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Moving to Shenzhen

One of China's fastest growing cities, Shenzhen offers expats a unique opportunity to experience all the best things that life in the People's Republic has to offer. 

This city of 15-million people is a vast metropolis that links Hong Kong to China’s mainland. Shenzhen is one of the world’s busiest container ports and has become a major manufacturing centre as well as a global technology hub. It hosts the headquarters of numerous multinational companies including Tencent, ZTE and Huawei.

Although perhaps not as popular among western expats as other Chinese cities like Shanghai and Beijing, Shenzhen has been drawing in more foreigners in recent years. This influx of expats has led to a growing number of international schools opening their doors.

Neighbourhoods in Shenzhen like Futian and Nanshan offer expats a range of excellent accommodation options. Apartment complexes in these areas are modern and conveniently located, with easy public transport links to neighbouring districts. 

The public transport system in Shenzhen is extensive and well-maintained. The city has also made significant strides in lowering its environmental impact, including a fully electric bus route. An international airport and multiple long-distance train and bus offerings ensure that expats will be well connected with the rest of China and the world around them.

Shenzhen boasts a diverse range of nightclubs, bars and restaurants to keep expats entertained. With options ranging from traditional restaurants and delicious local cuisine to western-style clubs and cafes, expats will not have to search hard for some evening entertainment. A mild climate and beautiful natural surrounds offer nature loving expats an easy escape from the frantic pace of city life.

Overall, expats are likely to have no trouble settling into life in the vibrant city of Shenzhen.

Accommodation in Shenzhen

Accommodation in Shenzhen will likely take up a significant percentage of an expat's budget. However, despite being known for having some of the fastest-rising home prices in the world, housing costs in the city have still not caught up to those of nearby cities like Hong Kong. It is not uncommon for young or single expats in Shenzhen to seek out roommates to help cover these costs. 

Shenzhen is home to over 15 million people, bringing demand for accommodation to an all-time high. The city is split into nine districts. These districts each have their own distinct atmosphere, and due to their size, it can often take residents well over an hour to commute between some districts. It is therefore crucial that expats do thorough research on where they will be working and where their children will be attending school before signing any lease agreement. 

Types of accommodation in Shenzhen

Expats arriving in Shenzhen will find that most accommodation comes in the form of apartments. These apartments are usually partially furnished and come with basic amenities such as televisions, kitchen appliances and washing machines.

Expats living in older districts such as Louhu will find that their accommodation options are significantly smaller and not as modern as those in areas like Nanshan and Futian.

Finding accommodation in Shenzhen

Some companies may include furnished accommodation in an expat contract, but those who do not have this benefit are advised to use a local real estate agent who specialises in expat rentals. These agents often charge fees of up to one month's worth of rental costs but are an expat's best bet at successfully navigating the language and cultural barriers which may hamper their apartment search.

There are also a number of online property portals which might be a useful starting point for expats who would prefer not to use a rental agent. Online advertisements looking for roommates in Shenzhen are also a 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. Expats should be aware that most monthly rental prices do not include utilities like water and electricity or property management fees. 

Modern apartment complexes with amenities like 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

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

Due to its size, expats in Shenzhen will want to make sure they choose accommodation in an area which is 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 rush hours, and expats will likely want to do all they can to avoid this. 

Shenzhen is split into nine administrative districts, some falling within the Special Economic zone and some lying just outside its borders. Some of the most popular expat areas in Shenzhen are explored below.


Nanshan is one of Shenzhen’s most popular areas and is frequently referred to as the city’s ‘garden district’. This area alone is home to almost a million people and a significant percentage of Shenzhen’s expat population. 

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 will have access to a vast selection of international schools within the district. Apartments in Nanshan are generally of a high standard and slightly cheaper than neighbouring districts like Futian. 

Expats living in Nanshan will be able to choose from an abundance of public transport options. There are six metro lines which run through the neighbourhood, as well as a host of bus and taxi services. The district also boasts a beautiful ferry terminal which offers residents a quick and easy way of visiting nearby Hong Kong.


Technically a part of the Nanshan district, Shekou deserves special mention due to its extreme popularity among expats. This small neighbourhood has by far the highest population 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 like gardens, swimming pools and exercise facilities. 

Shekou also boasts the city's highest concentration of international schools, a factor that draws many foreign families to settle down here. For those looking for a night on the town, there is an array of excellent restaurants, pubs and bars to meet their needs. 

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


Futian is Shenzhen’s main business and administrative centre. This busy and modern district houses city landmarks like the Stock Exchange Building, Library and Concert Hall. Some of China’s tallest buildings dominate the Futian skyline, adding to it’s 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 expats, especially due to its excellent public transport network and proximity to green areas in the Nanshan district. 

Overseas China Town (OCT), Coco Park and Honeylake are popular expat enclaves within the Futian district. These areas boast plenty of creative spaces, bars, cafes and restaurants to keep city residents entertained. 

While there are a handful of international schools in the district, family size apartments in Futian can be exorbitantly expensive. Coupled with the lack of green spaces, this generally leads expat with children to look for accommodation in the more family-friendly Nanshan. 

Futian’s rush hour traffic is particularly infamous and as such expats should look for accommodation as close to their place of work as possible. 


Louhu is Shenzhen’s trading and financial centre. The district is one of the oldest in Shenzhen, and expats in the area will be able to get a good sense of the city's history and culture in this former fishing village. 

Louhu offers residents a shoppers paradise, where luxury designer clothing, pricey antiques and even cheap fake goods will be at their fingertips. There is also no shortage of entertainment options in Louhu. It is an extremely popular area for visitors to Shenzhen, with a diverse range of bars, Karaoke lounges and nightclubs on offer.

Nature lovers will find many beautiful natural landmarks in Louhu, including Wutong Mountain and a number of rivers. With so much to see and do in the district, expats living in Louhu are unlikely to ever find themselves feeling bored. 

Accommodation in Louhu is not nearly as exorbitantly priced as some other areas in Shenzhen. However, most of the apartments in this area are also notably smaller and older than those that an expat would be able to find in districts like Nanshan and Futian.

Education and Schools in Shenzhen

Expats in Shenzhen will find that there are surprisingly few educational options available to them in the city. While it is possible for expat children to attend Chinese public schools, these are seldom the best option and most foreign families in Shenzhen will choose to send their children to an international school.

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

Public schools in Shenzhen

The pace of public schools in China is rigorous and is unlikely to be suitable for most expat children. The language barrier also poses a significant problem for expats who wish to attend these schools. 

Public education in China puts heavy emphasis on rote learning, and as such may not be an appropriate option for expat families who prefer a more relaxed educational philosophy. Chinese parents care deeply about the academic performance of their children, and many expat families may find this pressure excessive.

Generally speaking, very few expat parents will choose to send their children to public schools in China.  

Private schools in Shenzhen

There are a limited number of private schools in Shenzhen. For the most part, these schools 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, but expat parents considering this option should 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, but expat families will also be able to find schools that offer country-specific curricula such as the Japanese National Curriculum and the Canadian curriculum.

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

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

The International School of Nanshan Shenzhen

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate and Canadian
Ages: 4 to 18

Nanshan Chinese International College 

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: American and Chinese
Ages: 4 to 13

Shekou International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2 to 18

Shenzhen American International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: American
Ages: 3 to 14

QSI International School of Shenzhen

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate and American
Ages: 2 to 18

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, and 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 CocoPark. 


As Shenzhen has expanded, a number of outdoor markets have sprung up around the city. Markets like the Nanshan Farmer's Market and the Shekou Houhai Market are conveniently located in popular expat areas of Shenzhen, and offer residents an exciting outing and cultural experience. 

Shopping streets

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

Nightlife 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 night clubs, bars and lounges for residents to enjoy. 

Areas like Shekou and Louhu have the highest concentration of nightclubs in the city. These areas also boast other attractions like live music venues, karaoke lounges and sports pubs. 

Outdoor activities in Shenzhen

Nature loving expats in Shenzhen will find themselves in an excellent location to enjoy the great outdoors. Just a short distance out of the city, in areas like Yantian and Longgang, there is a wide selection of beach resorts for city-dwellers who are looking for a way to escape the busy atmosphere of Shenzhen. 

Hiking is another popular outdoor activity in Shenzhen. Wutong Mountain is a beautiful venue for people to enjoy a day out on the trails, and is particularly busy on weekend mornings.

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 and Shenzhen Tong cards can be purchased, and then swiped when boarding and exiting buses, some ferries or the metro. 


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

For longer journeys to neighbouring cities, expats will be able to use intercity buses, but these may not be as comfortable or efficient as long-distance trains


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, and the extensive metro network covers most areas in Shenzhen.

Expats will be able to use their Shenzhen Tong card or purchase tickets using electronic ticketing machines which operate in both English and Mandarin. Day passes for the metro are also available, but often end up being a more costly option than using 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, and the metro system is closed between 11.30pm and 6.30am. Expats who wish to travel during these hours will need to make alternative arrangements.

Metro announcements and signage are all made in both Mandarin and English.


Ferries in Shenzhen are a popular way for expats and locals to travel. There are regular high-speed ferries to nearby cities like Macau, Hong Kong and Hong Kong 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, and expats should 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, and 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, but 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 recognized 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.

There are a number of different companies operating bicycle-sharing schemes in Shenzhen, so expats should be sure to do their research to avoid being overcharged. 

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 a number of 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

Hong Kong airport (only a 30 minute ferry ride away from Shenzhen) offers easy access to a multitude of international destinations, while Shenzhen’s Bao’an airport can be used for domestic flights within China.