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Expat Districts and Housing in Shanghai

Welcome to Shanghai! You will encounter an extraordinary city with a unique mixture of Western lifestyle and Eastern flair. Our InterNations Guide on moving to Shanghai gives you a general city overview and more specific information on expat life, e.g. expat neighborhoods and visa regulations.
Shanghai is the most populous city in the entire country.


Shanghai is not only a city, but rather an urban sprawl in a region of its own, with a surface area of 6,340.5 km². There is a distinct core city in centrally located Pǔxī, home to nearly 50% of Shanghai’s millions of residents. It is the main urban area of historical Shanghai and includes the districts of Yangpu, Hongkou, Zhabei, Putuo, Changning, Xuhui, Jing'an, and Huangpu.

Opposite Puxion the east side of the Huangpu River, there is Pǔdōng Xīn Qū or the Pudong New Area, Shanghai’s booming industrial and financial district. Puxi and Pudong are surrounded by the northern suburbs (Baoshan, Jiading, Qingpu, Northern Songjiang, Western Minhang) and southern suburbs (Jinshan, Fengxian, Southern Songjiang, Eastern Minhang). Baoshan, Jiading, and Minhang are still relatively close to the city center.

Popular Residential Areas  

Expats like to settle close to work, an airport, or an international school. The most popular international schools are located in the Hongqiao (Puxi) and Jinqiao (Pudong) parts of the city. Hong Qiao is also a part of Changning, a suburb very much characterized by expatriate living and family life. Its vicinity to Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport makes it attractive for foreigners. Outside Puxi, expatriates often look for housing in Pudong, in relative closeness to the other international airport (Shanghai Pudong International).

Many expats with families will settle in a three or four-bed apartment in a compound. If you have a considerably high salary, you may be able to afford a townhouse in the center or a villa in the suburbs. 

Types of Accommodation                               

Although foreign residents are no longer banned from purchasing property in Shanghai, most expatriates still prefer renting to buying. Families in particular appreciate renting a so-called villa. This term refers to a free-standing townhouse ideal for parents with children. These villas are mainly situated in compounds or residential expat communities in areas like Changning and Pudong.

These communities often cater to the specific needs of foreigners in China. Their management staff frequently speaks English. The compound includes its own little grocery shop, gym, and playground. It might even provide a shuttle service to the city center or an international school nearby. The real estate agents offering such compound housing on the market are also used to dealing with expats. They are usually fluent in English and will issue you with a bilingual rental agreement.

Do you want to learn more about the different types of accommodation you can find in China? Our article on renting in China covers this and other topics concerning the housing search.

Rental Prices   

Expat comfort has its price. In comparison to the average standard of living among Shanghai’s lower middle classes, the typical expatriate life style is fairly luxurious. In 2013, a three-bedroom apartment in Shanghai cost about 15,000 CNY (or 2,450 USD). If you choose a non-prime area, housing will obviously be cheaper. 

Alien Registration

One last reminder: After moving to your new place, don’t forget to re-register with the Shanghai police. If you previously stayed in a hotel, the staff will have taken care of this for you. The residents of an expat compound can also ask the building management staff to look into the matter on their behalf.

As a normal tenant, though, you have to go to the nearest police station within 24 hours of your change of address. Bring along your valid passport and visa. You might also be asked to present your rental agreement and your landlord’s proof of ownership. 


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