Shanghai, China Report of what it's like to live there - 08/01/11

Personal Experiences from Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China 08/01/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No - I lived in Guangdong, China before.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Washington, DC - 14 hours to Newark and then connect to DC.

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3. How long have you lived here?

12 months.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Consulate.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Consulate employees live in several different locations. My housing is in the center of town, in the corporate housing apartments attached to the Ritz Carlton. My office is nearby, so commute time is about 10 minutes. However traffic here is terrible. If you live further from work be ready for the commute.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Western groceries and brands are all available but can be ridiculously expensive. We buy a lot of stuff from Amazon and have it shipped.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

More staple food items, shampoo, make-up, deodorant, other cosmetic products, also alcohol (it's expensive here unless you know where to look).

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Any and all fast food is here, except Taco Bell. There are several fast food chains, such as Carl's Jr., which I had not even tried in the US. There is every imaginable range of restaurants - you can spend 50 cents on a meal or US$200. It's up to you.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Not many. Most Chinese food has some meat component. IF you are a vegetarian get ready to eat a lot of rice and green vegetables, or cook at home.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitoes in summer.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Through the DPO.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Very cheap and easy to find.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, but they are quite expensive.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Most higher-end places take credit cards, but cash is the most convenient method of payment. I haven't had any problems with ATMs.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are a couple of non-denominational services around town - Christian, Catholic, Mormon, that I have heard of.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes, but the local papers are mainly just propaganda.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You can get by with very little Mandarin in Shanghai, however knowing some will greatly increase your standard of living and help you make a good impression on the locals.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Lots of difficulty. It is not handicapped accessible.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes, and yes! The Metro is also great.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

You don't need a car here; there is great public transportation.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

The internet is VERY slow, the slowest in China. Get a VPN or you won't be able to access Facebook/ You Tube/ many news sites/ blogs sites/ etc.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Cell phones are cheap and easy, most a rechargeable SIM cards. China Mobile has been fine for us.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

Yes and I hear it is a horrible, scarring process.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

My husband is not allowed to work on the local economy because he has a diplomatic passport, and there is no bilateral work agreement between China and the U.S. However the consulate has been good about creating jobs for any family members who are interested in working.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Casual all around. You will see some very funky outfits in Shanghai - Chinglish T-shirts are quite popular.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Pickpocketing, aggressive beggars. Also if you are affiliated with the government in any way, prepare to be kept under close surveillance.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The pollution can be bad, and lots of people have gotten food poisoning. There are some Western medical facilities available that are decent but for anything major I would go to Singapore, Hong Kong, or back home.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

The air quality is unhealthy most of the time, but not as bad as most other large Chinese cities (Beijing for example). About once a week we will get a gorgeous blue sky day & the rest of the time it's hazy.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

The summers are very hot and muggy, winters are long, grey, and can be very cold. Fall and spring are very short.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

I do not have kids, but I have heard that the Shanghai American School is excellent.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Don't know much about this but I have heard that people with kids can get an "ayi" to help them with childcare very reasonably.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

HUGE!

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2. Morale among expats:

Seems good overall, however although Shanghai is quite modern compared to the rest of China it is still China and the traffic, spitting, pushing, lack of hygiene standards gets to most people after a while.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Shanghai has got it all and there is a very vibrant night life here. I have especially enjoyed the happy hours and drink specials. There are so many bars and restaurants that it can be quite overwhelming to choose one. My one complaint is that the service still leaves something to be desired. Shanghai knows how to be glitzy but people here have not quite figured out the concept of putting service first.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Most families seem to be pretty happy here. There are lots of expats and the kids can make friends easily. I am married with no children and I like Shanghai a lot. There are plenty of couple activities (afternoon tea, brunch spots) as well as nightlife (happy hour, bars, clubs). For singles, the dating scene is easier for single guys than for single women. However Shanghai seems to have something for everyone!

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes, probably the best in China. There are even a couple of gay/lesbian bars and clubs.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Yes, Shanghai-nese have the reputation for looking down on anyone who is not from Shanghai. It is hard to meet and befriend locals, because most of them are just not interested.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Traveling - there are a lot of interesting smaller cities just a train ride away. International flights aren't cheap, but exotic destinations such as Hong Kong, Bali, Thailand, Malaysia aren't far away either.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

LOTS! Restaurants, bars, clubs, parks, museums, you name it!

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Tailor-made clothing, custom furniture, pearls

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

There is always something new and interesting going on in Shanghai. You leave for a few days, come back, and things are different. It's exciting city because of the rate of change and the fast pace of life here. You can have a range of different experiences here - from eating noodles in a hole-in-the-wall shop, to having a cocktail in one of the fanciest hotels in the world.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, if you eat Chinese food most of the time and don't travel much. There are lots of temptations to spend money in and around Shanghai, so you have to really be careful.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes!

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Ideas of what China is like... this isn't the real China!

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3. But don't forget your:

Good attitude, patience, and ear plugs.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Shanghai is exciting & fun but also TIRING!

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