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Moving to Shanghai

Shanghai lies on China’s central coast and is split by the Huangpu River; its many streams and canals are the veins pulsing a vibrant energy throughout the city. As one of the world’s most populous cities, expats moving to Shanghai will be among many individuals with similar stories and yet diverse backgrounds who collectively create and enjoy the city's buzzing lifestyle.

Over the years, Shanghai has been doted on and described using phrases such as the "Paris of the East" and the "Pearl of the Orient". While the metropolis has been uniquely shaped by local and international influences, it carries its own identity as a major economic hub, boasting one of the largest ports in the world. Among its many attractions lies the Bund, the famous riverside promenade which hosts the best places dining and shopping – along with Nanjing Road. 

While Beijing is perhaps more likely to capture the imaginations of those looking to move to China, Shanghai has functioned as a gateway for commerce between the East and the West for more than a century. The city continues to be the gateway to China's vast economy and is the country's leading financial centre. Its willingness to attract international business and its adaptive spirit mean that Shanghai’s foreign population continues to grow steadily. Among them are some of the best and brightest in fields such as finance, biomedicine, high-tech industries and education.

Expats moving to Shanghai for a job opportunity become part of this skilled workforce, often hired or transferred by of the many international companies that continue to open branches in a city on the cutting edge of global economics. However, hand in hand with the wealth of opportunities and modern skyscrapers carving out a unique cityscape comes the high cost of living.

For decades, Shanghai has grown upwards and sprawled outwards, with glass, concrete and steel sprouting up between ancient temples, forest parks and traditional neighbourhoods nestling distinctly Western-looking areas and suburbs. While this has provided security and comfort to an international population, life in Shanghai can become isolated, as parts of the city have perhaps forsaken some of their local flavour in adopting a more international character.

Nevertheless, expats relocating to Shanghai face many of the same concerns as those moving elsewhere in the world – finding the perfect accommodation and settling on the best school for expat children.

The city’s uniquely Chinese cosmopolitanism has contributed to a glamorous character defined by vast magnitudes of people, spectacles and colour. Expats considering making the move to Shanghai may encounter challenges but equally overcome them and experience a whole new world.

Weather in Shanghai

Expats relocating to Shanghai will enjoy the spring and autumn months, which are by far the most pleasant. The summer months can be scorching hot; average daytime temperatures reach as high as 95°F (35°C) with 80 percent humidity and lots of rain, so it's good to always have an umbrella.

During the windy months of September and October, expats can expect the odd typhoon, while the winter months see temperatures drop below freezing, though snowfall is rare.

 

Pros and cons of moving to Shanghai

One of the most influential cities in China, Shanghai is a bustling and sprawling metropolis that offers expats a fusion of East and West, old and new. Still, as with any city in the world, there are pros and cons to living in Shanghai. Here are a few things for expats to consider before making the leap.


Accommodation in Shanghai

Buildings in Shanghai generally expand vertically rather than horizontally. However, there are a variety of housing types to choose from and expats should be able to find something to their liking.

+ PRO: Variety and convenience in the property market

Shanghai is mostly dominated by apartment-style housing, but there are also numerous villa compounds. Of course, one may also find a combination of the two in the form of a penthouse. It is convenient that many landlords offer fully furnished accommodation, and most compounds will have some sort of clubhouse or small store nearby.

- CON: Difficult balance between pricing and location

Housing prices in Shanghai have skyrocketed over the years. Sometimes, even low-quality housing will be extremely pricey if it’s in a central area or suburb. Similarly, villas might be less affordable and are usually located in more secluded areas due to the need for greater amounts of space. Often, one has to compromise between location, pricing and quality of housing.


Lifestyle in Shanghai

It’s very easy to get out and about in Shanghai. From its rich cultural history and sightseeing opportunities to its bustling nightlife, expats can always find interesting things to see and do in and around the city.

+ PRO: Variety of activities

From art shows to music festivals, there will always be some sort of event going on in Shanghai. Expats can explore the city, taking a stroll down Nanjing Pedestrian Street or make their way around the French Concession. At night, one can visit the Bund area for a beautiful view of the Huangpu River and choose to dine at high-class restaurants or on delicious street food.

+ PRO: Travelling around the city is easy

It’s extremely easy to get around the city. With multiple subway lines, a plethora of bus routes and a never-ending stream of taxis, expats shouldn’t have a problem getting from one place to the next. With a personal driver, these commutes will be made even more convenient. Of course, for shorter distances, one can always cycle or walk.

- CON: Rush-hour traffic can be chaotic

During rush hour, navigating through the city may seem almost impossible; it might take a two-hour taxi ride to cover a 30-minute commute. While the metro is probably the most reliable time-wise, commuters can be caught in a never-ending stream of people.

- CON: Weather

The weather in Shanghai is often quite extreme. Sweltering heat and humidity in the summertime keep people indoors for the most part, and winters can be quite harsh and dry. However, keep in mind that when it’s hot out, most buildings and the subway are kept at extremely cool temperatures, and vice versa in the winter.


Safety in Shanghai

+ PRO: Little to no crime

Shanghai is a place with low levels of crime, and expats will rarely hear of any major crimes being committed. This means that walking around in the evenings is relatively safe.

- CON: Reckless behaviour on the streets and pickpocketing

Drivers and pedestrians alike don’t like to abide by the law if they can help it. Running red lights and jaywalking are not uncommon. In crowded areas, carelessness may cost one a phone or wallet. So, while Shanghai is fairly safe, we advise expats to take the usual precautions.


Working and doing business in Shanghai

+ PRO: Great work benefits

Most people are sent to Shanghai for work, and many companies offer to cover housing each month, provide a driver or food reimbursements. Being paid in a different currency may also mean being able to afford many more commodities than the locals.

- CON: Language and ideological barriers

It can be quite frustrating to deal with the language barrier in the workplace and aspects of business culture may also be difficult to understand, but there are also often bilingual employees to assist with this. In some businesses, having personal relationships may be beneficial, but one may see instances of nepotism or someone pulling strings.


Culture shock in Shanghai

Many expat families have full-time drivers and ayis. Ayis are like maids who often cook, clean and babysit. There may be varying viewpoints of this aspect of life here.

+ PRO: Welcoming expat community

Expat communities in Shanghai are usually quite welcoming and it's possible to even make friends with local Chinese neighbours. While the Chinese don’t habitually smile at strangers, foreigners are generally treated with respect.

- CON: Chaotic environment

People have a tendency to not abide by traffic laws and cut into queues. Littering and spitting in the streets are quite common as well. New arrivals will also see beggars in wealthy parts of the city and people selling everything from pirated DVDs to jewellery on the streets.


Cost of living in Shanghai

The cost of living in Shanghai is high, but with a bit of research and budgeting, expats will be able to score some serious bargains.

+ PRO: Cheap local goods

From clothes to food, buying things that are produced locally could actually turn out to be quite a bargain. It’s also common to haggle for lower prices at fabric or farmers markets.

- CON: Imported goods are expensive

Expats used to brand-name goods, however, should be prepared to pay high import taxes. One may also be hard pressed to find reasonable prices when it comes to items like avocados and cherries, which seem to be rarer in China.


Education and schools in Shanghai

Pretty much all expats will enrol their children in an international school. These schools offer curricula such as that of the USA or the UK, and some are religiously affiliated.

+ PRO: Great education and facilities

Each international school is different, but they all employ highly-qualified instructors. The curriculum itself is also on par with any other private school. Thanks to charging sizeable tuitions, international schools offer their students top-notch facilities, from high-grade science labs to expansive sports fields. Many schools are also adopting a more technology-based education that involves personal computers for each student.

- CON: Long commutes to school

Depending on where one lives and where the school is located, the commute could take a very long time. Most students will take a bus to school, but those in more centralised areas may be able to walk. Often, students who live further away will find themselves stuck in traffic when trying to get home if they participate in after-school activities.


Healthcare in Shanghai

+ PRO: High-quality private healthcare

In Shanghai, the better insurance one has, the better service and benefits they will receive. Those who have international health insurance provided by an employer will be able to bypass most queues and many hospitals even offer a ward especially for foreigners. Fewer people see these doctors, which means they can devote more time to each patient.

- CON: Expensive

Bypassing queues could mean paying several times more for a checkup than locals do. This may or may not affect an expat, depending on the level of healthcare insurance their employer offers. If expats buy their own health cover, it will be much more expensive.

Working in Shanghai

A city of more than 26 million people, it comes as no surprise that Shanghai is something of a diverse business environment. 

As the country shifts its focus from heavy industries such as manufacturing to the service sector, growth in China is expected to continue, albeit at more moderate levels than the past two decades.

Shanghai has largely spearheaded China’s impact on global economics, with a formidable financial sector that includes the Shanghai Stock Exchange. Service industries such as retail and real estate also play an important role in the city’s economy.

The importance of trade and manufacturing in Shanghai should not be underestimated, however. The city’s bustling harbour is still one of the largest cargo ports in the world, while heavy industries such as steelmaking, shipbuilding and car manufacturing play an integral role in the city’s economy.

In line with national developments, significant investment has gone into Shanghai’s high-tech industries such as electronics and biomedicine.


Job market in Shanghai

Shanghai has a reputation for being one of the best places for expats to find a job in China. At the same time, competition for positions has increased dramatically. Companies are increasingly looking to workers from China and elsewhere in Asia to fill positions at lower wages than Western expats.

One result of this is that salaries and relocation packages are perhaps not as lucrative as they used to be. In this environment, contract negotiation becomes especially important for expatriates, while knowledge of Mandarin and local experience are good ways to get ahead of the competition.

More expats are taking lower-paying jobs in Shanghai, trading immediate income for the longer-term benefits of experience. Still, depending on their jobs, expatriates have reason to expect a higher salary than in their home countries.


Finding a job in Shanghai

Many foreigners working in Shanghai move their via an intra-company transfer. These employees will be working for the same company as in their home country, which can help with overcoming culture shock and also having connections already in the city.

Expats who are actively looking for employment in Shanghai can start their job search online, where they are bound to find a wealth of resources. Online job portals and platforms such as Glassdoor and LinkedIn are great for networking and finding available jobs. Job seekers who go through a recruitment agency will also benefit and find listings that suit their skills and areas of expertise.

When looking for employment in China, be sure to research the necessary processes for getting a work permit.


Work culture in Shanghai

While there are business opportunities for expats wanting to move to Shanghai, working in the city is not without its challenges, and there are cultural differences to navigate.

The Chinese business community is fairly insular and business people prefer to work with people they know, meaning that a lot of effort will have to go into building relationships. Business meetings and negotiations are also often long, formal and drawn-out processes.

China only has seven national holidays each year and, while there are vacation days, the working hours and workload tend to be more demanding than many expats are used to. The average workweek in Shanghai is frequently between 40 and 60 hours each week.

Cost of Living in Shanghai

The cost of living in Shanghai is considered the highest in China and, according to Mercer's 2020 Cost of Living Survey, it's the seventh most expensive city out of 209 cities for expats.

Depending on an expat's budget, some will naturally opt for a more economical lifestyle in the city, while others tend to live more extravagantly than they would back home, taking advantage of Shanghai's luxuries and renowned nightlife.

Regardless of which end of the spectrum an expat ends up living on, it's good to be informed of the basic cost of living in Shanghai before arriving.


Cost of groceries and eating out in Shanghai

The great thing about buying groceries in Shanghai is that just about anything can be found in foreign supermarkets such as City Shop. Imported produce is more expensive, though. 

Buying vegetables from local vendors is often half the price of fresh produce from supermarkets, although the bigger stores may have a larger organic selection.

Expats who would like to live cheaply can follow the example set by many locals and foreign students by eating at a small mian guan or tan restaurant for dinner. Slightly more mid-range Chinese-style restaurants would usually cost more per person.

Restaurants serving foreign food are often much more expensive. Occasionally, more upscale restaurants will also apply a service charge to the bill since waiters don't normally receive tips in Shanghai.

Alcoholic beverages in most bars and restaurants might cost more than expats are used to, especially if they choose a more upscale venue for drinks. Although the cost of alcohol may seem daunting, frequent promotions and 'happy hours' are common in Shanghai, allowing those of all budgets a chance to indulge.

Expats who are particularly money-conscious can purchase local beer, wine and the notorious baijiu – which tastes something like vodka and rubbing alcohol – at any convenience store at much more affordable rates. 


Cost of healthcare in Shanghai

The cost of healthcare in Shanghai varies dramatically. In the case of emergencies, fees at a private hospital in China would add up quite similarly to those in a Western country. As a result, medical insurance is essential.  


Cost of shopping in Shanghai

Some of the best bargains in Shanghai can be found in its local markets. Spread throughout the city, these places are a great way for savvy shoppers to find deals on pearls, electronics, antiques, books and branded clothing. Quality, selection and authenticity may be lacking, but expats are often able to haggle prices down to a fraction of what they would be sold for abroad.

On the other hand, prices for luxury goods at places such as the malls on Nanjing Road are in line with those in North America and Europe.


Cost of living in Shanghai chart

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider and the list below shows average prices for March 2021.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

RMB 8,140

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

RMB 4,000

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

RMB 18,800

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

RMB 9,400

Groceries

Milk (1 litre)

RMB 19

Dozen eggs

RMB 14.50

Loaf of white bread 

RMB 14.40

Rice (1kg)

RMB 8.70

Packet of cigarettes 

RMB 21

Public transport

City centre bus/train fare

RMB 4

Taxi rate per km

RMB 2.90

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

RMB 40

Coca-Cola (330ml)   

RMB 4.50

Cappuccino

RMB 28

Bottle of local beer

RMB 10

Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two

RMB 250

Utilities

Uncapped ADSL internet per month

RMB 105

Utilities (average per month for standard household for electricity, gas, water etc.)

RMB 388

Accommodation in Shanghai

Living in Shanghai has all the advantages of living in a major Chinese city, including great access to nightlife, restaurants, excitement and a real sense of local culture. The downsides are also familiar: depending on the suburb, it can be polluted, loud, crowded and expensive.

The Huangpu River runs through the city's centre, effectively splitting Shanghai into two regions – Pudong, east of the river, and the older downtown area of Puxi to the west. Exploding outwards, much of Shanghai’s growth has taken place in the last two decades, with developments becoming newer the further one travels from the city centre.

The city’s immense growth has been accompanied by increasingly congested traffic and long commutes. When choosing where to live in Shanghai, expats need to consider the distance to work and school, as well as what their public transport options are.


Types of accommodation in Shanghai

Accommodation in Shanghai is varied, with old and luxurious homes pressing against new high-rise developments and suburban neighbourhoods. Shanghai’s city centre has several decadent and old residential neighbourhoods that act as oases within the storm of the city, but these desirable properties come with their own exorbitant price tags. Often, even small flats in high-rise apartment blocks in the city centre can be more expensive than renting a large house in the nearby suburbs.

Accommodation in Shanghai may be furnished or unfurnished, and the price should reflect that fact. However, be sure to have an inventory of all furniture items in the property.

Expats with flexible budgets can find serviced apartments or compounds, which are a preferred choice by expat families, though these are in high demand. Shanghai's serviced apartments not only come fully furnished but also offer housekeeping and cleaning services, among other amenities.

Alternatively, flatshares are common, particularly among young expats and students on a tight budget.

In general, security is not a big issue for expats in Shanghai and common-sense measures are usually enough to keep residents safe. Locking doors, keeping valuables in a safe and avoiding first-floor apartments for women living alone are all recommended.


Finding accommodation in Shanghai

While many Shanghai properties can be found online, some of the best deals are not found on the internet. Local newspapers or asking friends and colleagues for leads are good ways to find property while potentially avoiding agent fees.

Expats who don’t speak Mandarin usually enlist a real-estate agent. Property agencies can be found all over the city and tend to be recognisable by pictures of apartments and prices on the windows.

Agents often work with specific apartment buildings, meaning that they are usually able to show a few properties at the outset. It is important to be specific about what is being searched for in terms of budget, location and proximity to transport routes from the beginning.

Agents sometimes try to overcharge unsuspecting foreigners or pressure them into moving into properties that they haven’t been able to get off the market, so it's best to stand one's ground and investigate the property and lease agreement first. Expats shouldn’t be discouraged if they don’t find something right away and should make use of several agencies.


Renting accommodation in Shanghai

After finding a suitable property, the tenant, agent and landlord (depending on how it was found) will discuss and agree upon a contract. Sometimes it might be necessary to pay the landlord an amount to reserve the apartment if the contract is to be signed at a later date.

Leases

Leases are usually valid for one year. Short-term rentals in Shanghai are generally more expensive, while leases for longer than a year can be negotiated for less. Bargaining is a widely accepted practice in China, and expats with the necessary skills often get between one and 10 percent off of their lease.

When negotiating leases, tenants should also discuss the method of payment of rent and what works best for both parties.

Leases should ideally be drawn up in both Chinese and English, when both tenant and landlord are not comfortable in one language, and tenants should ask for a translator to validate these.

Note that once expats move into their new place of residence, they must register this with the local Public Service Bureau (PSB).

Deposits

Landlords will generally ask for two or three months' rent right away, and one month’s rent as a deposit, so be prepared to have a lot of cash on hand. Agents will also charge a commission, and this should be budgeted for.

Utilities

Utilities are most often paid by the tenant, not the landlord. There are normally prepaid electricity meters, while official individuals regularly visit to read meters for gas and water. Be sure to ask the agent or landlord how utilities must be paid.

Areas and suburbs in Shanghai

The best places to live in Shanghai

Shanghai is divided into two large areas: Puxi and Pudong. Puxi is the older area on the west of the Huangpu River, while Pudong is the newer area on the east. Public transport between Pudong and Puxi is excellent. There are a number of tunnels and bridges, as well as many subway lines connecting the areas.


Pudong

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Pudong is the largest Shanghai district and lies on the east side of the Huangpu River. It is China’s biggest commercial and financial centre and home to the Lujiazui financial centre, the Shanghai Stock Exchange tower and most of Shanghai’s famous buildings, such as the Shanghai World Financial Center, Jin Mao Tower and Oriental Pearl Tower. 

Lujiazui

The Lujiazui Financial and Trade Zone can be seen on the east side of the Huangpu River and is Shanghai’s most impressive financial and commercial area. Lujiazui has the offices of most foreign and domestic banks, the Shanghai Stock Exchange as well as the new World Financial Center and Jin Mao Tower. Besides impressive office buildings, this area houses a number of well-managed residential compounds for both apartments and villas, making Lujiazui the recommended area for those wanting to live in downtown Pudong.

Jinqiao

This is an organised area with a suburban feel. Jinqiao Export Processing Zone was developed to provide tax incentives for large multinational companies. There are plenty of villa compounds and a few high-end apartments. The area is near a large Carrefour supermarket, restaurants and bars. International schools, sports grounds and a park are all located here. Conveniently, residents are close to the Shanghai Pudong International Airport. Jinqiao is an ideal area for families.

Kangqiao

This is an industrial zone located at the south of Pudong. There are a number of villa compounds and supermarkets owing to the presence of a few international schools. Compared to Jinqiao, the area is more spread out and not as well planned, with a slightly rural feel. Nevertheless, Kangqiao includes some newly built shopping malls and a large number of expat families enjoy living in the area. 


Puxi

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Puxi makes up the various districts on the west side of Huangpu River. These expat areas, all with their own focus, offer easy access to shopping malls, restaurants, schools, medical clinics, entertainment and nightlife, public transport and fly-overs, and many areas are close to the commercial sectors of the city.

Changning District

This was one of the first expat areas in Shanghai and is still home to a large number of expats, especially families. It has several good local schools as well as access to international schools, good transport facilities and infrastructure. It is also close to the city centre and has plenty of green spaces, including the Shanghai Zoo and Zhongshan Park. Changning District is a popular choice for both office and residential life. Many of its foreign residents come from the USA, France, Germany, the UK and Japan.

Zhongshan Park

The vicinity of the famous park with the same name, Zhongshan Park has plenty to offer. Besides local housing, this district has several worthy residential complexes. The neighbourhood is generally quiet and less dense, but is not too far from downtown either. Subway lines offer a good and fast transit to other districts, and the travel time to international schools in nearby Hongqiao and Gubei is relatively short. This area attracts mainly singles and couples on lower- to medium-end budgets.

Hongqiao

A former industrial zone, Hongqiao is now a proper neighbourhood. Though it is out of the city centre, it remains popular with expat families for being close to several international schools, supermarkets and medical facilities, and has good housing infrastructure and a number of entertainment options for its foreign residents. Many of the high-end housing facilities are large villas with private gardens and good modern amenities. Most of the entertainment and nightlife happens in Hongqiao in places such as the pedestrian part of Hongmei Lu.

Minhang

Located in the southwest part of Shanghai, Minhang is a relatively new neighbourhood, crossed by the Huangpu River. Known for its quality educational institutions, the district is home to several international schools. This mostly farming and industrial area has pockets of residential areas that are popular with expats. There are medium- to high-end villas and apartments close to the schools. Residents also have all the conveniences a family could need – grocery stores, shops, restaurants, bars and golf courses. When it comes to public transport, Minghang is served by a number of different subway lines.

Jing'an District

Named after the famous temple and its own landmark, this little central district is one of Shanghai’s most popular neighbourhoods among expats, for both living and going out. It’s quite dense and offers a variety of low-, medium- and high-end housing and is a buzzing downtown business and commercial hub. It is conveniently located close to many of the city’s cultural attractions, as well as many shopping malls, international restaurants, and lots of trendy bars and clubs. Even though it is a dense neighbourhood, the public transport system runs smoothly. Mainly singles and couples live in this area, but it also attracts families.

Huangpu District

Known as the heart of the city, People’s Square is located here, which houses the Shanghai Grand Theatre and Shanghai Museum as its main attractions. China’s most famous shopping street, Nanjing Road, runs through the area.

Stunning Art Deco buildings built in the early 1930s line the Huangpu River, forming 'the Bund' (an embankment on the waterfront). This is an area that anyone who has ever seen a picture of Shanghai probably recognises. It is arguably Shanghai’s most spectacular attraction and number one tourist destination, and is stunning when lit up at night. As Huangpu is more of a tourist-, retail- and commercial area, there are limited apartment buildings to choose from.

Xuhui District

Xuhui has a limited number of high rises and one of the lowest population density of all downtown areas which, coupled with a high property demand, mean accommodation can be quite costly. It covers the largest inner area of Shanghai and most of the historic former French Concession area. Many beautiful old classic villas and apartments can be found in this prestigious area and it is the choice of residence for many government officials. 

There are a few distinct areas within Xuhui where expats hang out. Xujiahui has a large, crowded, five-way intersection with department stores and shopping malls. Housing tends to be in the form of medium-end local apartments where expats and locals mix.

Healthcare in Shanghai

Expats tend to avoid the often inconsistent public healthcare in Shanghai and rather opt for the city's private hospitals and clinics. Fortunately, there are many of these and they provide high standards of care.

Doctors in private hospitals often speak English and many are expats themselves. There are also medical clinics that combine both Western and Eastern practices.

It's important to have medical insurance while in Shanghai to cover the costs of the pricier private clinics. This is often included in employee relocation packages, but expats should carefully check what their policy covers, including dental and optical procedures.

Although we recommend that expats utilise private medical services where possible, most of the local population uses public services and still have an incredibly high life expectancy.


Hospitals in Shanghai

American Medical Center 

Websitewww.amc-shanghai.cn
Address: Building 1 East, 888 Tianlin Road, Minhang

Global Healthcare Medical and Dental

Website: www.ghcchina.com
Address: 1788 NanJing West Road, Jing An

Parkway Health

Website: www.parkwayhealth.cn
Address: 997 Bi Yun Road, Jinqiao

Shanghai East International Medical Center

Website: www.seimc.com.cn
Address: 551 South Pudong Road 

Education and Schools in Shanghai

Expat families in Shanghai will have a range of schooling options available to them, but will rarely send their children to public schools and will usually enrol them at private international schools instead. That said, younger foreign children have increasingly been attending local kindergartens and public schools to learn the local language and better integrate into Chinese culture.

Attending a school where teaching is in a foreign language can become ostracising for older students, and most attend international schools where the language of instruction is that of their home country, but Mandarin language classes are still taught. Depending on the school, students may be able to continue the curriculum from their home country.

A host of Chinese language schools in Shanghai are also available for adults, with word-of-mouth being one of the best ways to find a good school.


Public schools in Shanghai

As the Chinese economy and its expat population continue to expand, more foreigners are sending their children to public schools in China. Foreigners are becoming more comfortable with the idea of staying in the country for the long-term, and often want their children to assimilate as well as they can.
 
Basic education consists of preschool, primary and secondary school. Although preschool is not compulsory, nine years of basic education is, starting from age six when students start primary school. Secondary schools are split into junior and senior levels – when students attend either an academic or a vocational high school.
 
As is the case in most countries, some public schools are better than others. Overall, the best schools in Shanghai offer high standards and may even be more competitive and rigorous than the schools in an expat's home country. This also means long school days and homework, and perhaps teaching styles that are vastly different to what the child may be used to.

Private schools in Shanghai

Shanghai’s private schools tend to either be based on the state model or integrate aspects of foreign curricula. While they predominantly teach in Chinese, some offer instruction in English, including the city’s Montessori and Waldorf schools, which offer alternative approaches to education.

Private schools in Shanghai attract students from diverse but generally wealthier backgrounds. Tuition tends to be more costly than that of public schools, but still lower than at international schools.

As expected, it can generally be assumed that the city’s private schools offer better facilities and a wider range of extra-curricular activities than state schools.


International schools in Shanghai

Most expats living in Shanghai prefer sending their children to international schools. These institutions are widely available and tend to be the obvious choice for those who want a smooth and quick transition.

Shanghai boasts one of the largest concentrations of international schools in China. Most schools either follow the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum or the curriculum taught in their respective home countries. The primary teaching language is usually English or the language of the school’s home country. Standard coursework often features local culture, and many schools teach Mandarin or Cantonese from a very young age.

The range of international schools in Shanghai is diverse and students of many different backgrounds attend them. Finding a place in a reputable international school is often difficult as waiting lists can be extensive. Companies that regularly employ expats sometimes reserve positions in these schools for their employees.

International schools can also be expensive, and fees add considerably to the cost of living. Expats should try to negotiate a place at an appropriate school before arriving in Shanghai, or as soon as possible. This is because, even if an employer agrees to cover the hefty costs of international education, admissions can still be competitive. Interviews, placement tests and a general application are just a few basic admission requirements.


Homeschooling in Shanghai

Homeschooling is becoming more popular with locals and expats in China, especially in larger cities such as Shanghai. This might be a legitimate option for expats staying in Shanghai for the short term who are unable to afford private or international schools.

Unfortunately, homeschooling in China is essentially illegal and is largely practised based on a legal oversight despite the law explicitly stating that children have to attend a school for at least nine years. The government has become increasingly vocal about its disapproval of homeschooling in recent years and has released numerous statements to this effect. Homeschooled children in China have been prevented from writing the gaokao, which essentially means they are unable to attend a Chinese university.


Special needs education in Shanghai

Expat parents of children with disabilities or learning difficulties may prefer the support available in international schools. 

Despite some progress towards inclusive education and integrating special needs education in mainstream classrooms, support is often limited. It's best to review school websites and contact them directly to discuss the availability of required and relevant services.

While some schools offer a range of facilities, support classes, assistant teachers, counsellors and assistive devices, other schools may only provide support for select disabilities, and physical, psychological or behavioural disorders.


Tutors in Shanghai

Finding a tutor in Shanghai should not be too difficult for expat parents. Children who need extra help and guidance outside of the classroom, particularly around exam time, can be tutored through online platforms or in person.

Tutors can be found through online portals such as Preply and a range of tutoring companies, including Shanghai Expat Tutors. Networking with other parents and friends can also be helpful to decide on the best tutoring options. Adults who want to take extra classes and to learn Mandarin can use these platforms in the same way.

International Schools in Shanghai

As a major global city, there are a number of excellent international schools in Shanghai offering foreign curricula. The International Baccalaureate and the national curricula of the UK and US are the most popular. 

The best international schools in Shanghai have modern facilities and offer a good mix of academics and extra-curricular activities. Small class sizes, highly qualified teachers and a diverse student body can also be expected. The most desirable schools often have limited space, so we recommend applying early to secure a seat.

International schools benefit not just an expat child's education, but can also ease the adjustment to life in Shanghai. A familiar curriculum is often comforting in such a new and different environment, and allows for an easy transition to schools back home, should the family return.

Here is a list of the most prominent international schools in Shanghai.


International schools in Shanghai

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Britannica International School, Shanghai

Britannica International School, Shanghai is a centrally located British school for pupils aged 2 to 18 with the English National Curriculum at the core of its education programme. The school's purpose-built campus features a wide range of facilities. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE and A-levels
Ages: 2 to 18

British International School Shanghai, Puxi

BISS is a diverse school of 2,000 students from 60 countries around the world. The school has excellent facilities, well-qualified teachers, varied extra-curriculars and a top-tier academic programme. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2 to 18

Concordia International School Shanghai

With an average SAT score higher than that of students in the US, Concordia offers a prestigious American-based education. Classes are limited to 18 students, ensuring that students receive individualised attention. Teaching is entirely in English but the importance of Mandarin is emphasised with daily classes in preschool and elementary school. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: American
Ages: 3 to 18

Dulwich College Shanghai Pudong

Dulwich College Shanghai Pudong is a proudly British school that believes in educating and inspiring students by encouraging them to learn from everything they do. Founded in 2003, the school has a diverse student body of 1,500 pupils of more than 40 different nationalities. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2 to 18

Dulwich College Shanghai Puxi

Dulwich College Shanghai Puxi is a school of teachers who are passionate about their chosen field and believe in the benefits of small class sizes to nurture and support the individual. The school is continually expanding as additional year groups are added. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2 to 18

Shanghai American School

The Shanghai American School has an excellent academic programme offering a number of choices and routes to graduation. Though the most common nationalities at the school are American and Canadian, there's plenty of room for diversity with the student body as a whole being made up of 45 different nationalities. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: American and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 18

Shanghai Community International School

Shanghai Community International School is a fully certified IB World School. The school has excellent facilities across three centrally located campuses. Resources such as SmartBoards, science labs and 3D printers are freely available, making it easy for teachers to integrate technology into the classroom. Read more

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

Western International School of Shanghai

With students of more than 50 nationalities, this diverse school has no dominant or majority nationality in its student population. Offering the full range of IB programmes, the Western International School of Shanghai is well-equipped to offer its students a high-quality, globally-minded education. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 19

Yew Chung International School of Shanghai

Yew Chung International School of Shanghai has five centrally located campuses in the city: two in Pudong and three in Puxi. Bilingualism is nurtured and encouraged, with 'co-teaching' in Mandarin and English by two teachers throughout kindergarten and elementary school. There are also English as an Additional Language (EAL) and Chinese as an Additional Language (CAL) programmes. Read more 

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2 to 18

Lifestyle in Shanghai

Shanghai's strengths lie in its variety of top-notch restaurants, vibrant nightlife spots and range of shopping opportunities. The city boasts world-class sporting facilities, highly anticipated annual events, and a selection of luxurious spas and saunas.

Of course, every city has its downsides – Shanghai’s natural green spaces are perhaps smaller than in other cities and it lacks the easy weekend getaways of many other Asian powerhouses. As dynamic and exciting as Shanghai can be, the pace and density of the crowds can become exhausting.

While the city does have a few museums and renowned artists do occasionally come to Shanghai, for a city this influential, there could be more cultural attractions on offer.

Overall, Shanghai is a very pleasant place to live for expats and there is so much to see and do. Welcoming locals, foreign supermarkets, international restaurants, and English or French bookstores all work together to make life easy.


Shopping in Shanghai

Shanghai boasts a wide variety of international brands that will be familiar to many expats. Most of the West’s biggest brands are represented in the city, although prices for goods such as clothing are known to be higher than in cities such as London and New York.

The city is also home to many exciting designers, both local and from abroad, with an increasing number of independent boutiques in areas such as the former French Concession area (in Xuhui District) offering a great alternative to chain store retailers.

Shopping in Shanghai has become a tourist attraction in its own right. Entire streets have become sites for shopping pilgrimages from all over the world, with Nanjing Street especially enjoying a reputation for being the best commercial street in the country.

Expats will also have access to discount goods and bargains at stores and markets across the city. North Shanxi Road, for instance, is especially known for its footwear retailers and shoppers are almost guaranteed to find a good deal.


Nightlife in Shanghai

The strength of Shanghai’s nightlife lies in its variety. Expats can choose anything from hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants and dive bars to Michelin-starred dining spots and upscale clubs on the Bund area.

Running along the western shore of the Huangpu River, the Bund is a waterfront area and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Shanghai. The area’s most prominent venues are sure to make for many memorable nights out.


Eating out in Shanghai

There is no shortage of people who love to eat out in Shanghai, and no shortage of cuisine that boasts a variety of cultural beginnings. From street vendors to upscale dining, the city offers everything from authentic Shanghai foods to full course meals prepared by European chefs.
 
Shanghai's cuisine consists of a variety of xiaolongbao (steamed soup dumplings) filled with meats, vegetables or crab roe, and a rich soup that develops as it cooks. Shengjianbao is a pan-fried meat-filled bun that is also extremely popular. Along with tofu, wonton soup and so many other delicious treats, expats can find these common street foods almost anywhere, and definitely along the bustling Nanjing Pedestrian Street.
 
Many popular upscale restaurants are located along both sides of the river (the Bund in Puxi and Lujiazui in Pudong), where there is a gorgeous view of the skyline at night. Others are hidden gems, tucked away on quiet streets like Taikanglu (Tianzifang) and in the French Concession, between little boutiques. Fancier establishments will often automatically add tips to the bill. However, do remember to reserve seats in advance, especially for dinner on a weekend.


Sports and outdoor activities in Shanghai

While Shanghai lacks the number of green spaces on offer in other cities, it does have a few attractions of its own. There are a handful of forest parks in the city where residents can surround themselves with natural beauty, go for a run, fly a kite or enjoy a family picnic. Prominent among these is Gongqing National Forest Park to the northeast of the city centre, which offers a variety of entertainment options in a scenic atmosphere.

The city also offers a variety of sports facilities, including football (soccer), American football, yoga and tennis, as well as more local activities and cultural events, such as dragon boat racing and martial arts classes.

See and Do in Shanghai

While the city may not be China’s number one tourist destination, there is still a wealth of cultural, historical and natural attractions in Shanghai.

Expats have many opportunities to immerse themselves in the city. Looking at Shanghai’s skyscrapers from the waterfront area is an impressive sight, while taking in the city’s lights during a night cruise down the Huangpu River is nothing short of spectacular.

A different kind of experience can be enjoyed by escaping the urban bustle. The Yuyuan Gardens is a natural retreat as well as a reminder of the city’s ancient history, while places such as the Shanghai Museum allow new residents to learn about the city’s past.


Recommended attractions in Shanghai

The Bund

Shanghai’s picturesque waterfront promenade stretches along the Huangpu River for around one mile (1.6km) and was once the most famous street in Asia. The area is lined with interesting Art Deco buildings such as the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank and provides picturesque views of the city.

Century Park

Escape the madness of Shanghai’s busy streets and spend an afternoon in this modern and natural park. The perfect place for leisure and entertainment, Century Park is home to a number of attractions such as the lake and bird sanctuary. There are also vast expanses of open forest and lawn, while there are sections dedicated to children, cyclists and fishing enthusiasts. The park is at the peak of its beauty in April and May when the flowers are in bloom.

Longhua Temple

A massive temple complex in Shanghai, the Longhua Temple is said to hold a side room with 500 golden statues, as well as attractions such as the Bell and Drum Tower and the Longhua Pagoda. It's easy to spend the whole day exploring the temple's grounds. There is also a vegetarian restaurant on site that serves lunch. 

Shanghai Museum

Situated on the People’s Square, the Shanghai Museum is a place that all new residents should spend some time exploring. The museum contains more than 120,000 precious works of art and historical artefacts. The museum has a number of galleries and three temporary exhibition halls and is considered by many to be the best museum in China. 

Yuyuan Gardens

Dating back to the Ming Dynasty in 1559, the Yuyuan Gardens are a breathtaking example of Chinese classical gardens that have been laid out in intricate designs filled with pavilions, rockeries, mazes and ponds which offer a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Zhujiajiao Water Town

A water township in Shanghai's Qingpu District, Zhujiajiao is an ancient town with a population of around 60,000 people. Visitors come to see the area's maze of canals, as well as its old buildings, fresh seafood and unique shopping experience.

What's On in Shanghai

Beneath the bright lights of the metropolis, Shanghai residents continue to observe the customs of their ancestors. Indeed, the biggest events in the city celebrate its modernity as well as its ancient roots.

Shanghai’s festivals are often characterised by massive preparations and spectacle, but also represent a continuation of tradition and a passing on of value-based teachings to the city’s next generation.

Here are some of the most popular yearly festivals and celebration in the city.


Annual events in Shanghai

Spring Festival (January/February)

What better place to see in the Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, than Shanghai? The New Year is welcomed in by the chimes of the Longhua bell. The bell is sounded 108 times, which is believed to dispel trouble and bring people good luck. The atmosphere is festive but peaceful. Seeing in the Chinese New Year in Shanghai is a unique experience for any expat.

Longhua Temple Fair (March)

This festival is held in the historic town of Longhua. According to one legend, the fair celebrates the laughing Buddha, who was born under the Longhua tree and saved the people from suffering. Today, the fair has become one of the largest folk gatherings in eastern China. It’s a colourful event with stalls, folk art, jugglers and stilt walkers. It is made even more special by the blossoming of peach flowers – a special sight not to be missed by any visitor to Shanghai.  

Shanghai Peach Blossom Festival (March/April)

This event is held each year in Pudong, which has miles of peach trees. Luchao Port Peach Garden and Seaside Peach Garden are good places to admire these beautiful blossoms. There are also folk music performances taking place and tasty country eats to savour.

Shanghai International Tea Culture Festival (April/May)

Some expats may initially find a week-long festival focusing on tea rather strange, but will soon learn that tea has an indispensable place in the lives of many residents and showcases China’s distinguished tea culture. The stunning opening ceremony is always held in central Shanghai as tea specialists, delegations and tourists from all over the world descend upon the city for the festival.

Shanghai Dragon Boat Festival (May)

This festival is held to celebrate the national hero Qu Yuan, who, according to legend, drowned himself in protest against a corrupt emperor. Locals attempted to prevent fish from feeding on his body by throwing rice dumplings into the sea and frightening them away by beating drums. Today, crews in narrow dragon boats race all over the city to the beat of heavy drums. It is a spectacular sight and something not to be missed.

Mid-Autumn Festival (September)

Held every autumn, this popular Chinese festival marks the end of the harvest season with the making and eating of mooncakes. Houses are brightly decorated with animal-shaped lanterns and the evening is spent moon-gazing with close family and friends.

China Shanghai International Arts Festival (October to November)

Art aficionados in Shanghai should make sure to catch the annual month-long China Shanghai International Arts Festival, where everything from symphony orchestras and drama to acrobatics, dance and even magic are showcased in countless performances.

Shipping and Removals in Shanghai

Expats shipping items to Shanghai will have the advantage of a huge number of competing companies offering free quotes. Shopping around is definitely worth it, but remember that well-regarded companies are a better bet than unknown, cheap ones.

However, expats should consider their shipping options carefully. Many houses and apartments come furnished in Shanghai so container shipping is often not initially needed and air freight for smaller items may be preferable. Buying furniture in Shanghai is cheap and probably less expensive than shipping some from home. 


Shipping goods to Shanghai

Expats should check the latest customs regulations when shipping personal items and furniture into the country. Shipping and removals in China typically involves taxes on electronic products, among other types of goods, as well as restrictions on items such as medication.

When bringing goods into Shanghai, expats should ensure they have documentation as written evidence recording all necessary details of each item. We also highly recommend expats have insurance cover for all items.


Shipping pets to Shanghai

Pets brought into Shanghai are usually limited to dogs and cats, and must have all recent vaccination and rabies certificates. It is recommended to use a pet relocation company to ease through some of the restrictions and paperwork. Pets may require quarantine, while dogs will likely also need to be registered with the local police within a month of arrival.

Getting Around in Shanghai

The easiest way to get around in Shanghai is to use its efficient and affordable public transport system, which includes the Shanghai Metro and public buses.

Public transport in Shanghai is more than sufficient to get expats to where they need to go and, anyway, owing to severe traffic congestion and a complex road system, it's generally advised that expats avoid driving in Shanghai.


Public transport in Shanghai

It is relatively easy to navigate Shanghai's subway and bus systems. Both display their destinations in English and Mandarin, although only the subway has announcements in English.

The Shanghai Public Transportation Card (known as jiaotong yikatong) can be used to travel on buses, the metro and even some taxis, and is recommended for those planning on regularly using Shanghai's public transport. These can be bought at certain convenience stores, banks and any metro station for a small deposit, and money can be loaded onto the card at metro stations.

Buses

Serving a population of over 27 million, the bus system in Shanghai is extensive and well established, with over 10 bus companies connecting various areas and suburbs. A list of routes written in English can be found online and at some stations, which is helpful as drivers usually don't speak English. Several routes are operated by Shanghai's trolleybuses and eBRT (electric Bus Rapid Transit) system, and this network is constantly expanding

Metro

As one of the world's busiest subway systems, the Shanghai Metro serves an average of around 10 million riders daily, and the number of lines is constantly increasing.

Despite its size, the metro's routes are made easy to understand by colour-coded maps. Also, most signs and announcements are in Mandarin and English, making the system easy to use for expats travelling in Shanghai.

Those who don’t want to use a transport card can also get day pass cards or single-journey tickets for the metro. At newer stations, these can only be bought at automatic vending machines. At rush hour, be prepared for a crush of people on the more popular lines.

Trains

A discussion on Shanghai's public transport network would be incomplete without mentioning the efficient rail network. Two major railways pass through Shanghai: routes connecting Beijing and Hangzhou, and the three key train stations of Shanghai Railway Station, Shanghai South Railway Station and Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station.

Expats can enjoy the high-speed railway, in particular the Shanghai Maglev Train (SMT). The name Maglev comes from it being a magnetic levitation train, allowing speeds of 268 mph (431 km/h). While the line is not part of the Shanghai Metro, it connects with it at Longyang Road Station. SMT also connects Shanghai Pudong International Airport.

Ferries

This coastal city is cut by the Huangpu River, and travelling by ferry can be a great way to get around and see the city. The Shanghai Ferry operates 18 lines. A basic trip costs about the same as other forms of public transport, and passengers can pay using a Shanghai Public Transport Card. Passengers who wish to take a bicycle, light motorcycle or normal motorcycle are charged higher rates.


Taxis in Shanghai

Taxis in Shanghai are affordable over short distances, but as most drivers only speak Chinese, foreign passengers will need to make sure that they either carry a business card of somewhere near where they want to go or get a local person to write out the address in Chinese.

It is best to ask to go to the nearest big landmark or intersection to the final destination, as Shanghai is a huge city and drivers may get lost if a passenger is travelling outside of their home turf.

Taxis are metered and are colour coordinated according to the taxi company.

While tuk-tuks (rickshaws) are not a common sight in Shanghai, there are many taxi alternatives, such as the ride-hailing application DiDi.


Driving in Shanghai

As in other large cities in China, owning a car and driving in Shanghai is probably best avoided. The road system and traffic laws in this sprawling city are complex, while the public transport system is efficient and comprehensive enough that expats often won't need a car to get to where they want to go.

Chinese traffic laws are often very different from Western ones and, as a result, it occasionally seems that there are simply no rules at all. Safety should be a concern of expats who plan to drive, as China has a high rate of traffic-related fatalities. Parking spaces are often impossible to find, and commuting in the never-ending rush-hour traffic is a nightmare best avoided, if possible.

Those that do want to own and drive a car in Shanghai will need to get a driving licence for China. International Driver’s Permits (IDPs) are not recognised in mainland China, which means that foreign residents need to convert their home country driver’s licence or IDP to a Chinese licence.

Usually, drivers need to complete a theory test and physical test, and won’t need to retake their driver’s test. This can be done at a Chinese traffic department office and some airports.


Bicycles and scooters in Shanghai

Scooters, including electric motorbikes or 'E-bikes', are a cheap and popular method of getting around Shanghai and are even available in supermarkets. But these can prove dangerous in the city's chaotic traffic.

Bicycles are not always allowed on China’s major roads, so can be unsuitable for long distances. They also cannot be ridden in the underground tunnels beneath the river, or on bridges, so cyclists must plan their routes accordingly. That said, many people get around by bike and certain areas are more bicycle friendly than others, such as Pudong which offers well-maintained bike paths.


Walking in Shanghai

The best way to travel short distances is on foot. Pedestrians can easily make their way through the city by walking and this is a great way for new arrivals to become more familiar with their surroundings. Strolling along the Bund waterfront promenade and around Pudong is pleasant, especially in the evenings with Shanghai's nightlife.

While it is relatively safe to walk around in Shanghai, expats should take the usual precautions, as in any large city. Pedestrians should be aware of risks, such as safety when crossing busy roads and pickpocketing in crowded areas.