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 in the streets is 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.

Expat Health Insurance

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