Shanghai is China’s most cosmopolitan and prosperous city, with a fascinating history. It’s the most populous city in the world, with a population of 24 million - almost three times the population of London! With its vibrant mix of old and new, Shanghai attracts millions of tourists every year and is becoming a firm favourite and must see destination amongst travel websites and magazines. The city has been a long-established haven for expats from all over the world, with around 250,000 foreigners currently living in the city. 

Read on to find answers to top FAQs asked by our teachers about living as an expat in Shanghai. 

What kind of lifestyle will I have in Shanghai? Will I be able to eat western food? Is there much of a social scene for expats?

For over 150 years, the bustling and fascinating city of Shanghai has been welcoming expats from all over the world. So it shouldn’t be a big surprise to discover that there’s a huge amount on offer for expats - both newbies and old timers. Be assured, your lifestyle in Shanghai will be as busy, fun and fabulous as you choose it to be!

The food and beverage scene is positively booming in Shanghai, with an array of Chinese regional cuisine and western options on offer, including a recent explosion of healthy and clean-eating options. There’s something for every budget, from hole-in-the-wall noodle joints, through to some of the most coveted and expensive restaurants in the world, such as the innovative and eye-wateringly pricey restaurant ‘Ultraviolet’. For those who prefer to dine at home, there are many grocery stores stocking a vast range of familiar brands from home. For those who enjoy a tipple, the bar scene is equally exciting and offers a huge amount of choice. Just Google ‘Shanghai cocktail bars’ to get a taste of the award-winning bars and their stunning locations! 

There are plenty of websites that list what’s on, as well as flyers and social media groups. Websites such as Timeout Shanghai and City Weekend Shanghai are excellent sources of information about the latest events, festivals, theatre productions, art exhibitions, music and comedy gigs, restaurant openings and parties. Befitting its size and cosmopolitan edge, there’s always loads to do in Shanghai and something to suit every taste. Families are also well catered for, with publications such as Timeout Family providing listings for family-friendly events and things to do. 

Last and by no means least, the relaxation and wellbeing options available in Shanghai deserve a mention! Expats rave about the massage parlours, nail bars and day spas in Shanghai, which are high quality, plentiful and very reasonably priced. This is a great way to unwind after a busy week of teaching and It’s commonplace to go for massages and treatments on a weekly basis. 

How can I make the most out of my first few weeks in Shanghai? How will I make friends?

Most schools offer an itinerary of induction activities in the first few weeks to help familiarise you with the city and each other. This is an important time to make new friends and have fun exploring the city together. There are also many clubs, societies and networking events available to help you to make new friends outside of work. 

To help you get to know the city layout, there are many companies offering guided walks and tours, including food tours, for the French Concession, the magnificent Bund area, as well as the fascinating (and sadly diminishing) Old Town. Within the French Concession, where many expats choose to live, there are beautiful tree-lined boulevards and back streets that are a pleasure to wander and explore. Shanghai is an exceptionally photogenic city - do check out the many Instagram feeds for the French Concession and Bund areas! If you’re someone who’s handy with a camera, and enjoys people watching and architecture, then this is the city for you: In a single afternoon, you could find hidden Buddhist temples with magnificent statues, art and craft museums in grand French Concession mansions, wet markets with an array of colourful fresh produce, and locals waltzing to music, playing Mahjong and practising water calligraphy on the ground in one of the many vast parks. 

Isn’t there pollution in Shanghai? I don’t want to live somewhere with pollution!

Yes, there is pollution in Shanghai.  But, pollution is a problem in most major cities all over the world. Do you know which street in the world has the highest reported level of the toxic pollutant nitrogen dioxide? Surprisingly, it’s actually Oxford Street in London! Another interesting fact is that pollution in Shanghai is actually significantly less than in Abu Dhabi and Doha, Qatar. 

Pollution in Shanghai tends to be worse in winter and minimal during the warmer months. Many international schools have air purifiers in classrooms, either standalone units or  advanced, built in air filtration systems. So, whilst at work, you will be breathing very clean air. Many expats have air filters in their apartments, which can give peace of mind about air breathed at home. 

Is it true that you can’t buy anti-perspirant deodorant in China? Are clothes only available in size S? Will I be able to buy shoes in size 6?

No, no and yes! You can buy everything you need in Shanghai, but you just need to know which store to go to. There are many grocery stores and department stores that specialise in stocking goods for the expat market. Anti-perspirant deodorant, toothpaste, tampons, shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, make-up and perfume are all widely available in familiar, western brands. There are a range of clothing stores, such as H&M, that stock western sizes, for women up to a UK size 16 (US 20) and men up to XL. For sizes above UK14/Size L clothes and shoe sizes 40+, it’s wise to do most of your shopping at home and bring it out with you. Although these sizes are available, the options can sometimes be limited. 

Many expats use the services of tailors to create and/or copy coats, suits and dresses. If you can’t find it in the shop, you have it made at a tailors for roughly the same price!

Will I be able to live in the city centre? What are the accommodation choices for expats?

In general, international schools in Shanghai will provide good quality, furnished accommodation (usually an apartment) for teachers during their first year that is within easy reach of the school by staff bus, and city centre by public transport. These are usually in the suburbs of Shanghai, rather than being centrally located. Finding accommodation in Shanghai can be time-consuming and stressful, just as it can be back home, so having accommodation provided is by far the best option, at least to start with. Some international schools give teachers the option to find their own apartments from the second year onwards, with most teachers choosing to live in the French Concession and therefore having a longer commute to school. Using the accommodation allowance provided, teachers can utilise rental agencies to help them find and select an apartment. There will be many options to choose from, such as apartments within traditional Shikumen style buildings and modern apartment blocks.

Where can I go for weekends away? Where is the airport and how can i get there? 

There are many weekend getaway options from Shanghai, lists of which can be found on the TimeOut and CityWeekend websites mentioned previously. The stunning mountains and villages of Moganshan are just an hour away by train. With many accommodation options to choose from, this is a truly rural retreat and provides fantastic hiking through bamboo forests and across mountains. 

There is an excellent and cheap train network across China. For weekends away, there are many fantastic cities within easy reach, such as Suzhou, Hangzhou and Nanjing. 

Shanghai has two international airports, Pudong International Airport (PVG) and Hongqiao International Airport (SHA). Both airports can be easily reached by taxi and train, in well under an hour from most central locations. Both airports offer both long and short haul flights. Various  flight times from Shanghai: Hong Kong and Tokyo 2h50m, Seoul 1h55m, Bangkok 4h45m, Singapore 5h45m, Sydney 10h40m. 

Interested in working in Shanghai? Click here to get in touch with us today!