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Education and Shopping 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!

International Schools

For expat children in Shanghai, international schools are in many ways superior to the local Chinese school system. Older kids in particular would face an almost insurmountable language barrier, and the Shanghai curriculum might provide them with insufficient preparation for international universities in several subjects outside math, science, and technology.

International schools often unite nursery, kindergarten, primary and secondary school under the same roof. Siblings of different ages can thus attend the same institution together. An international school will also offer them the opportunity to make new international friends and help parents to socialize, e.g. by getting involved in the Parents Teachers Association.

However, international schools are very expensive. Depending on the age and grade of the kid, the annual tuition fees may amount to as much as tens of thousands of US dollars.

On the plus side, most international schools in China offer an excellent education, with teaching in the respective national language, English, and Chinese for non-native speakers. Moreover, most students sitting their finals at an international school can obtain both their national high school diploma and an international university entrance certificate, such as the International Baccalaureate.

In Shanghai, there are international schools catering to the Anglo-American, French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Singaporean expat communities.

Are you looking for more comprehensive information on international schools in China? Read our Extended Guide article for information on education for expat kids and a list of international schools.


In addition to the innumerable local groceries catering to Chinese customers, there is also a considerable number of supermarkets and department stores selling Western food. Unsurprisingly, imported products are more expensive.

If you don’t mind the resulting higher cost of living, you can fill all your shopping needs at Metro and Carrefour when it comes to food, or at IKEA Shanghai when you need to furnish your new expat villa. Big stores are usually open from 9:00 to 21:00 or 22:00, including Sundays and holidays. There are quite a few smaller 24/7 convenience stores in Shanghai, too.

Bigger stores accept payments by debit card or credit card. At the last so-called “friendship stores”, which target foreign tourists and expats, you can also buy a wide range of imports.

For some local cash, there are lots of ATMs all over the city where you can withdraw RMB with your card, although the fees may be rather high (unless you have a Chinese bank account). You can exchange traveler’s checks for Chinese currency at one of the many international banks in Shanghai.

China offers various shopping opportunities, whether you are looking for big shopping malls or local markets. Find out more about shopping in China (and the art of haggling) from our Extended Guide article.

Availability of Goods 

Since certain products are hardly available in China, not even in Shanghai, here are some everyday items that every expat (expat woman, expat parent) should have in their suitcase:

  • baby food / milk powder (Chinese parents are often fearful of the high levels of chemicals and hormones sometimes found in baby formula in China and tend to import their baby formula, but supplies are limited)
  • tampons (less common in China, but OB tampons, without applicators, might be available)
  • make-up (Chinese cosmetics may contain dangerous skin whiteners, and thus toxic levels of heavy metals such as mercury)
  • high-end creams, lotions, perfumes
  • sturdy shoes in larger sizes
  • quality clothes in larger sizes and plus sizes
  • enough layered clothing for Shanghai’s cool and wet winter


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

David Thyne

"At the first Shanghai Get-Together I met several American expats. I am very grateful that they shared their experience with me."

Diana Anhaus-Brey

"It is just so easy to find other international people and global minds with InterNations. I didn´t know there were so many in Shanghai."

Global Expat Guide