a school that meets their needs. 


International schools in Shenzhen

International School of Nanshan Shenzhen

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate and Canadian (New Brunswick)
Ages: 3 to 19
Website: www.isnsz.com

Nanshan Chinese International College 

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: American and Chinese
Ages: 4 to 13
Website: www.ncic-immersion.org

Shekou International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: French and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2 to 18
Website: www.sis-shekou.org

Shenzhen American International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: American
Ages: 3 to 15
Website: www.szsais.org

QSI International School of Shenzhen

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate and American
Ages: 2 to 18
Website: www.qsi.org/shenzhen

Lifestyle in Shenzhen

With an incredibly diverse range of entertainment options, expats in Shenzhen will not struggle to find new things to see and do. This vibrant Chinese city offers residents a plethora of shopping and dining experiences to meet their every desire, as well as a huge variety of nightclubs, pubs and bars. 

Expats who prefer to spend time in the great outdoors will also find plenty of attractions and activities to keep them occupied during their stay in Shenzhen. 


Shopping in Shenzhen

Expats in Shenzhen will have an abundance of excellent shopping options. The city is often hailed a shopper's paradise: from malls to markets, there is something to suit everyone's tastes.

Shopping malls

Luohu Commercial City is one of the largest shopping malls in Shenzhen. This centre mainly specialises in cheap knockoffs of world-famous brands, and shoppers won't have to look far to find a good bargain.

Other popular shopping malls in Shenzhen include Mixc centre and the expansive COCO Park. 

Markets

As Shenzhen has expanded, a number of outdoor markets have sprung up around the city. Markets such as the farmer's market in Nanshan and Shekou Market are conveniently located in popular expat areas of Shenzhen. They offer residents an exciting outing and cultural experience, as well as chance to taste local cuisine.

Shopping streets

Shopping streets in Shenzhen are some of the most unique and iconic shopping options in China. The most popular of these is Dongmen Pedestrian Street located in the Luohu district. Expats will be able to find everything from shoes and clothing to souvenirs and electronic goods on offer here. 


Nightlife and entertainment in Shenzhen

Expats looking to enjoy a night out in Shenzhen will not be disappointed. Most of the popular expat neighbourhoods in the city have a wide selection of nightclubs, bars and cocktail lounges for residents to enjoy. 

Central areas such as Shekou and Luohu have high concentrations of nightclubs. These areas also boast other attractions like live music venues, karaoke lounges and sports pubs. Getting around the city at night is also made easy thanks to the extensive public transport network.


Sports and outdoor activities in Shenzhen

Nature lovers in Shenzhen will find plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. Just a short distance out of the city, Yantian and Longgang offer a wide selection of beach resorts for city dwellers who are looking for a way to escape the bustle of Shenzhen. 

Hiking is another popular outdoor activity in Shenzhen. Hikers can enjoy the beautiful trails around Wutong Mountain for a fun day out or even a multi-day hike over a weekend.

Active expats need not venture far from the city, though. Gyms and indoor swimming pools can be found in Shenzhen's central districts. Some types of accommodation, including apartment complexes and serviced apartments, may have these amenities on site, so expats won't even need to leave their home.

Getting around in Shenzhen

As one of the most modern cities in China, getting around in Shenzhen is a relatively simple affair. With an extensive and affordable public transport network and well-maintained road infrastructure, expats will have no trouble making their way around the city.

In the few areas of Shenzhen that are not covered by the metro or bus networks, cheap taxis are generally a safe and accessible option.


Public transport in Shenzhen

The public transport system in Shenzhen is modern, clean and efficient. Expats will usually have the choice of purchasing preloaded transit cards or single-use tickets. The public transport system is largely integrated: Shenzhen Tong cards can be purchased and then swiped when boarding and exiting buses, some ferries or the metro. 

Buses

Shenzhen boasts the world’s first fully electric-bus fleet. These public buses are clean, comfortable, quiet and punctual. Some bus services charge a flat rate and others charge by distance. Expats should be able to use their Shenzhen Tong card on all public buses.

For longer journeys to neighbouring cities and elsewhere in the country, expats will be able to use intercity buses. These may not be as comfortable as long-distance trains which are an efficient mode of transport in China.

Metro

Shenzhen, like many other Chinese cities, has a reliable and efficient metro system. This is one of the cheapest ways to travel within the city. The extensive metro network covers most areas in Shenzhen.

Expats can use their Shenzhen Tong card or purchase tickets using electronic ticketing machines which operate in English and Mandarin. Day passes for the metro are also available. This can end up more costly than the Shenzhen Tong card, which offers a small discount on fares.

Expats should be aware that metro trains and stations can become uncomfortably crowded during peak hours. Metro lines typically operate between 6.30 and 11.30pm, though timetables differ on public holidays. Expats who wish to travel after hours will need to make alternative arrangements.

Metro announcements and signage are all made in Mandarin and English, as well as Cantonese.

Ferries

Ferries in Shenzhen are a popular way for expats and locals to travel. There are regular high-speed ferries to nearby cities and areas including Macau, Hong Kong and Hong Kong International Airport. Tickets can be bought on ticketing machines or at ticketing counters in ferry stations.

Ferry tickets have been known to sell out quickly, particularly on weekends. Expats are generally recommended to plan ferry trips and book tickets well in advance if planning to use this service.


Taxis in Shenzhen

Taxis are widely and cheaply available in Shenzhen. Expats should always be sure to establish a price with taxi drivers before they enter the vehicle. Most taxi drivers will not be able to speak English. So, expats are advised to have their destination written down in Chinese or use ride-hailing applications to avoid miscommunications. 

Taxis in Shenzhen are generally considered to be quite safe, but expats should always take the basic precautions to protect themselves. 


Driving in Shenzhen

Driving in Shenzhen can be frantic and unpredictable. Most expats prefer not to purchase a car. Those who do, often decide to make use of a private driver instead of risking getting behind the wheel themselves. Traffic congestion can be extreme, particularly when travelling close to the city centre and during peak times. Parking spots are also often difficult to find.

Road signage is all in Mandarin, and expats who cannot speak or read the local language will be at a disadvantage. Any expat intending to drive in Shenzhen will need to go through the full process of applying for a local drivers licence, as international driving licences are not recognised in the People’s republic of China. 


Cycling in Shenzhen

Cycling is growing in popularity as a way to get around in Shenzhen. The city has invested in creating secure cycling paths and bicycle sharing schemes.

Several different companies operate bicycle-sharing schemes in Shenzhen, so expats should be sure to do their research. It's also important to note where to park the bikes to avoid haphazard parking.


Walking in Shenzhen

Walking in Shenzhen might not be the most efficient way to get around the city, but expats will find that there are several footbridges and pedestrian walkways scattered throughout the city for them to use. 

Shenzhen also boasts several famous pedestrian streets, including Dongmen Pedestrian Street and Huaqiang North Pedestrian Street. 


Air travel in Shenzhen

Expats travelling to or leaving Shenzhen will be glad to know that they will have easy access to nearby airports which offer flights to a multitude of domestic and international destinations. Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport is well connected to public transport and Hong Kong's airport is only a 30-minute ferry ride away from Shenzhen.