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Living in Shanghai?

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Living in China, from USA

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Shanghai at a Glance

Living in Shanghai

So you are about to join the ranks of the many expats living in Shanghai? While a fascinating time awaits you, expat life in China can be challenging for newcomers to the country and its culture. Let InterNations guide you through what to expect of Shanghai, from transport to health and education!

Living in Shanghai has often been romanticized in Western and Chinese popular culture alike. The glamorous Shanghai of the 1920s and 1930s or the Japanese occupation (1939-45) has particularly captured the imagination of many an author and movie maker.

It is the birthplace of internationally renowned artists such as British writer J.G. Ballard or Hong Kong film director Wong Kar-Wai. Both spent only their childhood years in Shanghai. Nonetheless, their best-known works (The Empire of the Sun; In the Mood for Love) focus on life in Shanghai during World War II or on exiles from Shanghai living in Hong Kong after the city came under Communist control.

Quality of Life in Shanghai

In the Mercer Quality of Living Study 2012, Shanghai did unfortunately not make it among the Top 50 cities recommended for their quality of life. It only ranked on #95. As China’s industrial and financial center, Shanghai is struggling with problems typical of life in other Chinese megacities, especially Beijing: environmental problems like smog, water pollution, and noise, as well as overpopulation, traffic jams, and a housing shortage.

However, living in Shanghai is relatively safe. Pickpocketing, panhandling, bicycle theft, and financial scams are the most common crimes. There’s little violent crime against foreigners, though it does occur sometimes.

Shanghai remains the glitzy “Paris of the East” in many ways. The 16th most expensive expat city in the world, according to Mercer 2012, is a consumerist Mecca – which seems slightly ironic if one considers the city’s more recent, staunchly Maoist past. The cosmopolitan atmosphere of life in Shanghai includes a vibrant nightlife and a huge arts & entertainment scene.

Driving in Shanghai

Owing to the huge size of the city, commuting to work or school is an integral part of living in Shanghai. If you are lucky, you live in an expat-oriented compound providing you with a shuttle service to international schools or important traffic junctions. Executive expatriates might have use of a company car with driver.

Due to the maze of streets, the recurring traffic congestions, and the soaring accident rate, it is preferable not to drive yourself as a non-local living in Shanghai. However, if you settle in Shanghai’s quieter neighborhoods, you could even “go local” to some extent and buy a bike for short distances.

Shanghai's Bus Network

Fortunately, people living in Shanghai benefit from an extensive and fairly cheap public transport system. Unfortunately, this can be extremely confusing for foreigners, particularly if they can neither read nor speak Chinese. Shanghai has over 1,000 different bus lines run by several companies. They can be extremely crowded, especially during rush hour, and a bit overwhelming to figure out.

However, expats in Shanghai will soon get the hang of the mostly numerical bus system. Lines 300-399, for example, are all night buses, and 700-799 have their routes in suburban areas. There are still a dozen lines with those famous trolley buses characteristic of an old Shanghai tinged with nostalgia.

All buses are air-conditioned, and a ticket costs two yuan. Most lines also accept the Shanghai Public Transport Card (SPTC), a smart card that may come in useful while you are living in Shanghai.

InterNations Expat Magazine